Story Title: Oh! Tell Me, What Ails The Lion?
Author: Mayuri Patankar and Tanvi Khemani
Storyteller: Mayuri Patankar
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One morning, all was quiet in the jungle. Dawn had not broken yet and all the animals were fast asleep. The rabbits were sleeping cozily in their burrows. The tortoise was in its shell, and the fish in the stream were still as stone. Even the owl, which had stayed up all night, was settling in to sleep on a low branch. Suddenly, a terrible roar from the lion broke the silence. The animals were startled and the owl nearly fell off its branch in fright! A wild cat returning from its nightly hunt stopped and listened. The lion roared again, louder. The poor owl realized it wouldn’t get any sleep unless he found out what the matter was. Disgruntled, it flew from branch to branch, listening closely. The herd of deer which lived in another part of the jungle also realized that the king must be placated .The squirrel was rudely interrupted in its long winter sleep. As the owl flew from tree to tree it saw different animals rubbing their eyes as the lion continued to roar. They had all realized that unless the matter was investigated, nobody was going to get any more sleep. They all began moving towards the lion’s den. Snakes, jackals, elephants, crocodiles and antelopes joined in. Meanwhile, the lioness had also woken up. She wondered why her husband had been creating such a din, but she did not bother finding out. You see, lionesses do not forgive easily. This particular lioness was still rankling from the fight she had with her husband last week. The matter hadn”t been settled. The queen hadn”t pardoned the lion and was in no mood to help him today. By now, a large group of animals had collected in the clearing outside the lion”s den. They were all well aware of the argument between the two and the lion’s foul mood. No one dared to venture inside the den. They all murmured amongst themselves.
One dainty deer wrinkled her nose at the loud discordant sounds and asked “Is he trying to sing?”.
A bear replied, “No, it sounds like he”s in pain.”
The snake hissed, “Maybe he’ssss managed to get a thorn sssstuck in his paw again.”
The eagle scoffed, “No! The man with the axe cut down all the shrubs last month. Where would he even find a thorn in the jungle these days? The state of affairs I tell you! Soon we’ll all be homeless…”
A tiny squirrel was getting impatient with the conversation. While all the animals were busy arguing among themselves, he quietly scurried to the mouth of the den and poked his head inside. Suddenly, he felt a pair of big angry eyes glaring at him.
“So sorry, Your Highness!” He squeaked. “All the animals are here and we want to know what ails you”.
“I don”t know!” The king growled. “I have a terrible pain near my stomach. Maybe I should eat you and it will get cured!”
The squirrel ran out in fright.
“Stomach ache!” He cried.
The animals then began creating new theories about this. A hedgehog said gloomily, “It”s the poisoned mushrooms down by the anthill. I ate some too, once, and was sick for many days.”
The sloth admonished him saying “Ah! You are always in a rush and never look before you leap.”
The crocodile smacked his lips. “I think that he ate some rancid meat and that is causing his stomach ache.”
The lion had stopped roaring and had realized that the animals were discussing his stomach pain. He went outside and was pleased to see that they were worried about their king”s health.
The fox circled the lion and sniffed him loudly. Meanwhile, the dung beetle inspected the lion”s tail. The giraffe bent down his long, long neck, and examined the lion”s teeth.
Someone from the crowd asked him, “Does it pain on the right side, or the left side?”
“I don”t know!” the lion moaned. “Um.. Left…No no, right! Oh I think it”s left. Oh! It’s both the sides!”
While all this was going on, the monkey, unnoticed by all, had been swinging from branch to branch overhead. He stood in middle of the crowd. Clearing his throat loudly, he beamed at the company. Unlike his energetic relatives- some of whom like riding on crocodiles” backs- he spent most his time chanting strange words on the hill at the far end. The animals were fascinated and slightly fearful of this old, wizened creature. The lion, too, knew that the monkey’s repository of knowledge was unparalleled.
He scratched his chin, then his head. He preened his tail and examined his fingernails. He looked around till everyone was quiet, and when he had their full attention, he cleared his throat and began speaking. “In the land of the humans, there is a race of people who have ancient wisdom. Their stories contain the history of their ancestors and are passed on even today! They have one such story, an old, obscure tale, but this one might help you, Your Majesty. It is about a mighty king who founded a long and illustrious dynasty. He was just like you, Your Highness. Brave in battle, heroic in deed, generous of heart, and extremely handsome. He was a warrior and leader. And, just like you, he had three beautiful queens. His enemies shivered with fear and the elders praised his name.
