Bamboo Flower – A Novel, Part-10
“Bamboo Flower”, serialized here, is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
continued from last Sunday
The small temple of bricks and mortar with a small dome in a raised portion towards the north and at the edge of a small-forested area was at least three hundred yards away from the nearest house. It was opened only during the eleven days of celebration and remained closed for the rest of the year except for the days the caretaker opened it for cleaning. And the compound was one open space where children ordinarily did not get close except during the festival.
An old banyan tree overshadowed the temple. He always associated the temple with stale banyan leaves that lay around it. In fact, the old tree was always treated as part of the Deity.
He sat near the temple for a long time after he said his prayers. His thoughts were about life and death and what people do to make them safe and secure and lead happy and long lives and slowly centred on the rats in his backyard to do everything possible so that the vegetable season passed undisturbed.
He said aloud in his mind – Rats! Isn’t life a scream?
It was late afternoon when he returned home. He went in quietly, then came out and sat down at his usual cane chair in the veranda.
‘Why are you so quiet?’ Thoibi said when she saw him sitting down.
‘No, mother. It’s only that I have been thinking that I should do something to make our lives a little more comfortable.’
‘I do not want you to be so quiet. You are our “window” to the world.’ Thoibi said
‘Why?’ was the only thing he could say.
‘Don’t say you don’t know. I want to see the world through your eyes. My world would have been much smaller if you did not bring stories from all the places you have been to. And, don’t forget that you bring them out when you speak.’
‘I have not been to many places except for a few cities in India.’ He spoke out, almost relieved that he did not have to say what was in his mind.
‘For me, your stories of Bombay, Calcutta and Delhi are good enough. They open my eyes to a world much bigger than we know.’
‘Why? You have been to Nabadwip and Brindavan yourself.’
‘Pilgrimage to those holy places only reminds you of different things.’
‘But mother, you were in Calcutta on your way to Nabadwip and Delhi while going to Brindavan and Mathura.’
‘I do not remember any more than the heat and the number of cars in the streets and the sea of humanity.’
Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta are all very distant, but are all in the same country, Rajen said in his mind. They are to the west of Imphal and if they were towards the east, they would be as far as Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Bangkok, he added in his mind.
‘I want to see the world through you.’ Thoibi again said
‘No, mother. My world is getting smaller.’ Rajen replied
‘What is that you are saying? What are your burdens? I am still strong.’ She said.
Then he murmured: The joys of loneliness. Or is it agony?
Ah! The joys of loneliness as I only know. Others worry about the troubles in the society, the disturbances in the political, social and economic life. I worry only about the rats and how to control them. I have stopped thinking about what the others are going through. Only what I know is that there is tremendous pressure on me. But do I care? In fact I know that the wife wants to have a child. My mother also wants that we have a child but she doesn’t say so.
He now felt light and was beginning to feel that it no longer mattered whether he was alone or with others to be his self. He could murmur when he felt like it. He could speak to himself in his mind when he did not like others to hear him speak.
As he sat quietly after his mother went in he saw a dragonfly flying nearby. He thought how quiet, light and clean a dragonfly was and so sure of itself as it flies and not making anyone know what it does. Dragonflies had long been his favourite insects. Many would say butterflies are more beautiful and many love butterflies, he spoke in his mind. However, he knew that the underside of a butterfly is not as good-looking as its wings. A dragonfly definitely looks a lot cleaner with its transparent wings and slender body, he told himself.
Why should there be so many of them! Rats do not generally bother and make you conscious of their existence; they live their lives as any living beings, he told himself.
He could not remember how and when the rats were first noticed in their backyard except that that year the rains had come early and bamboo shoots beginning to corrode were found unusual.
The rats in his garden soon spread their colony in the open space behind the house. In fact, it was their sheer number that attracted him when he went towards the western fence of their huge compound early one morning.
He would have just left them. But when he once mentioned this unusual disturbance, friends in the University who were making a study of the rodents took interest. It revealed that a single rat could tunnel twenty metres within a short span of time. It was found that there were more than one thousand rats in the garden when the study was made.
For them it was the vegetable garden and he could do with a season or two of no crop. But he knew that in the hill villages, farmers while sowing must already be murmuring: ‘May my rice sprout first. Bind the mouths of rats and mice. May the crops prosper.’
He had never expected them to spread that fast. But now his house proper and the other walled areas were the only places left out possibly because of the liberal dose of pesticides he had applied around the structure of the house.
Soon, at night all the open and sheltered space around the house particularly the western veranda that had a separate plinth became a carpet of rats.
He wondered how strong the rodents’ onslaught was going to be. The faceless rats could not express their intentions but went rampaging with clockwork precision and left a barren burrowed expanse of land.
Keeping rabbits drives away rats, is a belief. He could not find any scientific explanation. Nothing wrong in trying if only it helped in making life a little free from them, he reasoned. His father-in-law, resourceful Inderjit ensured that the best breed was available. Two healthy beautiful rabbits were brought.
…………to be continued
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