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A Friend In Need ...
by Swapna Dutta

A Panchtantra Story

Do friends always need to be equal in size? Or in strength? What do you think?

Well, as it happens, sometimes people – and creatures - that are widely different can be true friends. That is what this story is all about.

Once upon a time there lived a group of mice in a forest. They lived happily and peacefully until something happened to destroy their peace. A group of wild elephants also came to live in the same forest. Now, as a rule all forests have creatures that are both big and small. Although they confront one another and sometimes kill each other, nevertheless all kinds of animals manage to coexist in the same forest. The same might have happened to the mice and the elephants. But unfortunately there was a drought that year. Most of the pools and ditches from which the animals drank dried up. There was only this stream which had a little water.

As all the elephants rushed to the stream whenever they were thirsty they did not bother to look which way they were going. In their mad rush most of the mice got crushed under their feet and their homes were destroyed. The leader of the mice was really worried. He was sure that if things continued the same way very soon there would be no mice left at all! Something had to be done to stop the elephants and soon. But what could they do? The little mice were no match for the huge elephants. So how could they possibly make the elephants listen to them?

At last the leader of the mice had an idea. It was rather daring but it was the only thing to do. The leader went to see the chief of the elephants and said that he had an urgent request.

“You?” cried the elephant chief in surprise looking at the mouse, “what can you possibly have to say to me?”
“Sir, couldn’t you please ask the elephants to take the direct route to the river instead of rushing there anyhow? As they rush by among the trees they tramp on the mice and kill them. Those of us who are lucky enough to escape are rendered homeless. I am sure they don’t intend to kill us. Probably they are not even aware of the damage they cause. That is why I thought of requesting you to speak to them.”
The chief of the elephants gave him a searching look. “I am sure you are right. The elephants are not likely to gain anything by killing mice or destroying their homes. You are far too tiny to be of any use! It is possible that they are not even aware of it.”
“That is what I thought, sir” said the leader of the mouse.
“I shall speak to them and ask them to go by the direct route to the river” said the chief of the elephant, “I think it was brave of you to have come to me, little mouse.”
“Thank you and if there is anything we can ever do to help, we shall do it” said the mouse.

The elephant burst out laughing! The mouse who looked so serious was really too funny for words!

“Thanks for the offer” said the elephant looking amused, “though I can’t imagine how a tiny creature like you can possibly help someone as huge as an elephant! But it was nice of you to have said it.”

The elephant chief kept his promise. He told the elephants to be careful and go to the river by another route without hurting the mice. The mice soon breathed in peace and went back to their carefree life. Before long things took an unexpected turn. This time it was the elephants who were in trouble. A band of elephant trappers sneaked into the forest and trapped the elephant in their huge nets. Even the elephant chief was caught unawares. He was really upset and blamed himself bitterly for not being careful enough and for not having warned the others. Darkness had set in and the trappers had gone off to rest for the night. They planned to take away the elephants the next morning.

“Isn’t there anyone who can come to our rescue?” asked the trapped elephants.
“I can’t think of anyone” said the chief shaking his head in despair, “if only there was someone we could turn to!”

Luckily for him the leader of the mice was passing by just then. He was amazed to find all the elephants trapped.

“How did this happen, sir?” he asked the elephant chief.
“We were careless” said the elephant gloomily, “and now we are all caught with no hope of being rescued.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll have you free in a trice” said the leader of the mice as he cut the net with his sharp teeth.
“That would be wonderful” said the elephant chief, “Can you really do it?”
“Of course” said the mouse with confidence, “Wait a while. I’ll go and call the others.”

The leader soon returned with his entire troop of mice and they attacked the nets with vigor. They worked all night and by the time it was morning they had freed all the elephants from the traps.

“I thank you with all my heart” said the leader of the elephants gratefully,
“I did not think that someone so small could help us out of such a dire situation. But now I know that mere size does not matter.  A friend in need is a friend indeed!”

And everyone returned home happy.   

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