An Illustrated Story

It is a drowsy afternoon in summer, and the sun’s pallid lethargy is seeping into the skins of everybody in the house. The youngest human member of the household is named Koel. For all the sun’s listlessness, she is at the peak of her day, with the entire house empty of adult human company and the world ready to play to the whims of her imagination. Her optimism for the afternoon is only slightly dimmed by the dog’s unwillingness to cooperate in her schemes, but she is content with violently swinging in the garden for the time being.

 

Koel has been living in this house for the entirety of her seven year old life, and it is in this place that she has created so many worlds of her own that there is always a new one to slip into and escape tedium.

The dog is taking an entirely undeserved nap in the cool floor of the hallway, and is feeling the general geniality that comes naturally to those who have so little to tax their brains with. He knows but a few things in his life, and only that what is necessary. He knows to answer when called Billi, which is an unfortunate name, for nothing is more humiliating for him than the derision of the neighbourhood strays when his family calls him in public. The cats who hear of this mockery to their species treat him with quiet contempt, which is unbearable.

 

He likes to play with the human pup, has mastered the art of begging, and has learnt how to maintain cordial relations with the cat who occasionally makes an appearance and shares his home. He also knows that he is safe and comfortable, but most of all loved so much by his adoptive family that wherever they go, so will he.

There is a cat streaking up the stairs, to capture her favourite spot on the softest sofa in this house. She is called Mashi by the humans and a very rude word by the rats. This is one of her favourite homes on the street because there is always fish kept for her, and because the humans and the dog she adopted dote on her. As a favour to her pets (but mostly for fun) she often torments the rats living in the tool-shed, but is too lazy to clinch the chase.

 

After her pleasant afternoon siesta, she will go on one of her social appointments, and catch an evening meal on the way. “Maybe tonight,” she thinks, “I’ll sleep in the Mukherjees’ house. I’ve not seen Dadu for a while…”

Mother rat suddenly woke up. “Did you hear that? It’s the cat. Shh!” Father rat shushed the kids. He said, she’s gone upstairs, she won’t bother us now. The family relaxed. Not so long ago, they were evicted from their previous home quite vindictively, and fled to the only house they could find at such a short notice. However, they did not know that one of the street cats took this place to be her home, and they were constantly plagued by the fear that her casual threats and mock-chases would cause harm to their family.

 

Despite the heartbreaking cries of their children and the indefatigable memories of their past, as the family settled down, they realised the comfort that this house provided, with its well-hidden crevices, the regular food supply from the kitchen floor and the drain pipes leading to the garden. New memories were made, and the house slowly grew into a home.

A lizard, still a bachelor, is currently fast asleep in a cosy dark crevice above the garage. He is resting himself in preparation for a new night, for he has planned a small party by himself, after which he will continue his absorbing art project about defying gravity, and then take a pleasant walk where he will also catch a bit of breakfast. Those baby spiders that scuttle about the attic sound like a delicious meal for tomorrow. He dreams of them with a smile.

The elder spider sighs. He lets his busy mind rest. It is usually occupied in the various responsibilities that comprise the gruelling task of managing his ever-increasing household. He lets the tranquillity of the shady attic calm him, and his mind wanders. He nods in contentment at the thought of his children growing older to share the burdens of keeping the community alive and their youngest safe.

 

His family has lived here for generations, and have been fiercely guarding their clan from harm. In his life, he has seen their beloved country go through slow but drastic changes, as old families leave and new families and other solitary immigrants move in. He broods upon his memories, filled with changing hopes and fears. “We are lucky, to have lodged humans that have left our families to live in peace,” he thought. Only once did his grandfather tell him of a tragic massacre that he barely survived, when, one monsoon, the entire country was raided by humans, armed with weapons they called “brooms”, which annihilated all their carefully built structures and left their families to scuttle for shelter till they could begin the slow and tedious process of reconstruction.

The only thing that bothers the Elder spider in his current musings is the recent immigration of a lizard in the lower quarters of the house. He is a menace, and causes great grief to their families by preying on the younger ones. Nevertheless, this is their home, and they will brave any number of threats from the outside to keep it safe, to pass on their history and culture to their descendants, for generations more to come.