I came to Cawnpore on posting with my husband carrying grandiose dreams inside my excited heart. Newness is always refreshing and infuses a lot many hopes. And so naturally for us it was a new place to begin with, new friends and a new house too!It generally happens in the Army that one gets a temporary accommodation for sometime before being allotted a permanent one. As luck would have it, we were given a guest room of the Army Officers’ Mess. It was seated in the best of promising and picturesque locations. There was greenery all around. Many fruit trees flourished there which housed all types of colourful birds. It seemed an ethereally beautiful setting. The staff kept the area spik and span. The gardener tended the plants with utmost care.The cook was an extremely skilled man. His sumptuous preparations surely won everyone a big paunch sooner or later. The security was sound with soldiers on duty round the clock. The Army Mess was a heritage building. It was a smart structure from outside and the interior was also impeccably done up. And we were right there, in the nucleus of happening surroundings. I had felt royal and queenly.
It was our first evening and we were sipping cold coffee sitting in the lush green lawns admiring the perfect scene of huge trees and also inhaling the scent of spring flowers. It was simply divine. The acrobatic monkeys jumped from tree to tree, the cute tiny palm squirrels darted here and there, and the dancing peacocks added to the existing marvel by displaying their resplendent coloured feathers. Suddenly a flock of big birds descended over our heads. I swiftly ducked for safety. I was terribly petrified seeing those humongous nocturnal birds. We were informed by the staff that those were harmless fruit bats also known as flying foxes. They appeared dreadfully large, almost three feet in size. The bats lived in the mango trees, all around our guest room. We were also told that those fruit bats were herbivores and thus they damaged the garden as they defoliated the trees. Although, they left the humans largely alone but I shuddered remembering that bats were connected to witches also in some cultures. Creatures with wings like a bird and fur like a dog, residing in dark, dingy caves, crevices and trees in my immediate neighbourhood, it was certainly a bone chilling experience for me to see the sudden swift descent and ascent of a colony of a humongous sized flying foxes over our heads in that post dusk hour. Therefore, those fruit bats became my first worry in the new station. I realised that I would have to condition myself with the fact that those flying foxes would be my permanent neighbours in that temporary house of mine.Soon I discovered that our new abode constituted of a very big bedroom, one regular sized ante room, a small kitchenette and a huge washroom surprisingly. As the evening progressed, I started to hear some squeaky noises that seemingly emanated from the fireplace. The fireplace looked brightly painted although on closer inspection, we realized that its chimney opening was choked with thick cardboards obviously to avoid any strangers descent from there. Apparently the room had a smart cream coloured false ceiling too. When we turned our heads in the upward direction, we noticed some gaping holes there and suddenly my eyes met many large eyes from the holes. I screamed in full fright. Those eyes had vanished instanteously. Surely those curious creatures were eavesdropping! They had heard my heart pounding too, fast and furiously. My husband was startled by my sudden shreik and jump. He admonished me later for displaying such unladylike behaviour. He had always expected me to be composed, decisive and stoically smart in all types of situations. But he never understood that he was a trained army officer and I was simply an ordinary wife of his. Moreover, the womanly attributes he expected in me existed only in his thoughts. And to have such high expectations from a scarecrow like me, he was blasphemously wrong. He needed self correction. And kilograms of empathy and understanding towards me particularly in such adverse circumstances.
My husband seriously thought that since I was a timid person I was hallucinating about the appearance of eyes there. While I reiterated, we heard the nibbling kind of sounds but this time it was coming from the fire place. Both of us held our breath to hear. We heard the sounds of many rats running helter skelter trying to cut away the impediments, those cardboards, in their path, to descend into our room via the the chimney. I was silently hysterical this time. Realisation had dawned upon me that I would be in their glare all the time and whenever possible they would be the surreptitious tresspassers in my domain. The night advanced and after taking stock of the situation, my husband and I focussed our attention towards our sleeping arrangements for the following night. Finally my helpful husband decided that his bed would be put up against the fireplace for the ensuing night to block the entry of any visitor from that end atleast. This brilliant idea was born to my far sighted husband only to avoid my cacophony through the night and I was totally in consonance with this operation. My husband made a sincere endeavour convincing me not to get into the fear loop although in the heart of hearts, I think, he also thought that the rat or cat or bat or for that matter anything was capable of causing me a cardiac arrest. Anyway, the night for my man was fairly comfortable but mine was an uncomfortable and an unnerving one. I had seriously feared the fall