It’s Kodakandan And Vidakandan Again! A Story For Children

It’s unfortunate the lore of Kodakandan (the guy loathes parting with) and Vidakandan (the guy who never lets up) has not gained currency as much as Tenali Raman of Akbar Birbal stories. Nonetheless the stories are fun to read wherein the duo try outwitting each other and sometimes as in this piece…

Here we go:

Part 1

Sadhu1

‘Listen,’ Kodakandan looked around nervously if someone is overhearing them. ‘I learnt thru my sources the siddhar (1) has arrived. He would be in the cave only for a day or two before he disappears into the forest again. Not many know about it yet and even fewer know about his powers. I’m going to the hills to meet him carrying with me jack fruits and honey – for that’s what he loves to have. And when he’s sated and happy, I would get him to cast his grace on these stones.’ He opened his palm to reveal a few ‘stones’ that were like black pepper seeds, no larger. ‘If it’s like last year – no reason for it to be otherwise – they would turn into lustrous pebble-sized gem stones! And, man, we would be rich beyond wildest dreams.’

Vidakandan: ‘I’m glad this year you’re taking more stones with you unlike in the past when you brought back just one that still let us live in style for one whole year. With so many this time, I’m already seeing visions of us wallowing in unimaginable luxury and fun for all times to come.’

Kodakandan: ‘Yes, my friend. Don’t breathe a word about this to anyone, even to your own shadow. A stampede outside the cave is not very conducive to receiving favor from the siddhar. Take care of yourself while I’m gone for no more than a couple of days. Perhaps you could take shelter in the Shiva temple near the river.’

The conversation reached the ears of the rich man inside the house behind them as intended and drew him out of his house.

‘Hey strangers, you must pardon me for overhearing you, not that I really wanted to. Come inside, come inside…I may have a proposition mutually profitable to us.’

With appropriate expression of shock and surprise at a third person becoming privy to their well-guarded secret and with due reluctance, they allowed themselves to be invited into the house.

‘Permit me, please, to be your host, first. Fortunately, it’s time for breakfast. Join me – always, belly before business, I say, eh?’ He believed a full belly made one feel expansive and generous – it always worked for him in negotiations.

Holding Kodakandan by hand he led them to the dining place. Keeping with his social standing, the fare was sumptuous and finger-lickingly delicious, bringing out the hungriest hogs in them.

And then, the business.

‘Why do you trouble yourself climbing the hills alone? You don’t appear heavy. My men could easily carry you all the way to the cave without breaking sweat. And with you, a sack-full of jack fruits and honey that would be hard for the siddhar to grow tired of.’

Kodakandan: ‘Won’t work. I must do it alone. There’re certain niyamam’s and nishtai’s (prescribed do’s and don’ts) to be observed diligently while approaching a siddhar, even more than going to a temple. It’s not some tourist spot to visit. Also, any crowd and commotion at his cave-step – well, he might just pack up and go back to the forest.’

‘Okay, okay, so be it. I was merely trying to help. While you’re away, your colleague can be my guest in this house. You may not know this…the Shiva temple is locked up in nights to allow the spirits and snakes to pray in peace.’

Vidakandan went pale for a moment and felt relieved at the next. A narrow escape if ever: ‘Oh…we are grateful for your kindness; and what do we owe you…’

‘Well, nothing much…I’ve this pricey pebble-sized gem stone. If it could be made egg-sized or, even better, rock-sized…could be a small rock, you see. One can’t get too greedy. You’ll be rewarded well for your effort. A purse of gold coins, eh?’

Kodakandan thought about it, eyes crinkled, forehead furrowed.

‘We’ll do better than that to repay your kindness. I’ll carry two stones for you, if you have them.‘

‘You’re a large-hearted person, just as I thought. Two? I could spare two dozen, if you ask.’

Ask Kodakandan did, though it was something else: ‘And make it two purses, one for each of us. Now if you can get those stones, I’ll be on my way – must reach up there before noon.’

A little disappointed at the cost escalation, he went in and returned presently with a small leather pouch and the stones in hand. What the duo saw before them was absolutely eye-popping – two of the finest specimens they had ever set their eyes on, goose-berry sized, flawless and brilliant blue in color.

‘I still have a question before we proceed…are you guys close?’

‘Close? We’re like brothers…only born to different parents. Thicker than thieves. Once for me it was a zamindar’s daughter in marriage or him. What do you think I did?’

‘Okay, that’s settled. Now, be careful with these gems…they cost a king’s money. I’m trusting you with them. And quit worrying about your friend here. Until you return, he’ll be my guest, I insist.’

