This is the story of Puti, a six-week- old mouse who lives with his friend and family in Burrow Land. A challenge in school leads him to a forbidden journey, where he finds new friends – two ants names Chuno and Tiktiki. With these new friends, Puti dares to take on a whole new world and meet his challenge of finding human-made cheese. Will he come back victorious? Here’s a book extract from a children’s book, by Nilanjana, published by Keshav Bhikaji Dhawale, exclusively in Different Truths.
Chapter 1: A Star Rises
Hulo, the tomcat, was waiting patiently at the entry of Burrow Land. He could smell fish around the corner. The mice from Burrow Land carried Hulo’s dinner on a banana leaf. They laid out the food in front of Hulo.
Hulo closely inspected his dinner and roared, “Such small fishes again? Can’t you get me some bigger fishes for all the hard work that I do for you?”
“Well, for that you’ll have to teach us how to catch fish. It is not exactly our area of expertise,” retorted the mouse leading the pack. Hulo glared at this mouse. He stood taller than the other mice and looked confident and calm. Hulo could not remember seeing this mouse before. He was not one of those regular meek mice who quickly served him fishes, gulped down all his loathing and never answered back.
“And, who are you?” Hulo fumed.
“He is our Defence Minister.” One of the mice answered rather timidly.
“Oh… so what has brought you here?” Hulo probed.
“I have come here to give you a message. We are expecting a guest tonight. We, the ministers of Burrow Land, would like to request you to provide him with safe passage. He is expected to come when the moon is at its peak in the sky.” The Defence Minister calmly conveyed his message.
Hulo shrugged his shoulders and paid attention to the food. “Does he know the password?” Hulo casually questioned.
“He does.” The Defence Minister assured him.
Hulo finished his dinner and kept waiting. He definitely did not like the instructions doled out to him by the ministers of Burrow Land. He looked up at the fading moon and sighed, “What has the world come to? I now have to follow instructions given out by a bunch of silly mice! When I took up this job, I thought I’d have fishes of all shapes and sizes. And not just tiny dead ones! I have been fooled!”
It is not often that Burrow Land had guests. However, this guest was late. The moon was already past its peak. Bored, Hulo looked at the banana leaf lying next to him. It still smelt of fish.
Suddenly, a new smell caught his nose. Hulo closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. The smell drew closer. As the smell became stronger, Hulo had an irresistible urge to pounce on the mouse that was now very close to him. The mouse, on the other hand, could hear his own heart beat as he too smelt Hulo.
Hulo extended his paw at the puny and hairless mouse, “What is the password?”
The guest mouse shrieked, “Loony Moon.”
Hulo pulled back his whiskers and walked away. The mouse jumped into the entrance of Burrow Land and slid in smoothly, since all security of Burrow Land had been relaxed.
The Defence Minister welcomed the guest mouse with a fake smile, desperately trying to hide his dislike for the mouse from Human Land and his ‘unmicelike’ smell. The guest was a bit surprised since he did not encounter any of the legendary barriers while entering Burrow Land. In the ministry headquarters, the guest mouse sat on a settee with his heart thumping aloud. He wondered if the others could hear the sound of his heartbeat too.
“Ah,” the Burrow Land Prime Minister put a stop to his fears. “May I know what has brought you here?”
The guest mouse gulped down his fear, but before he could begin, the attendants served him a coconut shell1 full of grass juice. The juice seemed to help. The mouse began, “Err… the humans have developed a particular kind of wood, and it is something that we cannot bite into. They are now storing their food in cupboards made up of this kind of wood, so we can no longer bite into them…”
Before he could complete his sentence, the Minister of Mice Heritage and Culture of Burrow Land expressed his disgust, “We have teeth for our own survival and art, not to bite into other people’s food.”
The guest mouse opened his mouth to answer, but reconsidered. He pulled out a piece of wood from his backpack and laid it on the settee. “This is the wood. We were wondering if there is any special technique to bite into it. Can you help us?” He pleaded.
The Prime Minister picked up the piece of wood and inspected it closely, “This is not natural.”
“No,” the guest sheepishly responded, “it is mouse-proof plywood.”
The Prime Minister bit into the wood. It was too hard; he passed it on to the Minister of Dental Affairs. He, tried biting into the wood too. It was completely ‘unbiteable’.
The Prime Minister once again inspected the piece of wood and looked at the guest, “Why don’t you relax? We’ll see what we can do about this.”
The Defence Minister led the guest mouse to the visitor pit. Back in the meeting room, all the ministers of Burrow Land huddled together.
