Housekeeping… naturally!

It was mid 1980s. My parents had decided to travel for a good three months, leaving me to fend for myself. This meant cooking and housekeeping (sweeping, swabbing, dusting, etc.). Soon I was home alone with not much experience in any of the above.

The first week went by like a breeze, partially also because I was quite excited to be on my own. In addition, my mom had prepared plenty of food and put it away in the refrigerator. That left me with only housekeeping work, and I was fine doing it.

I found this newfound independence useful to indulge in some regular birdwatching. And, early mornings were often spent doing just that. Off I would go cycling to reach a patch of scrub jungle before sunrise. Birds are generally more vocal as they wake up to the new day. Getting ahead of their waking hour increased the chances of spotting them along with the opportunity to listen to them. This in turn helped me learn and remember their calls. Before I realized, birdwatching had turned into an addiction.

Like most addictions, this one came at a cost. While I was able to learn a lot and polish my birding – the plethora of chores started piling up. Moreover, there was no domestic help. The tidy house that my parents left in my charge slowly but steadily started becoming messy with things often seen away from their designated places. The interval between bouts of housekeeping efforts increased. This also meant increased populations of the most disliked of domestic pests – you guessed right – cockroaches!

To set context for the rest of the story, I will briefly take you to my garden (in its early days). If you recollect, I have written about it in some of my earlier articles. The garden was still very open with only the banana plants standing tall and very little else. Being on the outskirts, there was ample open space around my house. Plants typical of open spaces also thrived in this ‘garden’. Guarding the banana plants from neighbours was also one of my responsibilities. People would give me a ‘what is wrong with you?’ look when I would tell them with a straight face that the banana plants were being maintained for the bats to find shelter; that they were not meant to be chopped and given away for religious purposes. Apart from bats, from time to time, I would sight the usual denizens of such clear lots – snakes, bandicoots, ants, a few birds and some butterflies among other creatures.

One morning, back indoors, I saw a brown blob on the kitchen counter. On closer examination, I figured that it was the mangled remains of a cockroach. The next morning I saw something similar again. This led me to wonder as to who would have dealt with a cockroach in this fashion. A couple of days later, I woke up very early and spotted a large spider… still holding on to a cockroach. Mystery solved! This arachnid must have found its way indoors from the garden.

I started sighting this spider moving about the house during night rather regularly. I learnt later that this was the Giant Crab Spider (also referred to as the Banana Spider). On a couple of occasions, I saw it with a large round white disc – the egg-case. This was a time when I was still not initiated into spiders. The initial fear led to curiosity as I learnt more about these spiders and how they could be very good pest control agents.

The egg-case in the inset is about the size of a 50 paise coin.

On one of those days, I indulged in a whole day of birdwatching at a nearby patch. By the time I reached home, it was quite dark. As I unlocked the door, I saw something leap across my field of view in the dim light. Someone had entered the house before me! On switching on the tubelight, I realized it was a Common Tree Frog. In the past, I had seen one on the banana plants. It might have entered through one of the open windows. I let it be. A couple of days later I saw two of them! Every morning, it became my routine to go about the house to locate them. Typically, the duo would sit in one of the corners (angle of two walls, angle of door and wall, etc.) with all limbs pulled in and tucked under the belly. Their colouration also helped them blend in well. They too, like the Giant Crab Spider, became resident guests of the household.

A few days later, I noticed a dark long spindle shaped dropping on the floor and I was sure that it was not there the previous night. On closer examination, I recognized body parts of a cockroach within it. Though I never saw the tree frog feeding on a cockroach, I guessed it to be the owner of the dropping.

I realized that I had new friends who were helping me out with my chores – the Common Tree Frogs and the Giant Crab Spider – and they were very welcome indeed! Every evening, I would seek them and watch them go about their routine.

Unfortunately, the frogs had to be sent out once my parents returned from their travel. Don’t get things wrong here. The reason for this decision was not that my parents were afraid of them. It was because my mother was worried that the frogs might get injured due to increased activity around the house.

The decision about the fate of the spider was not as simple. It took some convincing and explaining to my parents as to why it should be allowed to stay indoors. There was not much protest once the reason was evident and so the spider remained. It went about its ‘cleaning’ job and continued to hide in the narrow spaces at home (behind book shelves and almirahs).

For a few months thence, both the Giant Crab Spider and the Common Tree Frog were seen inside the house from time to time. Over a period of time they became rarer as the area around got gradually built up and my garden itself was becoming a small island of wild growth amidst construction. Eventually, they went completely missing and never came back. I do miss my housekeeping friends and to date continue to reminisce our joyful time together.

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