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
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
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
Your day is
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
Now back to earth. How to transform a vacuum rubber into a cattie?
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
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
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
Now it's just a matter of finding the right V and
leather (those unused mochi-fabricated footer boots will do fine),
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.