At last I reached the banyan I had spotted from half a mile away, and lay down gratefully in its shade. The heat had dried up everything in the neighbourhood the dusty earth, the withered shrubs, and even the grass.
There was a small pool, almost only a puddle, in a dip beyond the tree, and for a moment I felt tempted, but all the notions of hygiene inculcated in one over the years barred me. The water was not merely muddy, but also very dirty, and the sides of the pool bore the hoof-marks of many cattle I looked the other way, and noticed that there was a wind on the horizon raising the dusty ~ underneath the tree the air was stagnant.
When I turned slowly to the pool again, a less hygienically-educated drinker was slaking its thirst in it. A jackal was standing knee-deep in the thick water, cooling its hot, tired legs, and drinking so daintily that I could not hear the sound of its lapping, though I was only ten yards away.
I lowered my head and lay very still watching the jackal. When it had drunk its fill it stepped daintily on to the further side of the pool, and selecting the patch of shade offered by a dried-up lantana, lay down in it. It circled around a few times, chasing its tail, and then lay down ~ I believe no animal of the dog tribe bothers to go through this ritual unless it feels like a good sleep.
It was compact in its repose, well covered by that little shade, lean jaws on outstretched paws, tail hugging a flank and almost at once it dropped off to sleep. After a while it slowly stretched itself, turned over a little on one side, and was more relaxed and limp.
Moving slowly and very softly (silence can be achieved if one takes care and goes really slow) I crept up on the sleeper till I was right over it ~ I could have reached down and grabbed its throat before its swift responses could have saved it, but of course I had no such urge. I noticed the fleas on its harsh, grizzled coat, and saw that the fulvous hair on its muzzle had turned partially white, evidently this was a very old jackal. The pads of the feet were deeply rutted, and on the left forepaw two toes were missing and there was a deep, healed wound suggesting a misadventure with a steel trap.
As I stood watching, the jackal’s body went into a sort of convulsion the legs scrabbled in a rowing movement, the muzzle was pushed forward and the mouth partly opened, and an eager whimper pulsated the throat ~ no one who knows dogs could mistake what was happening, the jackal was dreaming and perhaps hunting in its dream.
When the sleeper was quiet and relaxed again, I went back to my banyan. It occurred to me that if I climbed to a fork 5 ft up the tree I could watch the jackal in comfort, with little chance of its seeing me the noise of my climb roused it at once. It sprang to its feet and looked up unerringly at me ~ then its jaws dropped open, wide agape with the tongue out, and a wrinkle creasing the angles of the jaws below the cheeks.
I believe this expression does not indicate amusement in animals, but uncertainly and surprise, and also an anxious desire, but I could not help thinking how comic the sight of a heavy awkward man scrambling up a tree must have seemed to any watcher. It left unhurriedly, gliding over the scrub at an effortless, ambling pace and I descended from the banyan and went back to the village.
This was published on 12 December