“He had everything, but he had craved an heir for many years. Finally, he summoned learned sages from all over his kingdom. They decided to use magic and secret, ancient knowledge, to create a special potion for his queens, which would bless them with a child! They built a large fire, and after days and nights of chanting in a strange tongue, they announced that the potion was ready. It looked just like water and was to be kept inside the king’s room all night, undisturbed.
“The king went to sleep, happy and content. He woke up in the night, feeling very thirsty, and he mistook the potion for water. He gulped all of it down!”
The animals gasped. The monkey widened his eyes and continued, “The next morning, the king awoke with a terrible pain in his stomach. He soon realized that he had accidentally drunk the potion that was meant for his queens! The royal physician pronounced his verdict. He said, “You are carrying a child, Your Highness! And there is nothing that we can do to reverse the effects of this potion.”
The news spread like wildfire. The King finally gave birth to a son, who was blessed by the king of gods himself, and who went on to found a long and illustrious dynasty. He had three sons, I believe, and fifty daughters. Didn’t they all marry the same man…?”
The money trailed off as he noticed that all the animals were staring at him in shock, their mouths hanging wide open. A bee had flown into the hippopotamus’ mouth and she had failed to notice.
No one dared to voice what everyone was thinking. In the deafening silence, the squirrel whispered, “Does that mean…could it possibly be… that the lion, the King, is going to have a baby?!”
The animals heard the lioness giggle loudly.
“NO!” the lion roared, turning upon the monkey and glaring at him angrily. The monkey simply smiled back serenely. “Are you going to lay an egg?” asked the confused pigeon. The bear, mother to six baby cubs, said, “No, he will become really, really fat. And then one day, he will give birth to a tiny lion cub.”
The lion was getting more and more horrified. She continued, “It won’t be easy, you know. He will not be able to run around or jump from place to place like he usually does.”
The lioness emerged from her den and chimed in delightedly. “They are all right, you know,” she said to her husband. “And not to forget the dizziness and the headaches!”, she added dramatically, putting a paw to her head. “And this will last for weeks and weeks, my dear. But seeing as you don’t care much about others and their troubles, how would you know any of this?”
The lioness thoroughly enjoyed extracting her revenge from the lion, who by now was miserable and frightened.
“You are right,” he said meekly. “I often forget that others have troubles, and I tend to get arrogant.”
A few of the braver animals nodded their heads.
“I promise to stop being haughty and proud about my strength and power.”
“Oh, it’s okay,” said the lioness, stroking his back comfortingly.
“Wait wait!” said the monkey suddenly, “I just remembered that in the story, the human king had pain in the right side of his stomach. And indeed, that is where the child emerged from. So, is your pain on the right side or the left side?”
The lion looked down at his stomach and looked up at the monkey. He looked at his stomach again and looked around at all the animals, who were waiting for his answer with bated breath. He moved his hand around his stomach. “It’s gone!” he said in amazement. The monkey simply smiled.
“So, does that mean that I am not actually…”
“Yes,” said the monkey, grinning from ear to ear. “My guess is that you had an extra large meal last night which was causing the pain in your stomach. Merely this, and nothing more”.
“Is that why you told us that story??” the lion asked in outrage. “To distract me from the pain?”. The monkey continued to smile. He said sagely, “The humans have kept the tradition of story-telling alive not only to pass the time, but because it teaches us a great deal and can help us take our minds off our mundane problems. That is what I have done.”
The owl sitting on the branch overhead began clapping, and soon other animals joined in with hearty applause. The wise monkey had not only alleviated their king’s pain, but he had also helped unite him with the lioness! They were sitting happily together, their tails intertwined, smiling at each other as if nothing had happened.
The squirrel squeaked loudly, “I want to hear another story! Please tell us another story!”
The lioness lifted her head and requested the monkey, “You mentioned earlier that all the fifty human princesses married the same man. Please narrate this story to us?” The monkey tapped his nose, stroked his chin, looked around and climbed upon a rock.
“Sit down, all of you!” he said genially.
They did, and when he had their full attention, he began with a flourish. “Listen to my story…”
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