Hitopadesha is said to have been written by a certain Pandit Narayana whose time period seems to be much later than Pandit Vishnu Sharma who gave us the Panchatantra. Pandit Narayana’s inspiration was from the Panchatantra and his stories are also somewhat similar to the Panchatantra stories. The story I am narrating comes under the section titled “Choice of Friends”.
Long ago, in the forests of Dandakaranya, there lived a deer named Hiran and a crow named Kakah who were thick friends. They used to meet every day and spend happy times together.
Once, a wily jackal by name, Shrugala, chanced to see the deer when he was grazing around.
“What a healthy deer he is!” thought Shrugala. “He would make a superb meal for me!” The very thought of relishing the deer’s flesh made him drool. But he was very greedy and so thought that he would make the deer fatter before he made him his prey. So he went and tried to befriend the deer.
“Hello Deer!” he called out. Hiran was surprised to see a jackal calling out to him with a smile on his face and so raised his head. Shrugala came nearer. “I want to be your friend. My name is Shrugala”.
Hiran was confused and could not reply immediately and Shrugala went on. “You are wondering why I want to be your friend? Well I have heard elders say that the company you keep determines your character. And I know that all my friends are cunning and you are a simple straight forward deer and I admire your traits and want to become like you. So please accept me as your friend. We shall meet every day and spend the day together happily. By the way, what is your name?”
Hiran got flattered by the sweet words of Shrugala and nodded his head. “Okay! Shrugala, I will be your friend. Call me Hiran” said he. “Wait till my friend Kakah comes and I will introduce you to him. He will also be extremely happy to meet you”.
Kakah, however, was not at all pleased about Hiran’s new-found friendship. He chided Hiran. “How can you just accept somebody as your friend without knowing anything about them? You should always consider being friends with anybody only after knowing their nature” he said. He then told him the story of the Vulture and the cunning Cat which you can read by clicking here.
Shrugala became anxious that his grand plan would fail and so said to Kakah, “Well, even on the day you met Hiran, both of you were strangers to each other, but how is it that your friendship only grows stronger every day? Hiran has already accepted me as his friend and should not go back on his word.” With no other way, they accepted Shrugala in their group and they spent the days together. They used to find their own food and Shrugala always kept an eye on Hiran waiting for him to become fatter.
One day, after Kakah went in search of his food, Shrugala called Hiran. “Hiran, I have found a nice place for you to have tasty corn which you can eat to your heart’s content” said he, and took him to the field of a farmer at the edge of the forest. The field was full of lush corn crop ready to be harvested. Hiran was delighted. He thanked Shrugala for his good gesture and went to eat the corn. Day by day, eating the fresh corn, Hiran was becoming fatter and Shrugala was very happy to see this and waited for the right opportunity to strike.
As days passed, the farmer began to notice that the quantity of corn was reducing in one corner of his field and eventually found the culprit. He laid a net trap for him the next day in the field.
Hiran, unaware of the trap went merrily and got caught in the trap and suddenly found that he could not get out of there. He cried out aloud. “Shrugala! Kakah! please come and help me. I have been caught in a net” he shouted. The farmer’s house was a bit far off, from the field and he had not yet seen Hiran caught in the net.
Shrugala was lurking nearby behind some bushes and was waiting for the farmer to kill Hiran and thought that he could then pounce on the farmer and frighten him and take away Hiran’s body. But as time went by, the farmer also did not come out and see. So Shrugala went near Hiran, with a fake look of shock on his face, and started talking pitifully to Hiran.
Hiran on the other hand, was panicking and told Shrugala to somehow tear the net with his teeth and claws and set him free. “You are my good friend and a friend should always help another who is in need. Please help! Please!” he pleaded. Shrugala just did not bother and quietly slunk away much to Hiran’s anguish. He went and hid behind the bushes again waiting to see what would happen.
In a short while, thankfully Kakah arrived on the scene and he was really shocked to see his dear friend caught in a net.
“What happened Hiran? How did you get into this trap?” he asked with concern. Hiran told him how Shrugala had shown him this field and how Shrugala had refused to help now. Kakah was furious but he knew that saving Hiran was the priority and just at that time, he saw the farmer walking out of his house with a huge club in hand. He was coming towards the field.
Kakah thought fast and told Hiran, “Look, there is no time now. You lie down still and pretend to be dead. I will sit on you and pretend to peck your eyes. The farmer will think you are dead and when he removes the net, I will caw thrice and you get up and run for your life. We will catch up in the evening”.
Hiran agreed to Kakah’s idea and lay still. The farmer was coming nearer and he saw the crow sitting and pecking at the deer.
“Hmmm. He looks dead. Is he? Poor fellow! He must have died out of sheer fright” he mumbled to himself. “My effort is saved. I don’t need to unnecessarily kill this fellow. And I will get to eat fresh deer meat today Hahaha….”
He then shooed away Kakah. “Shoo, shoo” he shouted and Kakah went and perched on a nearby tree. The farmer carefully removed the net and turned to the other side to fold it since he thought the deer was dead anyway.
“Caw caw caw!” cried Kakah and the next moment Hiran was up on his fours and ran so fast even before the farmer realized what had happened. The farmer turned around and was furious that he had been outwitted. He saw Hiran run behind the bushes and raised his club and threw it with all force hoping that it would hit Hiran. It came and landed with a thud on Shrugala’s back instead, as Shrugala was hiding there.
With a shrieking howl, Shrugala ran out of the bushes limping with great difficulty as his back had almost been broken.
And he was never to be seen again near Hiran and Kakah!