On Making the Perfect SMS Cattie

A cattie is essential equipment for an Abuite. You wear it around your neck at walks. Fire at birds, dogs, cattle, lamp-posts, family planning billboards, date palms, or the painted white circles on the silver oaks on the road.

Great. Now that you know what to do with it, how do you get a cattie? Well, you could buy those modern lightweight marvels with alloy grips and patent leather stoneholders. Pshaa!! The true Abuite makes his own.

It all begins with a trip to Abu Road. Over to the north of the main platform and east of the tracks, there's the steam yard. (Later on there came the diesel locomotive yard, south and west of the platform. But diesel yards were no good for catties. End of that story). Now ya hafta put on a tough guy tone, sound like ya knows all about trains and things. Cross the tracks, taking care not to get your feet between the rails at the switch points. Find your way to the chief's shed, carelessly drop the name of the Anglo Indian in your class whose dad might have connections in the yard, and ask him if you could have a gauge glass.1 At this point your project takes either of two critical turns. Either half a dozen of your classmates have just come by asking for gauge glasses and it's time for him to get real with the inventory, and it gets like that “I want some more” scene in Oliver, he gives you a kick in the pants, pulls your ears and bellows some explicit advice about never visiting the yard again without your mama. On the other hand maybe it's your lucky day, the Vaseline still holds your hair down neat, your smile is just right, maybe you slipped a “please” in somewhere. He summons a peon, who returns in a few minutes with a shiny little toy that's going to be your proof of manhood. Until you shoot a guy behind the ear at studies and the thing gets confiscated. (Which reminds me of Ivan Crasto's autograph to me: “If your peashooter is wanted / Hide it not / For I solemnly assure you / You will be caught.”)

But I digress. Now that you have your pea-shooter, it's time to elevate the request. “Vacuum rubbers?” you venture. If all goes according to plan, you emerge with a 20-rupee smile2 and a ring of solid rubber, ~1.3 cm in cross-sectional diameter, large enough to be a garland. Your day is made.

The first thing you do with a vacuum rubber is to brag to your classmates that you got one. You get promises of tuck, next week's cutlet, a chance to borrow the guy's coveted Adidas football boots for your next three games, etc. Because one vacuum rubber ring could yield 8 catties. EIGHT!

Now back to earth. How to transform a vacuum rubber into a cattie? So next there's a trip to Ratiram. You want the best, brand new Wilkinson double-edged razor blades. Back in school that very night you announce that you'll be cutting your rubbers. It's a major event, because there's no going back. Two guys stretch a section of the ring while you make the ceremonial snip.

Now comes the diciest part, splitting the rubber into quarters. It's one of those (few) instances when you can tell the difference between Presidential material and village idiots3. The idiot does this himself. He holds one end of the rubber between his toes, the other end between the fingers of his left hand. With his right, armed with that razor blade, he saws at the rubber, cutting it into halves, then quarters. Hurray, except that the quarters are of wildly uneven width, and the edges are so ragged, they photograph them in close-up and use them as silhouettes of the Himalayas. What a terrible desecration of a vacuum rubber. Never mind that double edged razor blades also desecrate your fingers.

Meanwhile Mr President knows that the secret lies in delegation. He summons the expert.

The expert vacuum rubber cutter is usually a big guy, a motor cycle gang leader sort of chap. He has a deputy hold one end of the rubber strip with two hands, pulling hard, real hard. Tension is the secret. He grabs the other end with his left hand, spreads his feet wide apart for stability, licks the edge of the blade (don't try that at home), utters some disparaging comments about the quality of the rubber, and slits the entire length of the strip in 10 seconds. Perfect halves. Perfect quarters. Perfect eighths. Perfect sixteenths. Perfect thirtyseconds.

Thirtyseconds? Yes. Real Abuites don't use rubberbands for tie-ups. They use thirtyseconds of vacuum rubbers. Anyway, job done, no charge, just bear in mind your lifelong indebtedness to the motorcycle gang.

Now it's just a matter of finding the right V and leather (those unused mochi-fabricated footer boots will do fine), getting the tie-ups to stay without popping off ... and you have your cattie. To keep the rubber from perishing, dust it with talcum powder. You certainly don't want to use that talcum powder after a shower anyway; the lads wouldn't let you forget it.

And while you have some spare rubber, don't forget to make that miniature SMS specialty. The cattie equivalent of the Derringer. The bum-sting. Or in polite company, the bee-sting.

1Glass tube, inner diameter roughly 7 mm, outer diameter about 1 cm, length about 25 cm. Perfect pea-shooter. Of course, we never shot peas, they were too soft when cooked, and tasted pretty awful when uncooked. We shot bora seeds, and the right place to hit a guy was just behind the ear.
2Sometimes called a million dollar smile. In 1970 schoolboy budgetary terms, 20 rupees was a rough equivalent.
3Definitely and obviously not a reference to President Kalam.