Hostage would be more apt, Vidakandan thought. And there was always this element of risk: Would his mate now with gems in his possession return to get his friend released? Of course, he would – they were in it together – unless he veered off their plans.

Kodakandan: ‘Lay all your doubts to rest, Sir. Instead, get busy filling up the purses to bursting. Will be back by tomorrow noon. For the last day in your life you’re a millionaire…from tomorrow you’ll be a multi-millionaire!’

To Vidakandan, ‘Don’t worry, my friend, I won’t be a minute later than necessary. Meanwhile enjoy the hospitality of out generous host.’

So, he took off not forgetting to procure from his host a couple of jack fruits and a pot of honey, its mouth closed by a piece of cloth.

Part 2

Following day, beyond noon, the rich man was getting increasingly restless with each passing hour. What if the siddhar did not like the jack fruits or he no longer dispensed favors or worse, he was ‘over the hill’ with his tricks. Could it be that Kodakandan lost his way in the hills? The fool had insisted on it doing it alone. Or, was it all a scam? With all these thoughts swirling in his head, the rich man was losing his congeniality like water hissing away on a hot tava.  As the shadows grew longer, he turned downright hostile. He had Vidakandan bound to a pillar with ropes. A search team was assembled to be sent up the hills to hound Kodakandan out of his hiding if he ever was and another to scour the neighboring villages if he had taken to his heels.

Just when the ‘dogs’ were ready to be unleashed, Kodakandan was sighted rounding the corner on his way to the rich man’s house.

Quickly Vidakandan was freed with profuse apologies and made comfortable. The rich man went half-way out with open arms to welcome Kodakandan. Once inside and seated, an attendant rushed to his side to fan him, another fetched him a glass of refreshing nimbu pani

Business is never crass, business never waits.

‘So, man, honestly, we were all quite worried if you’ll return at all. I’m sure you’ll not blame a man for having anxious moments after he had parted with his riches without any commensurate collateral.’

If Vidakandan was cut to the quick with this assessment of his worth as abysmal, neither the rich man nor Kodakandan seemed to take note.

‘My good friend, I’m all ready to receive…you may unload the goodies now and restore my cheer.’

A somber faced Kodakandan made no move.

The rich man’s ardor cooled down by a few notches on noticing a distinct lack of spirit on the part of Kodakandan.

‘What happened? Where are my gems? The siddhar didn’t work on them?’

‘Well, he did. There’s good news and bad news for you.’

‘Don’t talk in riddles. I’m in no mood to…’

‘The bad news first: Your gems were in fact germs afflicting you…they’re gone…they just turned into ashes in siddhar’s hands.’

‘What did you say?’

‘Yes, I saw it happen right before my eyes.’

‘I can’t believe this…’

‘Now to the good news: Siddhar said these stones of yours would have brought you untold misery in the days ahead. It was good riddance – those were his words to be precise. Your run of bad days is behind you and things will look up now, he assured.’

The rich man struggled in his mind if he should be happy or sad at this. What was he blabbering about bad days? He enjoyed sanguine health, his business flourishing…wait a minute…but then the harvest failed for the first time only after he appropriated the stones – the tenant had died on him before repaying the loan in full; a couple of months ago his prized cows perished from some unknown ailment. To cap it all, the king turned cold after a jealous neighbor had filled his ears about him – falling out of the king’s favor would have far more deleterious consequences for him…mmm…He had so far not connected these dots. Only now it all seemed to make sense…

On the other hand, these two guys might just be conning him out of his priceless gems.

How was he to figure out what it was?  Maybe he should lock them up and give them a sound thrashing to see if they change their siddhar story and come clean.

While he was weighing his options, there was commotion outside his house. To his great trepidation, it was a man from the royal court bringing him a message.  It was a personal invitation from the king for him to attend a pooja in the palace clearly pointing to his reinstatement in the king’s good books, a happy augury for the times ahead! How did this happen? Perhaps the king finally saw thru the web of lies about him? Not of an inquiring disposition, he let it be. Anyway, all is well as they say that ends well.

His thoughts went back to the siddhar – his prophecy was indeed playing out right!

And on the debit side, the stones were never his in the first place. The hapless tenant had almost paid back the loan in full before his untimely death. A loss, if any, was amply compensated many times over by his regaining of the king’s favor.

Overjoyed at the turn of events, the rich man expressed his gratitude in good measure by presenting them with their purses of gold coins and much more.

The duo took leave and headed away as fast as their legs could carry.

Part 3

On reaching a big city far removed the rich man’s place, they would sell the pebble-sized blue stone to a merchant not wanting to know about its provenance. Should fetch them a good deal though not the market price. If you are wondering, yes, it was one of the two stones that the rich man had parted with.

