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Nani’s white-tailed mice and other tales

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My son sits near the mouse trap, his curious gaze fixed on the rodent scurrying within, and a smile automatically lights up my face, as I remember my mother’s shenanigans – they too involved rats, white-tailed rats to be precise.

“Did you know your nani (maternal grandmother)was very creative?” I tell my son, barely containing my laughter as I get ready to regale one of my favourite anecdotes from childhood.

“I must have been around nine years old when a fat, blackish rat found himself trapped in the wooden mouse-trap set up by grandpa. This mouse had a long tail, so long that it extended outside the trap. I was always fond of painting, so colours were always close at hand. Grandma, determined to have some fun, and unable to resist herself, dipped the painting brush in white colour and painted its tail white, much to all of our amusement. Later, as was customary, we took the mouse to a far-off point in town, and released him there, so that it wouldn’t find its way back to our house. Over the next few months, all the mice we captured and released had white tails, curtesy your grandma,” I tell my son, my laughter threatening to burst out as I get to the truly hilarious part of the tale.

“Sure, it was fun to paint the mice’s tails, but I never thought too much of it until one day a classmate exclaimed at lunch, “Friends, you will not believe what weird rodents have been frequenting our house! Their bodies are quite ordinary, which is to say brown or black, but their tails are pure white!”

I finally allow myself to laugh, vividly recalling my classmates wide-eyed expression as she shared her “discovery.” The anecdote launched a thousand inside jokes, including my brother’s innovative idea to scribble my father’s hospital’s name on the tails of these well-travelled mice and leave them around town for advertisement purposes! Needless, to say we changed our mice drop-off point after that so that my classmate was not tempted to classify them as a different species, and would perhaps write them off as partly albino rodents.

It is that time of the year again when mice are scurrying out of their holes. So, when my father sat cross-legged on floor, with around six-seven mouse traps around him, and, morsels of pickled chapattis to be used as bait inside them, we clicked his photograph and posted it on our family Whatsapp group, with the caption — ‘New Profession’.

My mother, who was primarily raised by her maternal grandparents, said that earlier the mouse traps were of a different kind. They were bigger, too. “Whenever, my nanaji (maternal grandfather )would learn that a mouse had made our house his home, he would get it to enter a particular room, which only had a pipe as an outlet apart from the door. He would set up the trap right near the pipe-end, and then shut the door from inside. Once inside, he would create a racket with different items, and the mouse inevitably take the pipe, and land in our trap,” my mother recalled.

I top these two tales with the story of how the mouse became Lord Ganesha’s chosen mode of transportation, and address the tiny mouse as vaahan ji, to the amusement of my son. The mouse represents a person’s ego, pride, and various desires. However, the way Lord Ganesha keeps the mouse in check, we too can develop his consciousness, and keep our desires under control, I tell my son, adding that in the earlier days, elders would prepare halwa as prasad for mice, and leave the vessel lid open overnight. The mushak (mouse) would consume the sweet and disappear! Scientific reasons unknown.

I notice that my son is looking at the mouse lovingly (yes, lovingly!) and exclaiming that its eyes are so ‘innocent’, and the creature itself is so ‘cute’. I decide to keep an eye on him, lest he touches the rodent, which has razor-sharp teeth, lets the pest free, or does something altogether different, for he has undoubtedly inherited his grandma’s mischievous gene!

reemaban@gmail.com

(The writer works as an assistant professor (psychology) at Rajiv Gandhi Govt College in Ambala)



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