Lizards are for ever

December 5, 2010


The mosquito nets arrived much later.

Before that, one had to get accustomed to the domestic lizards bungee jumping without cord straight in to your bed during wee hour of night, straight from the 30 feet high tiled roof. They would lie flat on the blanket or on their (and/or your) stomach with amused eyes as if nothing special had happened. While you watched with bated breath if it was dead or faking death, slowly they would start crawling to where your face was. If you were smart, you had already covered your face with the blanket. If you were not, you would shake the blanket like a Shakespearean actor throwing his robe. If you were aunts, you would bring the house down with your petrified cries. If you were grandma, you would just shoo the lizard off.

These were really annoying creatures with impeccable ability to surprise you consistently, real horror movie stuff. If you were in a mood to use study table, one of them would suddenly materialize to inspect if you were really serious about your studies- more often, there would be two of them chasing each other for your fun. If you were happy that they had gone to sleep; they would start crawling on your bare feet and continue upward journey; making you wonder what was their destination. And that cold, pin-ny, soapy feel…best not experienced.

If I was serious about my home work, I would sit away from all the walls, in the middle of the hall, not under the wooden trusses, not very near the lantern and not without a stick in hand. Near the lantern would flock the insects, and to catch them, the lizards. Even then, you would hear Grandma saying, ‘So, what is today’s game? Home-work or lizard chase?’

Curtsey Google Images

During the first rains, the entire house would be full of the newly born flying insects with disproportionate wings and a horde of lizards savoring them with mechanically opening and closing mouths. An entire inch by inch moth would disappear in a matter of seconds in those perennially hungry tiny jaws. If the menace became too much, and usually it did, Nana uncle before  dinner would take all the lanterns in the verandah, keep them side by side, let all the insects and lizards gather there and then methodically slaughter them one by one. This was yearly ritual. And it had to be done. If not, snakes would be the next, chasing after the lizards and… dhup…. in your bed.

There was a saying those days that if one killed a cat or a lizard, you had to pay back a cat or lizard made of gold to a deity in Benares. Nana uncle usually said that he will have to gather his weight in gold if he were to repay all those killings in Gold.

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There was demise in the family. Visitors were served the porridge on the 10th day ritual. The hosts thought that the guests will disperse the next day. They did not. Most of them stayed back for the 14th day ritual. To cope up with the situation, the woman of the house kept on stove the other day’s leftover porridge for warming. A lizard was seen swimming in it. She did not care. She just fished (or lizarded) out the lizard and served the porridge to guests. Most of them went sick for two days, since there was no medical help in our small town. They blamed the stale porridge, not the woman. After a period, out of guilt, the Lady of the house confessed about the lizard business and invited silent wrath of the clan. But she did not forget to add that the guests should not have overstayed in the first place. The lizards and the anecdote gained a cult status in our family because of this incident.

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When I graduated from engineering school, I had to register my name in ‘Employment Exchange’ so that I could get job offers from government establishments. The employment office then was a rickety old unkempt building. On my first day at the exchange, I had the standard questionnaire in my hand. At a particular query I stumbled and looked up to think about the answer. Surprise!! I saw a massive-massive congregation of lizards; on the walls, under the tiled roof, in the corners. There must have been close to five or six hundred of them, climbing over each other. The office staff was working right under them oblivious to their presence. It was no wonder there was not a single woman officer in the building.

I had to go there a several times to take calls (one at a time). Invariably I had to wait for my turn. I started using this spare time to sketch the lizards  with ball point pen– with open and closed jaws, resting, leaning, running, baiting, biting, heaping. Their colors varied between glistening pale green to muddy grey to striped to grossly ugly brown or black, textures transparent to opaque.  How they were living in harmony was truly awe-inspiring. May be during day time they discriminated their duties towards the staff and visitors and in the nights they showed their true character.

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Marriage brought to me my wife, in addition her fears about lizards and the horrified shrieks when you were least expecting these.