What had happened to the other stone? Well, to keep the story short: the king was immensely pleased to receive a rare and precious gem as a present from the rich man so discreetly sent thru his personal emissary, Kodakandan, and promised never to discuss or divulge the source to anyone, as requested by the rich man.

Now you know why Kodakandan asked the rich man for giving two stones in place of one, if he really went up the hills, where did he go instead and how the rich man made it back to the king’s good books!!!

Later one day when Kodakandan was changing his clothes for taking bath, Vidakandan noticed a thick gold chain with a pendant bearing royal insignia swinging from his neck.

Vidakandan: ‘Anna, namakulla ippadi saiyalama? (Brother, between us, how could you?). You didn’t tell me about and give me my share of the gifts you received from the king.’ He was referring to their code of conduct of sharing the booty equally in any joint endeavor,.

Isn’t something said about a tiger and its stripes?

End

 

Notes: (1) Siddhar is a venerable spiritual person who has gained power over natural forces thru yoga and other esoteric practices. There were many siddhar’s chronicled in the past. It is believed by many some of these siddhar’s are still alive today.

 

Image from ruchiskitchen.co

Cat Within by R.K Narayan

Cat Within is a delightfully light, funny tale about exorcism and its varied practitioners who feed on people’s fears and imagination of the paranormal. Often the affected are no innocent babes and it becomes a case of who gets the better of whom at that point of time.

The story runs for 26 minutes with never a dull moment. Sit back and enjoy. The finish is brilliant as only RK can pull off!

Here it is: ‘Cat Within’.

In case you need a plot summary:

The tale takes place in Vinayak Mudali street in Malgudi around a sethji and a guruji (exorcist). The former is both a landlord who denies basic amenities to his tenants under constant threat of eviction and a shopkeeper selling provisions marked up substantially. The guruji is an established exorcist with a regular flow of clients handing out esoteric prescriptions for curing illnesses. Fearing burglary, the landlord cum shopkeeper sleeps at night in front of his shop.  He even rigs up an ‘alarm’ system of empty tins and cans strewn about to alert him of any intruder. One night he hears noises from inside the shop and peers in through a porthole. Sees vessels tumbling and one of them actually flying about! He calls guruji for help besides waking up the entire neighborhood. The guruji instantly ‘recognizes’ it as the handiwork of an evil spirit given to occupying up-turned empty vessels. He uses the occasion to trick sethji into confessing his wrong deeds. At a point sethji sees through guruji’s tricks, gets angry and forces him into the shop bidding him to drive the sprit away and locks the door from outside.

Inside the shop, the guruji freezes in fear as he sees the vessel flying through the air knocking down things. Eventually to everyone’s relief it’s only a cat – it frees itself from the vessel and flees. Sethji mocks at guruji: ’The cat is out. Where’s your vessel-residing evil spirit now?’ In a brilliant finish, guruji has the last word!

End

Source: writersasylum.in/2014/02/uncategorized/cat-within-by-r-k-narayan/

The Man I Never Knew

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By Kecia Sparlin

Keith drove me to the station. He carried my bags, bought my ticket, and waited with me for the bus.

“Give Emily my love.”

I’d stay a while with our daughter while I looked for a place of my own nearby.

“I’ll tell her.”

The bus rolled, and I turned to find Keith through the window. Twenty-five years of marriage, I thought I should wave goodbye to the heartless bastard even if he felt nothing.

The brakes shrieked. Passengers screamed. My head hit the seat.

“A man,” a woman shouted. “He ran in front of the bus!”

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The Haunt (A Spooky Story For Children)

‘Send him in,’ manthreekan tells his assistant.

A man enters, wrapping himself up head to toe in a shawl, looking like a man on the streets of Delhi on a December night. He is led to stand before a cloth screen. Manthreekan doesn’t see anyone face-to-face during these sessions to conserve his shakti.

‘Tell me.’

Mantra

In a soft voice, ‘Sami, until a week ago, it was very peaceful where I live. In fact, I haven’t seen anyone else in the tenement house ever since I moved in. Suddenly one night I hear this woman from a room across the corridor…she whines and wails all night like someone in her family has died.’

‘Well, you can’t expect your landlord to keep the rooms vacant. He has found a tenant. So, go and tell the woman to shut up. If she doesn’t listen, tell the landlord.’

‘I did, Sami. On the second night, when she was in full cry. Could bear no more. I decided to confront her…’

‘And?’

‘Well, I went in…it was not locked from inside…strangely the light was switched on…the room was bare of any furniture and fixtures. Only a cloying fragrance of jasmine in the air. And no woman!’

‘Ah, this gets interesting…’

‘Sami, I immediately recognized it is a woman’s spirit that has made it its home.’

‘And then?’

‘I also knew what would drive her out. With great difficulty and by some means, I got laid out in her room cloves of garlic and neem leaves in a generous spread, though I’m severely allergic to them myself. A near-death task for me, but sure to fix her.’

‘You did right. I too would’ve done as much. So why have you come here? You seem to know…’

’But this woman proved to be a tough nut. There was no wailing for an hour and then it resumed like before. Next day morning I saw the garlic cloves and neem leaves crushed and left in a dump nearby.

‘I said to myself, ‘Lady, if that’s what you want, a war of attrition, I’m ready.’ So, I somehow managed to have the antidote arranged again and again for four successive nights. No dice – she is made of stronger stuff. Now I’m here to seek your help.’

‘Well, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve handled more stubborn spirits.’

‘I’ve heard about it, Sami. My methods are not working. That’s why…’

‘This is not for amateurs…It’ll cost you money.’

‘Look at me, Sami. Have mercy. Please…’

‘God, why must I draw such impecunious folks…Okay, I’ll take it up for free just this once. Don’t ever show your face again without moola. You think I can live on fresh air…my shakti doesn’t go that far yet.’

‘I’m indebted, Sami…’

‘Okay, okay…quiet now.’

Sounds and smell of herbs and grains being ground with a pestle emerge from behind the curtain followed by chants of some esoteric invocations.

A little later, the assistant is summoned. The visitor receives an amber colored bottle from him.

‘Sprinkle this all over in her room. Remember this, it must be done before sunset.’

‘Sami, it would work, no?’

Manthreekan is offended: ‘How dare you doubt my shakti! Not just the woman, her entire family if resident would be thrown out…not merely from the tenement house, but from whole of this town.’

‘Excellent, just what I wanted…just one more thing, would it hurt me too, Sami, if I touch or spill?’

‘Why should it, eh? It’s specially targeted at her. It won’t harm anyone else. Now go.’

The visitor is mighty pleased. He would now have a free run of the house as before.

As he steps out on the street, a gust of wind blows lifting the shawl up.

The assistant isn’t sure of what he is seeing.

Mantreekan is right asking him sternly to abstain forthwith before it is too late. These days he sees things that aren’t and sees not things that are. It would only make the matter worse if he tells them he saw a man walk on no legs!

End

PS: Manthreekan is one proficient in manthra’s to engage with gods and spirits.

Source: Inspired by a one-pager in Kumudam, image from energymuse.com.

A Tale Of Two Airports

Part 1

We are all set for the journey back home. Our bags are neatly wrapped up not exceeding the permissible 15 Kilograms per head. Of course it means we leave a few clothes and books behind. The e-tickets are printed out to gain admission at the airport as we are not yet confident of retrieving the same on our smart-phone. I double check the tickets for baggage rules. That’s when a wisp of a cloud appears in the blue sky: 15 Kgs per head alright, but how many pieces? I scour their website high and low. On one of those pages it mentions at one place one piece per head. FAQ has no queries at all on baggage. Obviously mine is a unique problem. I try calling the support numbers. I give up on not finding an option for queries on their voice activated telephony organized into nested levels deeper than those Matryoshka dolls. In parallel my energetic young nephew sets aside his academics for a while, pulls all strings, spends over an hour, stops just short of reaching the Prime Minister’s Office and at the end of it confirms it’s one piece per head. Panic ensues. More stuff gets off-loaded. Finally somehow four bags full get crunched into two bags hoping the seams and zippers don’t give up the fight.

The lady at the airport check-in counter clarifies on domestic travel there’s no limit of number of pieces subject to the limit of 15 Kgs per head. It’s all stated very clearly on their websitem if only we looked at it. Our mistake we didn’t find it. Also she tells me to sign at some place to release them of any responsibility for a handle that’s already broken on one of the bags. Sounds fair – I do so without reading the 8-point print.

Nothing much to report until we arrive at Mumbai ten minutes ahead of schedule. The flight is like cutting thru breeze, absolutely smooth without a bump. While landing I could have had coffee without spilling a drop. During the flight there is even a simple dhal-chawal meal served! Disregard the sniggers – it is quite comestible and good for immediate sustenance. Though the oft-quoted anecdote does come to my mind about some airlines saving by the sack full over time by cutting back on a few olives they customarily served. The coffee is the standard-issue tasting like run-off rain water, an amazing hard-to-beat consistency achieved by airlines across the world.

Part 2

My good friend, TRS, insisting on meeting us at the airport despite his busy schedule – he manages a large medical diagnostics chain – calls me.

‘R, have you folks landed in Mumbai?’

‘Yes, TRS, just now. We’re exiting the aircraft and proceeding to collect our baggage.’

‘How many pieces?’

‘Two checked in and two in the hand.’

‘Ok, I’m nearby. As soon as you’re out, call me.’

‘I’ll.’

My wife and I trudge along what seems to be an interminable stretch of travelators, so many of them laid out end to end, carrying hand bags making us puff and pant. I don’t recall doing this before nor seeing those huge art canvases filling up the wall on one side of the walkway.  But then it is quite some time since I travelled by air last. Perhaps this is all part of sprucing up that one often hears about? It all looks good.

Even as I struggle with the effort, I recall the gag:

‘Why do they make you walk so long at these airports?’

‘So your baggage may reach ahead of you for collection.’

Presently my wife does not have it in her to smile or frown at the jest.

My friend calls: ‘R. where are you?’

‘We’re waiting for our baggage to be disgorged.’

‘After you collect your baggage come straight out to where private cars come into the terminal for pick-up.’

‘Okay.’

I stand resignedly as for me this baggage business has always been first-in-last-out as also last-in-last-out. Fortunately this time the wait isn’t too long. I snatch the suitcases off the belt, pile them on to a trolley that stood there forlornly not catching anyone’s eyes and we make for the exit. We don’t. The trolley has other ideas – it simply turns on its wheels to the left in a circle.  Now I know why it was readily available on hand while everyone fetched his from a distance. I go and get another one and subject it to tests along all degrees of freedom. Finding its performance acceptable, I transfer the baggage and we finally exit without further hitches. Not before leaving the deviant specimen in a far corner not anymore in a position to lure the unwary.

The board outside the exit helpfully points us to the auto-stand/bus-stop.  But where do the private cars come in? Without further help from the official signage’s, I check and double check with a few visitors milling around. In one voice they tell us to head for the auto-stand/bus-stop. So when TRS calls me next to find out our whereabouts, I tell him to come in on the auto/bus lane to find us and not take the lane for private cars because there isn‘t one. TRS doesn’t sound too happy about it. What does one do but grin and bear things far beyond one’s control! If the blessed airport doesn’t want private cars whooshing in, well, that’s it. Who am I to bitch about it? I do not let these thoughts distract/disturb me from the main task on hand – connect up with TRS and as quickly as possible get away from this sticky heat into the comfortably air-conditioned insides of his car.

Shortly after TRS calls: ‘Have you come out?’

‘Yes, we’re at the pick-up point on the auto/bus lane. Incidentally I do see a car lane too, just beyond and running parallel to the auto lane. So it’s okay to take whichever lane.’ Here I correct myself for unfairly attributing to the authorities earlier a certain dislike for private cars – surely nothing more than a trifling omission of the signage on part of their contractor. Of course I keep the thought to myself for, I suspect, TRS would not be favorably disposed presently to hear about my sense of fairness.

A little later, ‘Look, why don’t you come to the end of the auto lane? That’s where I’m. These guys won’t let me stop anywhere in that lane.’

They won’t let him stop for picking up passengers? Surely they don’t expect senior citizens to jump right into a moving car? Sounds weird. May be they shooed him away as he intruded into the auto lane? The end of the lane he refers to is at least 100-150 yards away on the way out under the hot sun.  I leave my wife behind with the trolley and plod my way to the end of the lane. No sign of him.

He calls: ‘Where are you now?’

‘At the end of the auto lane just under the huge Samsung bill-board.’

‘I see Samsung, Samsung is not you.’

‘Well…’

‘Can you see those gorgeous traveler’s palm trees, two of them?  If you find them you’ve found me.’

A travellers palm (Ravenala Madagascariensis-Botanical name) tyy

‘Traveler if anyone is me. Palm trees? Yes, not your kind.’

‘Ok, let me go around and make another pass.’

‘Wait. Rather, let me go over to the point where you enter the lane. I’ll stand out on the road. You can’t miss me.’

We agree. I go over to the beginning of the lane 100-150 yards on the other side of the pick-up point.

I stand there on the road deftly evading the occasional vehicle coming in and considering if I should wave both hands to help my friend locate me. What would people think? Well, I’m at an age when I freely scratch my arms in public or let out a loud belch without a thought.

TRS calls: ‘Where are you now?’

‘I’m at the point of entry to the auto and car lanes, standing on the road. This is near and away from the toll to the right running along the front of the terminal.’

‘I’m here in front of the toll with a dozen guys honking away behind me and I don’t see you. Tell me you look your usual massive self as I’ve known or you’re masquerading to evade your pursuers?’

‘Come on…listen, don’t enter the toll. You’ll end up in the multi-level parking lot with a hefty toll to boot.’

‘What are you talking? There’s no multi-level parking lot in this airport.’

Now I begin to see: one of us is surely not seeing things right.

And, here, it is – I mean the parking lot – right before my eyes. I’ve even used them years ago.

I pinch myself just to be sure. Oh, my, it hurts!

That’s when the penny longtime coming finally drops.

I’m absolutely mortified at my rank goofiness. How could I?

‘Oh, TRS, we’re at Sahar. I didn’t realize…don’t know why we’re not at Santa Cruz…I’m so sorry.’

‘What? Oh, sh.., I’m here at Santa Cruz…No wonder…I should have checked…’

For those not familiar, domestic flights land in Mumbai at Santa Cruz airport while the international flights at Sahar with some exceptions. Looks like our flight was exceptional, confirmed by a subsequent examination of our tickets.

‘I’m so sorry, TRS…Please don’t trouble yourself anymore…we’ll take a cab…’

My good friend would not hear of it. He drives down kilometers from Santa Cruz to Sahar and takes us home. This time there is no trouble in spotting us – my directions, flawless as always, airport specified.

On the way home and thereafter, not a word or gesture from him betraying irritation or impatience. And we know him to be a man who doesn’t gladly suffer goofiness at all.

Guys, you too have friends like I’ve?

End

PS:  Well, the story doesn’t end here. Later at home on unpacking I find I’ve left a trail of things behind me, notably: my pouch containing debit card and other cards of commerce and memberships at the house where we stayed, my new laptop at the security station at Chennai airport, a few usb storage devices god knows where…

My nephew, deep into academics, swings into action right away and locates the concerned official at IAAI, Chennai. I speak to him. He confirms his office receiving an unclaimed laptop. He tells me about the documents I must produce to claim the laptop. Fearing my goofy spell may not have ended yet, TRS troubles himself to arrange for all the documents to be sent to my nephew. Following day, the young man goes to the airport, meets the officer and presents the documents. When they call me for verification, I tell them what and where they’ll find in my laptop. The officer hands over the laptop.  My nephew carefully packs it along with my pouch of cards retrieved from the house we stayed and couriers it. Mercifully normalcy largely returns on the third day after the string of goofs.

Do they still make nephews like mine?

Really, the end

Knock, Knock…Who Is It? (150 Words)

door-knocker-1221804 freeimages com

A man knocked on the door of the old woman’s house.
“Who is it?” a squeaky voice inquired from inside.
“It’s the butcher,” he said.
“Who is it?” repeated the voice.
“It’s the butcher,” said the man.
“Who is it?”
“It’s the butcher!!,” said the man angrily.
To draw on his first call a stone deaf customer with a cracked voice…phew.
“Who is it?”
“It’s the butcher!!!!”, he screamed.
“Who is it?”
“It’s the butcher, the butcher, the butch…”
Suddenly the butcher fell to the floor his hands cluthching at his chest.
A little later the old woman came home and found a man lying on her doorstep foaming at the mouth.
‘Who could it be?’ she mumbled to herself as she rushed inside to call for help.
There’ll be no more taunts. Proud at learning a second sentence in her life, “It’s the butcher!” replied her pet parrot.
End

Source: eflclassroom.com and freeimages.com

The Lady Or The Tiger?

By Frank Stockton

(very lightly edited)

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In the very olden time there lived a semi-barbaric king, whose ideas, though somewhat polished and sharpened by the progressiveness of distant Latin neighbors, were still large, florid, and untrammeled, as became the half of him which was barbaric. He was a man of exuberant fancy, and, withal, of an authority so irresistible that, at his will, he turned his varied fancies into facts. He was greatly given to self-communing, and, when he and himself agreed upon anything, the thing was done…

Among the borrowed notions by which his barbarism had become semified was that of the public arena, in which, by exhibitions of manly and beastly valor, the minds of his subjects were refined and cultured.

But even here the exuberant and barbaric fancy asserted itself…This vast amphitheater, with its encircling galleries, its mysterious vaults, and its unseen passages, was an agent of poetic justice, in which crime was punished, or virtue rewarded, by the decrees of an impartial and incorruptible chance.

When a subject was accused of a crime of sufficient importance to interest the king, public notice was given that on an appointed day the fate of the accused person would be decided in the king’s arena, a structure which well deserved its name, for, although its form and plan were borrowed from afar, its purpose emanated solely from the brain of this man…

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When all the people had assembled in the galleries, and the king, surrounded by his court, sat high up on his throne of royal state on one side of the arena, he gave a signal, a door beneath him opened, and the accused subject stepped out into the amphitheater. Directly opposite him, on the other side of the enclosed space, were two doors, exactly alike and side by side. It was the duty and the privilege of the person on trial to walk directly to these doors and open one of them. He could open either door he pleased; he was subject to no guidance or influence but that of the aforementioned impartial and incorruptible chance. If he opened the one, there came out of it a hungry tiger, the fiercest and most cruel that could be procured, which immediately sprang upon him and tore him to pieces as a punishment for his guilt. The moment that the case of the criminal was thus decided, doleful iron bells were clanged, great wails went up from the hired mourners posted on the outer rim of the arena, and the vast audience, with bowed heads and downcast hearts, wended slowly their homeward way, mourning greatly that one so young and fair, or so old and respected, should have merited so dire a fate.

But, if the accused person opened the other door, there came forth from it a lady, the most suitable to his years and station that his majesty could select among his fair subjects, and to this lady he was immediately married, as a reward of his innocence. It mattered not that he might already possess a wife and family, or that his affections might be engaged upon an object of his own selection; the king allowed no such subordinate arrangements to interfere with his great scheme of retribution and reward. The exercises, as in the other instance, took place immediately, and in the arena. Another door opened beneath the king, and a priest, followed by a band of choristers, and dancing maidens blowing joyous airs on golden horns and treading an epithalamic measure, advanced to where the pair stood, side by side, and the wedding was promptly and cheerily solemnized. Then the gay brass bells rang forth their merry peals, the people shouted glad hurrahs, and the innocent man, preceded by children strewing flowers on his path, led his bride to his home.

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This was the king’s semi-barbaric method of administering justice. Its perfect fairness is obvious. The criminal could not know out of which door would come the lady; he opened either he pleased, without having the slightest idea whether, in the next instant, he was to be devoured or married. On some occasions the tiger came out of one door, and on some out of the other. The decisions of this tribunal were not only fair, they were positively determinate: the accused person was instantly punished if he found himself guilty, and, if innocent, he was rewarded on the spot, whether he liked it or not. There was no escape from the judgments of the king’s arena.

The institution was a very popular one. When the people gathered together on one of the great trial days, they never knew whether they were to witness a bloody slaughter or a hilarious wedding. This element of uncertainty lent an interest to the occasion which it could not otherwise have attained. Thus, the masses were entertained and pleased, and the thinking part of the community could bring no charge of unfairness against this plan, for did not the accused person have the whole matter in his own hands?

This semi-barbaric king had a daughter as blooming as his most florid fancies, and with a soul as fervent and imperious as his own. As is usual in such cases, she was the apple of his eye, and was loved by him above all humanity. Among his courtiers was a young man of that fineness of blood and lowness of station common to the conventional heroes of romance who love royal maidens. This royal maiden was well satisfied with her lover, for he was handsome and brave to a degree unsurpassed in all this kingdom, and she loved him with an ardor that had enough of barbarism in it to make it exceedingly warm and strong. This love affair moved on happily for many months, until one day the king happened to discover its existence. He did not hesitate nor waver in regard to his duty in the premises. The youth was immediately cast into prison, and a day was appointed for his trial in the king’s arena. This, of course, was an especially important occasion, and his majesty, as well as all the people, was greatly interested in the workings and development of this trial. Never before had such a case occurred; never before had a subject dared to love the daughter of the king. In after years such things became commonplace enough, but then they were in no slight degree novel and startling.

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The tiger-cages of the kingdom were searched for the most savage and relentless beasts, from which the fiercest monster might be selected for the arena; and the ranks of maiden youth and beauty throughout the land were carefully surveyed by competent judges in order that the young man might have a fitting bride in case fate did not determine for him a different destiny. Of course, everybody knew that the deed with which the accused was charged had been done. He had loved the princess, and neither he, she, nor any one else, thought of denying the fact; but the king would not think of allowing any fact of this kind to interfere with the workings of the tribunal, in which he took such great delight and satisfaction. No matter how the affair turned out, the youth would be disposed of, and the king would take an aesthetic pleasure in watching the course of events, which would determine whether or not the young man had done wrong in allowing himself to love the princess.

The appointed day arrived. From far and near the people gathered, and thronged the great galleries of the arena, and crowds, unable to gain admittance, massed themselves against its outside walls. The king and his court were in their places, opposite the twin doors, those fateful portals, so terrible in their similarity.

All was ready. The signal was given. A door beneath the royal party opened, and the lover of the princess walked into the arena. Tall, beautiful, fair, his appearance was greeted with a low hum of admiration and anxiety. Half the audience had not known so grand a youth had lived among them. No wonder the princess loved him! What a terrible thing for him to be there!

As the youth advanced into the arena he turned, as the custom was, to bow to the king, but he did not think at all of that royal personage. His eyes were fixed upon the princess, who sat to the right of her father. Had it not been for the moiety of barbarism in her nature it is probable that lady would not have been there, but her intense and fervid soul would not allow her to be absent on an occasion in which she was so terribly interested. From the moment that the decree had gone forth that her lover should decide his fate in the king’s arena, she had thought of nothing, night or day, but this great event and the various subjects connected with it. Possessed of more power, influence, and force of character than any one who had ever before been interested in such a case, she had done what no other person had done – she had possessed herself of the secret of the doors. She knew in which of the two rooms, that lay behind those doors, stood the cage of the tiger, with its open front, and in which waited the lady. Through these thick doors, heavily curtained with skins on the inside, it was impossible that any noise or suggestion should come from within to the person who should approach to raise the latch of one of them. But gold, and the power of a woman’s will, had brought the secret to the princess.

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And not only did she know in which room stood the lady ready to emerge, all blushing and radiant, should her door be opened, but she knew who the lady was. It was one of the fairest and loveliest of the damsels of the court who had been selected as the reward of the accused youth, should he be proved innocent of the crime of aspiring to one so far above him; and the princess hated her. Often had she seen, or imagined that she had seen, this fair creature throwing glances of admiration upon the person of her lover, and sometimes she thought these glances were perceived, and even returned. Now and then she had seen them talking together; it was but for a moment or two, but much can be said in a brief space; it may have been on most unimportant topics, but how could she know that? The girl was lovely, but she had dared to raise her eyes to the loved one of the princess; and, with all the intensity of the savage blood transmitted to her through long lines of wholly barbaric ancestors, she hated the woman who blushed and trembled behind that silent door.

When her lover turned and looked at her, and his eye met hers as she sat there, paler and whiter than any one in the vast ocean of anxious faces about her, he saw, by that power of quick perception which is given to those whose souls are one, that she knew behind which door crouched the tiger, and behind which stood the lady. He had expected her to know it. He understood her nature, and his soul was assured that she would never rest until she had made plain to herself this thing, hidden to all other lookers-on, even to the king. The only hope for the youth in which there was any element of certainty was based upon the success of the princess in discovering this mystery; and the moment he looked upon her, he saw she had succeeded, as in his soul he knew she would succeed.
Then it was that his quick and anxious glance asked the question: “Which?” It was as plain to her as if he shouted it from where he stood. There was not an instant to be lost. The question was asked in a flash; it must be answered in another.

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Her right arm lay on the cushioned parapet before her. She raised her hand, and made a slight, quick movement toward the right. No one but her lover saw her. Every eye but his was fixed on the man in the arena.

He turned, and with a firm and rapid step he walked across the empty space. Every heart stopped beating, every breath was held, every eye was fixed immovably upon that man. Without the slightest hesitation, he went to the door on the right, and opened it.
Now, the point of the story is this: Did the tiger come out of that door, or did the lady ?
The more we reflect upon this question, the harder it is to answer. It involves a study of the human heart which leads us through devious mazes of passion, out of which it is difficult to find our way. Think of it, fair reader, not as if the decision of the question depended upon yourself, but upon that hot-blooded, semi-barbaric princess, her soul at a white heat beneath the combined fires of despair and jealousy. She had lost him, but who should have him?

How often, in her waking hours and in her dreams, had she started in wild horror, and covered her face with her hands as she thought of her lover opening the door on the other side of which waited the cruel fangs of the tiger!

But how much oftener had she seen him at the other door! How in her grievous reveries had she gnashed her teeth, and torn her hair, when she saw his start of rapturous delight as he opened the door of the lady! How her soul had burned in agony when she had seen him rush to meet that woman, with her flushing cheek and sparkling eye of triumph; when she had seen him lead her forth, his whole frame kindled with the joy of recovered life; when she had heard the glad shouts from the multitude, and the wild ringing of the happy bells; when she had seen the priest, with his joyous followers, advance to the couple, and make them man and wife before her very eyes; and when she had seen them walk away together upon their path of flowers, followed by the tremendous shouts of the hilarious multitude, in which her one despairing shriek was lost and drowned!

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Would it not be better for him to die at once, and go to wait for her in the blessed regions of semi-barbaric futurity?

And yet, that awful tiger, those shrieks, that blood!

Her decision had been indicated in an instant, but it had been made after days and nights of anguished deliberation. She had known she would be asked, she had decided what she would answer, and, without the slightest hesitation, she had moved her hand to the right.

The question of her decision is one not to be lightly considered, and it is not for me to presume to set myself up as the one person able to answer it. And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door – the lady, or the tiger?

End

 

 

Source: eastoftheweb.com