[O most valued Reader, of late I’ve been feeling that everything’s going to the dogs… the world, the environment, politics, society, and of course my writing. An appropriate time, then, to present this short essay – published in May-June 1995 by my dear friend Uma in her magazine ‘Small Change’]
We’ve at last come to realize that humankind is not the sole intelligence in the universe.
Consider the tick.
Now, anybody who owns a dog or who’s ever had anything to do with dogs will certify the truth of the following statements:
1. Ticks love dogs.
2. Ticks feed on dogs.
3. When full, ticks drop off dogs and crawl up walls.
A tick not only crawls up the wall; with grim determination etched upon its face, it continues to crawl (upside-down) across the ceiling till it reaches some predetermined spot. And there, it settles down and waits.
The question that arises naturally is: waits for WHAT?
We asked the vet. He looked surprised and immediately replied: “For a dog, of course!”
We were nonplussed. We sought urgent clarification. Surely, we stressed, ticks might not have our levels of intelligence, but even they would know that dogs preferred to walk on the floors and were in fact rarely found scaling the walls of a room, forget the ceiling?
The vet chuckled and said we’d missed the point.
“It’s like this,” he said. “The tick, having fed on a dog, falls off the dog and on to the floor, right?”
“Now, then, the tick naturally needs to rest awhile and digest its food. But at the same time, it must be in a position where it can find a dog at short notice…so it doesn’t die of starvation, right?”
We nodded again.
“Now, if the tick remains resting on the floor where it’s fallen, two serious problems arise. One: even if a dog passes it by frequently, it’s not going to be easy for the tick to get back on board the dog; after all, the dog will be moving pretty fast compared to the tick, and so there’s not much chance for the tick to hop on to a passing paw or tail. Two: while the tick remains lying there, there’s every chance that it will be stepped on by a careless boot, or swept away or swabbed or vacuumed into oblivion.” He paused for breath.
“You mean…the tick knows all this?”
“Of course it does! Believe me, that little tick is mighty sharp. And so, what the tick instead does is, it heads for the nearest wall as fast as it can. Then, it crawls up the wall all the way up to the ceiling, and it crawls across the ceiling till it reaches a spot from where it has an uninterrupted view of the floor below. And there it waits…for a passing dog. Sooner or later, a dog will walk beneath it; whereupon, the tick judges the dog’s velocity, matches it against the estimated distance to the floor, swiftly launches itself…and lo! There the tick is, safely back upon the unsuspecting dog’s back for another enjoyable season of feeding…”
We were awestruck. “So….that explains why we sometimes find a tick or two crawling about on our arms when we visit people who own dogs,” we muttered. “The ticks must have fallen off the ceiling on to us; they must have miscalculated their launch angles and velocities, maybe leapt too soon or late…”
“You’ve got it all wrong!” the vet spluttered. “If and when a tick lands on you, it does so deliberately. You see, the tick knows you like dogs…or at least it knows that you know the owner of the resident dog. And so, the tick knows that sooner or later you’re going to meet the dog, or the dog’s owner. And what better launching pad could the tick have to board its dog from, than your shoulder, or arm, or neck, or hair…”
At which point we fled.
Yesterday we read a news item headlined: ‘Search for Intelligent Life Continues in Outer Space’.
They’re looking in the wrong place!