On a Sunday, I removed by bike from under the staircase, felt something on my back, but overlooked it because of the rush. I went to the laundry, my back was now having a good amount of exercise because there was something slithering inside the tucked in shirt. I requested the launderer to have a look. He did, jumped back but said there was nothing special and I should immediately go straight to home and change the clothes. I went home and requested my wife to have a look. Her shrieks confirmed my doubt. I hurriedly removed the shirt and there it was – a full-grown green one who had taken free ride on my back. Later on, the launderer told me that the lizard was peeping out all the time from the collar.

The other saying about lizards is that if they fell on the clothes you were wearing, you got new clothes to wear in near future. As expected, nobody gifted to me a shirt.

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Curtsey - Google Images

Recently, our permanent residence was closed for five years. When we returned, it was not our home but to a colony of lizards. They had even distributed rooms between themselves. We spared no efforts to throw them out; even pest controlled the entire house many a times. But they promptly returned to their respective rooms.  I had an all obsessive growing feeling that this was not our house any more. It was theirs and we were guests in it at their mercy. How best can you describe? You want to sleep and there is this couple resting above the head-board. You wished to write and the table would be already occupied by one of them. You wanted to wash utensils and there was one picking at us in the sink. The kitchen platform, couches, TV cabinet, nothing was beyond their reach. And that element of surprise! We spent sleepless nights just to make sure where their abode was today so that you were not surprised the next day if it came out of your coat hanger. But they always foxed you and appeared at different places every day, and night. One particular bedroom was their pet. So I plugged all the holes there, but to no result.

Painting done, when I was shifting a couch, 30 kgs held high on my head, wife spotted one roaming around the entire surface area of the couch. A big one. Imagine. I am holding the couch high and the lizard making an F1 circuit over it. I am worried that it will come down my arms. Wife is screaming behind you in most horrified soprano….I just dropped the couch on the newly laid tiles and damaged a few… and the Lizard vanished as if nothing had happened, to reappear the next day promptly. My wife now was confidently telling every visitor that she is indeed more courageous and I was more afraid of the lizards than she was.

Come pest control guy, sprays the whole house with liquid of nasty odor that brings about bouts of wife’s asthma. He disappears. The painter has painted the house with plastic luster paint.  The lizards are not killed but temporarily paralyzed behind the furniture. They come out and cannot climb the walls because the walls are too smooth for their nightly activities. Frustrated, they start racing all over the house on floor tiles. With them my wife, and because of her sound effects, I. Days pass, lizards take their rightful places, we name them by looks and beauty and we keep watch throughout the night with their horoscopes in hand wondering where they will probably rise the next morning.

I had to kill a few. The tools? The floor duster, grossly inadequate. They would just bear the blow and start moving ones again. Then we tried the domestic insect killer spray. The lizards would faint but start moving ones we were sure that they were dead. Wife would ask to throw them as soon as they fainted. As soon as I went to collect, it would start moving and before that would start her shrieks behind my back making it an impossible task. Finally, she said that I am coward and if  I killed one – means really killed one – she would herself throw it out. One did die. However she waited until the house-maid arrived the next day and asked her to dispose it off. When the house-maid went to collect it, it started to move. But our housemaid was braver. She eventually caught and disposed it off.

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The battle has not stopped. We listen to advises and read articles about how best the lizards control pests and insects, how they are afraid of us and we should not be of them, but do wish in the end that they do not surprise us at least.

National Geographic channel these days showcased a person who fed the wild lizards rice from his palms. He even had a whistle language to announce to them the lunch time. One of my “Friends of Snakes” nephew routinely caught lizards with bare hands to feed his snakes; so was a tiny girl who was not afraid of befriending and taking them outside her house in her palm. My salutes to such brave-hearts/hands. But caution! Once you get married, you can be made to lose your courage.

After all, when I was a kid, the lizards used to be called the Laxmi of the house, the deity that brings in prosperity and not the deity that brings in bravado.

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