The Minister of Mice Heritage and Culture was definitely not happy with the guest. He began, “Why should we even be interested? These mice living in Human Land just create a lot of nuisance and spoil the reputation of our fraternity!”
The Minister of Dental Affairs was closely inspecting the wood. In his career, this was the first time that he had come across something that he could not bite into. He held the piece of wood close to his nose and smelt it. The wood exuded no smell… the pores were odourless… no trace of life… he tried biting it again, but to no avail.
The Prime Minister frowned, “This is quite a challenge. How come we, the mice of Burrow Land, cannot bite into a piece of wood?”
The Minister of Mice Heritage and Culture sat and sulked as the Prime Minister asked the Minister of Dental Affairs, “What do you think we should do?”
The Minister of Dental Affairs suggested, “Let’s leave this open to all the mice in Burrow Land.”
In about an hour, the vines took the message across Burrow Land. All mice older than four weeks of age were invited to assemble underneath Kalpavriksha. This is where the Minister of Dental Affairs placed the wood, waiting to supervise the biting contest.
Adult mice queued up to try their luck. When none succeeded, the contest was opened to children.
Puti stood in the queue, waiting for his turn. The queue was long and Mama Mouse was having a tough time trying to manage her four children. She had her daughter Koi and son Shutki tied around her tail. She held her other two sons – Puti and Bhetki – with her forelegs.
Bhetki was not happy with this arrangement. “Mama,” he whined, “I am very hungry.”
Shutki was surprised, “You just had breakfast.”
Bhetki snapped back, “You think some carrot juice and radish munchies are good enough!”
“Nothing is ever enough for you, Bhetki,” Koi observed.
Puti kept looking ahead at the wood that lay on a grass swing under Kalpavriksha. All the ministers surrounded it. Puti noticed the odd looking mouse with a strange smell who was keeping an eye on everyone.
“Mama,” Puti asked, “who is that mouse with so less fur?”
Mama Mouse looked at the guest mouse in disgust and said, “He is from Human Land. Living there has made him bald.”
Her husband, the editor of Burrow News2 was busy covering the contest with his team sitting on the tree opposite Kalpavriksha.
“Your family, Ed.” His team member pointed out. Papa Mouse positioned himself on the edge of the branch to get a better view.
Bhetki was the first one in the family who tried to bite into the mouse-proof plywood. He was not interested as the wood had no taste. He couldn’t bite into it.
Shutki looked at his mom and whined, “The wood is so fat… what if my tooth breaks?”
Mama Mouse was upset with the ‘unmicelike’ behaviour of Shutki. Anyway when his turn came, he just placed his teeth on the wood and jumped away.
It was Puti’s turn next. Koi wanted to go, but her mother held her back. “You are the youngest. Let Puti try first.”
“But I want to bite too.” Koi was impatient.
“Only after him.” Mama Mouse ordered.
Puti hopped across to the mouse-proof plywood kept under Kalpavriksha. He bit into the plywood; it was very hard. Puti tried once more but the wood was absolutely ‘unbiteable’. “Use your special teeth,” a thought flashed in Puti’s head.
Puti halted. He then bared his special teeth and bit into the plywood. The special teeth created a dent in the mouse-proof plywood and slowly Puti could bite through the wood in his unique style.
As the Minister of Dental Affairs observed, he could not chew the whole piece in one go only because his mouth was too small. He chewed the back first, and then worked his way to the front and finally made way to the interior.
“My turn is gone!” Koi sighed.
Mama Mouse looked at Puti with a twinkle in her eyes. Bhetki and Shutki looked very happy and Papa Mouse proudly stood with his crew covering the contest and his son’s victory.
The Minister of Dental Affairs was the first one to congratulate Puti. “Teach me this technique too,” he requested.
The guest mouse gleefully hugged Puti and licked his ears. “Tonight you have solved the biggest problem of the mice fraternity. You have to teach us this new skill. I promise you a pack of cheese very soon… and you are most welcome to visit us anytime.” He quickly learnt the special art of biting from Puti.
The Minister of Mice Heritage and Culture shook his head in disapproval. How could they indulge the vile mice who stayed in Human Land?
Nonetheless, Puti became a star overnight.
School that night was fun, with all the teachers and children praising Puti and his victory. The school canteen served sweet potatoes to everybody in his honour. The Defence Minister saw the guest mouse off. Hulo looked at both with disdain. Once the guest mouse was out of sight, the Defence Minister looked at Hulo, “We have a revised password now.
