The pied pipers of Srinivaspur

Prize catch

A rat catcher spreads his net wide to trap rats DHphoto

Popular as ‘Mannu Oddaru’, members of Bhovi community catch rats not only to prevent the damage they cause to the crops but also for their great delicacy. Unlike the modern method of using pesticides and rat poison, their method of catching rats cause no damage to the environment.

Either single handed or in group, members of the community search in the holes in the fields and on hills, dark corners and compost pits at residences and catch rats using several techniques.

They dig deeper into the holes using farm tools such as pick axe and rods. Another method is: they fill a pot with dried dung and keep it near the mouth of the holes. They set fire to the dung and smoke emanating from it fill the holes, choke the rats and force them out. They are trapped in the net spread near the holes. They also divert the small streams of rainwater to these rat holes and catch them when they come out as their holes would be flooded. The rat catchers continue the hunt even at night using torch light.

Though catching rats might not be as heroic as hunting tigers, it certainly requires the catcher to have technical know-how of catching rats. As a rat catcher says there are a variety of rats and one needs to be aware of their behaviour to trap them efficiently.
They collect bags of crops, ragi and paddy, in the holes along with the rats during the harvest season.

‘Tasty, nutritious’

Besides, the Bhovi community believes rat meat is tasty and nutritious. As Yallana Bhovi of Agrahara recalls with pride: “My grandfather used to eat seven ragi balls with the pickle of rat’s tail.” Fried rat is the favourite, he says.

They also believe rat meat cures backache and increases breast milk. The mouth-watering dish has attracted other communities in the region also to rat-catching.

Just like Pied Piper’s legend of ridding rats in Europe, the women of Bhovi community have folk songs and stories on rat catchers. In the medieval times, when plague was too common, rat catchers had a prime place and would get rewards for catching rats.

However, now rat has remained part of the food code of the Bhovi community, which lives quite close to nature. Among other things, crabs and certain leaves on the tank beds are their favourite food items.

With the increasing use of poisonous pest control methods, the significance of rat catchers might have faded into oblivion. But for members of the Bhovi community catching rat has an enduring charm: it fills their stomach and adds fun to their life, not to mention  the skills inherited from their forefathers and in which they take pride.

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