Chicken Soup for the Misanthrope's Soul
I'm sure there isn't going be a title like this in the Chicken Soup series. There shouldn't be. Though I wish there would, for people like me. People all around me are beating wives, committing genocide, torturing daughters-in-law for dowry, aborting female foetuses, sentencing people to death...but I don't hate them. But I look into the mirror, and I know that people are just like me. And so I hate them.
Anyway, I must get on with my story. It's about my first relationship, when I was a graduate student at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. It was my first experience of living by myself in a hostel room. I'd been through three years of undergraduate college without a girlfriend or boyfriend, not even a crush. Perhaps afraid of parental censure, like a well-behaved boy of orthodox Tamil Brahmin roots. In Bangalore, away from the eyes that were familiar to me, I was free.
I saw her while standing in the tiny balcony attached to my room. She was scampering about on the tree opposite, thumping her tail and making shrill, squeaking noises. I wondered why she seemed so agitated. Was she hungry? Was she lonely? Was she afraid? It was love at first sight; I felt a great desire surging in my mind, wanting to protect her, cherish her, nourish her. You see, my first relationship was with a she-squirrel.
I went out and bought a small plastic katori and fifteen rupees worth of groundnuts. I fixed the katori to the balcony parapet with some molten wax. Then I put in a handful of nuts into it, retreated into my room, closed the balcony door, and watched (A window conveniently let me watch my balcony without being watched.)
What followed was a near catastrophe. Of course she came. I had not to wait for a long time; seven minutes I guess. There she was, stripping off the peels with her forepaws and nibbling the nuts. But within a minute or so she was joined by an ungentlemanly he-squirrel. A short squabble and she left the arena, worsted. I was so furious I rushed into the balcony, scaring the guy off. (I'm assuming it was a guy because of the ungentlemanly behaviour; not that I'm any good at identifying squirrels.)
I had to go and retrieve the katori from the ground. There was no point trying to fix it with wax, so I simply set it down on the balcony floor and filled it again. And this time I had to let go, for several squirrels discovered it, and there was a general bash up. Though I must proudly say my lady abandoned her feminine shyness and joined in with quite some gusto.
It was she who took the relationship further. There was a small chink in my window by which a squirrel could enter my room. Now being the prudish human that I was (and as I look back, I hate myself for it), the relationship was all very well as long as it stayed in the balcony. I had a perfect horror of insects and other creatures invading my room; I have a history of brutally murdering cockroaches, mosquitoes and flies who dared enter.
So it was with a shock that I discovered that the lady had made my attic her living quarters (There was a small space above my wardrobe where I kept my suitcase and never opened). Though to be fair to her, she would depart the instant I entered my room, squeezing through the chink in the glass and vanishing in a trice. I'm sure she scampered right in the moment she heard my placing the lock on my door as I left for my lab (but that's only speculating). Though at night she'd sneak in, if she was sure that I was sleeping peacefully (my snores would be a signal to her).
I tried to block the chink with some cardboard and tape. I guess that damaged the relationship a bit. She probably took it as a slap in the face, because she vanished for some days. I felt a tinge of remorse and increased the daily allowance of nuts. While other squirrels feasted merrily away, she wasn't to be seen. I felt just like the guy who goofs up with his girlfriend, and can't set the matter right, heaps of chocolates and flowers notwithstanding.
Then she came back – I saw the cardboard had been gnawed through. I decided to let it be and not make things worse. The reward was that she chose my attic to have her babies in. This was discovered when I heard some very shrill squeaks in the night, which weren't hers. And once I saw a tiny tail escaping my window when I unlocked the door to my room to enter. Wow! She'd been raising her babies for months and I wasn't clever enough to know.
And then I foolishly put an end to the relationship. For I discovered she had let her boyfriend come and shack up with her. I mean what the... how could she let any other guy into my room? I was so angry, so jealous. I felt like I was being used, like I had been cheated on. You give so much to a relationship – attic space, free food, no questions asked. And this is what she does to you.
I drove them all out. I banged furiously on the attic door till all the squirrels had squeezed out of the chink. As expected, the guy raced off first, without even looking back at the others. The two squirrel kids followed. Then there were two other females. And then my lady friend. Oh God! What was she thinking? Who were these females? Sisters, the boyfriend's other girlfriends, hangers on,who?
I called our hostel warden to complain about the chink. He had a new pane installed, which completely sealed off the window. I swept off the grass and leaves with she'd built her nest behind my suitcase. And I ate the contents of my groundnut bag, resolving never to buy any more. And I immediately regretted everything I did.
That was the end of my relationship, for nothing I did would ever bring her back. I've been in many other relationships since. With dogs, cats, birds, two praying mantises, whole colonies of ants. And of course with humans. Each turned out different, but all ended similarly - in an act of selfishness. With humans, we were both selfish. With animals, it was always me.
In humans, I see a representation of my own self – short-sighted, self-centred, in true love with only myself. I''ve never seen that in animals. That's why I'm single. That's why I'm a misanthrope.