This is the place where I stop for a breather. That jackass sena-pati and his other sainik friends charged and shouted till I had to run for my life. And although I have lived my donkey years full of health it is not fun being made to run for whatever is left of my life. This used to be a peaceful herd, a peaceful jungle, a peaceful world. But now things are changing. What is going on this jungle these days is too complicated for me to put my head around. Hainchoo hainchoo I laugh at myself. Put my head around. He-he-hainchoo. He-he-he-hainchoo. I must be getting old for a donkey. Since when do we donkeys start putting head around things? I am tired with my life saving effort. I should rest before the little ones come.
“Wake-up Gadha uncle, wake-up.” The children are here and they nudge me till I am out of my dreams. Little Jennies look so pretty. And stupid jacks will never get any better. The day has improved and it is quite for miles if my ears are to be believed. There is a slight breeze. I walk with the children to the allotted section, gadha-dham, on the pond to drink water. Some of the children also drink but most of them are impatient and can’t wait for me to start the story. I walk with the children to our usual place. It is tough for my old legs to climb the few steps to the platform but the tradition has to be kept. Children won’t have me tell the story standing next to them.
“Hainchoo hainchoo. Good evening little ones”. “Good evening gadha uncle” little Jennies call out. Jacks, I know, don’t care about the niceties these days. What kind of training the parents are giving to these boys? Anyways. I can’t improve them. But they do pay attention to the stories so I don’t mind their being gadhas.
“Uncle you promised the story of king rama and his temple last time” little Sita calls out. “No uncle, it was the story a man who eats the food of thousand cows” shouts Bihari. “That is an old one, we want to hear about the black king of a white jungle, the one who came to our jungle once” rains barkha. ‘Story of raja’ ‘story of rani’ ‘jaadu pari’ ‘bhoodi nani’ all demand their stories and soon a fight starts among the children.
Haaaiiiiiinnnnnnnnchoooo. And with my shout they all pay attention. “Today I will tell you a story about two sisters. Chitals. Hiranis. Chital Arundhati and Chital Taslima.” Children as always forget their demands and pick up their ears.
“Before I started telling stories standing on this raised platform and long before any of you little ones were born, this jungle and all the neighbouring jungles were one big jungle, ruled by a great great lion sitting far away in a cave and his jackals keeping a watch over all. And most of you have heard the story of how the animals of the jungle suffered and decided to pick their king from within and eventually this happened but the jungle was divided into different smaller jungles ruled by different lions and we are now in one of the larger sections of that jungle. We got our own lion king, a king who was good for our jungle. Arundhati was born in our part of the jungle during the reign of the first lion king. Taslima was born about the same time in another part ruled by another lion king.”
“But Gadha uncle you said story of two sisters. How are they sisters if they were born in different jungles?” Barkha is very sharp for a donkey. Sometimes I wonder how she ended up being a donkey. She should do a mare proud. “They are sisters not by birth but by the way of lives. They are sisters because they both told stories. They told stories of their jungles. They are sisters by their natures.” The little ones don’t seem convinced but as long as they get a story, they don’t mind.
“A long time passed after the birth of both the hiranis. The jungle in which Taslima was born was further divided as their lion king was not kind to one section of the jungle. The animals of the jungle with the help of the ruler of our jungle made their own lion the king. Taslima saw all this while growing up. One day in our jungle some wild cows attacked the tree under which pigs used to rest. Cows claimed that this place was a good grazing area for them and the pigs had taken it forcefully. You know there are more cows in our jungle than all the other jungles. Although the pigs were many and the jackals of king were there to protect the pigs, the cows succeeded in destroying the tree. This all happened in our jungle. But the pigs in other jungles got angry. The number of cows in Taslima’s jungle was very small and the pigs went on a rampage and killed many cows and destroyed many grazing areas of the cows. The lion king of that jungle was on the side of pigs. The pigs kept him in power. Taslima saw all this and was filled with pain and shame. And she started telling the story of this shame to all who will listen. Cows, hirans, pigs, jackals, goats, camels, fish, monkeys, rabbits, trees, grass, winds, sky, everyone who will listen. And they all cried after they listened to the story and some pigs were ashamed of what was done but they were too few in numbers. Taslima’s story reached the ears of the head of pigs. They were infuriated and they forced the lion king to issue a death penalty for shaming their jungle with her stories. The lion king agreed. But the hirans are very fast and can run to save their live. They can’t run far if lions attack but they can beat pack of jackals or pigs. Taslima ran to our jungle and our king was sympathetic and let her stay. She still stays in our jungle. Sometimes angry pigs on our side attack her but mostly her stay in our jungle has been peaceful, though she misses her jungle”.
The wind picks up. Some clouds have drifted across the sun. I feel the cold in my bones too easily these days. Little ones hardly notice. I have to take breathers in my stories. The little ones know I can’t speak too long without a little rest. Hainchooo, hainchoo. I bray myself back to the story. Have to finish before its gets too cold.
“Arundhati meanwhile grew to be a very beautiful, smart hirani. I saw her for the first time after her first big story was read. It was a beautiful story. About little ones and about loved ones and about loss and about growing up and about life of a God. I listened to the story and I almost sympathized with all animals of that story (I a gadha, imagine how moving that story must have been). You all will get to hear the story in time. And then I saw her. She was a hirani who was as good with looks as with her stories. And her voice had that intoxicating jingle to it. Her eyes were deep like ocean and I am ashamed to say this little ones but I was drowned in them”. Hehehainchoo hehehainchoo, little jacks giggle. Jennies all are so thoughtful. Pink-tail has even some water in her eyes. The jacks keep giggling and nudging each other. I bray them to silence and continue.
“So there she was, chital Arundhati. Her big story was read few years after Taslima’s. About the time our lion king burned big fires in the desert with help of chimpanzees and foxes. Something affected Arundhati. I am not sure what. But she changed and after her big story everyone waited to hear the next but she never told any other big story. She started working for improving the lives of all animals of our jungle. She would go and fight against the foxes who wanted to dry little fish ponds for the stones below, which were required for big fox bunkers. She raised her voice against other lion kings of big jungles and their foxes and jackals troubling small jungles. Sometimes she spoke about the cows and jackals of our jungle troubling weaker rabbits, squirrels, fishes and others. She spoke a lot. Our lion king was told by many cows to make her quiet. But our lion king with all his shortcomings has one good quality. The lion king tries to uphold the jungle law. All animals are allowed to make their noises and nobody can stop them or kill them just for being who they are. But there are many jackals like the sainiks who just attacked me, or the famous cow family, even in our jungle, who create trouble. But lion king does not say anything to them as well and tries to let the law takes it course. Then one day Arundhati got angry with so many things that she started talking against the lion king, against our jungle. She called lion king names, she used many big confusing words against our jungle. Even I was angry with her. But then I am a gadha after all, may not understand all that the smart hirani wanted to say.”
“And then it was this afternoon and I had to tell you a story. And I thought why not tell you about this”. “What happened next?” barkha demands. “Even I don’t know. The jungles are changing little ones. The lion king’s are not all powerful now. Even we gadhas have a say in many jungles. But some jungles are badly ruled and lion kings are put behind stone walls by jackals. The story of Taslima and Arundhati is not over yet. They are both in our jungle as I speak.” “Then why did you tell us this story”. “A story with no end, Gadha uncle is getting old”. Children always want an end to the story, mostly they want a perfect end. “There is no reason for why I told you this story. Maybe because I wanted to tell you that there is no such thing as a perfect jungle. Just as there is no perfect story. We have good jungles and bad jungles. It is all relative. And we all have a say, an opinion. But what I want you to remember is that before you pass a judgement on any jungle or even a story think about the alternative. What would you rather have? The jungle where Taslima lived or the jungle where Arundhati lived? There are always ways to improve but we improve by contributing, not only criticizing”
The jacks are already kicking each other. Few Jennies have turned their heads towards them. It wasn’t a story for the little ones. It wasn’t a story at all. “OK, I will tell a jaadu-pari story tomorrow”. Hainchoo hainchoo they shout in joy. They slowly ran hither and thither and I climb down the stairs to be a part of my jungle once again.
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