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A Lion with Gnarly Teeth

On a recent visit to my parents, I volunteered to sleep in my Dad's room to keep an eye on him as he recovers from ill health. Excited about the one-on-one time with him, I settled on a sofa next to his bed and stroked his head as he fell asleep. As I got ready to turn in, I noticed something moving very fast along the far wall. A mouse!

I summoned my niece who summoned Tara our cook. In between hysterical fits of laughter, Tara tried to catch the critter but to no avail. She kept saying "Kuch nahin karega!" (He won't do anything to you) and I kept asking her, "Mujhe katne ke pehle tumse poochega?" (Will it ask your permission before biting me). That just made her laugh even more.

Clearly, I was on my own. I sent everyone to bed and prepared for battle.

To me it was no helpless creature; it was an angry lion with gnarly teeth. It was strutting around the room with impunity. It ran along the wall and then disappeared into the crevice of the floor-to-ceiling bookshelf and reappeared in a few minutes. For a while I kept the door open hoping it would scurry out but then Dad got uncomfortable as the room air-conditioner couldn't keep us cool. With a deep sigh, I shut the door and opted for detente: I won't mess with you if you won't mess with me.

And then, to my utter horror, I saw it on top of a box in the corner of the room. With heart pounding and armed with a WMD, I was ready to sweep the beast out of the room. The said weapon is otherwise called a broom and if you know anything about the Indian version, you know I was hosed.

Mice, why do they exist?! What purpose do they serve? Why do they torment? And WHY ON EARTH DO THEY CLIMB?!

Instead of genetically modifying crops, I call on the scientists of the world to alter these scary beings into non-climbers. That will be a start. Trouble is that decades ago Walt Disney ratcheted up the cuteness level of mice to an astronomical height. As I discovered on this night, they don't have cute ears. They move very fast and they have long tails. They are an ugly shade of brown and I had no doubt that this one would run all over me until I succumbed to cardiac arrest.

The human-mouse genomic diversion occurred 75-million years ago. At some point we shared genomic traits so it couldn't be that bad, I consoled myself. Through recorded history and in different traditions, there is mention of mice as protagonists and helpers. There are dozens of lovable mouse characters in children's literature. But all I could think of was they cause the plague.

A flu-like disease, the plague spreads through parasites that use mice and rats as hosts. The bubonic plague has killed millions of people in multiple outbreaks over the course of history. In the 1400s, it wiped out 50 million people in Europe, i.e., 25-60% of the continent's population. Even in recent years, the impact of plague is not insignificant, particularly in Asia.

And here we were in a room with a potential carrier.

I forced myself to stay awake until 3am. Periodically, I would see it scampering in the corners or run across the room. Before passing out, I had enough sense to wrap myself in a sheet to prevent direct contact. I kept waking up to make sure Dad and I were safe. Around 5am, I was startled by a dream in which I was pulling a mouse by its tail. After I could breathe again, I saw that the sun was out. I was filled with relief that my tryst with the beast was over and grateful that despite the chaos, my Dad had a restful night.

Emotionally-scarred and bleary-eyed, I hobbled through the rest of the day thinking how close I had come to peril. In a weird way, I had appreciation for the mouse because he didn't climb on the sofa or bed. I'd like to think he was petrified of the tyrant with a broom. Ha!

My advice as you head out to that awesome vacation spot in the tropics is to pack a mousetrap in your check-in bag. It could save you from the plague.

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