The next guest, if any, would use this new password.”
“What is it?” Hulo grunted.
The Defence Minister bravely walked close to
Hulo and whispered into his ears, “Loopy Boon.”
Chapter 2: A Shower of Gifts
Puti’s little talent soon became the talk of the town. Born with special sharp teeth, Puti could always create artefacts out of regular wood.
Mama Mouse proudly announced, “He was born with them. In these six weeks, they’ve become stronger I suppose.”
Puti now taught the Minister of Dental Affairs the technique to bite into the mouse-proof plywood. It was definitely not easy for him, since he was not blessed with special teeth. But he used his incisors and could finally manage to make a dent into the mouse-proof plywood. Then with his whole mouth he was able to tear it off.
In about two nights, a box made of mouse-proof plywood arrived in Burrow Land at Puti’s house. Papa Mouse was sipping from his shell of carrot juice and going through the latest edition of Burrow News when sixteen bearer mice arrived with the heavy box. Courteously, they offered to bite off the mouse-proof plywood, armed with the knowledge that Puti himself had given them. Papa Mouse, of course, politely declined and treated them to carrot juice. Meanwhile, he quickly scribbled a note on to the nearest vine leaf, and asked it to update the Prime Minister immediately. Nobody in Burrow Land was allowed to open any parcel or box that arrived from the mice of Human Land without the ministry’s approval.
The Prime Minister arrived with the Defence Minister. Both of them smelt around the box, inspected it closely and finally requested Puti to bite off the cover of his gift.
Puti began biting the box. He was a bit careful, since he wanted to make artefacts out of the plywood instead of randomly biting it away.
“Looks like something nice to eat,” Bhetki said standing right behind.
“Stop thinking about food all the time,” Shutki grumbled.
As Puti went on biting, an unknown smell hit his nose. Gradually, the smell started taking over. Puti began to drool and his speed of gnawing slowed down. It was a smell that was alien to Burrow Land. It was very strong and made the mice forget everything. They were all salivating. Puti could not bite anymore. The smell was making him drool so much that his teeth started losing grip on the box. The Defence Minister uprooted some grass and made a small handkerchief. He gave the grass handkerchief to Puti to wipe his mouth as he continued to bite. Mice in dozens, drawn by the smell, arrived outside Puti’s house. Papa Mouse welcomed them all, as they patiently waited for Puti to unravel his gift. When the house could not accommodate any more mice, they waited outside nailed by the smell.
The slices of cheese lay open on the kitchen table. Mama Mouse handed some over to Puti for the first bite – it was his prize after all – and served all her children before she went on to distribute them to the rest. The taste was new and delicious, something that the mice in Burrow Land had never savoured before. They completely lost themselves to the mouth-watering taste.
Papa Mouse hopped out of his house to hand over the cheese to those waiting outside. As the slices reduced, the mice got impatient. And for the first time in Burrow Land, the mice bit each other in a mad rush to get a taste of the hitherto unknown treat. Something that the humans had made!
Papa Mouse returned to his house with the bad news. The Prime Minister, still licking his mouth, shook his head in condemnation. With the slices of cheese finally over, the smell was gradually subsiding. The mice in Burrow Land were returning to their regular chores.
Bhetki was not amused at all. He complained to his mother, “I could not even take a proper bite!” Mama Mouse fondly stroked his head with her bushy tail. And then she remembered. They had forgotten Kalpavriksha.
About the Author
A story-teller at heart, Nilanjana Dey, is on a journey to experiment with fiction and poetry. Her first novel, largely aimed towards children, is titled, The Adventures of Puti: The Cheese Trail. This is the first one in the Puti trilogy.
Her poems have been published at various prestigious portals.
An alumni of English Literature from Jadavpur University (Kolkata), she is a marketing and communication professional based in Mumbai. She volunteers with a Mumbai based NGO working with the marginalised sections of the society.
1. In Burrow Land, drinks are served in empty coconut shells or containers made up of dried barks of trees.
2. Burrow News is the only newspaper in Burrow Land, printed on dry leaves and distributed through the vines.
(Contributed by Nilanjana Dey, author, The Adventures of Puti: The Cheese Trail, Keshav Bhikaji Dhawale).
Editor’s Note: Excerpted with permission from ‘The Adventures of Puti: The Cheese Trail’, by Nilanjana Dey, published by Keshav Bhikaji Dhawale. It is reproduced as received. DT has not edited it.
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©Nilanjana Dey, 2016
Photos by the author and from the net.