One of the great pleasures of life is the afternoon siesta. In Mexico and other Latin American countries it has been perfected to a fine art. In warm countries like ours it is almost a necessity, especially for a farmer toiling in his fields from daybreak to noon. An afternoon nap under a peepul tree or in the shade of a mighty banyan does wonders for body and soul.
I take my siesta on the same bed that I sleep upon at midnight; but if I am travelling I have no difficulty in taking a nap on a plane or in a bus or in a railway waiting room, although I must admit that it’s been many years since I travelled by train. Under a tree sounds romantic, but the last time I tried sleeping under a friendly horse chestnut I was woken by chestnuts falling on my head.
Bed is best, especially on a cold winter’s day in the hills. And, at night, a hot-water bottle helps.
Given a warm bed, I sleep like a baby. But like a baby I am inclined to wake up at midnight or at one in the morning, feeling rather hungry. And for this purpose I keep a bar of chocolate on my bedside table.
There’s nothing like a chunk of chocolate in the middle of the night. It helps me feel that all’s right with the world, and I fall asleep again to dream of cricket bats made of chocolate and rainbows made of sugar candy. You must try it sometime, those of you who find difficulty in sleeping.
But a few nights ago I woke up prematurely to hear something nibbling away on my bedside table. Katr-katr, katr-katr, came the ominous sound.
I switched on the bedside lamp, and there sat a fat rat, nibbling away at my chocolate!
Now I am generous with most things, and I am happy to share my chocolates with you, gentle reader, but I draw the line at rodents. So I flung a slipper at the rat, who dodged it and took off with some reluctance, and then I had to throw away the remains of the chocolate for fear of catching rat fever or something horrible.
Anyway, the next night I kept a fresh chocolate bar in a drawer of the dressing table, where I felt sure it would be safe.
Once again, my dreams were interrupted by the nibble and crunch of small teeth embedding themselves in my chocolate bar. I sprang out of bed, rushed to the dressing table, pulled out the drawer, and out popped Master Rat, the champion chocolate-eater! Away he went, leaving behind only half a bar of chocolate for yours truly.
Apparently he’d found a hole in the back of the drawer, and spurred on by greed, had burrowed his way to the object of his desire.
A trap! A trap was what I needed. So I borrowed my neighbour’s rat trap – not the kind that kills, but the kind that imprisons (which may be worse) – and set it up with my favourite chocolate as bait. They say rats prefer cheese, but I wasn’t taking any chances.
Anyway, the trap worked, and in the morning I found a disgruntled rat staring at me through the bars of his prison like the Prisoner of Zenda. Picking up the trap, I walked with it for half a mile up the road, and then released Master Rat in the bushes behind a popular bakery. Very irresponsible of me, but I thought the precincts of the bakery would at least keep him occupied.
Three peaceful nights passed. Once again, I enjoyed my midnight chocolate snack. Then – katr, katr, katr....He was back again!
“Once more into the breach, dear friends.” Another trap was borrowed and Master Rat was jailed for a second time. And this time I was taking no chances. I engaged a taxi, drove to the Kempty Waterfall with the rat in its trap. And there flung the protesting rat into the waterfall, much as the villainous Moriarty had flung poor Sherlock Holmes over another waterfall. The last I saw of the rat, he was swimming strongly downstream towards the Yamuna Bridge.
Peace at last. Chocolates forever! Dreams of candyfloss and golden syrups....
And then: katr, katr, katr....
I switched on the bedside light.
Two rats were on my desk, having a tug of war with my chocolate bar.
There’s only one thing to do.
I’ll give up eating chocolates. I’ll starve those rats out of existence, even if, in the process, I must suffer from extreme malnutrition.
Later: I have compromised by eating my chocolates in the daytime.
Excerpted with permission from Song of the Forest: Tales From Here, There and Everywhere, Ruskin Bond, Aleph Book Company.