|Having escaped from Jodhpur with my travellers cheques intact, I took the night train to Jaisalmer and found myself a delightful room inside the walls of the fantastic fortress, a perfect place for a spot of writing (it's one way to avoid the overpowering heat of the midday desert sun). Enjoying the strong southerly wind blowing through my window and out of my door, I was suddenly jolted upright by a loud, heartfelt screaming. It didn't sound human, but it was obviously a distress call, amplified by the gusts as they blew headfirst into the battlements below and shot straight up into my penthouse.
I ran to my porthole and soon identified the source as a scuffle of dust clouds on the battlement slope. In Jaisalmer Fort the citadel walls stand on the top of an 80m-high sloping hill, so below the walls is a steep slope of scree that becomes vertical for its bottom 30 feet. This vertical bottom has been fortified by another wall, but there are no battlements here: if you were to be pushed off the citadel, you would fall from the battlements to the slope, roll down the hill and finally drop another 30 feet vertically down onto the plains (and no doubt plenty of marauders met their fate in exactly this way). It was from this slope that the noise was squealing.
The house from which the man and his pail of water came to help
The dust settled for a minute to show two dogs baiting a small piglet, no more than a foot-and-a-half from snout to springy tail. The dogs, one a patchwork of white and black and the other a dusty desert brown, had each got an end of the piglet and were throwing their heads to this side and that like a lion ripping flesh from a wildebeest. But the piglet was still very much alive and bellowing, and running to the rescue were two boys.
I wondered for a minute how two Indians, a nation of people not exactly renowned for their kindness to animals, were going to help the situation, but help they did. Armed with slings and handfuls of stones they drove the dogs off the piglet and spent a good few minutes keeping them at bay. The dogs, however, had tasted blood, and at every opportunity they would grab the piglet and run off with it hanging from their drooling mouths, the poor thing squealing for its life. Eventually the boys managed to get between the dogs and the piglet, and began the long process of guiding their injured animal friend along the top of the lower wall, towards the gentle slope at one end that led down to the road.
Jaisalmer Fort dominates the skyline
It was during this slow escape that disaster struck. One of the dogs, evidently the hungriest, had run back down the slope and was tearing towards the pig. One of the boys spotted it and lobbed a well-aimed stone at the bugger's flank, turning it away with a yelp, but the piglet hadn't seen the sling and it panicked. It ran here and there, trusting neither dog nor human, and didn't saw the vertical drop until it ran straight into oblivion.
Right there below my room, the piglet seemed to float for a minute. Weighed down by its oversized head, it tumbled in a perfect arc, landing flat on its back after a drop of some thirty feet, raising a cloud of dust as it hit with a dull thump. The boys didn't know what to do, and after throwing a few more rocks at the dogs in sheer frustration, they heeded the call of the injured and raced down to the roadside where the piglet lay twitching.
Even the buildings crowd together in Jaisalmer
Hearing the shouts, a man came out of the house opposite, carrying a pail of water. His solution to the problem of a piglet with a broken back was to dump the contents of his pail over the poor beast's head, which shocked it back to life and up into a few unsteady steps before it lay down again. But it was obviously in a terminal state, and as the man gently poured a second bucket on the body, the boys' heads slowly bowed one by one, everyone avoiding each others' gaze.
The piglet was dead, an insignificant death in a country where millions of animals die every year. But this one seemed poignant, because it showed the Indians in a different light: whether the piglet was a pet, an animal to be fattened and slaughtered or just an innocent caught up in a dog-eat-pig world, those boys, unsuccessful though they were, were supporting the underdog. It made a change from seeing fat, rich Indians taunting monkeys chained up in cages, and it was good to see, despite the outcome.
One day all Indians might act like this. And pigs might fly.