‘If every event which occurred could be given a name, there would be no need for stories.’
Today I’m going to the bazaar with my friend Hunny because he wants to buy a rattrap. Yet again. ‘The chuha is big this time,’ Hunny tells me. ‘It’s bigger than the trap I set up every night. It eats up the buttered bread bait and pushes itself out of the trap,’ he explains.
Hunny usually likes dropping off the chuhas caught in his house close to the naali adjoining the big park or near the river. If a chuha got trapped at night, it was sure to get breakfast in the morning, followed by a gentle assurance that there’s nothing to worry, and then a ride in Hunny’s car to be dropped off at a suitable place—with space to run around but also hide and, of course, the possibility of hunting–gathering for food. Before setting it free, Hunny would instruct the chuha to watch out for kites and not get eaten up. Sometimes the chuha being freed would not be very enthusiastic about leaving the open trap and would need a gentle nudge. Most ran out quickly though, making Hunny feel sad that they were in such a hurry to get away from him. Some would dash out and then pause and turn back for a few seconds before vanishing out of sight. Hunny insists that a few have waved him goodbye.
Hunny has been muttering for a while now that this time he needs to get poison. But the dark green Mortein Rat Kill Cake has been unavailable in the kirana stores in the neighbourhood. I doubt if Hunny would have used it even if he’d managed to get his hands on them. A few days back, the Gupta General Store owner had managed to sell some deadly liquid poison to Hunny, saying it’s very effective. You’re supposed to pour it into all the drains in your house, and it’s supposed to instantly kill chuhas making their way in and out the drains. Hunny has not used it. He finds the idea ghastly. He regrets not dropping the last chuha he’d caught far away. He had dropped it off in the parking lot of his apartment block. Hunny is absolutely certain that the same chuha is back in his house—it has only grown bigger for the trap.
I wonder if chuhas get attached to particular houses. How do they find their way back?
If it is indeed the same chuha, it is back with a vengeance. Its earlier avatar was well behaved. It would stealthily come out at night after Hunny went to sleep and would rarely leave telltale signs of its dinner, except sometimes half-eaten bananas. This one does acrobatics through all times of the day, leaping over masala jars and knocking them off, smashing Rooafza bottles, scurrying over the bookshelves, chomping on electricity bills and doing cartwheels on the sofa. It eats everything … potatoes, lids of Tupperware boxes, newspapers, phone chargers, books and unopened biscuit packets—you name it! It prefers to shit on the bed or on freshly laundered clothes. And it is BIG.
So we are off to buy a trap from the bazaar. A big trap.
Hunny rarely goes to the bazaar that pops up every Wednesday right outside his apartment. But if he needs a rattrap, off he goes walking in the bazaar with a sense of purpose. The bazaar is where he can buy rattraps. Nice ones. Worthy of his chuhas. He keeps buying them because they keep disappearing. And the chuhas just keep appearing.
We walk past the shops selling shoes, jeans, fluorescent plastic jars, second-hand sweatshirts, kambals, fancy kurtis, school bags, looking but not stopping. We note that the mixie repairman is back at his usual spot. We turn right at the T-point of the bazaar and stop at the shop of a man selling iron utensils and implements. He has rattraps. Different sizes and shapes, with beautiful metalwork patterns. ‘Show me a rattrap,’ Hunny tells the vendor. The vendor picks up a regular-size trap and shows it to Hunny. It is similar to the one Hunny already has. ‘No yaar, show me a big one. I already have the one you’re showing me. My chuha merrily enters it, eats up the bait and pushes himself out,’ Hunny explains. The vendor hands him a medium-sized one to check out. While Hunny is examining the trap, turning it over in his hand and checking out the lever, the vendor picks up an even larger one to show Hunny, ‘There’s this too.’ ‘Arre, that’s for catching small chuhas … it’s for catching many small chuhas together. Its entrance is too small … my chuha won’t be able to enter it. My chuha is big!’ The vendor is impressed with Hunny’s knowledge of traps. ‘Yes, you are right. Then why don’t you take that one,’ he says pointing to the one in Hunny’s hand. ‘Will it work? This chuha has been driving me crazy.’ ‘Why will it not work? Of course, it will catch your chuha. Full guarantee,’ the vendor retorts, a bit miffed. ‘Accha, how much is it for?’ ‘Hundred and eighty rupees.’ ‘That’s too expensive.’ ‘What are you saying? This is an absolutely genuine piece … I’ve made it with my own hands … it’s not some cheap Chinese maal!’ the vendor says irritably. Hunny persists with his bargaining, ‘Chalo, give it for hundred and fifty.’ The vendor refuses to budge: ‘You seem to know so much about rattraps … that’s why I’m offering you a special price. I never sell it for less than two hundred. Take it or leave it!’ Hunny reluctantly hands over the money to the vendor, telling him, ‘Listen, if my chuha doesn’t get caught in this, I’m gonna return the rattrap.’ ‘Do that,’ the vendor says, ‘but it’s my guarantee, your chuha will certainly get caught in this trap.’
It’s been exactly a week since my trip to the bazaar with Hunny. I wanted to go the bazaar to buy curtains. I thought I’d check with Hunny if he needed to go too. May be he needed to exchange the rattrap or buy a new one. I found Hunny sitting with a dejected look on his sofa in the living room. Since all conversations with Hunny when visiting him at his house always revolve around his chuhas, I asked, ‘What happened? Did the chuha not get trapped? Is it still troubling you?’ ‘No, no, it got trapped the same night I bought the trap,’ Hunny replied. ‘Then what’s the matter?’ I ask. ‘It was such a sweet fella, with lovely eyes. It was so scared in the trap; it refused to eat anything.’ ‘Don’t tell me you let it out in the house?’ I ask. ‘Of course not! I took it for a nice ride in the car and left it at a good spot near the river.’ ‘Are you missing that monster?’ ‘No yaar. It’s just that I’d gotten so used to his sounds of breaking and crashing things in the house. Now the house is eerily quiet at night. I haven’t slept in a week!’
In the course of doing fieldwork on the weekly bazaars of Delhi, I’ve come across many eccentric customers, with peculiar shopping routines, who often associate the bazaar with the specific thing that they seek out in the bazaar. And in the course of living in the city, I’ve come across people with all kinds of relationships with all kinds of creatures, small and big, based on some form of love. This story is my homage to both.
Cover illustration by Shiraz Husain.