Misery of the Monkey
(a folktale of the Bodos)
A monkey and a rabbit used to be good friends. Together they stayed, together they ate and together they roamed around. One day a man was carrying a bunch of bananas and betel nuts for a marriage feast. As soon as they saw it, the two friends started contriving into getting hold of the loaded stuff from the man by trickery. The monkey hid himself in the jungle while he asked his friend rabbit to be ahead and wait in the middle of the road. Upon finding the rabbit just ahead the man kept his things there and went on to shoo the rabbit off. On the other side, the money immediately got hold of the bananas and betel nuts and climbed up a tree. Afraid to give a share to his friend rabbit, the greedy monkey devoured all the bananas and what he kept for his friend was only its left-over peels.
It was not possible for the man to catch a rabbit! While the rabbit instantly ran to the jungle, the man returned to take his stuff that he was carrying for the feast. When he could not find any of it, he returned home with a sad mind. The rabbit then went along to find his friend monkey. As the rabbit asked for his share, the monkey threw all the left-over peels his way. Terribly angry at his friend’s conduct the rabbit murmured “be ready to take my revenge” and went away.
The rabbit then sat beside a cluster of arum. Seeing that the monkey started calling him endearingly “friend, hey my dear friend!”
“Who is it? The King kept me here to guard his sugarcanes”, answered the rabbit in a deep voice.
“Would you not give me a piece, please!” asks the monkey humbly.
“Oh absolutely not. If the King somehow comes to know, he will kill us both”.
But the monkey was adamant. Helpless as it seemed the rabbit said, “Okay, you are my friend. If you want it so much, have it. Do not blame me later on.”
As soon as he took the wild arum into his mouth, he started screaming in pain. Now the rabbit said, “My friend, see I told you. Fault is all yours. Did I not tell you not to take?”
After that the rabbit sat under a nest of wasps. The monkey found him there again and asked “What are you doing my friend?”
The rabbit answered: “I’m guarding the King’s pair of cymbals”.
“Would you not give me once to play them, my dear friend?” said the monkey.
“No I can’t. If the King comes to know, we both will be killed.”
“I will play it very slow. Do not worry” insisted the monkey.
The rabbit then let him do it. The monkey clapped at the nest of wasps with both his hands. All the wasps bit his mouth, eyes and everywhere and left him nearly half-dead. He groaned in horrible pain. The rabbit said, “See I told you not to do it. You did not listen to me. Now that is not my fault.”
After that the rabbit went and waited near a milk snake. The monkey followed him and said “What are you doing my friend?”
“Can’t you see, I’m guarding the King’s scepter” said the rabbit in somber voice.
“Would you let me lift it once to see how it feels?”
The rabbit seemed reluctant but the monkey was adamant as ever and finally agreed. As soon as the monkey lifted it, the snake bit him badly. The helpless monkey ran crying in pain.
The rabbit was sitting beside a marshland. The monkey showed up again and asked the rabbit what he was doing. The rabbit said, “This is the King’s palanquin. I’m asked to guard it”.
“Please let me sit here once” said the monkey.
“No you cannot. What will the King say? Are you a fool or what? Time and again I ask you not to do things but you end up doing them all ignoring what I said”.
But the monkey was desperate and definitely not one to listen to anything. He jumped over the marshland and instantly mud all around pressed him down.
The rabbit said,” My dear friend, remember when I asked you my share of bananas you threw the left-over peels instead? Take this as my revenge. You stay there. I’ll better scoot. The rabbit went off.
After sometime, a rhino came that way. In spite of the monkey’s repeated humble request, the rhino said he could not help and left the place saying he was hungry. Then came a buffalo, the also ignored the monkey and immediately left the place. Next, came a hungry tiger. The monkey exclaimed:
“I call you my father
take me from here
if you do not save me
who else is there?”
The tiger said then, “what do I get in return?” And he was about to go too.
Utterly helpless the monkey implored:
“My father, I beg you
if you want do eat me
washing all the mud
but this marshland is so hopeless
why don’t you take me from here?”
Hungry as the tiger was said in a rather indifferent voice, “What taste will I have if I eat you! They say it is a virtue to have saved someone in danger. And now that you yourself have asked me to eat you, it will no longer be my sin.” Saying that the tiger spread its tail. The monkey held it and came up to the shore.
The monkey said, “My body is all drenched in mud. Let me dry it in the sun. Then only you would relish.”
He sat in the sun to let his body dry. And as soon as the tiger turned his eyes to the other side, he immediately climbed a tree. Raged at this, the tiger did not move from near the tree.
Neither did the monkey agree, nor did the tiger move an inch. Two or three days passed already. Eventually the tiger took to feigning death and lied above the ground. A flock of flies was soon seen around his mouth.
Seeing the flies the monkey was adequately convinced that the tiger was dead indeed. He climbed down slowly and put his tail into the tiger’s mouth. The tiger still did not move. The monkey then touched one of his clutches, the tiger did not move.
The monkey thought in his mind “Weren’t you the one to grind my bones? Now see what happened to you!”
He started dancing in joy. He came near the tiger and said, “Let me see if you can eat my head” and put his head in the tiger’s mouth. The tiger closed its mouth and the monkey’s head broke to pieces.
And here ends our tale!
Illustrations - Utpal Talukdar.
(Utpal Talukdar is an illustrator and a cartoonist. He has completed several projects of children literature with National Book Trust of India. He is a reciepient of Parag Kumar Das Journalism Award)
Translation from Assamese – Daisy Barman
(Daisy Barman is a scribbler and translator. She can be reached at email@example.com )
About the Bodos:
The Bodos are the single largest plains tribe and the oldest group of people of Assam. They are mainly agriculturists. They have a very rich culture and tradition. They traditionally worship Bathou god. In Bodo language Ba means five and Thou means deep. In Bodo traditional faith, the number ‘five’ is very significant. The Sijou palnt for instance, has five ribs, and a pair of thorn in the ribs. In Bathou religion, the five mighty elements – land, water, air, fire and sky are worshipped.
The main religious festival of the Bodos is Kherai. They celebrate Baisagu during the time of Bohag Bihu, and Domashi, during the time of Magh Bihu.
The Bagurumba dance of the Bodos is very enchanting. So is the tune of their musical instruments like Siphung and Serja. They are very rich in language and literature. A number of Bodo writers have been awarded received prestigious Sahitya Akademi award in Bodo language.
This folktale is taken from the book “Asom Deshor Sadhu”, a collection of folktales of various tribes and communities of north-east and compiled by renowned writer Prafulla Dutta Goswami. This book was first published by Sribhumi Publishing Company, Kolkata in 1955.