The mouse in the oven

by Gautam Raja

How we choose not to see things we don’t want to. Holes in fruit, for example. When I woke up to gouges in bananas left in the fruit bowl, I just told myself I must have missed them earlier. Or that the fruit was bruised and had rotted there. But the next morning, when what had been an undeniably whole papaya had a bit scooped out of it, I knew we had vermin. A mouse maybe. Or a rat.

The truth was, finally, two creatures that were either large mice or small rats. One we trapped pretty quickly. The other I found out when I heard a scrabbling sound from inside our gas range; after pulling off the back, I saw a cosy burrow leading through the insulation, and at the end of it, a little twitching nose. I had no choice. Praying there was no nest of babies inside, I turned on the oven. In five minutes, the mouse was out, later to ignore our traps, but to end up two mornings later trying not to drown after a night of treading water in a bucket in our bathroom.

I was incensed. Not with the mouse per se, but why it was there in the first place. You see, our rodent infestation could be traced pretty directly back to bureacracy. The mouse was in the range because I hardly ever turned on the oven. I didn’t use the oven because I was afraid to run out of cooking gas. I rationed cooking gas because we were allowed just one cylinder at a time, and would have to wait two weeks for a new one. Converting our account to two at time involved finding something called stamp paper. Once stamp paper comes into the picture, it’s not a fun day at the otherwise rollicking government office.

Like our reluctance to bake, broil and slow-braise, there are numerous daily pleasures that we deny ourselves, the reasons for which all lead to systemic inefficiency. The hi-fi equipment that doesn’t get used as much as it should because of power problems. The nice shoes that don’t get worn because of horrid pavements. When the corruption and bureacracy make their way into your home (as they would, of course—but we like to believe we live in bubbles) it can get really demotivating. Why should the solution always be to not bother with nice things?

It’s the little things. It’s always the little things. It’s because there are many of them and they can come at you non-stop like grains of sand blown at the base of a rock, whittling away a tiny bit with each blow. It’s also because they are often a part of your every day, and know how to go for the most vulnerable times. It’s like the rule-breaking motorcyclists on the road—taken individually, each one is a minor irritance. But when you’re piloting a car or riding a bicycle through a sea of them, they come at you and come at you and break you down.

And the worst part about it being the little things? To anyone who needs an explanation, you sound like a whiner. But it’s true that when the little things pile up, you just want to burrow and find a safe place until someone comes in and turns on the heat, making you run—again–for the next hiding place. I felt sorry for the mice—they were just like us, wanting nothing more than to make a life. The only problem, they were another of our little things.

First published in Gulf News, June 4, 2013