The little mountain village of Nagarkot is a piece of heaven on earth.
It sits above the clouds more often than not, hand in hand with the sun’s rays, on nodding terms with Everest, a humble Himalayan farming village on top of the world. When they walk out of their front doors in Nagarkot, the people are often greeted by fields of cloud, so that a visitor might be tempted to set out across them on his way to Elysium.
Some of the farmers grow indigo trees. Not really trees: but tough little shrubs whose leaves hold secret powers. Soak then in a great vat of water and they will make a vivid blue dye prized by clothes makers across the world. Indigo is the dye used to color our blue jeans.
The women of the village would collect the leaves and leave them in great clay vats to soak for days. The terracotta jars are a common sight, with deep blue mouths, lined up, infusing to make this prized commodity.
It so happened that on the outskirts of Nagarkot lived a jackal who eked out his existence on man’s leavings. The dogs of the village looked down on him; and as a pack they could be vicious. There is nothing as terrifying as being a lone wolf with a phalanx of united territorial dogs against you.
But on this day, the jackal’s stomach was so empty it hurt.
And so the desperate creature decided to creep surreptitiously into the village, at dawn, when nighttime carousing had finished and farmers were only just opening their eyes in their comfortable beds, their dogs curled up waiting the day.
He made his way silently to the rubbish heap and there, indeed , was enough food for five jackals. He began to eat.
But the jackal is a noisy eater, and the dogs heard him.
Helter-skelter, out of the houses they hurtled, coming together like some great army to tear the starving little jackal limb from limb. And the jackal did the only thing he could: he ran for his life.
Men woke in their beds to hear the commotion: a harum-scarum pursuit out of the village as all the dogs shot after the jackal.
He was in desperate straits. He shot over a courtyard wall in search of a safe place, and landed , squarely in a vat of indigo.
The light was getting stronger: so much so that the dogs, who had paused, puzzled, at the gate to the courtyard, could not believe their eyes when they beheld a blue creature emerging. It had a supernatural quality and its eyes burned in the cool blue.
Their eyes grew wide, and they turned tail and fled.
The jackal became thoughtful.
I could cash in on this, he thought. And he called all the animals together and said: “I have been sent to you by the Gods. Make me your king, and I will protect you from their wrath.”
And the animals, gullible when it came to blue animals, agreed. Now the jackal was fat and sleek and happy. And indigo.This seemed the perfect answer to his problems.
Right up until the night of the full moon.
For full moon night is party night for jackals. They come together, and exchange stories, and see old friends, and together they howl at the moon.
So the jackal heard them gathering, outside the village, and he knew what was coming. And when they raised their heads and howled for sheer lupine joy, something deep inside him snapped and – though blue messengers of God must surely never howl – he howled at the moon.
At which point the animals realised, suddenly, that here was a common or garden jackal. No messenger, but a trickster who had shown his true colours at last.
The jackal was chased far, far away from his beautiful homeland, never to set eyes on the little village on top of the clouds again.
Sometimes, it is better just to be yourself, he mused sadly. Because who you are will always, ultimately, become apparent.