Title: Beastly Tales From Here and There.
Author: Vikram Seth.
Genre: Fiction, literature, poetry, fables, mythology, animals.
Publication Date: 1991.
Summary: This is a collection of 10 fables in poetry form. The humorously re-imagined fables come from India, China, Greece, and Ukraine. The Crocodile and the Monkey is a poem about Kuroop the crocodile and his faithful friend the monkey, who collects mangoes for Kuroop's wife, until she gets it into her head that she would like to eat her husband's friend, instead. The Louse and the Mosquito is a poem about Creep the louse and her brood, who live peacefully in the bed of of a king, but everything goes wrong when a mosquito begs to partake of their home and meal. The Mouse and the Snake is a poem about a brave mouse, that avenges her dead friend against a vicious snake. The Rat and the Ox is a poem about how the Zodiac signs were assigned to their respective animals, and how the rat challenged the ox to a size competition to go ahead of him in the chronological progression. In The Eagle and the Beetle, the eagle eats a beetle's dear beloved friend hare, but gets more than she bargained for thinking beetle to be too small for real retribution. In The Hare and the Tortoise, vain socialite hare is challenged by the slow-and-steady tortoise to a race, but manages to spin her loss as a great publicity stunt. The Cat and the Cock is a poem about two best friends, a cat and a cock, and the wily fox that kidnaps the cock, and the resourceful cat that finds a way to save his friend and teach fox a lesson she won't soon forget. In The Goat and the Ram, when the two animals get kicked off the farm for eating too much, they must use their wits to survive running into a pack of hungry wolves. In the Frog and the Nightingale, a talentless frog takes as an apprentice a trusting nightingale with a beautiful voice, but soon ruins her with bad advice and greed. In The Elephant and the Tragopan, the two friends followed by all other animal inhabitants of a beautiful valley under threat of human intervention and destruction, go to the palace of the human ruler to try to negotiate the safety of their lands.
My rating: 8/10.
♥ Then he'd lunge with smiling head,
Grab, and snap, and rip it dead -
Then (prime pleasure of his life)
Drag the carcass to his wife,
Lay it humbly at her feet,
Eat a bit, and watch her eat.
♥ "Crocodile, your wife, I know
Hungers after mangoes so
That she'd pine and weep and swoon,
Mango-less in burning June."
The Kuroop the crocodile,
Gazing upwards with a smile,
Thus addressed his monkey friend:
"Dearest monkey, in the end,
Not the fruit, but your sweet love,
Showered on us from above,
Constant through the changing years,
Slakes her griefs and dries her tears."
♥ "I must eat that monkey's heart."
"What?" "Well, darling, for a start,
He has been so kind to me;
Think how sweet his heart must be."
♥ "Now," Kuroop said with a frown,
"Which would you prefer - to drown
In the Ganga or to be
Gutted by my wife and me?
I will let you choose your end.
After all, you are my friend."
~~from The Crocodile and the Monkey.
♥ Gold and shiny, vicious, long,
Venom-fanged, hypnotic, strong -
Slid a snake towards the pair...
♥ This was seen by Mr Yang.
When his friend the poet Chang
Heard the mouse's story later,
Eager to commemorate her,
As he walked back to his house,
He composed 'The Faithful Mouse' -
Where in elegiac metre
He extols the Snake-Defeater
And in couplets sad and stoic
Celebrates her acts heroic -
Acts that prove that shock and pain,
Death and grief are not in vain -
Which fine lines, alive or dead,
Neither of the mice has read.
~~from The Mouse and the Snake.
♥ Since the zodiac had swerved
Everything had topsy-turved:
All the years had gone awry -
Springs were cold, and monsoons dry.
Bears came out of hibernation
In midwinter with elation;
Then they saw the sky and scowled,
Shook their frozen fists, and growled.
Rabbits raged and voles were vicious.
All these signs were inauspicious,
And the gods were much resented
By a world so discontented.
♥ Workaholically obsessed,
He took neither food nor rest -
But with undiminished vigour
Questioned every fact and figure
- Size of sunspots, times of tides,
Weights of whitefish - and, besides,
Crunched the data in computers,
Tested truths, refuted guesses,
Curved his Ts and crossed his Ss,
Asked the planets piercing questions,
Took down sensible suggestions,
Went to the original sources,
Studied all impinging forces,
Multiplied his calculations,
Grilled the sages of six nations,
And to the celestial court
Made this interim report...
♥ Now the rat was always reckoned
Difficult, and so the second
Year had been assigned to him -
Though in fact his claims were slim
To the quite unprecedented
Honour that this represented.
♥ "Even if your size were doubled
I would still be quite untroubled."
"You don't mind?" "Not in the least.
I am much the bigger beast.
Ask the godling for permission.
I will second your petition."
"Well, I'll do as you have bid,"
Said the smirking rat, and did.
Soon he'd grown to twice his size
From his ankles to his eyes -
And, on the appointed day,
Ox and rat went on their way,
Wandering jointly through the town.
Women threw their baskets down,
Screaming: "O my god! that rat -
Nothing quite as big as that
Have I seen - or ever will.
Just to see it makes me ill!"
...Then the ox, so far impassive,
Thought the people had gone blind
Or that he had lost his mind.
"Am I all that small?" he said
To the dog, who shook his head:
"No, I wouldn't say you're small -
Or the tiger - not at all -
Or the horse or sheep or pig.
But that rat - he's really big!"
~~from The Rat and the Ox.
♥ A beetle loved a certain hare
And wandered with him everywhere:
They went to fairs and feasts together,
Took walks in any kind of weather,
Talked of the future and the past
On sunny days of overcast,
But, since their friendship was so pleasant,
Lived for the most part in the present.
♥ The beetle stared at her friend's head,
And wished that she herself was dead.
She mixed her tears with his dark blood
And cloaked his face with clods of mud.
She swore that till her dying breath
She would avenge his cruel death,
That she would make the eagle pay
For what she had performed today.
♥ Past hope, the eagle pined away
And died of grief - and to this day
They say that eagles will not nest
In months when beetles fly their best;
But others, not so superstitious,
Merely assert that fate's capricious,
And that the strong who crush the weak
May not be shown the other cheek.
~~from The Eagle and the Beetle.
♥ Then pick up the phone and babble,
- "Gibble-gabble, gibble-gabble" -
To her friends the mouse and mole
And the empty-headed vole:
"Hey, girls, did you know the rat
Was rejected by the bat?"
"Good for her! The rat's a fool!"
"Oh, I think he's kinda cool."
"Too bad, darling, now he's dating
Lady Lemming's maid-in-waiting."
"What - the hamster? You don't say!" -
Gibble-gabble every day!
Went the mouse and mole and hare -
Oh, what riffraff! Oh, what rabble!
♥ Then he's very carefully
Count his grandsons: one, two, three -
Ed, and Ned, and Fred by name.
And his sermon was the same:
"Eddy, Neddy, Freddy, - boys -
You must never break your toys.
You must often floss your gums.
You must always do your sums.
Buy your own house; don't pay rent.
Save your funds at six per cent.
Major in accountancy,
And grow up to be like me.
Listen, Eddy, Neddy, Freddy -
You be slow - but you be steady."
♥ Suddenly the dizzy hare
Saw a field of mushrooms where
Champignons and chanterelles
Mixed with devils-of-the-dell.
(This last mushroom, I suspect,
Has a cerebral effect.
Every time I eat one, I
Feel I'm floating in the sky.)
♥ And thought: "That silly hare!
So much for her charm and flair.
So much for her idle boast.
In her cup I'll raise a toast
To hard work and regularity.
Silly creature! Such vulgarity!
Now she'll learn that sure and slow
Is the only way to go -
That you can't rise to the top
With a skip, a jump, a hop -
That you've got to hatch your eggs,
That you've got to count your legs,
That you've got to do your duty,
Not depend on verve and beauty."
♥ And with an inviting grin
Murmured: "In my eyes you win."
And perhaps she had; the hare
Suddenly was everywhere.
Stories of her quotes and capers
Made front page in all the papers -
And the sleepy BBC
- Beastly Broadcast Company -
Beamed a feature with the news:
"All the World Lost for a Snooze."
Soon she saw her name in lights,
Sold a book and movie rights,
While a travel magazine
Bought the story, sight unseen,
Of her three hour expedition
To the wood - called "Mushroom Mission."
~~from The Hare and the Tortoise.
♥ Then the Cat, who had been drinking,
Dried his tears, and started thinking -
Stared at feathers, ink, and fur,
All at once began to purr...
♥ "And, all five of you, take care
Of each other, and beware -
Never go out on your own.
Always use the telephone.
Never let a stranger in.
Heed my words through thick and thin:
These are sad and troubled times
Marred by bold and vicious crimes.
Things have changed so much -" she sighed,
"Since the year your father died.
So, my darlings, bolt the lock,
Heat the pot, and guard the cock."
♥ So he changed the inclination
Of his musical temptation
And, like prince or politician,
Tried to split the opposition.
♥ Then the cat skipped round and round,
Making a triumphant sound
- Half miaowing and half mewing,
Half guffawing and half cooing
(This adds up to more than one,
But it really can be done) -
~~from The Cat and the Cock.
♥ The cow gave cream for apple tart,
The zebra drew and apple-cart,
The four fat ducks were good at laying,
The sow excelled at piano-playing,
The gosling could predict the weather,
The peacock flashed a brilliant feather,
But there was really no competing
With ram and goat for over-eating.
♥ He sobbed and trembled till the goat,
Said rather shortly - and I quote:
"You great big booby, quit this fuss.
Who, after all, is bothering us?
Thing aren't that bad. We've not been beaten.
We could have been, but were not, eaten."
♥ But now the day was almost gone,
And the black night was coming on,
And so - disheartened and dismayed -
He whimpered softly: "I'm afraid."
"Afraid of what?""Of wolves and things -
And beastly bats with wicked wings -
And being all alone at night
With neither food nor firelight
Nor all the farmyard beasts around,"
He said, and made a funny sound -
A sort of gurgle in his throat.
"You great big booby!" said the goat,
"Be quiet. You depression's draining.
Now dry your face and quit complaining."
♥ "And, Brother Ram, don't tremble so.
It shows poor taste, as you should know,
To quiver with anticipation
Or to display overt elation
Merely because you've seen your meal.
Think how our friends the wolves must feel."
♥ The ram swelled up like a balloon
And lay down on the ground, content.
The goat pulled him inside the tent -
And that was where they spent the night.
Indeed, as of the time I write,
They live there still, secure from harm,
Out of the reach of wolf or farm.
They eat wild strawberries and grass
And drink stream water, clear as glass.
They never argue, never fight.
They never have bad dreams at night.
With moderation and accord
They pass their days, serenely bored.
~~from The Goat and the Ram.
♥ Neither stoner nor prayers nor sticks,
Insults or complaints or bricks
Stilled the frog's determination
To display his heart's elation.
♥ "Oh!" the nightingale confessed,
Greatly flattered and impressed
That a critic of such note
Had discussed her art and throat:
"I don't think the song's divine.
But - oh, well - at least it's mine.
♥ And the sumac tree was bowed
With a breathless, titled crowd:
Owl of Sandwich, Duck of Kent,
Mallard and Milady Trent,
Martin Cardinal Mephisto,
And the Coot of Monte Cristo.
♥ For her ears were now addicted
To applause quite unrestricted,
And to sing into the night
All alone gave no delight.
~~from The Frog and the Nightingale.
♥ In Bingle Valley, broad and green,
Where neither hut nor field is seen,
Where bamboo, like a distant lawn,
Is gold at dusk and flushed at dawn,
Where rhododendron forests crown
The hills, and wander halfway down
In scarlet blossom, where each year
A dozen shy black bears appear,
Where a cold river, filmed with ice,
Sustains a minor paradise...
♥ A week passed, and the tragopan
One morning read the news and ran
In panic down the forest floor
To meet the elephant once more.
A cub-reporter bison calf
Who wrote for Bingle Telegraph
Had just confirmed the frightful fact
In language chilling and exact.
♥ "What do you think," the tragopan
Burst out, "about this wicken plan
To turn our valley blue and brown?
I will not take this lying down.
I'll cluck at them. I'll flap my wings.
I tell you, I will do such things -
What they are yet I do not know,
But, take my word, I mean to show
Those odious humans what I feel.
And the Great Partridge will reveal
- That Partridge, dwelling in the sky,
Who looks down on us from on high -
He will reveal to us the way -
So kneel with me and let us pray."
... "It's infamous, I know," he said,
"But we have got to use our head.
Praying may help us - who can tell? -
But they, of course, have gods as well.
