Friday, July 20, 2007
Rats (and their cousins) have a lot to do with big history. Bubonic plague, for example. Everyone knows that. For millenia, the holds of ships have carried furry rodents as well as trade goods to the world's bazaar. Less well discussed is the fate of southern New England's 17th century beaver population, but their pelts and felts adorned many in the Netherlands and England at the time. Look (closely) at the paintings. Not the ones of drunks and peasants, but the ones of the power holders, accumulators of wealth, decision makers, and their women! Think (hard) about the hats worn by those risk-taking New World-making Pilgrim forefathers. Or the global icon Mickey Mouse. But I digress. Today's New York Times brings us news of a one-time Bollywood male dancer whose real job, for decades, has been that of Mumbai's (Bombay) champion rat exterminator. Gruesome and disgusting details are not withheld from the reader. And this news comes to me just days after seeing, in air-conditioned comfort, Pixar's latest, perfectly wonderful film about a rat who becomes the leading chef of a gourmet Parisian restaurant. In a local multiplex, of course (but not the one that also regularly shows a Bollywood film on one of its umpteen screens). A year ago, in Mumbai, I discovered what it meant really to perspire, and got glimpses of life among the poorest of the world's poor. They tend to inhabit lower-lying parts of the city where, when the monsoon rains come, they find themselves waist-high in water. Bombs exploded on the commuter trains. We heard testimony from people who lived in Dharavi, "the world's largest slum." These asymmetries must be considered, and taken into account. Lear's madness brought him naked, flailing, into the rain, where he saw truth and wished "to show the heavens more just." Are we mad enough?