Sowmya translates a powerful story by Endapallu Bharathi that captures the nuances of the life of a rat catcher in rural India.
Translator’s Note: This “slice of life” sketch describes the role of rat catchers and how things changed with time, in a small farming village in southern India. It is a very short story and does not really have a plot, but I found the rich details about farming life very interesting, and unique for short fiction. Kinship terms and a few other words are left as they are, as they have no English equivalents, and a glossary is provided at the end.
“I am sick and tired of waiting for the arrival of the rat catcher and am ready to give up on him now. Every year, we lose our crops for many reasons – disease, lack of water, bad seeds, not enough produce, and so on. But this year, we have the best paddy crop in recent years. It was not infested at all and grew well. I expected to see a few extra bags of the produce this year but it looks like I was too optimistic too soon. I have been farming for as long as I can remember, but I had never seen such a serious rat attack in my lifetime. Young paddy stems are sweet, and rats attack the crop for that sweetness in that phase. Some rats attack during threshing, to grab the seeds. When we are about to get the rice grains, they sometimes bite through the husk and steal the crop to store for the future. All these happen all the time. But this year is like never before. It is as if the unexpected arrival of coronavirus had instigated the rats. What should we grow? How should we live, if life is like this?” My husband finished a long rant.