The rats have it!


Friendly Fire
Khalid Saleem
THE great Alfred Hitchcock once made a film entitled ‘The Birds’. The trailer showed a somber-looking Hitchcock intoning, “Have you gone to the dogs lately? May I suggest you go to the birds, instead?” If Hitchcock were alive today, he may well have considered making a film featuring ‘The Rats’.
Some summers ago, our vigilant media had reported that our Foreign Office had formally approached the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) to help rid its premises of rats that had apparently the run of the hallowed halls of that Ministry. This news hardly came as a surprise, given an environment that has long been over-run by rodents of all genres (no pun intended). One wonders if the problem has since been overcome, what with the commissioning of a brand new Block and all!
Around the same epoch, media had flashed the news that several planes of Pakistan’s national Airline were infested by rats. It was not specified as to rats of what genre made it to the planes in question. They may well have been potential illegal immigrant rodents aiming for greener pastures, or perhaps they could have been rats enjoying ‘dual nationality’. Taking a contemporary view, some may well be carrying a stash of foreign currency to smuggle it to safe havens! Either way, our Airline, that proudly sports the epithet ‘International’ as its middle name, apparently has an uncanny appeal for rodents of more than one species.
Rodents, let it be said, happen to be an egalitarian species; no respecters of station or status they! Several moons back, perspicacious readers may well recall, our very own rats were reported to have virtually taken over the Government Secretariat in Islamabad (pun intended!). An item published on the front page of a national newspaper had carried the tidings that rats had the run of the Ministries of the government to the utter consternation of the bureaucratic machinery. This is not to say that the bureaucratic stronghold of the land is not teeming with rats as it is (no pun intended!). But the situation must have been desperate enough to warrant a major headline in the otherwise stringent media.
If the reader has garnered the impression that the situation is peculiar to governmental structures of the Third World, then permit one to humbly clarify that this is definitely not so. Location has little or nothing to do with it. Rodents belong to a hardy and – should one add – a shifty species. Man, with all his technological advances, has yet to come up with a better mousetrap. Meanwhile, rats continue to be one up on man whether he (Man, that is!) likes it or not.
Let us allude to just one example. One is not aware when it was that technology buffs came up with the idea of what is known as ‘Central Air-conditioning’. With this air-conditioning concept was tied up the corollary of a duct complex within the walls and ceilings of the structures in question. The ducts in turn provided comfortable, secure and snug quarters for the rodent species. If nothing else, this may explain how our high-flying bureaucrats have come to share their offices with the lowly rats (pun not intended).
Rodents happen to be versatile creatures. You cannot pin them down to modern structures alone. Even old historical monuments have been known to harbor them. Not so very long ago, one had read in the papers that rats had invaded the kitchens of Buckingham Palace in London, causing understandable anguish to the British Royal Family. The United Nations Headquarters in New York, one learnt again from the vigilant media, has its quota of resident (multilateral?) rats! Rodents, it appears obvious, have a penchant to gravitate towards places where they find the greatest comfort. And if the locale also happens to ensure a limitless supply of food, so much the better! Like the lowly cockroach, rodents too appear to have honed up on the art of survival.
Lore of the West presents the mouse as the biggest bugbear of the fair sex. One often reads about the most fearsome specimens of the female of the species being reduced to the level of frightened kittens at the sight of a rodent. Wives, capable of reducing their hapless spouses to nervous wrecks with a mere cold glance, shriek with horror and jump onto the nearest chair at the mere sight of a tiny mouse. That classical feminine weapon – the rolling pin – wielded with such telling effect against errant husbands, turns to naught at the appearance of the lowly rodent in question.
The Western Mouse is still one up on the Western Female, were the two to meet unexpectedly on the floor of the living room. The latter would still in all probability let out an almighty scream and jump onto the nearest chair, while the former would sit stunned, looking askance at this rather odd behavior. Here it may be relevant to clarify that the female in our part of the world stands out as an exception. Females here, armed with lethal brooms, have been known to chivvy mice around the house in a race to death or escape, whichever comes first. The Rats, meanwhile, quite oblivious of the shenanigans of the human species, continue with their mission, based as it is on the dictum: ‘survival of the fittest’. There is a moral in here for humankind, if only they would pay heed!
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.
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