Last week Hiranyaka, the mouse king, narrated how he came to live in a forest. He lost all his belongings as well as his self-confidence. So when he heard the hermits mock him, he left for the forest to meditate on God. Manthara, the tortoise, reassured Hiranyaka that there was a lesson in all that happened—wealth gives us joy only if we spend it wisely or share it with those in need. Otherwise, it leads to disastrous consequences. And to make his point, he decides to tell his friends the story of the Jackal and the dead game.
The Jackal and the Dead Game
Manthara began his story, “A hunter named Bhairava lived in a small village not too far from the forests of the Vindhya. He was known to be quite daring and quick with his weapons. One day, Bhairava felt like eating venison for lunch. You know how you crave a particular dish on some days—maybe paneer or dosa and want your mom or dad to make it for dinner…well, that started the events in this story. Bhairava wandered into the forest looking for deer, and he found one. The animal was no match for the human, for he was quick with his bow. The hunter dragged the dead deer on the path to his home, but to his bad luck, he stumbled upon a humongous boar!
You must be quicker than the animal when you’re out hunting, right? But by the time Bhairava dropped the deer and grabbed his spear, he had lost precious seconds. The boar charged at him and gored him with its tusks. Even then, Bhairava aimed his weapon at the boar. Both of them were injured severely in the skirmish, and they fell dead. So the deer, the hunter, and the boar lay there on the ground. In the middle of all this fighting, a snake found its way into the middle of the ferocious battle and died. Perhaps the hunter or the boar trampled on it, or the weapons sliced through it; either way, the snake died.
A little while later, a hungry jackal wandered into this part of the forest. He took in the scene in a daze. Goodness! What a feast awaited him! The jackal’s mind raced, planning his menu for …Hmmm…Wonder how long this will last, two or three months or more? He thought, “Let’s see, the man will be good for one month, and so will the two large animals, the deer and the boar. That’s three months…and oh, the snake!” The jackal pushed the reptile with his snout. “A week? Nah! A day! Yes, I’ll start with the snake tomorrow and go on to the others one after another. But for today, there’s that bowstring… that’s from some animal too. Why should I waste anything?” he decided on his menu for the night.
Wait! Doesn’t that sound so weird? When there is so much food available, the jackal’s planning on eating the bowstring! What next?
Well, the jackal started to nibble at the bowstring. That broke the bowstring. When the string released the tension on the bow, the arrow shot out and pierced the jackal. The silly animal was as dead as the others around him.
Think about it! If the jackal had not been so stuck on storing every little bit of the food…, if he had started with the snake, he’d have been fine! See, This is what I meant when I said if you use money wisely for the good of others and your enjoyment, it serves a purpose. Otherwise, it is good for nothing.
There’s a problem with this obsession with wanting to be rich. Everything we do is all about working hard to make money. Once we have money, we work harder to keep it safe. Have you noticed a brave man, even if he is poor, can do great things and be looked up to by his community? On the other hand, no matter how rich he is, a coward finds it hard to earn others’ respect. What is the big deal about being rich that you must boast about it, ha? And, if you are poor, why pretend to be otherwise? If you notice, rich people don’t always stay rich. Nor do the poor stay that way permanently. Money comes and goes like a passing cloud. Anyway, the almighty God knows what we need and when we need things. God will take care of our needs.
On top of all this, if you are rich, you’re always worried that others will steal your money. Let me just say that you are welcome to live with us as you are.”
Manthara, the tortoise, finished his tale and sat back.
His words moved the crow so much that the bird flapped his wings with delight. “My dear friend, you are so wise,” he complimented the tortoise. The friends were happy, content, and at peace. When you live with people with whom you get along, life is pleasant, isn’t it? Our three friends lived peacefully until one day, a deer came bounding into that part of the forest. The suddenness of it all alarmed them. They were so confused! The tortoise swam to the bottom of the lake, the mouse disappeared in his hole, and the crow rose to the tree canopy. There, he looked around to see if there was any kind of disturbance in the forest. No, nothing looked out of place. There was no sign of humans or hordes of animals coming this way. What was the danger? Laghupatnaka flew down and called to his friends. They slid out of their hiding places and went to the deer.
