Kalila and Dimna

F ables of Conflict and Intrigue

Kalila and Dimna – Fables of Conflict and Intrigue
Published by Medina Publishing Ltd 9 St Johns Place Newport Isle of Wight PO30 1LH www.medinapublishing.com Copyright © Ramsay Wood 2011 Illustrations © G M Whitworth ISBN 978-0-9567081-0-6 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Designed by Kitty Carruthers Printed and bound by Toppan Leefung Printing Ltd, Hong Kong CIP Data: A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owners.

Kalila and Dimna
F ables of Conflict and Intrigue Following on from
Kalila and Dimna F ables of Friendship and Betrayal

Told by

Ramsay Wood
Illustrated by

G M Whitworth
Introduction by

Michael Wood


Author’s Note
Kalila and Dimna are the Arabic names of the two jackal brothers whose adventures feature only in the first section of this complex and multicultural arrangement of interconnected fables. Since 750 ce, however, the popular Middle Eastern convention has been to entitle the whole book, comprising four further sections, Kalila and Dimna, although the jackal brothers never reappear again. The title of the more ancient (and long lost) Sanskrit original from which Kalila and Dimna derives, the Panchatantra, means the “five” (pancha) “parts, treatises, discourses, chapters, looms or sections” (tantra). This penultimate volume in my trilogy is a modern reconfiguration of “discourses” four and five, from English translations of several Arabic, Sanskrit and Persian arrangements of the fables.


This book is dedicated to:
scottishstorytellingcentre.co.uk (for revitalising oral traditions) octagonpress.com (for connecting Occident to Orient) and bookmooch.com (for helping books travel further)


by Michael Wood
Historian, broadcaster and author of The Story of India (2007), London, 2011


his is a beautifully told section from one of the greatest story cycles in human culture, one of India’s enduring contributions to the literature of the world. India has been called “the chief source of the world’s fable literature” and the Panchatantra (the “Five Discourses” from which the stories in this book are drawn) has had as great an influence as the Arthurian cycles, the Greek myths, or the tales of Gilgamesh. From Aesop to the Arabian Nights, la Fontaine and Kipling, they have cast their magical spell. Ramsay Wood’s new version, which conveys that magic in spades, has developed into the project of a lifetime. His memorable Kalila and Dimna — Fables of Friendship and Betrayal was originally published thirty-one years ago, and his many admirers have eagerly anticipated this sequel. The wait has been well worth it. Together his two books constitute a magnificent achievement. They are jewels of story-writing, narrated with the psychological insight, subtle rhythms and changes of pace of a veteran. Playful, allusive, richly ambiguous, teasing in their narrative complexity and yet deceptively clear in their resolutions: immersing oneself in the world of this trickster is to savour the pleasure of reading at its most intense. Before there was civilisation there were stories. Throughout human history great stories have crossed all cultural boundaries, sometimes travelling enormous distances in time and space, to reappear in the most unlikely clothes. Homer’s Circe and Calypso, brought to life in Ionia in the seventh century BCE, unmistakably mirror Siduri, the bar girl at the end of the world in Gilgamesh, a creation from second millennium BCE Iraq. Though set in


Kalila and Dimna the Mabinogion’s cloud-cloaked, rain-soaked Arthurian Wales, the Lady of the Fountain’s sacred tree by its spring in a desert, guarded by a lion, betrays its origin in Mesopotamian myth. These transformations are so enticingly human – the power of story is nothing short of magical. Like them, the fabulous compendium of the Panchatantra has also passed cultural borders around the world, far beyond its land of origin; its narrative forms and devices so clever and so universal that they have been adapted and transformed everywhere, but still always recognisable as themselves. Though the folk origin of these stories has often been discussed, it has never been proved. But it is surely safe to say that the sensibility behind them, the way of seeing the world, is as old as Indian culture. The wonderful series of prehistoric animal paintings from Bhimbetka, with their mysterious diagrams of the layers of the cosmos shared by humans and animals, plants and fish, suggest the ancient Indian perception of the unity of all life forms. In developed Hinduism even the god Vishnu’s early avatars take animal forms – fish, turtle, boar, then the brute strength of the primitive half-man half-lion – all before the incarnation of Rama, the ideal human: as if depicting a kind of Darwinian psycho history. The mastery of animal languages, too, is common in Indian legend, as if the boundaries between humans and the animal world were always permeable and fluid. In traditional India there is a deep idea that the divine, human and animal worlds cross over: all life forms possess a soul, which depending on one’s karma can be reincarnated anywhere in the chain of life, human souls in animals and vice versa. So naturally animals can speak to each other, and feel as humans do. For this reason perhaps these tales of transformation are different from Aesop and other Greek fables, for here animals talk and act not like animals but like humans. The narrative device of the Panchatantra is simple: the tales are told to instruct the king’s three sons – dunces all of them – about how to live life wisely and justly, how one should conduct oneself in the world. And that, the tales show us, is by earthy,

Introduction xi adaptable worldly wisdom, not by unthinking pious moralising. This realistic sensibility one might add is shared by other early Indian texts such as the poetry of the Purananuru in South India. The Panchatantra five big themes, each of which is the title of one of its “Five Discourses”, are about human behaviour categorised in a way characteristic of Indian thought, as for example in the Kama Sutra, or in the akam-puram poetry of “interior/exterior landscapes” of the ancient Tamils. Like this poetry they are about essential human situations – the winning and losing of friends, war and peace, conflict and loss: “how to lose what you have” as Ramsay puts it – and how easy it is to be heedless in life and “precipitate calamity” (these last two “Discourses” from the ancient texts constitute the present volume). Using its core narrative device, the book is introduced by the author (whom tradition names as Vishnu Sharma – perhaps symptomatically a Vaishnavaite), who tells the tales rather like Chaucer‘s narrative voice in the Canterbury Tales. The “Five Discourses” each use a subsequent main tale as a framing device which contains several other tales, cunningly wrapped up inside it, as one character tells another a story. Often these also have a subsidiary tale, or tales, like Russian dolls, adding to the fun for the reader. On all this Ramsay Wood has also provided a richly rewarding Afterword, which plays with the possibilities opened up by these narrative tricks. In its present form (though it may derive from a much older tradition of oral stories) the Panchantra was composed in writing in Sanskrit in Kashmir around 200 BCE, at the end of the great era of the Mauryans, (whose rulers intriguingly were the first in the world to enact legislation to protect animal species.) Subsequently it became the most frequently translated literary work in India with many different versions in a dozen of India’s regional languages. Worldwide there are over 200 versions in over 50 languages as through the Middle Ages it spread from Java to Iceland. The story of how it was transmitted to the West is a fascinating tale in itself. The Panchatantra first went from Sanskrit to its sister language, classical


Kalila and Dimna Persian. From there it passed into Arabic around 750 CE, taking the title by which it is still known, Kalila wa Dimna. Subsequently it came to the West seeding an amazing family tree with Spanish, Hebrew, German, Latin and Italian, from which it was versioned into muscular Elizabethan English by Sir Thomas North, the great translator of Plutarch. Shrewd, practical realistic, never moralising; even (it has been said) Machiavellian, the Panchatantra since then has influenced storytelling and story-writing in Europe from the tales of La Fontaine (who cited them as his chief inspiration) to Kipling’s Jungle Book, though perhaps in his case not just through the written word (though Kipling knew the printed stories) but in “everything I had heard”, as he said of his childhood, brought up for his first six years by a Hindi-speaking aya in Bombay. It may not be too fanciful to suggest, too, that the influence of the Panchatantra is also felt in many modern films and animations, for example in Disney’s cartoons. Take the fable of the fish in Finding Nemo , where defenceless creatures cooperate as friends to escape the nets of the hunter – an archetypal situation of mutual aid first found in the second discourse of the Panchatantra, and which also inspired the encyclopaedists of the Brethren of Purity in tenth century Basra. Such tales were taken as ethical exemplars in the medieval Arab world, and of course they still work, which is why they are still loved today. In India these stories still live in children’s books and comics, are recycled in modern novels, allegories and films – not forgetting, too, always being in “grandma’s tales”, as an Indian friend put it to me only recently. We live in one world today. These stories speak for and belong to the whole of humanity. Doris Lessing remarked in Ramsay’s first volume, over thirty years ago, that in 19th century Europe “anyone with a claim to a literary education” would have been expected to have heard of them: at least twenty English translations were made in the hundred years before 1888. But now, she remarked, “most people in the West will not have heard of it”. Ramsay’s first volume,

Introduction xiii so widely printed and reprinted, has helped to change that; and this sequel continues his achievement. It is no exaggeration to say that it is a real feat of the imagination, which will bring this magical text to many new readers across the world. In a humane society each generation needs to imbibe and reinterpret the classics, and to pass them on renewed and reinvigorated. What Ramsay has done over the last thirty years is to have made the version for our time.

Michael Wood July 2011


The Story So Far Bidpai Tells “How to Lose What You Have” Snaggletooth and Spackleface Flopears, Smiley and Squinteye the Lion Scarface the Potter The Jackal Adopted by Lions Soapsuds and Lovejoy Bleeding Dead Men Mimosa Tells “How to Be Heedless and Precipitate Calamity” The Golden Monk Snake and Mongoose The Seeker Who Broke his Honeypot Rat and Cat The Cat Who Declared Peace The Vegetarian Jackal Flies in Honey Elath and His King Prince Leonides Interrupts Elath and His King (continued) The Treasure Hunters Chickpea Monkey The Three Wise Idiots The Stupid Weaver The Crow Who Wished to Walk Like a Rooster The Ram in Dog’s Clothing The Monkey’s Revenge The Blind Man, the Hunchback and Princess Thripple Rough Stuff and the Nun Acknowledgments Afterword: Extraordinary Voyages of the Panchatantra Appendix Selected Bibliography & Further Acknowledgements 1 3 5 19 28 33 39 44 46 51 60 61 74 82 93 95 119 120 124 129 137 139 144 146 151 159 179 181 196 199 227 239


The Story So F ar
young king named Dabschelim who knew hardly anything at all. He assumed he did, of course, because his parents had told him that he was the most wonderful child ever born. So Dabschelim felt free to pursue any whim that caught his fancy, tormenting, even torturing his subjects if it pleased him to do so. Things continued like this until Dabschelim reached his mid-twenties, when an old storyteller named Bidpai happened to visit the court. Bidpai spoke out about what he saw, his polite preamble culminating in fierce words that shocked everyone: “Are you blind to the suffering right in front of your eyes?” the old man asked. “Are you a king or some kind of melon? Is something the matter with your brain or your eyes?” The enraged Dabschelim had Bidpai flung into a dungeon, effectively condemning the storyteller to death. Yet within weeks, because of a mysterious dream that led to an incredible treasure, King Dabschelim reinstated Bidpai, begging his forgiveness and pampering the old man and his wife in private rooms at the palace. Why this change of fortune? Because nestling among heaps of jewels and precious metals in that incredible treasure was an ancient handwritten letter from a long-dead king called Houschenk, addressed across the generations directly to Dabschelim and also mentioning Bidpai.

Once upon a time long ago in India there lived a tyrannical


Kalila and Dimna

King Houschenk admonished King Dabschelim to conduct himself wisely, urging him to listen to Bidpai’s fables, which together, as a clustered group called Kalila and Dimna, with lions and leopards and jackals and snakes and crows and rabbits and fish and the adventures of every other kind of creature you can imagine, acted as a type of medicine to cure leadership of heedlessness. Sincere humility, combined with enough resolve to proceed towards self-awareness, enabled Dabschelim to listen to the storyteller’s surprising fables over a number of days in private at the palace. The result of this experience was a gracious friendship, each man giving to the other generously. But as soon as Bidpai had finished telling his final fable, he insisted on taking his leave, explaining that he could not see Dabschelim again until the time was ripe for another dose. This news was devastating to the king, yet in a strange way it made perfect sense. Had he not been given enormous wealth already? And, what, if anything would he do with it? The decades flew by. King Dabschelim tried to practice what he remembered from the fables he had heard, trying to improve the pattern of his life, and especially his rule. And slowly things did improve in the kingdom. His dungeons were almost empty and the populace became as happy as the earthly balance between pain and pleasure permits. Dabschelim meanwhile sired three lively children: two princes and a princess, now teenagers. Sometimes he fantasised that Bidpai might reappear to tell more fables, helping everyone make more sense of their lives. He even harboured the faint hope that somehow, if Bidpai did return, he might persuade the old man to collect them into a ‘book’ – the cutting-edge data storage device of his day.


idpai Tells ‘How to Lose What you Have’ T

he sudden arrival of the grizzled storyteller, a thin, spry man despite his white beard, was neither expected nor discounted. King Dabschelim’s standing instructions to palace guards were: “If someone calling himself Bidpai arrives, grant him immediate access to the Chamberlain. We do not expect Bidpai to appear. But he might. Remember!” Years ago, before the storyteller took his leave, he said: “Your Majesty, the formula for all human unhappiness is simple yet almost universally ignored: ‘Expectation, nondelivery!’ If you expect me – or anyone else, for that matter – or some delightful event or desired object to materialise, you will be miserably disappointed when nothing happens. So let us assume we shall never meet again.” “Yes,” King Dabschelim said, hovering in a state between understanding and uncertainty, “but why can’t We see you more often?” “Because those words are more precious to me than, ‘Oh, you again!’” That was all Bidpai would say. Now, many years later, here he was in the flesh, after every shred of expectation had vanished. The storyteller asked King Dabschelim “to keep formalities


Kalila and Dimna

to a bare minimum, please, Your Majesty.” Consequently there was no welcoming ceremony, no celebration, no court announcement. Bidpai and the king simply met again, and took up their interrupted task. It was a calm resumption of the storytelling that had occupied them years previously, and which the old man now claimed time had rendered ready for completion. Late on the second night of their reunion, after they had settled down with blankets and pillows under the stars, beside a campfire purposely lit at one end of the palace grounds, Bidpai began telling King Dabschelim the fables relating to the ancient theme ‘How to Lose What You Have’, otherwise known as …


Snaggletooth and Spackleface “As Spackleface, the monkey leader, grew greyer, his
senses dulled and his pace slackened. Pride filtered out what he didn’t want to see ... But what one keeps hidden from oneself can be clear to others. So it was that Spackleface had a fearsome fight with a younger male, who defeated him and drove the old monkey deep into the jungle. Spackleface, who for years had been the undisputed king of a troop of females and young ones, seeing off challengers in victory after victory and boisterously beating his chest from high vantage points, was now alone, vanquished and exiled. He didn’t want to retire, but such was his fate. He put a brave face on it, like any warrior, and settled in an old fig tree beside the murky-brown Maipura River which fed into the sea. Up in this tree, he licked his wounds and felt like himself again – king of all he surveyed. He loved the tree’s figs and there were plenty of them. So many, in fact, that every now and then he tossed some into the river. ‘Plop!’ they went, ‘plop! plop!’ Oh, it was fun, and it helped him pass the time, which went much slower now that he was alone, free from social excitement, crises and duty. But Spackleface wasn’t alone. Beneath the tree from which he so gaily tossed

What difference is there between women ruling, and rulers ruled by women? Aristotle


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down figs, hidden under the water of the Maipura, cruised Snaggletooth the crocodile. Snaggletooth had never eaten figs but, spying how much the monkey enjoyed them, he decided to test one that landed nearby. It was surprisingly good – fresh, strangely sweet and, what’s more, delightful after the relentlessly high protein diet common to his species. Snaggletooth was himself a sweetie, as crocs go; a middleaged gentle giant of the waterways, even if he did kill for his supper. Thus, it was not long before the monkey and the crocodile, lonely on the river, began a relationship, albeit a guarded one. ‘Hello,’ Snaggletooth burbled melodiously one morning, startling Spackleface in his tree. The old monkey glanced around before spotting two eyes and a snout protruding above the surface of the water. Snaggletooth raised his head just enough to display an unattractive smile featuring a great many irregular teeth. ‘Don’t worry,’ Snaggletooth said. ‘I can’t climb trees like you. I’m just curious what you call those things you keep tossing into the water. They’re good, aren’t they?’ ‘Figs!’ said Spackleface. ‘They’re called figs. You don’t mean to say you’ve been eating them? I thought you only ate fish and other animals.’ ‘Well, yes, you’re right. But curiosity is not limited to cats and monkeys. Some crocs want to know about things too, so I tried one of those …. figs, because I saw you throw it. When it hit the water I thought “Why not?” snatched it and hurried back to the reeds to hide. I didn’t want to alarm you.’ ‘Well, you do alarm me,’ Spackleface called from the fig tree. ‘What is one to make of you, a flesh-eater, chatting up a fruitarian?’ ‘One doesn’t have to make anything of it,’ said the crocodile. ‘In the unlikely event that you fell into the river, I wouldn’t hurt you. What would be the point? I’m more interested in the figs than in you. Without you, no figs. Simple.’

