A Panchtantra Story by Swapna Dutta
Once upon a time there was a forest by a city. The forest was the home of many animals. Among them was a jackal. There were many other jackals who belonged to the same pack but the others moved around together and seldom left the forest.
Now this particular jackal was more adventurous and often strayed into the village in search of food. He had already tasted the wonderful things the human beings were fond of cooking and went to look for some whenever he could. It was not a particularly easy thing to do. He knew that the human beings would give him a sound beating if he were caught. Besides, the city was full of dogs and the jackal was afraid of them. They were sure to kill him or hurt him badly if they ever managed to catch him. But the lure of food proved too strong for him and the jackal went to the city again and again.
One day just as he was about to enter a big house he heard the sound of loud barking. To his horror he saw a group of dogs running towards the house. They looked fierce and the jackal was soon trembling in fear. He ran willy-nilly and tumbled right inside a tub of blue dye. The dogs missed him and ran the other way. By the time the jackal climbed out of the tub he was dyed blue from head to foot. He looked really strange and totally unlike any other animal. The jackal was very happy. “No one will be able to recognize me now” he told himself, “I can easily fool everyone in the forest.”
The jackal was quite right. When he entered the forest once again everyone was surprised to see such a strange animal. There had never seen any animal of that color before.
“Who are you?” the smaller animals asked him.
“Where have you come from?” asked the mighty lion with a frown.
“Did anyone send you?” asked the fierce tiger giving him a keen look.
“Lord Indra, king of heaven, has sent me to look after you” said the blue jackal in a grand voice, “I’ll be your king from now on.”
“But I have always been the king of the forest” protested the mighty lion.
“All that must change now as I am the king” said the blue jackal enjoying himself, “all of you must serve me and do exactly as I tell you.”
“What if we don’t?” asked the tiger.
“Then Lord Indra will destroy the entire forest and all of you with it” said the blue jackal.
The animals did not dare to say anything more.
“What would you like us to do?” they asked the blue jackal.
“Bring me lots of food, to start with” said the blue jackal promptly, “I am hungry and can’t take care of you unless I am properly looked after.”
The animals rushed off in different directions. Before long they were back with lots of food. They took care to bring whatever they could find and offered the best of everything to the blue jackal. The jackal was happy and had his fill. Needless to say, there was far more food than he could eat. “Now all of you can eat up the rest of the food” he said, “But mind you, you must bring me fresh food every day.”
The animals promised to serve him faithfully. He assigned special duties to all the animals but banished the pack of jackals from the forest because he was afraid they might recognize him some day.
The blue jackal had a wonderful time after that. He did not need to step out of the forest or risk confronting the dogs. He now got the best of everything without doing anything at all. He laughed by himself whenever he remembered how cleverly he had tricked the lot – including the tiger, the mighty elephant and the lion who considered themselves too grand for words. But one day something unexpected happened. The banished pack of jackals was roaming just outside the forest and howled together loudly. The blue jackal forgot himself and joined in the howling just as he used to do before.
The other animals were present when it happened and stared at him incredulously. Here was their mighty blue king howling just like a jackal! So he was a jackal after all and not a strange creature sent from heaven! He had merely colored himself somehow and had been fooling them all these days! Fooling the lion king, the fierce tiger and mighty elephant!
Well, they were not going to be fooled any longer. They fell upon the blue jackal and killed him before he could explain or protest. And that was the end of the blue jackal’s reign as king!
January 1, 2006
Image Courtesy: The San Diego Museum of Art