I struggled not to gag from the exhaust fumes in the gridlock of Ajmer. Night was falling rapidly and the main street of the town in the heart of the Thar desert seemed like a narrow canyon leading to Hades filled with honking vehicles, smoke and dust. I motioned to my rickshaw driver that I would get down here – as it didn’t make much sense to stay in the gridlock breathing fumes from the nearby bus exhaust pipe carefully positioned a foot from my face. I was kicking myself for leaving my camera in the hotel, as I have never seen more air pollution in one place as had materialized in the last half hour before sunset – it was the kind of air pollution that makes for great stock. The buses, rickshaws, two wheelers with gear and without, bicycles, camels, and cacophony of sound were all crammed so tightly into the narrow street that it was slow going by foot back to the hotel. Apparently the Ajmer police department had decided to make Main Street a one-way road-leaving town, but hadn’t passed the memo along to the angry drivers trying to force their way the wrong way down the street.
Back at the hotel, surrounded by fort like walls of concrete, the din of the evening died down and I watched the smoke and dust rise into the night in a glorious column of black. To save a few rupees Paul and I were splitting a room, but not wanting to share a bed we asked the hotel housekeeper to supply another mode of sleeping. Happy to oblige, the young man of no more than 20 dragged a heavy single bed into the room, its plywood base covered by thin dusty sheet-less cushions and its metal coasters making a horrible screeching sound over the marble floors as it moved. The process of sheeting the bed disturbed a small mouse that had made its home in the mattress, causing it to leap off the bed. “Mouse!” I said, pointing to the now certainly doomed creature. The housekeeper abandoned making the bed and began chasing the little mammal around the room. He chased it under the couches and under the bed and eventually managed to herd it into the bathroom where he shut the door behind him. Paul and I watched the closed door with incredulity and anticipation as the crashing and banging seemed to reach a crescendo followed by silence. With a feigned look of triumph the housekeeper emerged. “Mouse finished?” I asked in my best pigeon Indian English accent. “Finished!” the housekeeper said triumphantly but unconvincingly. Not believing my young friend I asked again “Expired? Mouse Expired?”, “Yes” he said. “Finished” at which point he forgot there was a bed to make and left the room.
Thirty minutes later the mouse cautiously crept out of the bathroom. If it had better luck and timing, it would not have chosen to walk right in my line of site between the television blaring Bollywood sounds and myself. Paul and I saw our furry friend at the same time, but before I could say anything Paul grunted, “I’ll take care of it” and walked out the door. A few minutes later he returned and said the manager was sending Suzy. “The manager said to me ‘No Problem! Suzy will take care of it!’ so I guess he is sending the maid, poor girl”.
Moments later our hotel room door burst open to a chorus of Suzy, Suzy, Suzy, Suzy, Suzy, Suzy, Suzy from our young housekeeping friend who was herding a beautiful gray German Sheppard into the room. Skidding around on the polished marbled floors of the hotel on her extended nails, Suzy sniffed out our hapless mammalian friend, and like the housekeeper, chased her first under the bed and then into the bathroom. However, unlike our hapless housekeeper, it was apparent that Suzy had done this before. The housekeeper shut the door behind her in the bathroom and folded his arms across his chest. With a triumphant smile he said “No Problem!” which, in India at least, usually means that there is, in fact, a problem. We could hear Suzy’s nails scuffling around the floor of the bathroom until after a few seconds the scuffling grew silent. Moments later, and to my great surprise, Suzy emerged tenderly holding the lifeless mouse in her jaws, with a look halfway between guilt and elation that her task was over.
Suzy performed her mouse catching feat no less than three other times during our stay in Ajmer, and I must admit by the time it was time to check out, I had begun rather hoping for a mouse to make its way into our room for the wonderment of seeing Suzy perform her duty. As we were checking out with the manager who had a curled white mustache that Salvador Dali would be proud of, we asked him what Suzy does with the mice. “Oh, Suzy is a good girl” he said in perfect British Indian English, “She takes them to the corner of the roof and leaves them for the birds, she never eats them herself.” Formulating this in my mind as we bumped up the road to Pushkar, I realized that we had witnessed a vegetarian, mouse catching, German Sheppard that does social work for the birds. A better explanation of the inexplicableness that is India cant be found anywhere.