Short Story: The Rat Vs. Me by Harishankar Parsai -Translated from Hindi (Chua aur Main) by Christine Fair
EDITOR’S PICK OF THE WEEK
(As the editor’s pick for this week, this article will be available for free reading for a week)
This story has nothing to do with Steinbeck’s novel “Of Men and Mice.”
I wanted to give this story the title of “Me Versus the Rat” but the rat has devastated my self-esteem. This rat in my house has already accomplished what I could never manage. This rat has accomplished what no ordinary man could and then, he talked about it.
There was a fat rat in this house. When the wife of my little brother was around, food was prepared in this house. Since then, due to some family tragedies — such as the death of my brother-in-law among others — we had been residing elsewhere.
This rat came to understand that it was his right that I should bring food into the house for him. To date, even men have not managed to understand their rights as this rat did.
For some 45 days, the house was locked up. When I returned alone and opened up the house, I saw that the rat had knocked down and smashed up quite a bit of crockery. He must have been trashing the place looking for food. He must have been looking inside the crockery and containers for something to eat. He would not have found anything and must have gone to the neighbors to find something to eat to stay alive. But he did not leave the house. He understood this house to be his own.
When I burst in on him, the light was on, but I could see that he was happily squeaking and running here and there. Maybe he thought that now, food will be made in this house, that he’ll open up the containers and get one of the rations.
All-day he happily roamed the house. I watched him and I enjoyed his joy.
But food production in the house did not resume. I was alone. In the afternoon, I would have lunch at my sister’s place nearby. I eat late at night so my sister would send a tiffin over for me. Having eaten, I would close the tiffin and store it. Rat lord must have felt despair. He must have been thinking, “What kind of house is this? The human has returned. There’s even electricity. But no one is making food. If food was prepared, I would at least get some scattered grains or pieces of bread.”
Then I had an altogether new experience. At night, time and again, the rat would fidget with the mosquito net up by my head. Throughout the night he’d disrupt my sleep. I would chase him off. But a bit later, he would come right back and begin making a racket near my head.
He was starving. But how did he come to figure out the difference between my head and my feet? He hadn’t been mucking about near my feet. One time, he came right into the mosquito net.
I was very worried. What should I do? If I hit him and he scurried underneath an armoire and died, then he’d start to rot, and the entire house would be filled with stench. Then I’d have to move the heavy armoire and remove him.
The rat would make a ruckus in the house all day long and would irritate me at night. I’d fall asleep, but Rat Lord would begin making a nuisance of himself near my head.
Finally, one day, I finally figured out the problem: the rat needed to eat. He believes this house is his. He is quite aware of a rat’s rights. At night maybe he would come to my pillow and say this, “Brother! What’s going on with you! You eat until your belly is full. But I am starving. I am a member of this household. I have my rights. I am going to wreck your sleep.” Then I hatched a plan to fulfill his demands.
At night, I left the tiffin open and put a few pieces of papadum here and there. The rat came out from wherever, picked up a piece, sat under the armoire, and began to eat. After finishing my meal, I scattered some pieces of bread on the floor for him. In the morning I saw that he had eaten it all.
One day, my sister sent over rice papadums. I left three or four pieces for him. The rat came, sniffed, and went away. He did not like rice papadums. I was astonished by the rat’s preference. I gave him some pieces of bread. He would come and take each piece one by one.
This became routine. I would leave the tiffin open, and the rat would come out and begin looking it over. I’d put a few pieces down for him on the floor. At night, he’d eat it and go to sleep.
For my part, I too slept peacefully. The rat wasn’t getting up to nonsense by my head.
Then one day he showed up with one of his brothers. He must have said something like, “Dude, come over to this house with me. I irritated this guy with bread, terrorized him, and made him give me food. Come, both of us will eat. He damned well better feed us if he knows what’s good for him. Otherwise, we will fuck up his sleep good and proper. It’s our right.”
Now both Rat Lords were eating at the table.
But I got to thinking. Has a human become less worthy than a rat? This rat is all up in my face asserting his right to eat. He wrecks my sleep for it!
When will the men of this country begin acting up like this rat?
About the Author
Harishankar Parsai (1924–1995) was a modern Indian Hindi writer best known for his satirical and humorous writings delivered in a simple and direct style. His body of work includes novels and short stories. He was awarded the prestigious Sahitya Academy Award in 1982 for his satirical essay Viklang Shraddha Ka Daur.
Parsai is renowned for raising challenging questions about society and the daily social and political challenges faced by the middle class. While this story is marketed as “children’s literature,” the themes presented are adult and salient for contemporary audiences.
About the Translator
Christine Fair is a professor in Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program within the School of Foreign Service where she studies political and military events of South Asia. Her books include In Their Own Words: Understanding the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (OUP 2019); Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War (OUP, 2014); and Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States (Globe Pequot, 2008).
Her forthcoming book is Lines of Control: Lashkar-e-Tayyaba’s Militant Piety, with Safina Ustad (Oxford University Press, 2021). She has published creative pieces in The Bark, The Dime Show Review, Furious Gazelle, Hypertext, Lunch Ticket, Clementine Unbound, Fifty Word Stories, The Drabble, Sandy River Review, Barzakh Magazine, Bluntly Magazine, Badlands Literary Journal, among others. Her visual work has appeared in Vox Populi, The Indianapolis Review, Typehouse Literary Magazine, The New Southern Fugitives, Glassworks and Existere Journal of Arts. Her translations have appeared in the Bombay Literary Magazine, Bombay Review, Muse India and Punch The Magazine. She causes trouble in multiple languages.
This was originally published by Kitaab on July 2, 2022.