I was talking to the gardener, Chinnaraj, yesterday, because rats have suddenly appeared in the garden. Lots of them. I was trying to tell him about how the Irulas, a Tamil tribal group, smoke them out of their holes (and have them for dinner - I saw it on National Geographic); but he couldn't understand my pronunciation of smoke. I tried 'pu-hay', then 'pu-hai', 'pu-gay', 'pu-gai', 'pu-kai', etc etc. How much work for two syllables! I spelled it in my hand in Tamil, but he can't read. I gestured as if smoking a cigarette, showing the smoke twirling up into the air. I asked, "when you light a fire, what rises?" Good thing he never went to school -- he would have been a very poor student. Finally, out of sheer exhaustion, he said, "Oh, 'po-ha'...." And then told me that the holes in the ground which we had taken for burrows were just places where the rats had dug up the grass to get at the roots; that they hid between the stones of the wall, and among clumps of bamboo. Let's see how he is as a naturalist. I want to call Pest Control, but by the time we finish spraying for rats and mosquitoes we'll be poisoned ourselves. I have heard that if you call the Snake Park, they will send some Irulas to round up your rats. That might actually be fun.
Lakshmi showed me her finger. She said, "A rat bit it." And laughed. I was horrified. I said, "How did it happen?" She said that she was sleeping on a mat on the floor of her hut -- as usual -- and the rat crept up and bit her finger. She said, "Look, there's only one tooth-mark," and laughed again.