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By a Whisker
by Ramendra Kumar
This is a tiger’s tail. Oops! Sorry. This is a tale of a tiger. His name was Arjun. He was a mild mannered, easygoing sort of bloke who liked nothing better than digging into freshly hunted deer meat and lazing in the shade of a leafy tree. Even though he was a tiger no one in the jungle feared him.

His wife, Agni, however was exactly the opposite. She was a real terror. Ferocious, gutsy and quick, she did most of the hunting. She hated her husband’s lazy attitude to life and his lack of drive but she tolerated him for one reason. She was in love with him or rather  with his whiskers.

Arjun had a magnificent set of whiskers - long, straight and pointed. They made him look very ferocious and brave. Years ago when Agni had first seen Arjun, it had been a case of love at first sight. She had fallen for his whiskers. And it was because of them that she was still with him. Agni was also extremely possessive about Arjun’s whiskers. She made him take very good care of them.

One day Agni was out hunting. Arjun had been in the mood for antelope meat and she had gone looking for one. Arjun as usual was dozing under the shade of a peepal tree. All of a sudden a wasp sat on his nose and he took a swipe. The wasp flew away. A whisker dislodged by his action was picked up by a gust of wind and went sailing. Arjun leapt up. He head never shown this kind of alacrity except when, as a toddler, while trying to climb a small rock he had landed on his father’s head and the old fellow, enraged, had run after him.

Arjun followed the whisker like an agile cat running after a nimble mouse. It sailed away and to his horror landed on Bhima’s trunk. Bhima was an elephant known for his mean temper. Arjun was terrified of him. He stopped in his tracks and kept staring at his beautiful whisker that had now settled comfortably on the tip of the pachyderm’s trunk.

He had to get his whisker and somehow stick it back. Agni had this habit, whenever she went out, to count his whiskers before she left on the expedition and after she returned from it. And if she found even one short she would raise hell.

Six moons ago once when a whisker had got uprooted he had managed to stick it back using the glue extracted from a neem tree. And it had stayed stuck. He had to do the same thing again or else he could forget about tasting, let alone gorging, on the antelope meat. But the question was how?

He heard a sound and looking up saw Langur, the long tailed monkey, hanging from his tail and humming. He fancied himself to be a great singer and was always singing to himself.

“Hey, Langur!”
“Yes,” he replied looking down at Arjun.
“I need your help.”
“For what?” Langur asked cautiously. He was a selfish fellow and wanted to know all the details before committing himself.
“My whisker has settled on the tip of Bhima’s trunk?”
“So what should I do?”
“Can you get it back for me?”
“Why don’t you get it yourself?”
“I...I...I am actually scared of Bhima. Once I had bumped into him in the lake while he was bathing and he had given me a whack I can never forget. My backside was sore for days.”
“You are a real coward. What will I get in return?”
“Whatever you want?”
Langur thought for a moment and then said, “You see that coconut tree over there. I have hurt my leg. I can’t climb it. There is a bunch of four coconuts on top. I want you to get them for me.
“But how will I do that? I too can’t climb up there.”
“Stupid. Who wants you to climb? All you have to do is to shake the tree with all your might. If you shake it well I am sure the coconuts will fall down. Once I get the coconuts you’ll get your precious whisker.”

“Okay, let me try,” Arjun said and walked up to the coconut tree. It was quite slender and weak. Arjun gave it a hug and shook it with all his strength. After ten or fifteen vigorous shakes the coconuts fell down one after the other. They landed straight on Arjun’s head - plonk, plunk, plunk, plonk. The impact was quite severe and Arjun fainted. Not realizing what had happened, Langur gathered the coconuts. Then hanging by his tail he swung from one branch to the other and gently picked up the whisker perched on Bhima’s trunk without disturbing the elephant’s slumber. When he went up to Arjun he found him lying with his eyes closed.

“Hey, Arjun! Come on, wake up. Here is your whisker,” Langur said shaking him.

After a few minutes Arjun opened his eyes and looked around.

“Who are you?” he asked Langur.
“What do you mean who I am? I am Langur and here is your whisker.”
“My whisker! What will a donkey do with a tiger’s whisker?”
“Donkey? Where is the donkey?” Langur said looking around stupidly.
“I am a donkey, can’t you see, you silly monkey.”
“My God, Arjun has gone mad. Those coconuts which landed on his nut have turned him into a nut case,” Langur mumbled to himself and ran back looking for Agni. The tigress had just reached her cave with a freshly killed antelope and was admiring it. Langur told her the whole story and handed her the whisker.
“Where is that silly fool now?”
“Under the coconut tree.”

“Come, let us go. Once he sees me he’ll come to his senses. Most likely this is some kind of drama he is indulging in to get a lion’s share or rather a tiger’s share of the antelope meat. Greedy fellow!”

In the meanwhile Arjun got up. He was feeling hungry and decided to look for some tender grass, which he could eat. As he moved along at a leisurely pace he saw a sight, which made him stop in his tracks.

Grazing under the shade of a neem tree was the most beautiful donkey he had ever seen! Arjun fell instantly in love with her. He forgot his hunger and ran towards her.

“Oh, beautiful one! What is your name? Will you be my wife?” The donkey whose name was Tara looked at Arjun, her eyes wide with fear.

“Y..your wife? B...but you are a tiger!” she managed to stammer.
“Who says? I am a donkey. Young and healthy - just like you. Don’t fell shy, pretty one and accept me as your husband,” Arjun declared advancing towards her.

Tara, who was new to the jungle, turned back and ran for her life. She went straight to her husband Dara who was resting in a mango grove after sampling two-dozen delicious mangoes and indulging in a dozen rounds of braying.

“Dara a tiger is after me. Says he wants to marry me.”

Dara who was a sturdy and brave donkey sprang up.

“Where is that scoundrel?” he shouted and ran in the direction in which his wife had come. After a minute or so he saw Arjun coming towards him.

“Have you seen a beautiful donkey come this way? I am going to make her my wife,” Arjun declared.
“Sure you can, but first you will have to take my blessings.”
“Oh! You must be her grandfather. Then bless me. O noble one!” Arjun
closed his eyes and bowed his head.

Dara turned back and gave him a solid kick on his head. Arjun staggered and fell back.

Just then Agni and Langur reached the spot and found Arjun lying with his eyes closed and a pair of donkeys standing by. Dara told her what had happened. She went up to Arjun and shook him vigorously.

“Wha....wh...Where am I,” Arjun got up stammering and looked around, the expression on his face even more stupid than usual.
“When did you come, Agni. What am I doing here and who are these two donkeys?’
“Who are you?” Langur asked Arjun seriously.
“Who am I? Don’t you know me dear fellow, I am Arjun, a tiger and husband of this beautiful, brave and talented tigress who is proud of my whiskers....” he stopped and looked at Langur.
“D...did you get the whisker,” he whispered to him.
“Yes, and I gave it to Agni.”
“G...gave it to Agni,” Arjun gulped twice and looked at his wife.
“A...Agni I hope you are not angry with me.”
“No, I am not. And from this moment I am not going to bother you about your whiskers. It is because of these whiskers that I almost lost you to a donkey.”
“Lost me to a donkey.”
“Yes. By a whisker.”
“B...but I don’t understand.”
“Well, it’s a long story I’ll tell you some other time,” she said winking at Dara and Tara who smiled and brayed together in agreement.     

Images under license with Gettyimages.com

9-Dec-2007
 
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