The tortoise was the first to greet the deer. “Welcome! Welcome! Make yourself at home in our forest!”
“Oh, thank you so much! My name is Chitranga. It’s nice to meet such friendly faces when you come to a new place. I’d just managed to shake off a hunter and found myself here. Thank you for including me as a friend,” said the deer. After a good meal of grass and some water, he lay down to rest under the banyan tree.
“I noticed you were in a great rush to get here this morning. Were you okay? This forest is so far from people that I thought hunters never come here,” Manthara, the tortoise looked puzzled.
“Oh, yay! You might be puzzled. Have you heard of the prince of Kalinga, Rukmangada? He is marching this way with his army. I believe he’s all set to fight some wars along the border. They sent scouts out from the camp because they must feed the soldiers. That’s how I crossed paths with a hunter. I just remembered something. There was some talk that the prince would stop and camp here on the banks of this lake. I don’t think it’s a good idea to stay here. We should find a different spot, away from the army’s path,” the deer said.
“Oh!” the others were alarmed and agreed they must leave. Then a troubling thought popped up. What will Manthara do? He was too slow and wouldn’t make it to safety on land. The tortoise needs to be near the water, after all. Hiranyaka turned towards Manthara. “We’ve got to plan your escape carefully…otherwise…” his voice trailed off in disbelief.
The tortoise was nowhere to be seen! The poor chap had left the clearing as soon as he heard a human camp coming their way. “The others can move quickly, but I need as much time as possible. I better not wait to listen to any story-vory,” he thought and left immediately.
His friends looked around to see which way he had taken. But they were in the middle of a thick forest! They scrambled, looking under the bushes, the thick-knotted tree roots, and swampy ditches. By the time they found the correct trail and had him in their sights, the tortoise walked right into a hunter’s path! The man was famished. The tortoise was too small a meal for him, but still, he grabbed it, tied it to his stick, and marched home.
“Oh No!” the mouse king whimpered. “It’s hard to find good friends, and he is one of the best! We can’t abandon him to his fate. What kind of friends would we be if we did that? Let’s do our best to rescue him before they leave the forest. It’ll be much harder amongst a crowd of humans.”
“Yes, Let’s! But how?” The others wanted to help their friend but didn’t know what to do next.
Hiranyaka thought quickly! “You, Chitranga, run! Run ahead of us to the lake. Make sure the hunter doesn’t see you, though. Lie down on the banks and pretend to be dead. Laghupatnaaka, you act as if to peck him. That will convince the hunter that he is dead. The man will need both hands to drag the deer. He’ll have to put the tortoise down. I will take care of the rest.”
The deer and the crow followed the mouse’s directions, and sure enough, the hunter came upon the deer a little while later. “OH, VENISON! My family will be so pleased to have deer meat!” he exclaimed. He left the stick with the tortoise on the ground and walked over to the deer. That’s when the mouse king jumped into action mode and cut through the strings tying the tortoise using his sharp teeth. The tortoise slid into the lake, the deer leaped up and ran, and the crow rose to the sky.
“Wha? What happened here?” The hunter’s jaw moved up and down like a box and lid. He shook his head in disbelief and turned to pick up his stick. “Darn it! Where did the tortoise go? UUUuuuuurrrrrgh! This is what comes of running after something that is out of reach and ignoring what you have!” He gave one last look in the grass and under the bushes. But he had to leave the forest empty-handed.
Now that the immediate danger had passed, the mouse king and his friends made their way deep into the forest, away from the humans. There they lived happily until the end of their time.
Vishnusharman ended the story and looked at his pupils. The boys had been hanging on to his every word. “Sir! That was the most fascinating story we’ve ever heard! The ending was perfect, with all the friends living safely and happily!” Eyes sparkling, King Sudarshana’s sons clapped happily.
The guru raised his hands to bless them.
“May you find friends who will be your strength and support. May your lands be wealthy and at peace, thanks to your strong and just policies. May Shiva watch over all of us.”
And with this episode, we finish the tales from the first section of the Hitopadesha. Next week we will start the stories from the second section, ‘Losing Friends.‘
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