The Rat Killers
Dr Jadhav leans back in his chair in his cramped yet ordered office in Parel one of the 24 wards that comprises the Indian megalopolis of Mumbai. The Bombay Municipal Corporation's senior pest control officer continues " In my opinion rats are more intelligent than human being because no matter what control we adopt the rat will always adapt . Initially traps are good but then they quickly learn to avoid then. In the case of poison, if the rat consumes a little of it and suffers he will be able to detect that substance and avoid it however well you try and disguise it"
And if that weren’t enough, the rats are expert swimmers and climbers [it’s all in the tail] equipped with an acute sense of touch, smell and hearing which more than compansates for their relatively poor eyesight.
Pitted against these consummate mammalian survivors are the city’s rat killers . There are two types; the day labourers as they are known and the night rat killers or NRK’s . Parel ward has four and five of each respectively. The day labourers are charged with setting traps in sites that see large congregations of people and foodstuffs so their efforts are concentrated in places such as schools, hospitals and markets. On a government salary , eligible for holiday pay and a pension the posting is heavily oversubscribed. The DL's on the other hand do not enjoy such perks or job security paid a daily wage based on the number of rats they despatch per 9 hour shift . There is also a minimum quota currently set at 30 per man per shift which nets them 300 INR about £5.00 but the most experienced NRK’s can easily double that.
So what of this hardy adversary? The rat killers face three types. Ratus Norvegicus commonly known as the Sewer Rat, this which makes up the majority of the city’s rat population. Then there is the Field Rat, the largest of the three - Latin name Ratus Bandicote Indica and lastly the Roof Rat or Ratus Ratus. The House Mouse or Mus Musculus also makes an appearance.
With the dumping of rubbish widespread and rubbish collection inconsistently applied across the city, Mumbai provides the perfect environment to keep these cadres of BMC in gainful employment . But inevitably it is the poorer members of the community who suffer most from this epidemic. It is their food that is spoilt as the rats gnaw at the gurney sacks housed in their make shift dwellings, their homes that subside as the rodents burrow under the poorly built make shift homes.
Dr Jadhav however is not sympathetic to their plight . These people he says do little to help themselves "the real problem is people’s lack of civic sense they just dump food on waste ground close by to their dwellings." This inspite of the warnings and advice issued by the rat killers whilst out on their rounds . "They’ll listen to you for a few weeks then return to their old ways" he sighs.
The day labourers bring the trapped rodents back to the BMC office where they are drowned with around 280 traps being distributed in all. Besides placing the traps in densely populated areas [Mumbai has no shortage of these] the day labourers will follow up civilian sightings and complaints and set traps accordingly returning in three days to check them.
The NRK's venture out at about 10.30 every night to return with their booty at around 6.30 to record their kills in the somewhat decrepit record book. Armed with a bamboo stick and torch they despatch the rats either by shining a torch in their eyes and hitting the dazzled animals on the head - an assault that requires great precision and timing on their part. Alternatively, and putting themselves at much greater risk of being bitten they pick the rat up by the tail and hurl them onto the ground.
Most of the deceased rodents are buried but a sample drawn from all 24 of the city’s wards are sent off to the Haffkine Institute - the city’s bacteriology centre. Here they are dissected and a smear is taken from either the liver or the spleen. This is to check for the presence of plague bacilli [microbes] which is endemic in the forest but not the urban races of rat. The last reported case of plague being found in a dissected rat in the state was in 1995. So on that front, for now at least, the most lethal aspect of the rat’s presence in the city remains in check. And for the rat killers of course, as long as their rats they will be able to earn what is relatively speaking a half decent wage. Oh yes, Dr Jadhav jokes" a lot of people in this department have cause to be grateful - the rat, he has provided them and their families with a satisfactory living".
As featured in 'BIZARRE' magazine: