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True Friends – A tale from Hitopadesha

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!

Always be friendly with your neighbours

Long long ago in the forest of Swetharanya, there lived a two hawks. They had recently migrated to this forest from another forest as  humans had begun to inhabit that forest in which they lived earlier. Here, they had built their nest on a tall tree by the side of the river Swetha Pushkarini. There were a couple of eggs in their nest which were about to hatch any time.

The hawks were very happy in the new forest which was free of humans and in due course their eggs hatched into cute little chicks.

From the day they had come into Swetharanya, Shyeni, the female hawk was insisting that they should find out who their neighbours were and be friendly with them. The male hawk Shyena , on the other hand was not so particular and was also lazy and did not bother. However , due to the persistence of Shyeni, he finally went to seek his neighbours. In a burrow in another tree lived a Kingfisher by name Suchitraka. He was very happy when Shyena met him and they both became good friends.

Now, there was a lion by name Jatila in a cave near the river. Shyena met the lion and introduced himself and became good friends with him too. Finally he found that there was this tortoise by name Dadru living in a bush just below the tree where he had his nest. And so, because of the hawks’ efforts, Suchitraka, Jatila and Dadru became friends with Shyeni and Shyena.

They used to meet everyday and exchange courtesies. Life was going on smoothly until one day……

It was a new moon night and the forest was pitch dark. It posed no problem for the hawks and their friends as they could see well in the nights also. It was just after midnight, when Shyeni thought she heard some rustling near the tree. She peered out of the nest and was shocked to see two human figures groping their way through the dark. Shyeni and Shyena could fly away but what about their chicks? They were yet to grow wings fully and were very vulnerable. Shyeni was worried.

When the men came near the clearing under the tree, they stopped. “Hmm.. it seems we have lost our way.. All because of you “, grunted one fellow who was giant like. “Don’t blame me for everything . It was You who wanted to come with me?” retorted the other who was of a smaller built. “Ok Ok” said the bigger man, “I am feeling hungry. Get me something to eat. I was a fool to come fishing with you in the river. We didn’t catch even one fish and you let the net get washed away by the current. Now, go and get some food to eat.. Fast!” he ordered.

By now Shyena was also awake and was wondering what to do if the chicks woke up and started making noise. The very next moment, what he dreaded happened. The chicks were disturbed by the sound of the men and started making screeching noises. The men were first frightened but then knew that it was the sound of young birds. “Aha.. ” said the bigger fellow, “I can see the nest on the top most branch. Now, you fool, go and collect some twigs and we shall make a fire and eat roasted chicks…” he ordered the smaller fellow. The smaller fellow got up mumbling something and ambled into the bushes peering in the dark for twigs and slowly brought some. “Faster, you fool, now rub some stones and make fire, fast.. and go and get some more twigs….” said the bigger fellow and the other one obeyed him.

Soon, a fire had started to blaze and the bigger fellow now tried to climb up the tall tree. Shyeni was panicking and told Shyena to go and call their friends. Shyena also, not knowing what to do went straight  to Suchitraka and called out to him . “Suchitraka, Suchitraka, my friend, Please come and help me!” he cried out, “My chicks are in danger!”. Suchitraka woke up with a start and flew out fast to see the blazing fire and the man trying to climb the tree. The tree had its branches high up and so the man was struggling to get a foothold and go up.

Suchitraka thought for a moment and like a flash of lightning dived into the nearby river, came out like an arrow from the quiver and went over the fire and flapped his wings hard. The water droplets fell on the fire and the fire made a fizzling sound. The man who was trying to climb the tree, turned around, but Suchitraka had vanished for another round of water spraying. He did this act again and again. The fire was now struggling to burn  due to the continuous spraying of water and  was almost extinguished and the enraged men saw the bird  and came running at Suchitraka waving a cloth.

Suchitraka was terribly tired of this exercise and flew into his burrow and dropped down due to exertion. The bigger man then said, “Don’t worry, I shall climb the tree and kill the chicks and we can go home and have a good breakfast” and continued his efforts to climb the tree.

Now Shyena was worried. What could he do next? In the meanwhile, Dadru, hearing the commotion had come out of the bushes. In a flash he understood what was going on. He pulled himself up and walked as fast as he could near the smaller man and the man almost tripped on Dadru in the dark. But he found that it was a tortoise and shouted to his comrade , “Hey , don’t take the trouble of getting the chicks. Here is a tortoise. It’s a long time since we had tortoise meat. Lets’s take him home. Come on”

The bigger man sneered at him and said “You Budhdhoo, how do you propose to take a tortoise home? Lead it like a doggie Huh? We do not have any weapons . Go , Go and get some creepers from over there and we shall make a rope to tie and carry him    . Go fast,  you dud!, else the tortoise will go away !” The smaller man retorted with a grunt and went to bring some creepers. Dadru consciously moved very very slowly and the men thought they could catch it. The man returned with many creepers and they started making a rope.

Shyena and Shyeni were very worried now. They could not afford to lose Dadru for the sake of their chicks. Shyeni said to Shyena , “Go , go quickly and call Jatila!!” Shyena flew fast and called Jatila from his den. Jatila sprang up and came running . The men had caught Dadru and were about to tie him up when from their back they hear a roar “Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…….”  Terrified, they turned around and to their  horror found a big huge lion staring at them menacingly as he  roared again. The roar was deafening and the next moment, the men forgot Dadru, the chicks and all and started running for their lives.

They ran out of the forest never to be seen again. And the hawks thanked the three friends for saving them and their friendship bonds were further strengthened.

Shyena looked at Shyeni thankfully as it was at her insistence that he became friendly with their neighbours.

Moral: Always maintain a good relationship with your neighbours.

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