Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Why The Flea Hops

Once, during the reign of a great king, there lived in a little blacksmith’s hut, a fat louse and a very small flea. The louse stayed hidden in the smith’s shirt most of the time. The flea lived in the sari of the blacksmith’s wife. Whenever these two came out to talk to one another, their conversation ended in a quarrel.

“Why are we always quarreling like this?” asked the flea one day. “We like the same things to eat. We are practically brothers. Why don’t we exchange rupees and become ‘meets’? Then maybe we would treat each other as real brothers should.”

“I would like that,” said the louse, who always enjoyed company. “Then you can come to live with me in the blacksmith’s shirt and we can see one another more often.”

So the louse and the flea exchanged rupees and began calling each other “Meetju.” That night the two brothers hid together in the blacksmith’s shirt.

The next morning the master of the house hung his shirt on the wall and went out to the forge to begin his day’s work. The two brothers, who had been discussing their favorite foods, began to long for some tasty rice pudding.

“But how can we make rice pudding without any rice or milk?” asked the practical louse.

“I will show you how,” said the flea. “Come with me.”

The flea took the louse up the mountain trail until they came to an open pasture where animals were tethered to graze. There, inside a grass shed, was a shepherd milking one of the buffaloes.

“I will get inside the shepherd’s shirt,” said the flea, “and bite him as hard as I can. While he is trying to catch me, you can grab some milk and run off with it.”

The plan succeeded and the two brothers were soon walking toward home with a jug full of milk.

“Now I will show you where we can get our rice,” said the scheming flea. He turned down another trail that led to the house of a Brahman. There in the courtyard was the Brahman’s wife, winnowing the last of the rice she was going to cook for her husband’s supper.

“Look at her,” whispered the flea. “A Brahmani who eats rice all the time should be very sweet. While she is trying to find me in her blouse, you take some of the rice and run.”

The flea had no trouble distracting the poor Brahmani from her work. The louse quickly filled his pockets with all the rice he needed and ran toward home.

When the two meets reached their house they sat down together to cook the rice pudding. The milk bubbled and gurgled, and the rice began to swell. The louse and the flea stirred the pot often, so the milk would not stick to the bottom. They dripped some of the sweet juice into their hands between each stir and licked it eagerly. Just as they were about to take the pot from the stove the flea suggested a plan.

“Meetju,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “Why don’t we have a contest. We can’t eat this pudding while it is so hot. Let us go up into the forest to cut fodder while we wail for the pot to cool. The one who brings home the biggest load will get all of the pudding.”

The louse immediately accepted the challenge. He was sure he would get the bigger load because the louse is much fatter and stronger than a skinny little flea.

The two brothers gathered up their tie ropes and kukaris and went up into the jungle to cut fodder. When the louse came to a big tree full of leaves he worked steadily to cut all the branches so he could make a big load. The flea, on the other hand, cut a few twigs here and there, all the while edging away from the louse until he was out of sight. Then the flea ran back to the hut, dropped his little load on the porch, and went inside. He blew on the coals to get some light from the fire, and sat down to eat the rice pudding. When he had finished all but a little bit, he filled the bowl with mud, carefully covered it with a thin layer of pudding, and ran up into the blacksmith’s shirt to hide.

Presently he heard the louse coming down the trail.

The louse smiled when he saw the little load of fodder the flea had brought back from the forest. He dropped his big load down beside it and went into the hut.

“Oh, Meetju,” he called out, laughing. “You have been defeated!”

No one answered.

The louse was disappointed, but he would enjoy his victory all by himself. He sat down by the fire, stirred the coals again, and picked up the bowl of rice pudding. He as so hungry he scooped up a big lump of it with his hand and tossed it all down his throat at once.

Never was such a frantic howl heard from the louse.

“Wretched Flea, you will pay for this trick!” he shouted, throwing the bowl of mud and pudding out of the door. Since that day the tiny flea has had to change his habits. He used to walk and run like many other insects. Now he stands very still until the louse is almost upon him. Then he hops.


Brahman – Member of the highest caste; a priest and teacher

Brahmani – The wife of a Brahman

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

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

Meetju – A respectful way of addressing one’s meet

Rupee – A Nepalese coin worth about 14-1/2 cents in American money

Sari – The cloth, five to six yards long, worn by women as a skirt or complete garment

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