Three of them were on the high masonry wall, and two of them were about to die. We were waiting for our food in an outdoor seating area of Moti Mahal, a long-time popular restaurant in Old Delhi. We had just finished a personal tour of the kitchen to see their famous tandoori ovens that were dug about four feet into the ground and two feet in diameter. These earthen ovens emitted searing heat from the bed of hot coals in each one. It was incredible how good chicken tasted from these ovens. But I get ahead of myself.
Dusk had arrived and a few lights with a single bare bulb were along the upper perimeter of the wall, perhaps ten feet above the ground. The wall appeared very old, but was maintained well with a relatively smooth masonry surface and a recent coat of sand or desert-colored paint. Small gravel was under our feet. The restaurant was packed with a jovial crowd. We knew before we tasted anything that this was going to be a memorable meal, not just because we had heard their food was well worth the wait, but also because the place was so unique in our experience.
What happened next was more memorable for me than anything else. I have recounted the memory to friends and family many times, but it has taken nearly a quarter century for me to write it.
As night fell, the brightness of a light on top of the wall directly to my left attracted a moth. Watching the moth for a time led me to notice a lizard about four inches long that had crept up from the lower left and was just inches from the light bulb. The moth darted around and into the light bulb repeatedly, as is their habit. The lizard inched even closer. Fascinating!
Then farther to the left on top of the wall sat a large gray cat watching the moth and the lizard. The cat kept its head over the edge of the wall with a watchful eye on the action near the bulb. As the drama intensified, the cat inched almost imperceptibly closer to the lizard as the lizard inched closer to the moth.
Here the food chain was playing itself out in a short drama, almost perfectly choreographed. The moth was the lizard’s dinner, or at least a snack. Then the lizard played the same role for the cat. The moth did not know what was about to happen to it. Neither did the lizard know the cat’s plans. But the cat had the whole scene figured out.
This morning I found a scattered circle of blue, gray, and white feathers in our driveway. The feathers were from perhaps a blue jay, there to pick up some seeds or a bug or two for breakfast. Two cats furtively roam the area around our house. I don’t know whose cats they are. One of the cats most likely got the bird.
I hope the cat owners know we have coyotes in the canyon behind our house. I hope they know coyotes like cat meals. But since these cats are allowed to roam freely, I’d guess the owners don’t know about this part of our local food chain.
Nature is beautiful, making its own way, sometimes violently. The compressed scene on the wall in Old Delhi was a perfect illustration. Beautiful. Methodical. Violent.