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Animal Farm in the New Century

My next door neighbor is a fascinating man. He woke up one morning a few years ago, shortly after he had moved into his home, and discovered that rats had wreaked havoc on his living and family rooms. They had chewed up the carpet in one room and gnawed away a couple of valuable chairs in another. This was sensational for many reasons — the audacity of the rats, the horror of the incident, and the fact that he lived in the swankiest home in the neighborhood, where such things were unthought-of.

Naturally, all of us did the neighborly thing and rallied to his side, offering to help in any way we could, for the damage, though not huge in absolute terms, was quite substantial in shock value. The rats had certainly left a huge mess to be cleaned up, and given the risk of infection, we took turns preparing food for his household during the next week.

Meanwhile, our neighbor became a man transformed. A pleasant guy with whom a smile and a remark on the weather could be safely relied upon, he was now seized with a messianic obsession with rats. First he declared that his life’s mission was to combat rats. We put it down to an understandable reaction of anyone who felt his home violated in this manner. It took us a while to realize he was serious. He immediately applied for leave from his workplace, and for the next few weeks, made frenetic rounds of our neighborhood looking for ratholes.

He declared the day to be the Day of the Rat Attack, and put up posters in various rooms in his home, on the outside walls, and around the neighborhood, to remind everyone of the horror. He would demand to be let into people’s inner quarters to check for rats. Some neighbors commiserated with his situation and lent their cooperation willingly, others were reluctant but gave their help anyway. Many felt insulted at his imperious manner. But overall, he received help from most everyone.

Through all this, everyone was puzzled by one enigma. There was one person down the street who actually bred rats. It was an open secret that these rats popped up in various homes in the neighborhood from time to time, causing anxiety and turmoil. My neighbor, who growled at all of us and issued loud threats about what would befall anyone not taking firm action against rats in their homes, was on the most excellent terms with the rat breeder! In fact, the day after the Rat Attack, we found the two of them in my neighbor’s living room, deep in friendly and relaxed conversation, with no sign of disagreement, let alone estrangement.

For his part, the rat breeder exhibited no embarrassment either. “These are not our rats”, he told all who would listen. “They might have been bred by me originally, but they stopped listening to me long ago. I’d like to eliminate them too. In fact, no one would like to eliminate them more than me.”

But there was no sign that the rat breeding was slackening, nor did our neighbor demand anything like it. Instead, immediately following the Day of the Rat Attack, my neighbor displayed an inordinate interest in linking an old foe of his, a disagreeable fellow living in a ramshackle house far away, who routinely beat his wife and spent all his money on himself while his dependents suffered, with the Rat scourge. Everyone agreed the guy was a deadbeat and wholly unsavory in many ways, but no one could reasonably link him with Rats. In fact, it was well known that he was on the worst terms with the Rat breeder.

My neighbor would have none of this. Not only did he insist that the rats originated with the deadbeat, my neighbor insisted he operated a Meth lab too. Now, it was known the guy had dabbled in the latter business, but that was before the neighborhood took him to court over a decade ago. Everyone who knew something about his place said that no such activity had happened in years. The whole neighborhood, except my neighbor’s household and a couple of cronies, knew this was just made up stuff, and felt my neigbhbor was going off his rocker. But my neighbor is a powerfully built guy with an uncertain temper. Who wanted to give him counsel? My neighbor wanted the neighborhood association to jointly authorize a lawsuit against the Deadbeat. If we didn’t act, my neighbor said, he would go it alone. God knows he had the resources to do it.

The day came, and he hit the deadbeat with a barrage of lawsuits. The deadbeat’s home has now been attached, and he has had to vacate. But some vagrants have come to occupy the place now, and they are doing all kinds of things to harrass my neighbor. Now my neighbor says he cannot back off — it is his responsibility to sell the property. But who will buy it? It has become a place where gangs assemble, and it has become dangerous even to take prospective buyers there. And it now has more wild rats than anyone can imagine, that pretty much do what they want.

My neighbor’s rat obsession has had terrible consequences for his family. Progressively, he has cut back on his children’s education, his family’s health insurance, and even on his home maintenance. However, he has always been fond of partying, and that has never stopped. Though he quit his job, he and his family still carry on their age-old shop-till-you-drop tradition. Now the leave-of-absence ended late last year, and his family held a pow-wow to see if he should extend it, or go back to work. There was quite a bit of discussion, but the family members gave him carte-blanche to extend his leave.

To commemorate his renewed authority, believe it or not, he stood on his front lawn this morning, surrounded by his family, and spoke at length about the need to eliminate rats in the neighborhood. Rats anywhere are a threat to us, he thundered. And then he had a party the rest of the day for his buddies. Ancestral property, spend it while it lasts, as they say. But apparently, even my wealthy neighbor and his family are beginning to feel the pinch. In fact, I’m told they had to sell some of the rat-deterrent equipment to pay for the fun and games today.

NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer living on the West Coast. His writings can be found on http://www.indogram.com/gramsabha/articles. His blog is at http://njn-blogogram.blogspot.com. He can be reached at njn_2003@yahoo.com.

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/>Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living on the West Coast.  His book, “Reading Gandhi In the Twenty-First Century” was published last year by Palgrave.  He may be reached at njn_2003@yahoo.com.

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