Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Jackal and the Bear

Once upon a time a jackal and a bear met on a ferris wheel at a village mela. The two had a jolly time together. They pushed each other on the giant swing. They drank and gambled and laughed and joked all night. By the following morning they had become such good friends they decide to become “meets.” To make this vow of friendship binding, they exchanged rupees and began to call each other “Meetju.”

When it came time to part, the jackal said: “Meetju, we are like real brothers now. We must not separate. Let us live together under one roof and try our hand at farming.”

The bear thought this was a good idea, so the two set out together in search of a suitable home. Some distance above the village, in the jungle where people gathered wood, they found a shepherd’s hut which had been deserted for a long time. After covering the roof with a new bamboo mat to keep the hut dry, they bought a bull with the money they had won at gambling and began to clear the land.

Now the bear was a good-natured fellow who worked hard, but he was very stupid. The jackal, on the other hand, was very clever but he did not like to work at all. By the time they had finished hilling their first crop of corn together, the jackal was sure he did not like sharing the life of a farmer with a bear.

The next morning the jackal said: “Meetju, I will work in the fields now and you go out to graze the bull. In this way we will take turns and the work won’t seem so dull.”

The bear liked this arrangement. Every morning he would get up early and chew some parched corn and drink some beer for breakfast. Then he would climb up into the thickest part of the jungle to graze the bull. He watched the bull carefully all day long, so it would not get lost or eaten by tigers. Meanwhile, the jackal would lie in the shade all day while the corn grew.

When it was time to harvest the corn, the jackal said: “Meetju, you have worked hard and long at grazing the bull. He looks very strong. Now I will take my turn with the grazing and you can work at home in the fields.”

The bear was always agreeable after a compliment, so he stayed home to harvest the corn while the jackal took the bull to graze.

The bear worked steadily all day long. The jackal was less diligent. He found it too much effort to go into the thickest part of the jungle where the grazing was good. The climb was difficult, and he had to follow the bull all the time to see that he did not get lost or eaten by a tiger. To make things easier for himself, he took the bull down the mountain to graze in the open fields. It did not matter to him there was very little grass. The important thing was to be able to lie on the wall in the shade near the berry patch and watch the bull, without having to get up and chase him. Late in the evening, when he was sure it was too dark to help the bear harvest the corn, the jackal took the bull home.

After several weeks of this kind of treatment the bull grew very thin. And although the bear was a dull fellow, he wasn’t blind.

“Meetju,” he said one evening, “why our bull getting so thin?”

The jackal was ready with an answer.

“We are not all blessed with the same gifts. Meetju, I will never be the fine herder you are,” he replied with a sigh. “Wherever I have taken the bull, others have been before me-so he has had very little to eat. But today I made a great discovery! I found a place where the grass grows as high as the bull’s knees. Tomorrow I will take him there and he can feast until he can eat no more.”

The bear was happy to be recognized as the better herdsman so he said nothing more.

The next morning when the jackal went out to untie the bull he noticed that all the corn would be harvested by nightfall. This was the day he had been waiting for. He drove the bull up to the jungle but he did not take him to the tall grass as he had promised. Instead, he took him up to a high, barren cliff where there was no grass at all. When the bull put his head down to chew on a small fern growing out of a rock, the jackal gave him a shove and sent him rolling over the cliff. Then he ran down the mountain as fast as he could, dragged the animal into a deep ravine where no one could see him, ad sat down to his feast.

All morning the jackal ate the bull. When he had stuffed himself as much as he could, he gathered everything that was left and carried it back up the mountain to a cave in the side of the cliff. He carefully placed the meat at the back of the cave and filled the entrance with stones until there was only a small hole left, just big enough for him to enter. Then he put the bull’s tail in the hole, with the end showing from the outside. When everything was arranged just as he wished, he lay down to rest. He did not move again until he was sure the bear had finished harvesting the corn.

“Well, Meetju,” the bear said when he saw the jackal coming down the trail all alone, “where is the bull?”

“Oh, Meetju,” whined the jackal in return. “Today I have had a terrible time. The bull got stuck in a cave and try as I would, I could not get him out. I am weak, Meetju, but you are very strong. Tomorrow, if you will go up there with me, I am sure you can get him out.”

The bear, softened with flattery, could not refuse his friend’s request.

The next morning the jackal took the bear to the cave. When they reached the entrance the jackal said: “Meetju, you are too big to go inside that hole. I will go in and push the bull from inside, while you stay out here and pull from the outside. But don’t pull until I tell you I am ready. Whey I say, ‘Meetju, here he comes,’ you grab the tail with both hands and pull as hard as you can.”

The bear agreed to this plan and the jackal went inside the hole. He picked up his end of the tail and prepared for the pull that was to come. When he had braced himself properly, he shouted: “Meetju, here he comes!”

The bear grabbed the tail with both hands, put his feet against the sides of the cave, and pulled with all his might. When the Jackal felt all of he bear’s weight pulling against him, he let go, and the bear went tumbling over the cliff toward the river.

The jackal brushed his hands together and smiled to himself. He was delighted to think his plans had worked to successfully. The corn was all harvested, the bull did not need herding nay more, and the bear would no longer be around to eat anything or complain if things did to go his way. “Now,” thought the trickster, “I am free to do just as I please.”

He ran down to the hut to get a basket and a kukari so he could cut up any meat that was left over and carry it home. He put some cornmeal in the basket to make his lunch complete and headed back up the mountain.

To his great surprise, there in front of the whole was the bear, sitting with his arms around his legs in a very humble manner.

“Oh, Meetju,” moaned the bear as the jackal approached. “What happened to the bull?”

“You pulled much too hard,” was the quick reply. “you just don’t know your own strength. The bull fell into the river and drowned. He made a terrible splash!”

“Dear, dear,” muttered the bear. “We will never see him again. I almost lost my life too!” Then he added, looking up at the jackal: “Why have you brought the kukari and the pack basket?”

“I decided to come up to the forest to cut some wood. I knew you would fell very sick after your fall and would not want to work. I was going to tell you to go home and rest.”

This news helped to cheer up the bear. It was nice to have such a thoughtful brother, he said to himself. Then he saw the cornmeal.

“But Meetju, why did you bring the cornmeal?”

“I thought you would be very hungry after such a fall, so I brought some food.”

The bear smiled. He looked very happy.

“Oh, I have the best Meetju in the world,” he cried, jumping up and hugging the jackal.

The jackal started to laugh. The bear, who thought perhaps he should be laughing, started to laugh too. Soon they were both rolling on the ground with laughter. When the brothers were too exhausted to laugh any more, they sat down on a rock together and ate the cornmeal. Then they went off to the forest to cut wood.

It is said they are still calling each other Meetju, although one cannot be sure. A stupid, hard-working bear is hardly the match for a cleaver, lazy jackal.


Kukari – The famous Gurkha knife, used by most hill people for all their cutting needs

Meetju – A respectful manner of addressing one’s meet.

Meet – A friend from a different caste who is made an honorary member of the family

Rupee – A Nepalese coin

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