I would endeavour to maintain
Our plans on a terrestrial plane.
♥ Some predators drooled at the sight,
But did not act on appetite.
The leopards did not kill the deer.
The smaller birds evinced no fear.
Each eagle claw sat in its glove.
The mood was truce, if not quite love.
At meeting of the Beastly Board
Eating each other was outlawed.
♥ "I speak to you as one whose clan
Has served and therefore studied man.
He is a creature mild and vicious,
Practical-minded and capricious,
Loving and brutal, sane and mad,
The good as puzzling as the bad.
The sticky centre of this mess
Is an uneasy selfishness.
He rips our flesh and tears our skin
For cloth without, for food within.
The leopard's spots are his to wear.
Our ivory unknots his hair.
The tragopan falls to his gun.
He shoots the flying fox for fun.
The black bear dances to his whim.
My own tame cousins slave for him.
Yet we sho give him work and food
Have never earned his gratitude.
He grasps our substance as of right
To quench and spur his appetite,
Nor will he grant us truce or grace
To rest secure in any place.
Sometimes he worships us as Gods
Or sings of us at Eisteddfods,
Or fashions fables, myths, and stories
To celebrate our deeds and glories.
And yet, despite the fertile fuss,
When has he truly cared for us?
He sees the planet as his fief
Where every hair or drop or leaf
Or seed or blade or grain of sand
Is destined for his mouth or hand.
If he is thirsty, we must thirst -
For of all creatures, man comes first.
If he needs room, then we must fly;
And if he hungers, we must die."
♥ "So let me say to every single
Endangered denizen of Bingle:
We must unite in fur and feather -
For we will live or die together."
♥ "Someone suggested that we flee
And set yo our community
In some far valley where no man
Has ever trod - or ever can.
Sweet to the mind though it may seem,
This is, alas, an idle dream -
For nowhere lies beyond man's reach
To mar and burn and flood and leach.
A distant valley is indeed
No sanctuary from his greed.
♥ "Yes, yes, Sir -" said the Number Two.
"I mean, no, no, Sir - what to do?
They've not gone through the proper channels.
The Protocol Protection Panels
Have no idea who they are.
Nor does the Riffraff Registrar.
It's possible they don't exist."
♥ "... And you'll be Number Twelve, I fear,
Unless you find out what the fuss
Is all about, and tender us
Advice on what to say and do.
And think. And be. Now off with you."
♥ "Well, even as regards supply,
I do not see the reason why
You do not use what lies to hand
Before you try to dam our land.
Even my short walk through this town
Shows me how everything's run down
During your long administration.
Your pipes cry out for renovation.
Your storage tanks corrode and leak;
The valves are loose, the washers weak.
I've seen the water gushing out
From every reservoir and spout.
Repair them: it will cost far less
Than driving us to homelessness
By blasting tunnels through our hills
And bloating your construction bills.
But that's just one of many things:
Plant trees; revive your wells and springs.
Guide from your roofs the monsoon rain
Into great tanks to use again.
Reduce your runoff and your waste
Rather than with unholy haste
Destroying beauty which, once gone,
The world will never look upon."
♥ "You talk of sacrifice and glory.
Your actions tell a different story.
Do you expect me to respect you -
Or decent folk not to detect you?
Where you have crept, must mankind crawl,
Feared, hated, and despised by all?"
♥ A long, alas, a final sleep!
O, Elephant, long may you weep.
O, Elephant, long may you mourn.
This is a night that knows no dawn.
♥ Then intellectuals began
To analyse the tragopan.
Was he a hothead or a martyr?
A compromiser or a tartar?
A balanced and strategic planner
Or an unthinking project-banner?
It seemed that nobody could tell.
And maybe that was just as well -
For mystery matched with accentricity
Proves the grist of great publicity,
And myths of flexible dimension
Are apt to call forth less dissention.
♥ The first is that you never know
Just when your luck may break, and so
You may as well work for your cause
Even without overt applause;
You might, in time, achieve your ends.
The second is that you'll find friends
In the most unexpected places,
Hidden among unfriendly faces -
For Smallfry swim in every pond,
Even the Doldrums of Despond.
♥ I hope, of course, the beasts we've met
Will save their hidden valley, yet
The resolution of their plight
Is for the world, not me, to write.
~~from The Elephant and the Tragopan.