In the August 1937 edition of Overseas, member Freda Dalley gives her account of a breakdown in the middle of the dense Indian jungle. 


My husband is in the Indian Forest Service. Our camp was in Kanara 'high forest', and great timber trees and bamboos covered the hillsides. Big game was plentiful; the rasping sounds of panther, a tiger's full-throated roar, and the alarm notes deer and monkeys as the big cats prowled, were common sounds. The undergrowth was often dense and the light dim, so one seldom saw the creatures. One developed, however, a habit of listening to very small sounds.

On the afternoon of Christmas Day, we two went by car a few miles along the only motor-road, and then walked down a cart-track through thick jungle. We came to a lovely river flowing among boulders, with clean stretches of gravel, and many flowering plants along its margin. Birds and dragon flies darted about. Here I rested, while he went on to inspect an area recently damaged by fire.

I sat a few yards from the stream, a thick clump of tamarisk at my back. Presently the biggest mongoose I have ever seen came walking along the shore. she was as large as  a good-sized cat, and was already watching me when I noticed her. Opposite me she turned, and came to within two yards. She raised her back, bristling every hair till she looked twice her size. Then, as I did not move, she opened her mouth wide and said, slowly, and in absolutely unprintable language, exactly what she thought of me. I saw far down her pink throat, and admired all her beautiful teeth. I replied, "My dear! you're quite mistaken. And I didn't even know they were here, till you said so!" She turned with a snarl of suspicion and walked on down stream till lost to sight. Ten minutes later, a leaf crunched in the bush at my back. Gently turning my head, I saw her vanish - apparently into the ground - a yard behind me. I am sure they enjoyed their tea!

My husband and I went back to camp for ours. Afterwards, we went out again in the car hoping to add something to the larger, but saw nothing. It was dark when we turned homewards. There was no moon, and the dense forest came to within a few feet of the road. Six miles from camp the car gasped and stopped. She was eight years old, tied up with at least 20 bits of string, and her lights were the sort that only work when the engine runs. Nothing we could do would start her. My husband suggested our working home. I simply couldn't; I'd had a four mile walk that afternoon, and I always stumble badly in the dark. I begged him to go to a village and find a cart to tow us home.

After he had gone I waited sleepily. there was only blackness to look t. A sambar stag belled a challenge. A panther made sawing noises far off. Nightjars and owls called occasionally. Insects chirped and buzzed. I was getting cold, and rather hungry. 

Suddenly came a faint sound that was different... I sat up, my hands cupped round my ears, listening: a sound like heavy, careless footfall or two, far off. That was one thing only - elephants. Six weeks before, one of our Rangers had been killed; startled at seeing an elephant standing beside the road, he fell off his cycle. The elephant had crushed both him and his machine. A cultivator near our camp was sitting in a machan guarding his crops, when an elephant tore it down, and broke some of his ribs. Another had pulled up the milestones on a new road - elephants hate strange objects in their path. What was I to do ? To shout might merely annoy and not frighten them. The jungle offered no refuge. To climb a tall tree was impossible in the dark. The sounds came nearer, and I was sure they were on the road, or along its edge. 

I thought of Mother Mongoose; if the enemy is too big to tackle, bluff! Those elephants must be got off the road before they saw the car - I would pretend to be a whole noisy crowd! An oil tin - I beat it with a bag of rattling tools. Two empty petrol tins - I kicked a continuous tattoo on them. The horn I squeezed again and again. And I sang 'Good King Wenceslas' in am mighty voice. When I paused to listen, complete silence reigned except for the insects. I clapped and stamped loudly, and gave two encores - though I could hardly sing for laughing, the row was so awful.

My husband, returning later with a bullock cart and a lantern, saw the fresh tracks of three elephants coming towards the car. But they left the road. As we passed them they squealed and stamped in the jungle alongside.

We sat down to our Christmas turkey - I mean peafowl - at midnight. It was served promptly - hot and not spoilt.

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