One scorching summer’s day a guru went for a swim in the river Ganges, a long, sacred river that has its source in the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas. Now a guru is an Indian priest who is much respected. On the way home he chanced across a heavily-built, man-eating black-striped orange tiger imprisoned in an iron cage that had been terrorising children and had recently been captured by a fisherman.
When he saw the guru the tiger stuck a wide smile on his face and chuffled, ‘Hello there, sir. How are you? It’s a hot sticky day and I’m longing for an icy-cold drink. Won’t you unlock the cage and let me out?’
‘No,’ replied the guru. He retreated a few steps and eyed the tiger cautiously, ‘not in a million years because I know you’ll break my spinal cord and devour me.’
‘What a load of rubbish! I’d never do that,’ exclaimed the tiger, ‘ that would be so vindictive. Please, please,’ he pleaded, panting to show how hot he was, ‘I really am very thirsty.’
So the guru, feeling sorry for him, unlocked the cage door. Out leapt the Tiger, grinning from ear to ear. ‘Aha,’ he gloated licking his lips, ‘I’m going to make mince meat of you.’
‘No, please don’t,’ begged the guru trembling with fear as the tiger swished his 310 centimetres long tail. ‘I’m old and not likely to be at all tasty. Look, let’s ask the first six we come across, whether they’re humans or animals or things and if they unanimously agree that I’m for the curry pot then you’re welcome to me.’
‘OK,’ confirmed the tiger rubbing his paws with glee certain he knew what the outcome would be. ‘We’ll head along that path.’
The tiger and the guru walked side by side till they reached a banyan tree, an Indian fig tree with long drooping branches.
The guru called to the tree, ‘Oh banyan tree, listen up. I let the tiger out of the cage because he was dying for a drink. He promised not to harm me but now he has gone back on his word. Do you really think that’s right or fair?’
The tree rustling its glossy green elliptical leaves replied, ‘of course it is. Often humans have sat under me to shelter from the burning noonday sun but after they’ve rested, they’ve broken my branches and scratched their names on my bark. Yes, tiger go ahead and eat the guru for humans are ungrateful creatures.’
The tiger growled with joy when he heard this but because he’d promised to wait until all six had voiced their opinion he forced himself to curb his enthusiasm.
They walked on and encountered a camel. The guru repeated the story.
The camel screwed up his eyes and yawned emitting bad breath. ’ Well, as you were stupid enough to trust the tiger, he should do as he likes with you and the sooner the better. When I was young and strong my master couldn’t do enough for me but now I’m frail, he beats me, overloads me and lets me starve. If I were the tiger, I wouldn’t hesitate to polish you off because humans are cruel and selfish.’
The guru was sweating and mopped his face hoping the tiger wouldn’t sense his anxiety.
Next they saw a bullock chewing grass by the wayside. ‘Brother bullock, brother bullock,’ asked the guru ‘what do you think?’
The bullock barely glanced up and replied with his mouth full, ‘hear this, mate. When I was strong and hearty my master treated me well but now I’m old and weak, he has forgotten me and left me by the roadside to die. Humans are pitiless and I insist you kebab him, my tiger friend,’ and he tossed his head to frighten away the flies that had settled on his ears.
The tiger sharpened his claws for three out of the six had voted in his favour, but the guru reminded him, ‘not so fast- we agreed to ask six and there are three more to go.’
‘Oh, very well,’ said the tiger, rather sulkily and none too pleased as he was getting hungrier and hungrier, ‘but it’s clear you’re a goner and I’m only humouring you.’
Then they spied an eagle swooping through the air. The guru called up to it, ‘Eagle please –’
‘- Get on with it,’ snapped the eagle, ‘or I’ll be late for supper.’
‘Ditto,’ grinned the tiger looking very hard at the guru who hurriedly put the question to the eagle.
The eagle scarcely stopped to answer. ‘Hell yes,’ he said, ‘ you’d make a delicious meal. Whenever humans spot me they try to shoot me; they climb into my nest and snatch away my chicks. I should jolly well hope the tiger roasts you for Sunday lunch,’ and striking the guru across his right cheek with a wing, he soared far up into the sky.
‘That was quite uncalled for,’ grumbled the guru rubbing his reddening face. He realised the tiger was rapidly losing patience as he was weary of wandering around and his tummy was rumbling like thunder. They’d now come full circle and had reached the river bank where a crocodile was sunning himself.
The crocodile wept. ‘I can’t begin to tell you how dreadful my life is. I’ve only to put my nose out of the water for some human to come along and try and make a hand bag or pair of shoes out of me. As long as there are humans, around I have to be permanently on the alert, and if the tiger won’t do the business I’m more than happy to.’
There was only one more left to ask. It’s very scary thought the guru. He looked around and locked eyes with a sleek- bodied jackal brushing his golden coat. He knew jackals were reputed to be cunning tricksters and murmured sadly to him, ‘you’ve got the final say in this.’
I’m done for thought the guru recalling that the legendary enmity between jackals and humans began at the time of the Great Flood when Noah barred jackals from boarding the Ark because he regarded them unworthy of being saved. However, God commanded Noah otherwise and reluctantly he’d found room for them. Then there was the rumour that a jackal had set a wolf, mongoose and tiger against each other, just so as to enable him to consume a deer without having to share it.
The jackal sidled up to the tiger and sniffed cordially. ‘Well guys you can’t honestly expect me to commit myself until I see the exact position you two were in when the argument began. Come, show me. ’
The guru led the way with the tiger behind them identifying his territory by marking trees with sprays of urine.
When they reached the empty cage now surrounded by worried looking villagers, the jackal’s ears twitched. ‘Let’s hear from you first guru. Where exactly were you positioned?’
‘Here,’ said the guru, ‘about half a metre away,’ and he moved towards the front of the cage.
The jackal turned to the tiger. ‘And you were…?’ he enquired.
‘I was inside, of course,’ smirked the tiger, privately thinking that the jackal was a thickie.
‘How do you mean?’ persisted the jackal, ‘were you on the left or the right and which way were you facing? Were you snoozing or doing the light fantastic? You’ve got to be more specific before I can make a reasoned judgment.’
The tiger thought the jackal rather pedantic and all these questions quite unnecessary. ‘I was like this,’ he said, jumping into the cage. ‘I was wide awake, sitting upright looking straight ahead with my chin raised so and I was brushing my whiskers with my paws.’
‘Mmm,’ said the jackal, ‘that’s very interesting although there’s one more important factor — was the cage door open or closed?’
‘Oh, locked and firmly bolted,’ replied the guru.
‘Do just that,’ motioned the jackal.
The guru banged the door shut. Clang!
The jackal peered through the bars at the tiger. ‘You nasty, ungrateful brute,’ he cried. ‘When the guru released you was the only way you could thank him was to threaten him? I’m ashamed that a member of the animal kingdom should behave in this thoroughly despicable manner. You deserve to be punished and I’ll make sure you never escape.’
The tiger angrily rattled the bars and vowed to avenge himself on the jackal and the guru. ‘This is an unfair ambush!’ he snarled. ‘Just you wait and see – your days are numbered.’
‘In your dreams,’ shrugged the jackal and he turned to the guru. ‘Well, I’ve food to scavenge for so I’ll be off.’ He loped away in one direction but not without first baring his curved molars at the tiger as the guru, relieved to be alive, took to his heels.