Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Whiskers and Tails

Cautionary Tale/Tail*

There is a reason that I don't like slugs - fat, ugly, slimy and destructive - but more on that in a moment.  To begin with, my story, where the moral, I suppose, is about sharing the truth, but keeping enough of it back so that you don't feel like you are lying.

Nostalgia, perhaps, clouds some of the more accurate points here, but when I was little, once, quite unannounced, I made an impulse buy using up every little penny I had saved and came home with a cavy. It was small, twitched its nose, had little bright eyes and ran around in the straw. I wasn't really allowed - we had rules around animals that had to be followed, but staring at me as it did from behind the glass window of the pet store, it adopted me as much I adopted it.

So I brought it home and called it Winnie. As in Winne-the-Guinea. Except, primarily because it was a rodent, my parents were not sure at all. .Notice, I said I started by saying that I came home a 'cavy'. Well popularly they are known as guinea pigs, though back then, in the 1980s, in Yorkshire, pigs, in a Muslim household didn't fit, so I had to describe the animal with caution.

Since the day Winnie came to live with us, I learned an important lesson in life - without lying, you pick your words carefully. Fortunately, I don't think my parents would have known the word for guinea pig in Urdu or Pashto, but they were sensitive around the word 'pig'. Really sensitive and looking back, I think I understand given their world view point. In any case, I would refer to my new pet as a cavy or a guinea. Winnie the Guinea. That bought me some time so that meanwhile Winnie would come out of her cage and nibble sunflower seeds sitting on my lap, even though my folk continued to eye her suspiciously. Something just wasn't right and it was only a matter of time before a slip of the tongue when the little creature was referred to as a guinea pig  - Winnie the Pig. I couldn't justify a pig, so after a few days in the house, it banished to a hut outside the house and was not welcome inside.

Cochon d'Inde

Once I got over the initial faux pas, my parents did however, put enough trust in me, to not make me miserable. n the ensuing weeks, it had several description changes. "It's actually from Guinea, hence the name Guinea," I think I pleaded. (Wrong, in fact - these animals are South American, and not African as I now know). After I did the geography thing - Guinea, (too far away, not culturally accessible), I switched places. India was familiar - my parents were born in British India, so I even opted for the name that mentioned India - Cochon d'Inde. French. Except Cochon d'Inde translates as Pig of India. Oops.

By the time I knew the word "cavy", Winnie was outdoors; though, like I said, I was allowed to continue keeping her. Summers felt long back then. She ate well, and played well and grew to a nice size. She loved the garden, would sometimes get to run and hide in my father's vegetable patch and was admired by the neighbours. She died one October, when a cold snap hit. I was devastated. Maybe it was the chill that got her, but I found a slug, on her cage, alive and well. In October!

For years, I believed the slug had somehow caused Winnie's death. The other kids in the neighbourhood backed me up and I grew a disliking for slugs. As an adult, I'm still put off by (after the rain or their sudden appearance in the dark on a damp night). I dislike the way they are attracted some of my favourite plants in garden. I dislike accidentally stepping into them. That turns my stomach. Be done with them - whether its plants, my shoes or Winnie!

Needless to say, I've been a fan of slug pellets ever since.

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