Suresh Menon

Friday - - Contents -

The rat race is on and hu­mans seem to be win­ning.

So New York­ers have been ex­ag­ger­at­ing. Or, to put it another way, the sun rises in the east; ev­ery­thing is as it should be. Se­duc­tive statis­tics – one rat per head of pop­u­la­tion – gave rise to the myth that there are eight mil­lion rats in New York City. Now we know that ain’t so. A 26-year-old statis­ti­cian at Columbia Univer­sity tells us that there are ‘only’ two mil­lion rats there – one rat for ev­ery four peo­ple.

Ei­ther six mil­lion peo­ple must now leave New York or the same num­ber of rats must mi­grate to the city that never sleeps (prob­a­bly be­cause of the rat men­ace) to main­tain the ra­tio.

My sym­pa­thies are with New York­ers, who have al­ready lost boast­ing rights to the tallest struc­ture, weak­est tea, fat­test news­pa­pers and have been mak­ing do with hav­ing the ‘one-offest’ Woody Allen and the great­est bull out­side a stock ex­change in the world.

Na­tions of­ten take pride in their rat pop­u­la­tion (no, I don’t know why ei­ther). For in­stance, in Bri­tain, they say you’re never more than six feet away from one, which means when you lie down you are prob­a­bly in com­mu­nion with a ro­dent.

In Ben­galuru, where I live, no one has at­tempted to take a rat cen­sus or use a rat-a-stat, as the app for such an ac­tiv­ity will, in­evitably, be called. But I once had a book on the sub­ject, now sadly chewed up by rats.

Still, how do you take the cen­sus? Rats, as we know, are no­to­ri­ous for giv­ing false in­for­ma­tion on cen­sus forms. And sci­en­tists hate to walk or crawl around on all fours, knock­ing on rat holes, sew­ers and the New

No one has at­tempted to use a rat-a-stat, as the app for a rat cen­sus will, in­evitably, be called

York sub­way, hop­ing they get hon­est an­swers to ques­tions like “Hey, you look fa­mil­iar, have I counted you al­ready?”

You can al­ways smell a rat, and not just when they are de­sert­ing a sink­ing ship. But the new fig­ure is less about rats than about statis­tics. To be off by six mil­lion or 400 per cent is a stag­ger­ing achieve­ment that only New York­ers are ca­pa­ble of. I think it’s time we mea­sured the height of the Em­pire State Build­ing again or the length of the Brook­lyn Bridge. The cred­i­bil­ity of the New Yorker has taken a beat­ing.

Soon after the Sec­ond World War, some­one cal­cu­lated that there was one rat for ev­ery 36 New York­ers, so the rat pop­u­la­tion has ac­tu­ally in­creased. New York­ers (and statis­ti­cians) can take con­so­la­tion from that.

Suresh Menon is a writer based in In­dia. In his youth he set out to change the world but later de­cided to leave it as it is

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