of the impressive false ceiling along with what all creatures! Moreover those curious eyes had haunted me through the eerie and the noisy night.The following morning before my husband left for his office, he seriously sermoned me that since it was a guest room, therefore those rooms under no circumstances should be rearranged by me. His peering eyes and strict tone made me hugely miserable. But hardly had he left that those curious eyes focussed on me all over again from the ceiling holes and my vocal cords were again exercised, this time with greater force. I felt trapped in this place. The terrible truth that those creepy crawly rats had brought plague and consequent demise of almost one third of European population made me tremble with fear. The harm they would possibly cause to our clothes and eatables was a secondary concern. I counselled myself several times that no matter what, but the rats would not be able to come falling down upon me.In just the next minute or so, I also witnessed the activities of a black cat family which resided on our high rooftop.
Bats, rats and cats are dark coloured, have cryptic behaviour and nocturnal in nature. As such they have been cloaked in superstition since ancient times. We all have heard that when a black cat crosses our path, its a bad omen. Black cats are affiliated with evil. Their black colour and nocturnal nature makes one believe in superstitious belief that these otherwise cute kitties are either servants of witches or witches in disguise. I seemed to be believing in this black cat superstitious theory that day! Some members of this feline family came visiting my false ceiling area through the chimney opening from the rooftop to hunt for the rat family members as their delicious meal that morning. The petrified scampering rats and the determined chasing cats created a major furore on my false ceiling frightening me to the core. I had actually waited for the false ceiling to crash as it was perilously supported only by the thinnest possible horizontally placed iron bars. Moreover the frightened cries of the rats was terrible melancholy music to my ears.The hurry, worry and the flurry of life taking, and life saving, activities, by the cat and the rat families, respectively, worried my anguished soul to the highest possible degree. My heart had been in my mouth and my eyes had dropped out of my sockets many a times witnessing this high voltage drama with unbearably high decibel rat music and that too in the absence of my warrior husband.Staying in such a predicament had become very killing for me. Therefore, my self preservation instinct suddenly became the strongest. It fuelled my imagination at a lightning speed. My eyes never wavered but were rather fixed either on the fireplace or towards the holes of the false ceiling. Suddenly, I noticed that there was a bright, big painting of a very senior, decorated Army General that was placed on top of a shelf over the fireplace. The General had fought several battles and brought glory upon himself and to his garrison several decades ago. His painting portrayed him as an effective warrior in his smart uniform with a heavy display of several medals on his proud chest. After all, under his supervision, the men he commanded had bravely pushed the enemy away and saved many from fear, death and destruction. I had noticed the General’s penetrating eyes and brave expressions in that majestic frame. He seemed extremely powerful and kind to me. His aura ignited hope and lent support to my failing heart.
Suddenly I mustered enough courage to go near the fireplace and lifted that heavy painting from the shelf and put it against the fireplace opening to keep my enemy of rats away. The painting fitted perfectly in there, brilliantly plugging the opening and simultaneously pacifying, both, my tumultuous thoughts and my anxious heart to quite a degree. And thus the brave General succeeded in defending me from my dreadful enemy and definitely saved me from fear, death and destruction. And just before my husband, a seasoned Colonel returned home from office, carefully and most respectfully, I placed the glorious General back in the highest pedestal.The General and the Colonel guarded me superbly like true, brave and loyal soldiers everyday. I managed to settle in that guest room for the following two weeks before shifting into a new permanent home.The concerned authorities smartly renovated the building especially plugging the holes on the false ceiling and the chimney opening from the roof top after our departure from there. The rats and cats also got posted out too, to a new neighborhood.Living with those creatures in close vicinity taught me many a lessons. Science has also allowed me to look past superstitious beliefs associated with flora and fauna and has made me empathetic towards them. It has also made me comprehend the importance of each species for the sustenance of our ecosystem. I think I am a shade better in terms of adaptability also now. PERHAPS.Even now when I reminisce the good old days of my living with the Catz , the Ratz and the Batz families, I experience eye crinkling smiles and hope to evoke wide mouthed laughters from you dear readers.

Author’s bio:

Being an army officer’s wife, Preeti Pathak has got the best of travelling experiences and has seen the myriad beautiful cultures of the country. She has done MA B.Ed. plus several years of teaching experience in various schools. She loves music, reading, composing poems, and short stories.ion. Love to express her thoughts

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