Snaggletooth and Spackleface 7

And so, from this initial conversation, a friendship blossomed between monkey and croc. At first, they talked about figs or the weather or the Maipura River, but soon wives, children and grandchildren became their topics. They were frank with each other, exploring the landscape of their lives. Spackleface spoke of his youth, his mistakes, his victories and the final defeat that led to exile in the fig tree. He even pondered aloud whether loss of status was inevitable for all alpha males. Snaggletooth, for his part, told, among other things, of his wife and their nearby island home, and the territorial dominance that led to him becoming monarch of this part of the river. He spoke of the fish, snakes, turtles, pygmy deer, fruit bats and other creatures, even the occasional monkey, which formed part of his diet. The crocodile’s transparency about his carnivorous habits helped cement a trusting bond, giving Spackleface enough realism to observe, even set aside, a few instinctive fears, although, of course, he kept to his tree. There was no pretence. Each occupied a separate habitat in respectful co-existence. Often their chats would last hours with the crocodile stretched out in the mud on the riverbank and Spackleface relaxing in the tree. After several weeks, Snaggletooth’s quip, the nearest either got to a declaration of intimacy, was, ‘You know, I actually do care a fig about you, Old Face; in fact several.’ ‘Ha, ha!’ the monkey snorted, then pelted him with figs. And if you can imagine a crocodile smiling, that’s what happened, as he nimbly flipped each fig with his snout into the air from the water, and caught it in his mouth. Oh, yes, they got on better and better as time drifted by. Their mutual love of figs polished the bonds of brotherhood and brightened their time together. But sadly, while some honeymoons shrivel in the light of everyday ordinariness,


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others burn out more dramatically. The end came when the green-eyed monster of jealousy got its grip on Buttercup, Snaggletooth’s wife. There was no immediate souring of friendship. Spackleface and Snaggletooth continued floating together in a rare bubble of delicately balanced buddyhood. They inhabited an extra-dimensional sphere, nullifying all intrusions of reality. That monkey flesh might be crocodile food was so obvious as to be irrelevant, in the face of Spackleface’s fig supply. They enjoyed a mutual trust tempered by fig-love. What else did they need? Madame Buttercup took a while to recognise the change in her husband. She knew about Spackleface, of course. Snaggletooth had told her about his new pal, even sometimes swam back to her with figs tucked in his cheek, claiming they were gifts from Spackleface. But he did not dwell excessively on his new friendship. For although Buttercup had a multitude of female crocodile friends who gathered together regularly, he, frankly, couldn’t bear to listen to their recapping in excruciating empathetic detail the ins-and-outs of each shifting alliance of every relative, friend or acquaintance, not simply with one another, but with the entire tribe’s collective network of siblings, children, grandchildren, best friends, lovers, parents, former friends, ex-lovers, partners, the dead – and anyone else who interconnected. Knowing his wife’s excitability, Snaggletooth played down the details of his time with Spackleface. The avowed superficiality of his simian relationship made her doubly suspicious. She knew perfectly well that males needed male friends, and that new alliances were harder for them to form and sustain. They placed so much emphasis on competitive achievements like strength, or status or how deep they could dive or how long they could hold their breath underwater. What absurd creatures!

Snaggletooth and Spackleface 9

Sometimes it offended Buttercup that her husband was so happy with someone else, especially a smelly monkey, however amusing he and his figs might be. Indeed, she began to imagine that Spackleface might be a female monkey, and that she was being duped. Her best friend, Glinta, agreed it must be so. How could a bull croc be so happy with another male? There had to be some kind of interspecific hanky-panky going on. Of course, this idea was far more exciting than the dull truth of straightforward male bonding. It was something you could get your teeth into and natter about, something to exaggerate and build toward all-consuming jealousy. Soon Buttercup was engulfed in a self-ignited blaze of fury, whose flames were fed by her continuous gossip with the crocodile sisterhood. When the confrontation came, it came swiftly – like the explosive ambush of an open-mouthed crocodile shooting full-length out of the water to snatch the unwary fruit bat off an overhanging branch. ‘Your friend Spackleface can’t be all you claim. It must be a female monkey you’re hanging out with, having fun.’ ‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ snapped Snaggletooth, looking at her intently. He felt like whacking her hard with his six-foot tail but restrained himself. He knew that crocodilian wife-beating was a short-term tactic that usually bore a high strategic cost. ‘Well, explain why you are so happy with him then, coming home later than usual?’ ‘I don’t have to explain more than I already have. He’s my friend, that’s all, and I like his company. Not more than I like yours, but differently.’ ‘Nonsense!’ growled Buttercup. ‘I don’t believe a word of it.’ Truth be told, if Snaggletooth hadn’t valued home comforts so much – his wife, the mud and reeds on their island, the company of his children, and his role as patriarch – he would


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have told her to buzz off with a shake of his massive head, as if he were snorting out a fly that crawled too far up a nostril. Two souls, his and Spackleface’s, may well have coalesced in harmony by a riverside fig tree, but their sweet unity was now threatened by Buttercup’s petulance. She demanded nothing less than complete loyalty and proceeded to blackmail Snaggletooth into compliance. Paradoxically, because he was such a sensitive croc, he was susceptible to her wiles. Had he been a more thuggish type, it is unlikely he would have stayed married. Snaggletooth remembered his father’s views on the subject, spouted to him one day while swimming together: ‘Few are the joys of celibacy and many the pains of matrimony.’ He did not visit Spackleface for three days because Buttercup took to her bed, saying she was sick of the situation, and weeping copious tears which in no way seemed false to Snaggletooth. His wife meant business: get rid of Spackleface or else. Finally, in despair, he relented enough to ask her what she wanted. Raising herself from her reed bed, she looked at him in the most distraught way imaginable. She had not eaten in days and appeared even more threatening than usual. ‘The only thing that will cure me is monkey heart. Bring me Spackleface’s heart or I shall slowly die right here. Nothing else will do. Do you hear me? Monkey heart! I’ll eat nothing else till you bring his little fig-sweetened organ. After living so long in that tree its nectar must be incredible.’”

Snaggletooth and Spackleface 11

evolting!” King Dabshelim exclaimed from the shadows, interrupting Bidpai’s narrative by their campfire. “How disgusting! Poor Snaggletooth; it must have been awful for him.” “Indeed it was, my Lord. Buttercup’s words cut and twisted into Snaggletooth’s gut worse than a stabbing knife. The pain in his chest was excruciating. We don’t often think of crocodiles as creatures with feelings, but Snaggletooth was the exception. He felt torn in two, as if one of his own had chomped on his skull and was thrashing his body back and forth in a death grip. Putting it bluntly, Sire, Buttercup was a croc willing to control her habitat at any cost. Emotional brutality wrecks home life just as violently as physical abuse. Snaggletooth was in turmoil. How could he present himself to Spackleface in such a guise, as stalker and not as friend? How could playfulness survive if hunting entered their equation? Snaggletooth hated himself, his wife, his very species. What had domesticity done, to turn him on himself like a monster? Buttercup was not one to take things lying down, especially things domestic. From egg to death, she terrorised her family into obeying her rules. So, there was no going back for Snaggletooth if he wished to remain with Buttercup: she could no more compromise than a volcano could stop erupting. Though, of course, she was not erupting now but lying sullenly smoldering on her reed bed, oblivious to any pain but her own. With the heaviest of hearts Snaggletooth swam slowly back to the fig tree early one morning with a terrible mixture of uncertainty rumbling in his chest. ‘How can I repay



Kalila and Dimna

unselfish love with death?’ he asked himself. ‘Am I friend in word but villain in deed? Is every joy I have experienced with my boon companion to be betrayed?’ With every stroke of his stout legs and wiggle of his agile body through the murky water, he pondered a different personal defect from the menu that had tripped off Buttercup’s sharp tongue. ‘Maybe you’re going gay,’ she had tossed at him before he left. ‘I shouldn’t be surprised.’ He was as offended by this assault on maleness as would be an atheist accused of being a closet mystic. ‘Ho, ho!’ hailed Spackleface loudly when he at last spied the triangulated wake of Snaggletooth’s snout and eye sockets cruising towards him. ‘Hello, bruiser,’ he called out when the river beast was close enough to hear. ‘Where have you been? Everything all right?’ ‘Yes,’ said the crocodile. ‘Had a bit of bother with the wife that delayed me.’ ‘How so?’ ‘She accused me of being mean and selfish for never inviting you to dinner at our place. “After all,” she said, “we have both often enjoyed his figs and should reciprocate.”’ ‘Well, they’re not really my figs,’ said the monkey. ‘They belong to the tree. All I do is pick them and chuck them to you in the water. It’s not exactly hard work.’ ‘True,’ said the croc, ‘but the spirit of generosity nevertheless prevails. You know I’ve always been grateful for your introduction to this fruit.’ ‘Tosh,’ said the monkey. ‘Think nothing of it. What does your wife propose to feed me if I visit your island? Do you have banana trees? Or will I be served fish?’ ‘Actually, we do have banana trees, as well as berries and other fruits, although I don’t know their names, so I’m sure you will find plenty to enjoy. However, it’s the occasion my wife looks forward to, being able to welcome you in the true spirit of multianimalism as the first primate guest across our threshold.’

Snaggletooth and Spackleface 13

‘Very kind, very kind,’ said the monkey, ‘but totally unnecessary. I mean, your wife could much more easily come here than me to your island. Is she feeling a bit excluded by not being part of our fig tree parties?’ ‘No, no, not at all,’ said Snaggletooth. ‘You know how it is. She wants to meet you and show off our home. Include you in her tribal network.’ ‘You mean check me out, don’t you?’ ‘Yes, I suppose there’s a bit of that too.’ ‘Well I’m not sure about this. Our relationship is unusual enough; and I’m certain that never in a million years would any of my ex-wives want to meet yours. They’d die of fright at the very idea.’ ‘Fair enough,’ said the crocodile. ‘I suppose I’m asking you to do me a favour for the sake of domestic peace. It’s probably not your first choice of social activity.’ ‘No, it isn’t. Why can’t we just continue as before, chatting by the fig tree?’ After a pause, Spackleface continued, ‘I know why: curiosity has seized the lady. She wants to know how we can relate so successfully, how we can spend so much time together enjoying simple fun.’ ‘You’re right there,’ said the croc. ‘She even thinks you might be a girl monkey.’ ‘That’s crazy,’ said Spackleface. ‘That’s exactly what I told her.’ ‘Nothing like imagination to spark a roaring fire,’ remarked the monkey. ‘Women can be so neurotic, so fearful of a nothing.’ ‘You said it, brother,’ said the croc. ‘There’s no way out, is there?’ said the monkey. ‘I have to come or she’ll make it increasingly difficult for you to visit me.’ ‘I’m afraid so,’ said Snaggletooth. ‘I’d be ever so grateful.’ ‘So when shall I come? Now?’


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‘If you wish: Why not? Hop aboard.’ And the monkey did. They set off for the rendezvous with Madame Buttercup, to a dinner party that would feast Spackleface in ways that he didn’t imagine. Snaggletooth, with the monkey on his back, glided smoothly through waters that became progressively deeper as the pair made their way out into the broad reaches of the estuary. Spackleface turned around very carefully to glimpse his comfortable fig tree diminishing on the horizon. Soon it vanished entirely as he watched the croc’s even wake disappearing behind them. ‘Everything okay?’ Snaggletooth burbled. ‘Am I going too fast? Are you comfortable?’ ‘Not much to hang onto back here, is there?’ remarked the monkey. ‘I can swim, but would rather not tumble in.’ ‘Don’t worry,’ said Snaggletooth. ‘I’ll stop if you do, so you can climb back on.’ ‘Thanks, but I’d prefer to keep dry. You probably don’t feel it with your armour plating, but there’s quite a breeze up here. So maybe slow it down a bit, please, if you don’t mind. I think I’ll stretch out and clutch on, hoping your bow-wave doesn’t swamp me.’ ‘Right-o!’ said the croc, reducing his speed by half. And although this verbal exchange was friendly enough, there was a tension in the air between them because of the unfamiliarity of their roles. This experience in deep water was a long way from their established routine around the fig tree, and it made them both nervous – but for different reasons. ‘Something’s wrong,’ the monkey thought to himself as

Snaggletooth and Spackleface 15

he lay on his belly in an awkward yet more aerodynamic position, gripping by hand and foot some of the spinal knobs that ran down the croc’s back. ‘I don’t like it out here so far from shore. Snaggletooth may be a great swimmer but I feel vulnerable. What if another croc comes up and snatches me? Or a sea eagle? I’m just a visible and sweet piece of bait on my friend’s back, a stupid little monkey who’s wandered out of his depth. What an idiot!’ For his part, the crocodile was plagued by guilt. ‘I’m more rat than croc,’ he burbled to himself in the water. ‘A big, lousy double-dealing sneak. How can I ever claim friendship again with any creature, even my own kin, after this performance? I’m one henpecked reptile. I should take Spackleface back to the tree we have shared so happily and forget this pathetic ruse to appease a jealous wife. This foray is only going to earn me woe, woe and more woe.’ Although Spackleface could not hear a word of Snaggletooth’s gloomy mutterings he picked up certain subtle variations in the croc’s body language, a stiffening here and a clumsiness there – vibrations that indicated danger. ‘What are you thinking,’ he called ahead to his friend. ‘Is it harder for you to swim so slow?’ He could spy a dot on the horizon that was presumably Snaggletooth’s island. ‘No, not at all,’ said the croc. ‘It’s a delight to be able to take you home for a meal. My wife will be so thrilled to meet you.’ But here a sudden blast of conscience, if Your Majesty can believe it, struck Snaggletooth. Relief came in a spontaneous burst of confession that swept over him. ‘O Spackleface!’ he said, lifting his chin from the water, ‘I have done you wrong. Things are not as they seem. I am taking you home because my wife wants to consume your dear, sweet heart. She believes it will be a million times sweeter than the figs I have already brought her. The meal she plans, I hate to say, is you. Your heart is the fruit she craves.’


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At the end of this speech, the croc gave a tremendous sigh and lowered his head. As his jaws dipped underwater, the sound that had begun as a soft sibilant ended in a miserable gurgle. Needless to say the shock of Snaggletooth’s announcement so upset the balance of the monkey’s mind (not to mention his body) that he almost rolled off the croc’s back into the drink. And who would have blamed him? Fortunately, he remembered advice given long ago by his father when he was an impulsive scamp: ‘Think first, panic later.’ How, or even why, he became aware of such a functional message from within is impossible to say, but it surfaced with enough urgent insistence that Spackleface couldn’t ignore it. He had a so-called out-of-body experience: on one hand he was terrified to the point of speechless immobility, while on the other – calm and detached – he observed himself pause and activate every ounce of cunning he possessed, trusting it and whatever extra wisdom might condense around it, to rescue him from disaster. ‘Oh no!’ he exclaimed to the silent croc who had resumed his steady cruise towards Buttercup. ‘Why didn’t you tell me? I left my dear sweet heart back in the tree. I don’t wear it every day, you know.’ ‘What!’ said the croc. He stopped swimming, though his momentum carried them gliding inexorably forward. ‘What the devil are you talking about? Since when do creatures have two hearts? Get away with you.’ ‘No, sorry, but it’s true for most primates. There’s the sweet, special heart fed by hopes and dreams, and the other cruder, sour one that feeds on any damn thing that comes along. We can open and close our chests to exchange them whenever we feel like it, but usually it’s before sleep and after we wake up in the morning. I mean, it’s not something we brag about, you know. It would be too risky if our enemies knew. We like to

Snaggletooth and Spackleface 17

keep our hidden heart hidden.’ However unlikely this story seemed, Snaggletooth was happy to believe it, thereby releasing himself from his predicament. It offered the ideal win-win solution; a heart that could both be kept and eaten. The crocodile was beside himself with joy and sang out in a surprisingly melodious baritone, startling three seagulls that were passing overhead: ‘How beautiful, how sweet is life, When two pals put an end to strife. Hurray! To the fig tree we now repair, Our sweetest heart awaits us there.’ After this absurd rhapsody, he asked: ‘Do you truly mean that if we return to the fig tree you will get your sweet heart and we can take it to my wife?’ ‘Of course,’ said the monkey, shivering slightly, though he knew the croc couldn’t turn around sufficiently to behold his fear. And because Spackleface floated in uncharted waters, he followed his best option: silent patience, otherwise known as Masterly Inactivity. ‘All right,’ said Snaggletooth finally. ‘Let’s do it,’ And in less time than it takes to tell, they were back at the fig tree where the monkey jumped off the croc’s back as quick as he could and scampered high into its branches. ‘Hurry if you can,’ called out the croc, settling down into the thick mud on the riverbank for what he thought was a brief rest. ‘We need to get a move on.’ ‘Bugger off, lizard brains!’ Spackleface shouted from the top of the tree. ‘You’re on your own now, you bloody dinosaur.’ ‘What are you talking about?’ Snaggletooth called back. ‘Get your sweet heart and let’s go.’


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‘You don’t get it, do you fatso?’ the monkey screamed back, coming down lower in the tree so he didn’t have to shout. ‘You’ve been had, you sack of fishguts. Of course I don’t have two hearts. Get out of here and leave me alone!’ Now you might well imagine the shame and shock that greeted Snaggletooth when he understood his mistake. He’d lost what he had by being had, and this realization felt bad. ‘Won’t you reconsider?’ he called out pathetically from the mud. ‘Listen, dragon’s breath!’ Spackleface said clearly. ‘If I never see you again it will be too soon. Sod off!’ ‘Now, now,’ said the croc, ‘don’t talk like that. We’ve been good friends for many, many months. Balance that fact in the equation against our late unpleasantness.’ ‘“Late unpleasantness”! Do you think I’m as stupid as Flopears who was devoured by that wretched lion?’ ‘Who’s Flopears?’ asked Snaggletooth. Spackleface peered down sullenly at the beast who had only recently conspired to do him in. Not a shred of friendship remained in either of his hearts, sweet or sour. He felt only an incandescent mix of fear and fury in his relief at reaching safety. The monkey glowered at the reptile to whom he had been so closely bonded. ‘Croc in the mud same as snake in the grass,’ he shouted, his grammar deserting him in his rage. ‘I understand and I’m sorry for being such an coward. I don’t expect you to forgive me, but please tell me the story about Flopears, if you can bring yourself to.’ ‘Monkey don’t have a “D” in it!’ shouted Spackleface. ‘I’m no Donkey.’ ‘What do you mean,’ said Snaggletooth. ‘Flopears died because he didn’t learn from his first mistake, which was to trust the jackal.’ ‘Go on,’ said the croc.

Flopears, Smiley and Squinteye the Lion 19

Flopears, Smiley and Squinteye the Lion
‘Once upon a time,’ Spackleface began grumpily, ‘there was a lion named Squinteye who lived by a river.’ The monkey paused, pointing at the muddy water below. ‘A lot cleaner than this one,’ he said. ‘Anyway,’ he continued, ‘one morning this Squinteye gets into a terrible fight with an elephant and, although he survives, his neck is so badly twisted by the elephant’s trunk that he can’t hunt. The pain is too severe to chase prey, and soon he and his sidekick, a jackal named Smiley, are starving. Smiley, who depends on the lion’s leavings, finally speaks up one morning, when hunger pinches his throat so tightly he feels the end can’t be far away. The similarly starving lion is lethargic, and lying in a heap with a trancelike look on his face. “Boss,” says the jackal, “we better find something to eat soon or we’re both going to topple over once too often. End of story.” “Not far wrong, I’m sure, old pal,” says the lion, “but what am I to do? Stalking anything is out of the question for it kills me to slink along close to the ground. Unless you can drive something right into my paws for me to kill, that ugly pachyderm has done us in.” “Well that’s not impossible,” says Smiley. “I think I have a candidate who might just follow me if I provide the right incentive. Get ready behind that bush in about an hour, and I’ll see what I can do. You’ll know we’re coming when you hear me speaking loudly.”


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“Okay,” says the lion, “I’ll be ready in an hour.” And off trots Smiley until he comes to the outskirts of a village where he finds Flopears, a skinny and bedraggled donkey, who works for a parsimonious brickmaker. Flopears is nibbling away at a sparse patch of dusty grass in front of his owner’s brickyard. “Top of the morning to you, friend,” Smiley says, trotting up beside him. “How are things?” The donkey tilts his head sideways to see who’s visiting, and recognises the clever and witty jackal he’s known slightly over the years. “Pretty terrible,” Flopears says, still cropping his meager fare. “My cruel owner makes me haul racks full of bricks to his customers all day in the sun and barely feeds me. Look at this awful grass! I’m knackered and angry.” “Now that you mention it, you do look a bit strung out,” says Smiley. “Strung out!” says Flopears, lifting his head to stare at Smiley. “My ribs are so corrugated I feel like a xylophone. I’m feeble and grumpy, and anytime I bump into something, I sing out a new note of pain. Look at all these dings and dents on my body. I’m completely out of tune!” “Well, why don’t you leave?” asks the jackal, reaching up with a back paw to scratch at a flea nipping his left ear. “Oh, sure,” says Flopears, “wander off and take care of myself. Just like that – boom! That’s the problem with you beasts: you forget that we domesticated animals have lost the capacity to fend for ourselves. Besides, miserable as it is working for men, it’s in their interest to protect us from predators. A freed slave like me feels marvelous until some brute targets him as dinner.” “Come, come,” says Smiley. “You remind me of my old uncle’s saying: ‘It’s no use being pessimistic. It wouldn’t work anyway.’ He used to repeat that whenever I said I couldn’t do something, including change my attitude. Anyway, that’s partly why I’m here. I have a proposal for you.”

Flopears, Smiley and Squinteye the Lion 21

So the jackal pauses and gives a superlative smile, looking joyfully into the donkey’s eyes. “You can leave this place in safety any time you want,” he continues. “I know three she-donkeys who were recently in similar straits to your own, yet now they’re having the time of their lives. They live downriver in a quiet valley where there’s luscious grass and bright skies. What’s more, they told me the other day they were lonesome for company and asked if I knew any good-looking single males.” “What are you talking about?” says Flopears, shaking his head. “I’m a bag of bones. No woman’s going to look at me.” “There you go again,” sighs the jackal. “Pessimism, pessimism, pessimism! Give it a rest, will you? Skinny is big this year. You have no idea. Work, work, work – that’s your problem: all nose to the grindstone. You’d probably have a harem if you ever went out. Anyway I’ve already told these donkey girls the score, and they understand perfectly because they themselves were in the same condition two or three months back: emaciated and worked half to death by a market trader, who had them hauling all sorts of stuff, all over the place. But now they’re plump and lusty, and looking for a husband to serve and be served by.” “All three of them?” says Flopears incredulously, yet ready to embrace such a charming fantasy. “That’s right. They don’t want any complications with male rivalry, status battles, territoriality and all that sort of thing. One fella, three gals. So if you’re game, we’ve got to get a move on to get you started in your new life, as stud of the valley.” Old Flopears had never before in his life had such an offer. The deal sounded like a dream come true, and, well, what did he have to lose? Such was his train of thought, silly though it may seem, though the answer to his question was, in fact, “Quite a Lot!”


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‘Quite a lot of what?’ asks Snaggletooth suddenly, looking

up to the fig tree. ‘I don’t get it.’ ‘Hello! Still talking!!’ Spackleface sings out, stabbing a forefinger downward. ‘Behave, or I stop now!’ ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry,’ says the crocodile. ‘I just couldn’t figure it out.’ ‘That’s the point of the story! You listen patiently while my eloquence enters your so-called brain. And then you wait!’ The monkey glares down. ‘Where was I?’ he asks after a steely silence. ‘Smiley taking Flopears down to the valley,’ says Snaggletooth. ‘Okay. As the donkey and jackal make their way toward the bush, the injured lion in fact has grown so tired of waiting, and is so weak from hunger, that he has settled down for a snooze. Meanwhile Smiley tells Flopears that the three delightful lady donkeys he is destined to meet are called Sheila, Delia and Daphne. To alert the lion of his approach he starts calling out their names. “SHEILA!” the jackal shouts. “Guess who is COMM-MMIIIIING! DELIA! DAPHNE! PARTY TIME!” These cries wake up the napping lion who makes himself ready, but, as it happens, not ready enough. When Flopears is led past the ambush bush, the lion’s balance is off and he overshoots his target, just managing to whack his bared paw briefly against the donkey’s neck before rolling into a heap on the ground. “Awwrgrr,” cries the lion, for his shoulders are killing him after this sudden exertion. Flopears is momentarily transfixed by the startling sight of a disheveled beast, its ragged mane in

Flopears, Smiley and Squinteye the Lion 23

tatters, wincing up at him from the ground. Also, the blow to his neck clearly signals danger and in an instant he takes off like a rocket, braying hysterically and not stopping until he is back at the village brickyard. “Well done, O mighty hunter,” proclaims Smiley, chiding his master. “I lead probably the stupidest donkey in the world into your front paws and you still miss him. What’s the matter with you?” “Nothing whatsoever,” snaps the lion. “I just slightly over-balanced, that’s all. I’m very sorry for both our sakes to have spoiled your work. I’m afraid you’ll have to go and try and lure another creature here for that one has surely been frightened to death and will never return.” “Now wait a minute,” says the jackal. “That’s my business, not yours. I’ll get him here again, but this time you’d better be ready to jump him properly.” Snarling and growling from embarrassment, the lion agrees. “Don’t worry,” he says. “Next time I won’t miss.” “Okay,” said Smiley. “Give me another hour. I’ll be back with him.” So jackal returns to village to find Flopears at the brickmaker’s place nibbling the same dusty patch of grass he had been grazing before. “What happened to you,” Smiley asks in a concerned voice. “Why did you run off?” “Whaddya mean, ‘Why did you run off?’ Flopears mimics. “I ran off because I got hit by an ugly thunderbolt. A monster!” “You’re talking about Sheila, Flopears, the hottest donkey babe out there. She did get a bit excited, I admit, and she sent me to apologise and beg you to come back. They all did, in fact, all three of the girls. And she’s honestly sorry; she just couldn’t control herself when she actually saw you.” “I don’t believe you,” says Flopears. “She was a monster.


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No proper donkey behaves like that. It was out of control.” “Well, she’s honestly sorry, but she says if you weren’t so handsome, she wouldn’t lose her mind like that.” “Oh, rubbish! Don’t sweet-talk me. Whatever it was nearly killed me.” “Now, now, you’re exaggerating. She’s just frisky, you know. Healthy and ready for the old wham bam, thank you ma’am. You need food to get your strength up, that’s all: some decent grass and time off. I told them this but she wouldn’t listen. Delia and Daphne are going to take care of you, nurse you. Get you fit. They’re twins, so they can stand up to Sheila if she gets out of line again.” “What’s in for you, eh, Smiley? What do you get out of this deal?” “Nothing. They saved my life once, letting me eat some food they didn’t want, so I owe them one. It’s a long story. I’ll tell you about it on the way. They’ll be beside themselves if I don’t bring you back soon.” “Are you sure that was a donkey? I don’t like the feel of this,” says Flopears. “Come on,” says Smiley. “Don’t worry. If you really don’t like the look of them when we get there, you can turn tail again and come back here. I couldn’t stop you last time, and couldn’t if you changed your mind again, you being so strong and fast.” “Oh, all right,” says Flopears, still hesitant. So, once more, the donkey and jackal make their way back to the swards of lush, emerald-green grass growing beside the river, where the lion lies in ambush. Smiley is immensely entertaining, making up some cock-and-bull story about how the three donkey lasses saved his life some months before, when he was starving and a fish suddenly flopped up out of the water onto the riverbank. He hadn’t noticed it but they had, calling him over to his lucky meal. They found his eating

Flopears, Smiley and Squinteye the Lion 25

habits revolting, of course, but put up with him in exchange for his charm and chat. And so, Smiley talks on and on, careful to ask Flopears regular questions and listen to his answers. When they arrive at the valley again, Smiley suggests the donkey might like to try some fresh grass, and so Flopears eats his fill until he is sure all is right with the world and Smiley his truest friend. Eventually they approach the bush where Squinteye waits, this time wide awake and ready. Smiley announces their arrival in as much of a singsong voice as a jackal can muster: “Girls! Girls! Flopears is here!” He isn’t for long. It would be cruel to describe the donkey’s messy end in the flashing jaws and claws of the lion. At least his dispatch is swift, and his suffering – once Squinteye’s jaws grip his face and suffocate him – minimal. A few squeals and gurgles, and the pain-numbing endorphins kick in. Flopears dies suddenly and bloodily, as welcome prey, like so many before him in the great food chain of being and unbeing. “Well, done, Boss,” says Smiley to Squinteye. “You have truly delivered this time.” “I’m just going to go wash my paws and face at the river, if you don’t mind,” says the lion somewhat regally. “Compose myself before we begin to feast. Please guard our meal until my return.” “Your word is my command,” says the jackal as the lion wandered off. But it isn’t long before hunger overpowers Smiley and he sidles up to Flopears’s corpse and with great relish neatly consumes the donkey’s ears and then his heart. Quickly he wipes his muzzle and licks his paws so completely clean that no speck of telltale blood remains. When Squinteye returns, Smiley is sitting demurely on his haunches before the carcass. “Wait a minute,” says the lion as he circles around. “What happened to the donkey’s ears?” There’s a pause as he studies


Kalila and Dimna

his meal more closely. “And his heart!” he thunders. “Are you trying to leave me YOUR leftovers, you weasel?” he says, glaring at the jackal. “Boss,” says Smiley calmly, bowing his head slightly, “there’s more here than meets the eye.” He pauses and then slowly looks up at Squinteye. “This fool donkey came twice to meet you because he lacked certain essentials of perception. Would a donkey who could listen have returned after your first ferocious attack? He was an idiot with no ears. What’s more, he had no heart to feel and understand, or, indubitably, he would have felt panic and considered things more carefully. That was just the way he was built: an incomplete, deaf and muddled animal. No ears and no heart. Sir, this was no common donkey.” “Well, I suppose you’re right,” says Squinteye, finding nothing to counter this apparently logical argument, and feeling the subtlest pinprick of inferiority at not being as clever as Smiley. So jackal and lion eat Flopears together in peace, sharing their lives in fractious harmony thereafter.’

Snaggletooth and Spackleface 27

‘Okay.’ said Snaggletooth, ‘I get it. You’ll no longer play

donkey to my sweet jackal words so my missus can eat your heart out. In fact, she can eat her own heart out waiting for you never to appear.’ ‘Exactly!’ said the monkey. ‘I’m staying in the damn tree and you and she can crawl to hell for all I care. You’ve destroyed our friendship by trying to trick me.’ ‘Yes, I suppose so,’ said the croc. ‘More fool me.’ ‘Quite,’ said Spackleface. ‘Not that I’m ungrateful for your honest stupidity, but you let the cat-o-nine-tails out of the bag, powderhead, and then I thrashed you with it. If you’re going to be devious, you’ve got to be smarter and not give the game away, like the potter did to the king. I think you’ve relied too long on sheer brute power instead of learning other tactics.’ ‘What potter and king?’ said the croc. ‘Tell me!’ ‘Oh I can’t be bothered with the likes of you. I’m tired. Clear off!’ ‘No, no, no please,’ implored the croc. ‘Let’s end harmoniously. Forgive me. I’m sorry. I know we can’t go back, but just tell me this one last tale and then we can part.’ ‘Well, as long as you don’t go telling me any more of your fairy tales,’ said Spackleface. ‘I don’t want to listen to anything you have to say.’ ‘Yes, solution!’ said Snaggletooth. ‘I understand. Mum’s the word. Now pray proceed.’ There was a brief, almost poignant pause while the two animals held one another’s gaze as they had in the more playful co-minglings of friendship. But the moment soon passed.


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Scarface the Potter
‘There once was a drunken potter,’ Spackleface said loudly, ‘who got home one night very much the worse for wear. He stumbled around in the dark until he tripped over some broken terracotta jugs and cut his head on a shard.’ ‘Oh, how terrible!’ said the croc. ‘QUIET!’ shouted the monkey, glaring. The crocodile shrank back into the mud, apologizing profusely. ‘This potted potter,’ Spackleface continued calmly, ‘cursed his pain and passed out flat on his back. He had slashed his forehead. Blood streamed over his face, clogging his eyes, entering his mouth and sloshing into his right ear. He was a gruesome mess, and when he came around, gagging, a few minutes later, he rose and staggered to a trough of filthy water normally used by the goat. He splashed his face with this vile water, bumbled into his shack, fumbled in the dark for a grubby rag to staunch his wound and crashed down on his bed. In a short time, without proper treatment, the wound developed into a vicious scar running diagonally from his right hairline across the brow of his left eye nearly to the top of the ear. From then on he looked a frightful brute, but he wasn’t really – he was just a large, amiable potter with a drink problem. Life continued as it does for big ugly potters everywhere, with its usual litter of triumphs and defeats. One of these defeats was that Scarface – for such he was soon nicknamed in his village – began to lose sales. For reasons totally unconnected to his drunken accident, the bottom dropped

Scarface the Potter 29

out of the clay-pot market, and soon he hadn’t enough money for food, or even ale. Fortunately some of his pub mates were soldiers on local duty, and they still had enough cash to buy him a drink or two when they met up. The question inevitably arose: “Why don’t you join up, mate? Come with us next week! We’re leaving for the capital, the big city, and you could come along. You never know where you’ll end up but at least you’ll get food, bed, grog, and – sometimes – pay and booty.” Scarface took his friends’ advice; he quit potting and joined the army. He underwent brief training, and the next thing anyone knew, he and his mates were stationed together in the capital’s barracks. It wasn’t glamorous duty but it was a lot more exciting than village life. One day, however, he seemed to hit the jackpot when the king noticed his fearsome face during a routine troop review. “Good heavens!” the king thought to himself. “Now there’s a brave fellow to terrify the enemy. I rather like the cut of his brow.” Soon enough the monarch himself drafted Scarface into his palace guard. Not only that, but it was soon clear that he had become a royal favourite, to the annoyance of his mates. They were too frightened of the king to do anything about it except to tease Captain Ugly Mugly, as they called him, after his undeserved promotion. To put it another way, he was the wrong guy at the right time in the right place, but he didn’t know that yet of course. Yes, here was Scarface, the silly fraud. Working, to be sure but, by military standards, as pampered as a lapdog. His comrades attached enormous weight to the most trivial of events. For example, when the king passed him a pair of his old socks (and dirty ones at that) the royal discard was to Scarface and his mates like precious coin. “The king gave him a pair of socks!” Gossip traveled around the palace and far beyond as tongues wagged. “What is it about this brute that so intrigues


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the king?” courtiers asked. Nobody could fathom it. “He isn’t even a real soldier!” they complained. Words flew helter skelter, denigrating or defending Scarface. “The king spoke to Scarface!” some exclaimed. “Who is this soldier and what kind of spell has he cast over our noble leader?” Rumour reached fever pitch when the royal hand casually passed Scarface a peach from a nearby bowl of fruit. “Good God!” the Vizier thought, “he’s FEEDING him now!” Quite soon Scarface had many would-be friends who gave him small presents, including a few gold coins, asking after his health and such like, and “By the way have you ever heard His Majesty speak out about this or that, diamond mining in the south, for example, or a disputed track of land near Orissa, or that vacancy for a new provincial governor?” Although not the brightest spark, Scarface, it must be said, soon learned to refuse all such entreaties to exploit his position, saying to himself: “I didn’t earn this honour, so it’s not mine to turn to commercial advantage.” Nevertheless, it didn’t occur to him to wonder: “Why is the king attracted to me? What have I done?” He may have had a moral streak but his curiosity was limited. He knew he was one of the king’s minor favorites, and that was good enough for him. His unthinking motto, if it could have been plumbed, ran something like this: “Ours not to question why, Ours but to satisfy!” Captain Ugly Mugly wasn’t exactly smug, but he was in danger of taking a tumble. Easy come, easy go. What

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happened to trip him up was Veterans’ Day, the annual extravaganza when all the country’s warriors gathered at the capital for a massive ritual celebrating their glorious military history. Over countless decades, thousands had fallen in terrible battles in defense of the realm. Every veteran had a duty to remember dead comrades and former heroes. Their pitiful stories of privation and bravery under unimaginable conditions inspired in all citizens a sense of worth and valour. This was the land of the brave, of honourable men and chaste women, of the brightest children, and where all grandchildren were geniuses. Its citizens must be always alert to the dreaded enemy, lurking in darkness, ready to spring upon the innocent. On Veterans’ Day, elephants would be arrayed in armour and battle colours, horses caparisoned and the bravest men lined up in full dress uniform for royal inspection. There would be long speeches, endless parades, banquets, music, dance, chants, amazing costumes and a blaze of pageantry to gladden the heart of any patriot. It was during the preparation for this celebration that the king decided to find out more about his favourite guard, “Tell me, my good man, how came you by your magnificent scar?” “Well it was like this, Your Royal Highness. I used to be a potter, and one night when I came home drunk, and …” Scarface soon poured forth his grubby tale. The king was enraged. “A potter! A worker in common clay! Trickster!” he shouted. “I’ll show you battle. Seize the imposter,” he instructed the guards. “Thrash him!” This royal command was music to the ears of his comrades who now gave vent to their resentment. They threw him to the floor to give him the drubbing of his life. “Pity, Sire! Mercy!” Scarface cried out, trying to defend himself as blows rained down all over his body. “At least you


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could give me a chance to prove myself. You could test me.” “Desist, men,” the king said to the other guards. “Test YOU, Scarface? Test you HOW, you miserable worm?” “Test me in battle, Your Majesty! See whether I’m soldier material or not.” “Ha! Test you in battle? Don’t be ridiculous! You’ll slay no elephants, my boy, as the wise have said.” All the guards, as well as the bashed and bleeding Scarface, stared back uncomprehendingly at the king. “You … you know what I’m talking about, don’t you?” the king spluttered. “The story about the lions and the … the … er … jackal cub?” The guards stood in abashed ignorance as if they’d been turned into stone, hardly daring to breathe. “No, Sire,” the bravest one among them ventured just above a whisper, “I don’t think we do.” “Oh, for heavens sake!” said the monarch. “What’s the matter with you lot? Don’t you know anything?” He snatched a halberd from one of the guards and banged its butt loudly on the marble floor. “Scarface, sit up!” he said. “The rest of you,” he said banging the halberd again, “onto the floor. Settle down and listen or I’ll pin your ears back.” Thus it was that this king, attended by one of the most captive audiences in recent history, began his rendition of the traditional tale. Understandably any court functionary, servant, waiter, petitioner, dignitary, foreign personage and idler present or passing by during the narration felt it prudent to gather around and sit awkwardly on the floor to listen. Scarface, bloodied but thankful to be alive, was the most attentive of all.

The Jackal Adopted by Lions


The Jackal Adopted by Lions
“Once upon a time,” began the king, and stopped because there was a shuffling of feet and a cough from the floor. “Once upon a time,” he said again, glaring at the now silent guards, then sweeping his eyes around to scan the other listeners who had gathered, “there was a pair of lions with two female cubs. The family was starving because their habitat was bereft of prey. One day the father, after a long hunt through a huge expanse of his territory, found only an abandoned, whimpering jackal cub. He couldn’t bring himself to kill the youngster, so he picked him up by the scruff of his neck and took him back to his wife. He set the ragamuffin down before her, saying: ‘A thoroughly rotten day, my darling. Rotten! Total waste of time. All I could find was this baby which might serve as a tidbit to help you give better milk to the girls.’ ‘Arnold!’ the lioness snarled, for that was indeed her husband’s name. ‘I can’t do that! Kill an orphan? No, I’ll raise him as their brother. He will be a member of the family.’ With that, the lioness began to suckle as best she could the poor jackal orphan, who was utterly famished. ‘I was rather afraid of that,’ said Arnold who well knew and admired her tenderheartedness. ‘Another mouth to feed,’ he muttered as he curled up for a nap, swishing his tail to keep the flies off his face. So it came about that a lioness adopted and raised a jackal baby alongside her two cubs. All three ate, slept, and played together and sincerely believed they were siblings. The wise


Kalila and Dimna

lion parents said nothing to upset this happy state. But to an outsider it was obvious that there were differences: the lion cubs were a bit younger and stumbled a bit more when they walked, while the jackal, although physically smaller, moved in a sure-footed way and tended to boss his sisters around. One day, however, the three cubs strayed further from their den than ever before and ran into a lone elephant who peered down at them balefully from a great height. ‘Uh-oh!’ shouted the jackal cub, turning tail quickly. ‘We’ve got to get out of here! This is terrible! We know elephants fight lions and here’s one right in our path!’ But his leonine sisters weren’t listening and had inched ahead, growling deep down in their throats and staring right back at the elephant that towered over them. ‘Sisters! Sisters!’ yapped the jackal, ‘time to go home. This is going to end in tears. Let’s go. Now. NOW!’ The jackal’s anxiety was infectious, undermining the girl cubs’ instinctive bravery. In a flash all three scooted home as fast as they could and told their mother the whole story several times in quick succession in breathless voices. But the lion cubs also teased their jackal brother, saying he had been a scaredy-cat coward. ‘Tommyrot,’ the jackal snapped, for he was vain. ‘It was my duty to protect you from your folly in trying to frighten an elephant. I was being prudent. I was not in the least afraid.’ ‘If that’s so,’ said one of his sisters, ‘why did you run first and fastest?’ ‘You little pipsqueak,’ snarled the jackal, rushing in and giving a painful nip to her back left leg. ‘I’ll teach you to mock me!’

The Jackal Adopted by Lions


‘Children, that’s enough!’ growled the lioness in a meaningful way. ‘Stop this bickering instantly.’ Silence followed, like the aftermath of a thunderclap. The siblings knew very well not to mess with Mother. They’d seen her kill their dinner enough times to know her power. In their eyes a herd of elephants was significantly less formidable. ‘You!’ the lioness said to the jackal. ‘Come with me. You two,’ she said to her cubs, ‘go and play together under those trees.’ She led the jackal cub over to a patch of marshy grass beside a pool of spring water and calmly stooped to take a drink. The jackal stood beside her and after a minute she said patiently, ‘Please never fight with your sisters in this way again. It will simply land you in trouble.’ But her plea only served to rile him again. ‘Do you think I’m their inferior?’ he demanded of his foster parent. ‘What right do they have to put me down? Am I not their equal in intelligence, beauty, skill and courage?’ ‘Yes, indeed you are,’ said the lioness patiently, for she truly loved him as her own. ‘But you are lacking one key piece of information which I now shall give you.’ Quietly she explained to the young jackal how he had been a foundling, tenderly brought to her by her husband. She told of their decision to raise him as a lion, how she had suckled and fattened him from her own breast, and how proud she was of him. ‘But the key piece of information is that you are and will always be a jackal, whereas your sisters will grow into lionesses. They will be bigger and fiercer than you and surely eventually kill you if you continue this habit of taunting them.’ By now the young jackal had begun to quake in terror. His mouth dropped slowly open, for the sudden discovery of his true origins shocked him almost beyond bearing. If he wasn’t a lion, who was he? ‘So, yes,’ his foster mother continued, ‘you are indeed handsome, clever, brave, and brimming with heaps of other


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fine characteristics. But, my dear, you are not a lion, and for that reason and for the sake of your own safety, I think you should now leave us and find your own kind to mingle with. Staying with us, I am sorry to say, will lead to your certain destruction.’ ‘I don’t feel very well, Mum,’ whimpered the sad little jackal, beginning to snuffle and cry. Wisely, his surrogate mother allowed him time to flush out his sense of vulnerability. ‘I know, my darling,’ she finally said most quietly. ‘This is hard for you.’ She paused, then continued: ‘You are very brave. That is the quality your father and I – as well as your sisters – have bestowed on you: the Bravery of Lions. Take that and you will become the best of jackals. But, sadly, you can never be a lion, my son. Be brave. Go now, forever with my love.’ ‘Good bye, Mum, and thanks,’ the youngster sniffled, and gave the big cat a nuzzle of gratitude. Then he scampered off so quickly he raised a cloud of dust and was never seen again and neither, as far as we are concerned, were the lions.

Scarface the Potter 37

hat, ladies and gentlemen, is the end of the tale,” said the king, breaking the reverent silence that had followed his story. A flutter of applause broke out along with a few whispers of appreciation. “Enough of that!” the king ordered, again stamping the butt of his halberd on the floor. “This story is for Scarface and anybody else who can use it – now or later.” He turned and looked sternly yet with an amicable flicker of his eyebrows at his erstwhile favourite who, with everyone else, had risen to his feet. “Like the jackal cub, my hideous potter, you had better get out while the going’s good. Otherwise the veterans of my army, the genuine warriors, will soon find you and serve you some old shoe pie, poke in the eye, chin music and anything else they have ready. War is not all mouth and trousers, my clay hero. Begone and Godspeed!”



Kalila and Dimna

t these words Scarface swiftly left the palace, vanishing from the city, never to be seen again. Indeed the only trace of his life is the story I have just told,’ said Spackleface to Snaggletooth. ‘Oh, monkey! These convoluted tales of yours make one’s brain ache,’ grumbled the crocodile. ‘How am I to understand them? What do they mean? Will you please stop and explain the wisdom beneath their surface?’ ‘Do you also want me to eat the figs in the tree for you?’ asked the monkey. He grabbed one and threw it so hard it bounced off the croc’s head with a dull thud. ‘Swallow that and then YOU tell me what it means. What’s the matter with you, Snake Brains? Explanation is no substitute for experience. Do you want real life or a fantasy? You can’t live a lie and hope to get away with it for long,’ he said. ‘What do you mean?’ said the crocodile. ‘What do I mean? What do I mean?’ said Spackleface. ‘I’m sick of your questions. What I mean is that you’ll end up like the donkey hidden under a tiger’s skin. Yes, I will tell the story to you if you wipe those ugly tears from your even uglier eyes. But that’s it. We’re finished. The sooner I never see you again, the happier I’ll be.’ Snaggletooth knew the monkey meant it, so he kept quiet.


Soapsuds and Lovejoy 39

Soapsuds and Lovejoy
‘Another donkey,’ explained Spackleface, ‘completely unrelated to the one I just told you about, belonged to a laundryman named Soapsuds. Every day this donkey, one Lovejoy, staggered around a certain village dragging a cart to deliver clean clothing and other laundered items. Even though Soapsuds worked his hands to the bone, he still was so poor he could not afford to feed his donkey properly. So although Soapsuds loved Lovejoy to bits, the donkey was as skinny as a toothpick and frail to boot. The laundryman despaired of finding a way to fatten up his beloved beast of burden, the collapse of whose health would wreck his livelihood. One day, when man and donkey were making a delivery on the outskirts of the village, Soapsuds spied something odd in a field by the edge of the jungle. Curious, he left the cart to investigate and was amazed to discover a dead tiger. He had a good knife and a sharpening stone in his cart, so he set about skinning the tiger as fast he could. When he had finished, he abandoned its carcass and hauled the valuable pelt home, pegging it out to dry. At first he thought he would sell the tiger skin, but then he devised a better plan: he would use the skin to get food for the donkey. This was his idea: every night he would take the donkey to a field where there was a fresh crop. He would tether and then cover Lovejoy with the tiger skin so the donkey could eat his fill in peace. Any farmer would think he was a tiger and creep away.


Kalila and Dimna

And, indeed, that was exactly how it came to pass. Night after night, the donkey under the tiger skin stuffed his eager face with barley shoots, meadow grass, turnip tops, curly kale and other munchy bits. Every morning before dawn Soapsuds crept up and bundled the tiger skin into a sack, then took beast and secret costume home. Soon Lovejoy grew so plump he could barely fit into his stall. And so terrified was anyone who spotted the disguised donkey in the night that they tiptoed away as quietly and quickly as they could. Rumours of the tiger spread like wildfire but no one investigated the matter too closely, being grateful that the tiger seemed to have taken no prey since first being spotted. But some farmers did notice that, mysteriously, there seemed to be regular circles of damage to their crops. But there were no tiger prints anywhere. And anyway, whoever ever heard of a vegetarian tiger? Everything went smoothly for Soapsuds and Lovejoy until one occasion just before midnight. Not far from where our hoofed hero munched away, a lonely she-donkey brayed her misery into the gloom. Now sleek and fed, Lovejoy’s amorous appetite was whetted and he raised his head to bray back a lusty love-note. Amazed at such an unexpected reply to her call, the jenny loudly sent forth more passionate entreaties. And so, an almighty racket of courting nocturnal donkeys aroused several farmers from bed. They threw on their clothes, lit torches, and set forth to resolve the nuisance. Meanwhile, Soapsuds remained obliviously asleep at home in the village. You can well imagine the farmers’ annoyance when they found the laundryman’s ass hidden under the tiger skin. Not to put too fine a point upon it, they immediately took knives, hoes, shovels, axes and other hardy farm instruments and did poor Lovejoy in. The she-donkey never beheld her suitor and the next day Soapsuds was run out of town and all his goods confiscated by the outraged citizens.’

Snaggletooth and Spackleface 41

“At the end of his story, Spackleface threw three final figs

at the silent crocodile lying morosely by the bank. Then he swung out of the fig tree into the next and, moving thus from tree to tree, abandoned that neighbourhood entirely. Snaggletooth never saw the monkey again, which gave him plenty of time to contemplate these stories, his behaviour and the loss of a rare friendship. Buttercup, of course, was delighted; she never got her monkey heart, but she certainly kept her grip on Snaggletooth’s.”

Pleasure begins in the realm of lovers and death’s hardship is separation. Since all lovers mingle into dust life and death are but one to us. Ustad Khalilullah Khalili, former Poet Laureate of Afghanistan


Kalila and Dimna

he sun was already peeping over the eastern flank of the city’s mountain ridgeline when Bidpai finished telling ‘How to Lose What You Have.’ Crisp daylight raked out across the palace grounds, glinting from every object and casting long, deep shadows. “Not exactly a cheerful ending,” King Dabschelim remarked with a smile, “although fairly well-told.” “As you well know, Your Majesty, life is not just strawberries and cream,” Bidpai replied. “If I haven’t learned my skills by now, what have I been doing? Stories are being sung or told everywhere by billions of people in different ways, their voices sprinkling the water of experience into every community; a scattering of knowledge helping people survive – even improve.” “My kingdom unto a flower?” the king asked with a smile. “And the storyteller but a ditch?” Bidpai responded. “Yes, in a manner of speaking: one needs the water, the other delivers it. The result is nourishment.” “But are not storytellers often liars?” “Indeed they are, Sire, for anyone may become a gambling fool, thinking he’ll never be tangled in folly’s glorious chatter. Self-deception rules, which is why we have the old saying: ‘A bad king is like a contagious disease.’” “I understand how Snaggletooth felt,” Dabschelim said morosely, shaking his head from side to side. “This idea of being healed by nutritious stories seems so fanciful, such a long way from the simple joy of listening to an exciting adventure unfold. So many types of loss are described in


Bidpai Tells ‘How to Lose What You Have’


‘How to Lose What You Have’ as to make the heart shrivel from hopelessness.” “Relax, Your Majesty. Enjoy, digest and don’t try to analyse. Let the Kalila and Dimna fables grow in your mind; don’t try to pulverise them with sovereign intellect. Let their mystery confound and bemuse you, like it does a child! Here’s a quick one to help you remember the link between fools, liars, kings, storytellers and everyone else, regardless of caste, colour or creed. But after that, I suggest we adjourn this session. It’s been long night.” “Yes, on that we agree!” the king said, stifling a yawn with the back of his fist. “Frankly, I’ve had enough. Get on with it, you Story Devil, so we can get some sleep!” And Bidpai did, immediately …

I once heard it said that life is like chess and that stories are like books of famous chess games that serious players study so they will be prepared if they ever find themselves in similar straits. Kendall Haven, Story Proof – the science behind the startling science of story


Kalila and Dimna

Bleeding Dead Men
nce upon a time there was a madman who was convinced he was dead. Nothing his doctors said would convince him otherwise. He lay on his bed, stiff as a board and refused to listen to their words. ‘Go away!’ he shouted. ‘I’m dead. Leave me alone!’ Then one of the doctors had a final idea. ‘Do dead men bleed?’ he asked. ‘No, of course they don’t, you fool!’ said the madman, turning his head slightly to glare at the quack. The doctor grabbed the man’s arm and quickly pricked it with a scalpel. ‘Look!’ he pointed as the wound flowed red: ‘Blood!’ The madman sat bolt upright, amazed. ‘By God,’ he exclaimed. ‘Dead men DO bleed!’”


Bidpai Tells ‘How to Lose What You Have’


A s soon as Bidpai had finished, he and Dabschelim covered

themselves in blankets and slept through much of that day by the smouldering campfire.

O man! If you only knew how many of the false fantasies of the imagination were nearer to the Truth than the careful conclusions of the cautious. And how these truths are of no service until the imaginer, having done his work with the imagination, has become less imaginative. Shab-Parak

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