Rats on duty

Our effort of many days was washed out, all because of a rat!
Last Updated : 22 December 2023, 19:11 IST

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A recent newspaper report that the Lucknow Railway division spent Rs 23.2 lakh to catch 168 rats took my memory back about 45 years. We were in a field area, and an annual inspection by the commander was due. Being the officiating Commanding Officer, it fell to my lot.

Due to past association, I knew the commander’s fads and had briefed all ranks on hygiene in messes and langars (jawans’ cook houses) strictly as per the Army Manual involving the 7Fs: fluids, food, flies, fields, floors, fingers, and floods (surface water). I also covered the young officers’ knowledge of the ratio of pyrethrum to be diluted for sprinkling against mosquitoes, the size of DTLs (Deep Trench Latrines: communal latrine blocks), their smoking, the amount of soil to cover them, etc.

Day One of the two-day inspection, consisting of a two-mile run in full pack, a ceremonial drill, and mobilisation in under two hours by different subunits nominated by him that morning, went well, as we had practiced hard.

Day Two started with a visit to a langar. He checked the nails of cooks, Masalchi, and helpers preparing chapatis; Free From Infection and TAB/TT inoculation certificates signed by the medical officer; and weekly menu: if baingan was shown, it can’t become parwal! But that depended on the contractor; we managed the names in advance, and the menu was typed accordingly. His query to a jawan on the menu got the right answer, thus saving me the blushes. His particular aversion to flies, mosquitoes, and rodents in cookhouses and dining halls was well known.

As he approached the officers’ mess cook house, a business of flies led by their leader was hiding on the camouflage net, eagerly waiting for it to part so that it could rush in, like passengers into an unreserved railway bogie. Our contraption of a double screen usually kept the flies in the gap, camouflaged. Unknown to us, at the same time, a big rat with a discarded poori that had sneaked in was over the beam of the cookhouse, watching the hullabaloo. It would act shortly!

Cursing his fate for the damp firewood, Cook Special Manikkam was humming and stirring his preparations. The damp log burning ineffectively caused smoke to rise like a cloud, which even the best observation post officer could not have produced in war!

After tasting Manikkam’s creations just as the commander was leaving the cookhouse, the rat too decided to exit but fell bang on his peak cap, dropping the poori, making him jump in all his bulk. That is when it fell on his shoes, making him jump again, this time onto a little puddle, and splashing dirty water over his uniform. He cursed, "B….y hell, you raise rats in your cookhouse and train them too?" With that, our effort of many days was washed out, all because of a rat!

Published 22 December 2023, 19:11 IST

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