In the ancient times, humans used to catch wild birds with the help of traps.They would keep the traps at the edge of the forest which would later be filled with pheasants and fowls and humans would feed on them.
A man one day kept a trap like that.The trap though was enormous. After a day or two, on checking on it he found that a hauntingly giant tiger was inside it. He was very frightened. The tiger could not jump on the man as the door of the trap was shut.
While the man was clueless what to do, the tiger said, "Hey brother, why don't you let me go? I'm a beast of the forest, I should be out in the forest. Let me go brother, it will be very pious of you."
The man answered, "But how do I? You are a carnivore, hardly worthy of any trust."
The tiger then softly assured that he would never harm the man.
However, the man was not persuaded by what the tiger so gently said. With no way seen, the tiger swore on God three times that he will not harm the man.
The man finally had some trust on the tiger and he went on to open the trap. The tiger was very hungry as he did not get anything to eat inside the trap for days. He instantly forgot about his three swears.Seeing a human in front of his eyes he craved to eat his flesh. He said, "I'm very hungry brother. What to do, I'm going to eat you now."
The man said, "But you swore on God that you would not harm me!"
The tiger replied, "Aren't you a fool?Who trusts a tiger after all? I will definitely feed on you now."
The man was scared to death. Yet he came up with an idea.He said, "I made a mistake by trusting you. I'll die for my own fault. I let you feed on me, but before that as the saying goes let us consider it "The wise man asks three persons before attempting anything." So we should keep that in mind. Let us both walk on the road. We shall ask the first three beings that we meet. If they also agree, you are free to eat me."
The tiger agreed and they started walking. After a few distance, they reached a field of maize. A broken pauper was tied to a stake there. The work of the pauper was to shoo away all the birds that came to the maize field. The man said to the pauper, "Hey pauper, I saved this tiger by freeing him from a trap. Had I not done that, he would have died of hunger. But as you know "the snake always bites the benefactor". He wants to harm his own lifesaver. What do you say?"
The pauper said, "Brother it's indeed true what you said. But I have no trust on humans. They are the most inconsiderate. Look at the misery they had inflicted on me. They use us to pour beer, they use us as their chest and they are the ones who would keep us out in the field like me. So I think it's completely justified if the tiger eats you."
After hearing that the tiger was elated. He merrily said, " Did you hear what he said? It is my duty to eat you." The man shut him down, "Keep calm. The pauper was just one, two more left."
The two started walking on the road again. They reached a field of chillies. In a peg there, the head of a dead cow was hung. Addressing the head, the man said, "Let me ask you something cow-head? I had freed this tiger from his death. Instead of being grateful he wants to harm me. What do you say?"
The cow-head said, "It is true that we should not harm our benefactors. But one thing-humans are very inconsiderate. Look at me. Without me they cannot work on the paddyfield. When I'm alive, I'm everything. But once I'm dead and not much useful, I'm thrown out. Look at the condition they had turned me into. So I think it is totally right to harm humans."
The tiger was happy once again. He said, "You heard what the cow-head said? It is my duty to eat you."
The man said, " Hey you wait! One more left to ask. If the third being also says the same, I owe you my life. Now let's go."
They started walking again. They met a fox. The man said, " Hey brother fox. Wait a second. We need to consult you for something." The fox was at a distance. He said, "If I go close to you, you both will harm me. So I'm not going anywhere close, nor am I going to listen to you."
The man said, "I swear brother. We will only ask you something. We do not intend to harm."
The fox said, "I can trust you. But what about the tiger? He would instantly jump on me."
The tiger now said, "Don't you worry. I swear on God three times that I will not cause any harm to you."
The fox then went close to them and asked, "Now say what you want to say."
The man narrated everything from where it started. The fox after pondering a bit said, "I can not answer you right away. Without seeing where the tiger was, with my own eyes, it is difficult for me to comment anything. "
The man and the tiger then got ready to go to the trap again. The three of them reached the place. When the fox asked where the tiger was the man pointed towards the trap, "He was trapped inside that". The fox then answered, "I can not believe it quite. How can such a giant beast be inside such a tiny trap? The door seems too small to be so. So unless the tiger shows it to me himself,I can not believe anything you say. The tiger was enraged, he said " Who told you I cannot be inside that? Now look at me. I'll show you how I was inside it."
The fox instantly shut the door and said, "Now I believe you brother. You were really trapped inside. But you better remain there. We shall leave now." The fox thus took the man from there and left. The tiger kept roaring inside. His thirst to feed on the man was never fulfilled.
The fox assured the man, Now you may ho home safely".
Humans started looking at foxes in a good manner. The fox community also stopped fearing men unlike earlier. Inspite of being a wild beast they enter people's household without hesitation. Whenever they get chance, they also steal things and eat.
Translation from Assamese â€“ Daisy Barman
(A doctoral fellow at the Department of Folklore, Gauhati University, Daisy Barman is a scribbler and translator. She can be reached at email@example.com )
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)
The Assamese version of the folktale has been taken from Jajajatiya Sadhu, a collection of tribal folk tales of the North-East, compiled and edited by Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya, and Published by Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi