Several years ago, when my friends Bindi Gandhi and Anjali Sardeshmukh were IndiCorps fellows, working on public health initiatives in Ahmedabad’s Ramapir no Tekro slum, they lived in a wonderful house on the campus of the Gandhi Ashram. I called it “The Zoo,” in appreciation of its diverse and plentiful fauna. They had mice, rats, lizards, geckos, bats, cockroaches, ants, centipedes, roaches, and pretty much every other manner of creepy-crawly. Despite working to exhaustion to improve sanitation and hygiene conditions in the slum, they permitted the drainage ditches around the house to become blocked, creating a mosquito breeding regime so potent that one could hardly breathe without committing mosquito mass murder. (The surviving hordes of mosquitos exacted their own revenge.) The water tank was infested with millions of tiny worms. There was even a peacock who lived on the roof – how auspicious is that!

I could continue the roster, but you get the idea. I left them a notebook to record the comings and goings of all the different species in the place.

Our little room-on-the-roof in Pondicherry may not be quite the menagerie of Bindi and Anjali’s place, but we are amassing a decent collection. We have monkeys in the neem and mango tress (and often on our roof), a nice assortment of birds, gorgeous butterflies, excellent mosquitos, bouncy crickets, several varieties of ant, spiders that range from small and jumpy to large and nightmare-inducing, and lightening fast lizards and geckos.


Yesterday afternoon, we bought a beautiful melon for this morning’s breakfast. Unfortunately, as you can see in the photo above, someone else decided to make it their mid-night snack. I am doing my best to convince myself that it was a chipmunk with the munchies who did the damage. After all, the trees and roofs are full of them. From the rather large droppings found nearby, Yoo-Mi, expert scatologist that she is, concludes it was a rat.

It probably doesn’t matter one way or the other – though you must admit, it is nicer to think of a cute little chipmunk sitting down to breakfast with you than having a nasty old rat as your guest. Whoever the melon thief happens to be, we say: welcome to our zoo!

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