1. Loss Of Friends
‘A malicious jackal destroys the close friendship of a forest-dwelling lion and a bull.’
It happened like this -
A long time ago, in the southern part of the country, in the magnificent and prosperous city of Mahilaropya, there lived a rich merchant named Vardhamanak.
He had been born in poverty and had made his way up in the world through sheer dint of diligence and hard work. After amassing great wealth, he had, for some years, been content to lead a life of luxurious ease.
One night, however, as he was lying in bed, pondering over his good fortune, it occurred to him that resting on his laurels as he had been doing so far might not have been the wisest course to follow. Even great wealth such as his was likely to deplete in time, with continual withdrawals and no additions. Why, it was even possible that he might end up spending everything he had and find himself impoverished once again. That wouldn’t do at all. So, he thought, it was necessary for him to keep earning, to keep saving what he earned, and to keep making investments in suitable enterprises that would continue to bring him profit.
So he made up his mind to give up ease and inactivity and return to the business life. With this purpose, he gathered together a consignment of rare perfumes and decided to take it to Mathura to sell it to the well-paying connoisseurs there.
He and his retinue of servants then set off with a caravan that was headed for Mathura. Vardhamanak rode in a fine cart that was pulled by two magnificent white bulls called Sanjivak and Nandak. He had raised these bulls himself since they were calves and he was very fond of them.
As they were crossing the river Yamuna, the bulls had a hard time of hauling the cart over the muddy ground, and one of Sanjivak’s forelegs sunk deep in the mud and twisted. He bellowed in pain and keeled over and refused to get up again. It soon became clear that, with his leg thus injured, he would be unable to continue hauling the cart.
Since Vardhamanak was very fond of his bulls and insisted on their well-being, the company halted by the river for three days to give Sanjivak enough time to recover. Unfortunately, he continued to limp even after the prolonged rest. The company was not willing to linger by the riverside for longer than they had agreed to. They had business to conduct in Mathura and, aside from that, they were terrified of remaining in the thick forest that surrounded them on all sides. The forest was infamous for its many wild, carnivorous animals and, while the caravan had been lucky enough not to face any attacks from them so far, their luck might not hold out. It was imperative that they continue with their journey without delay, they told Vardhamanak.
Vardhamanak had no choice but to agree. Since Sanjivak could not yet walk properly, he decided to leave him behind in the company of seven of his strongest servants. They would protect the bull from any danger and bring him along to Mathura when he had recovered.
So the caravan continued on and vanished from sight. The seven servants that had been left behind, while they had agreed most readily to do as their Master wished, lost their nerve as nightfall came and, with it, all manners of terrible cries began resounding from the dark shadows of the forest. Without the protection of the caravan, they felt exposed and vulnerable. They stayed for three days, but on the fourth day their terror completely overcame them, and they abandoned the injured bull and took off in a hurry after the caravan.
It took them a while to catch up with the caravan, and when they did, they told Vardhamanak the story that they had concocted between themselves. They said that Sanjivak had unfortunately succumbed to his injuries and they had performed his last rites as was proper and then had made haste to come and inform him.
Vardhamanak, deeply grieved by the loss of his favorite bull, thanked them for making Sanjivak’s last days comfortable, and the caravan continued on to Mathura.
Meanwhile, back on the banks of the Yamuna, Sanjivak was still alive and in the days that followed, to his good fortune, none of the wild carnivores ventured to his side of the river. He was left to rest in peace, and the continued rest and the invigorating river air soon improved his health. He hobbled around eating the abundant green grass and, presently, his leg healed and his strength returned. He began racing about the meadows like a young calf, kicking up his heels and rooting up the anthills and bellowing at the top of his voice.
His loud bellows carried through the air and were heard by Pingalik, the lion King, as he went to have a drink at the river. Pingalik had never heard the bellows of a bull before and the sound terrified him. As he could not see Sanjivak from where he was, he thought that a huge, ferocious beast had come to the forest.
A creature that could make a din like that, he thought, had to surely be ten times as strong. And it was quite possible that such a monster would then try to deprive him of his throne. It might even kill him!
And so, terrified out of his wits, Pingalik rushed back to the forest, without even drinking his fill of water. He gathered his family and courtiers together in a huddle. He placed himself right in the center, and then he waited, in quaking fear, for the terrible creature to come and attack them.
Since he wouldn’t tell anyone what exactly was bothering him, why he was behaving in such an extraordinary fashion, the entire court was thrown into disarray.
There were two jackals in his court, Kartak and Damnak, who lived on the fringes with no specific roles, although their fathers had formerly held ministerial positions with the King. They studied their King’s frightened visage and began discussing what it might be that was bothering him to this extent.
Damnak said, “He has been like this since he returned from the river the other week. He has not gone back since then, although he is clearly very thirsty. And he flinches at the slightest sound. What can be the matter with him?”
Kartak said, “Yes, he does seem unlike himself, doesn’t he? But what is it to us? Whatever the issue might be, it has nothing to do with us and so we ought to keep out of it. It is not wise to meddle in matters that don’t concern us. Otherwise we might very well find ourselves in the same predicament as the wedge-pulling monkey. Do you really want to needlessly die like him?”
“What do you mean?” asked Damnak.
“I’ll tell you,” said Kartak, and began his story.