This is a story written in the style of Panchatantra. Keeping in mind the genre all gore is scrupulously avoided.
And, if you imagine this story in some ways mirrors the current reality around you, it’s quite far-fetched, I assure you. Though, I concede it is fun finding the parallels.
Here it goes:
In the forests of Uttara Dandkaranya, there lived a lion named Mahodhara, the king of the forests. He had taken up residence in one of the many caves in the hills. In his unchanged daily routine, he woke up very late in the morning and went out to find his prey by noon. An afternoon siesta was followed by a short tour of his kingdom to find out the state of affairs.
Predating the arrival of Mahodhara, in the deep end of the same cave lived Mooshika and his large family of mice. The new tenant did not pose too much of a problem for Mooshika’s family since the lion was out of the cave for many hours during the day and was mostly asleep at other times. In fact, for the young, the lion was a source of amusement as they had immense fun scooting all over the sleeping animal’s body; especially the thick mane proved ideal for playing hide-and-seek and for swinging. While, they were careful to stay away from the deadly paws of the lion.
Of course, it was not fun for Mahodhara. His sleep was disturbed by the mice and he felt ticklish too. He did smite a mouse or two. But that didn’t keep them away. He had to find a more lasting solution. So he consulted his vizier, Puccha, the fox.
The fox gave the matter a serious thought. While he was pondering over the possibilities, he saw a cat, looking starved, dragging himself in search of elusive food. It was the ‘Ah’ moment. It was not difficult for him to persuade the cat. So a deal was struck.
‘Puccha, what have you brought here? You know I don’t pounce on near-dead animals. I like to chase them in the wild,’ roared Mahodhara.
‘Don’t I know, my lord?’ said the fox, ‘I have brought him here for a different reason.’
‘And ,what would that be?’
‘My lord, this is Marjaraah. He is verily gratified to be chosen for serving you. He would keep a strict watch over those vermin troubling you.’
Marjaraah nodded his head weakly in assent.
‘You say this guy here would watch over the mice? He looks as if they would eat him up.’
‘No, my lord. If you could throw some meat scraps his away when you’re finished with your lunch, he’ll recover in no time. Also, I’ve assured him he’ll be safe as long as he does his job.’
This time Marjaraah was a little more animated in nodding his head. ’
A circumspect Mahodhara agreed to the arrangement.
So it was – the cat sitting in front of the mouse-hole diligently day and night, living on the meat brought by Mahodhara, his bones disappearing slowly beneath layers of flesh.
With the cat sitting out there, the mice could not move out for several days until Mooshika decided to things in his hand and break this impasse else his folks would die of hunger.
Marjaraah was startled to hear a voice.
‘Please look to your front. I’m Mooshika, the king of mice folks.’
‘I see you now.’
‘Sir, thanks to you, we’ve not been able to move out for days. Our stockpile of food is fast depleting. Unless we go out to forage for food, we’ll soon perish.’
‘I’ve a suggestion to make that would profit both of us.’
‘It must be really hard on you to be sitting like this forever outside our home. Even more so when it has little to do with your food since you get a much tastier meal from the lion.’
‘What’re you driving at?’
‘What I’m saying is this: How about you actually going out to stretch your limbs and enjoy fresh air when the lion is not in the cave? It would permit us too to go out and collect our food and be back in our hole before the lion returns. While we’re at it, we’ll not forget to bring some sweet berries for you too. And, no damage done.’
The cat was pensive for a few moments. He knew if he did not agree, the mice would anyways find their way out by tunneling an alternative route. Mightily bored with long hours of nil-action sitting in front of a hole, he also longed for those breaks away from the claustrophobic confines of the cave – had he known, he might not have taken up the job. And, those juicy berries.
So, for many days and months, the cat and the mice enjoyed their sneaky outings when the lion was not home.
Once the total clamp-down was lifted, gradually over the days the cat got a little careless and the mice more adventurous. It was like water at first leaking through a pin-hole quietly and progressively enlarging into a large breach creeping towards a complete break-down. The lion too began to notice: at first sighting a mouse scampering across the cave-floor and later there was even an occasional vermin daring to get into the thick of his mane. He observed the cat had grown fat, snoozing on duty, sluggish in his movements and letting a mouse easily slip past.
The growing bubble of discomfort burst one day when Mahodhara cut short his outing and returned early. To his horror, he found the entire colony of mice freely scooting and fearlessly jumping about in the cave and Marjaraah nowhere in sight. He had never seen so many of them before – with no check, they seem to have multiplied prolifically in a short time. He shivered at the prospect, however unlikely, of all of them pouncing and gnawing on him all at once. Barely containing his fury, with the cat still out, he summoned Puccha, apprised him of the alarming ineffectiveness of Marjaraah and declared the cat had to go very soon:
‘He would make a nice meal. Cat’s meat would be a good change for me – it has been a long time. ’
A worried Puccha was tasked with finding a replacement.
Mooshika overheard this exchange and decided to alert the cat of the impending danger. His wife questioned him about the wisdom of cautioning the cat:
‘Why are you doing it? Isn’t it good riddance? With the cat out of the way, it would be back to good old days. You’re making a mistake if you ask me.’
‘Have patience, my dear. It’ll be better riddance or rather the best riddance. Just watch.’
‘I hope you know what you’re doing.’
Sound advice from whichever source must be accepted, Marjaraah thought to himself. He thanked Mooshika profusely for the life-saving tip-off and promised to return the favor some day.
On the following day, the lion had a sumptuous meal and a restful sleep. He woke up mightily pleased with himself and the world at large. Sensing this Marjaraah seized the opportunity:
‘My lord, I’ve a request to make.’
Mahodhara looked up quizzically.
‘Though you’ve been very kind and generous, I’m must take your leave.’
‘Eh?’ the languorous lion was yet fully alert.
‘My lord, I should not be misusing your hospitality anymore. Of late, I’ve not been able to do full justice to my job. Rather suddenly my eyesight seems to be failing me. But not to worry, I’ve this dear friend of mine. He is younger and fitter. I’m sure he’ll not turn me down if I ask him to stand in my place. You must excuse me, my lord. It’s my misfortune that I’m unable to continue serving you.’
Marjaraah bowed out without any harm as the promise of a replacement had assuaged the lion in his expansive frame-of-mind.
Mahodhara and Picchu waited for the replacement to arrive – he never did.
When Picchu approached other cats for the job, it was turned down by one and all – Marjaraah had tipped them off about the boredom and the hazards of the job.
Fearing rebuke and much worse over not solving the problem, Picchu too took off never to be seen again.
In disgust and disbelief Mahodhara went in search of a new dwelling free of mice.
Mooshika threw a ‘Didn’t I tell you?’ glance at a surprised wife.
Credits: openclipart.com and wackywits.com