A fantasy and parable on the concept of beauty and tolerance. A story I made up for my children
There is a long standing ritual in our family that mealtimes for my children would be accompanied by a story being told by me, and it survived their growing up enough to read on their own. Nowadays however, most of the time all four are engrossed in our own books or kindle, and dinner table conversation if any often revolves round the reading material. Sometimes though, I still have to make up stories for them, but with the stipulation that it has to be original, or at least new to them, and usually on a fixed topic. The topic could be a news item, or some object in the room. Many fantasies were thus woven, soon to be forgotten. Recently however, my daughter reminded me of a few she remembered over the years, and wanted me to write them down. This is the first such attempt.
The chosen topic was a painting of Jogen Choudhury, called tiger in the moonlit night, whose print was among those that covered our dining room wall. Here is the painting, and the story follows.
In a small village by the forest, there lived a boy who was spectacularly ugly. He was also very smart and sweet natured but no one noticed that. He wasn’t just ordinary ugly but really weird looking. His face was all twisted, he had no hair, his body was out of proportion, and strange lumps grew from him in odd places. Small children cried when they saw him, older ones were scared of him, and even the grownups tried to avoid him when they could. No one would visit their home and no children would play with him. They did not want to go to school with him either. This made him very lonely and sad, and though his mother loved him, he could see that she was sad at his plight.
The boy decided to run away from home. He knew his mother would be sad, but her life would become easier. So one night, when all were sleeping, he slipped off to the forest. He climbed a large peepul tree to be safe from animals, and went off to sleep.
In the middle of the night, he suddenly woke up to find many eyes staring at him! Stiff with fright, he couldn’t move or scream. But these weird creatures were smiling at him! He noticed that they all looked like him, human, but a little distorted. Calmed somewhat, he listened to them.
They explained that they were ghosts living in that tree, and were scared of humans as they looked so weird. But as he wasn’t afraid, and so beautiful unlike other humans, they wanted to be his friends. Finding someone who liked him and considered him beautiful made the boy very happy, and he immediately joined them in their games. They played all night and had a great feast until morning, The ghosts went to sleep in the morning, and promised to meet him next night, and said they would help him in any way he wanted.
Missing his mother, and feeling sorry that she would worry, he quietly went back home and left the gifts with his mother and went to sleep.
Next morning, his mother was very surprised to find all the goodies by her bedside and to find that her boy had lost his lonely sad look and seemed quite cheerful. He explained that he was working for the spirit king in the forest and the spirits were his friends but asked her to keep it a secret.
He went back the next night too and really enjoyed himself. The ghosts wanted to know the ways of humans and the boy taught them his chores and farm work, which the ghosts loved doing as it was a game to them. An army of ghosts managed to finish plowing sowing weeding in no time at all.
The boy explained to his mother that the spirit kings men had done it all. She was overjoyed.
However such news cannot be hidden for long and soon the village knew about the mysterious prosperity of the weird looking boy. Rumors spread about his special powers, and jealous neighbors decided he was a warlock. They called a village meeting and warned the poor mother that she must get rid of the boy or the family would suffer.
When the boy heard this, he was angry and decided that he would teach the villagers a lesson with the help of his new friends.. But his other convinced him to go and live with the spirit king and not create more misery all round.
Really sad this time, he was in no mood to play and crept away
This time, the idea of playing with his ghost friends did not appeal, so he went into a new thick part of the forest, and not caring for his life; lay down below a tree to sleep.
It was a moonlit night in the forest. There were eerie shadows everywhere. He shut his eyes tight and covered himself with his shawl, trying to sleep. Anger and sorrow wouldn’t let sleep come. Suddenly, he felt as if he is being watched! He listened carefully. Yes, it seemed as if someone was breathing. He caught a whiff of a horrible smell!
Holding his breath, silently, he peeped out. At first he couldn’t see anything in the light and shadows. But, as his eyes focused, he saw a horrible apparition! A tiger was watching him! And not an ordinary tiger, a weird deformed horribly ugly tiger! The poor boy screamed and fainted. But just as he was losing consciousness he noticed something strange, the tiger too seemed to whine and leap away!
When he woke up, he was surrounded by his friends, the ghosts. He started talking about is bad dream but suddenly noticed a new figure in the group; the strange shaped 3 legged tiger!
As everything was explained, the boy realized that both he and the tiger were kindred souls! The poor tiger was thrown away from his group because of his weird looks. Wandering around alone, crying to himself, he came across the sleeping boy. But when the boy woke up, the tiger thought it was a monster and fainted too. Hearing the commotion, the ghosts came over, found the two, and understood the situation.
A shared misfortune which was not their fault made the boy and the tiger great friends. Why would their neighbors judge them for their looks? They were born that way, and did not dress that way intentionally to frighten people! Moreover, who said that every boy or tiger had to look similar? And who said that this is normal and not that? They were quite angry over this unfairness. The ghosts understood, they did not judge. What was weird to others was normal for ghosts. In fact, the weirder, the better. Stunning weirdness was stunning beauty in the ghost yardstick. The boy and the tiger were invited to stay on with the ghosts.
They did so for a while, but started missing the village and the forest respectively. Then they struck upon a plan!
Next day, the boy strolled back to his village in broad daylight, and went to stay at his home, but with the tiger coming along like a pet puppy. The stunned villagers were very quiet. They were not going to argue with the boy who has a pet tiger, and the weirdest tiger they ever saw! Warlock or not, they were very polite to the boy and his family from then on.
A few days later, they went strolling in the forest together, and found all animals most deferential to the tiger, as he was accompanied everywhere by the most feared creature of all, man! And, what’s more, a really weird looking man! Moreover, the man had the stick that spews fire and death, but was a friend of the tiger and did not trouble the other beasts. This made the beasts respect them.
Life looked perfect for the two former outcastes, but they were not happy. They were feared and tolerated. But they craved to be loved and admired. They were intelligent, well behaved, cultured sensitive and genuinely nice people, so why should they be shunned or tolerated only due to fear just because they looked different? Who is to decide what is beautiful? Sick of the look of fear and revulsion in people’s eyes, they decided to end their lives.
So they made a plan. They went to the top of the hill in the forest and decided to jump off. Just as they were about to commit this foolish deed, Vandevi, the forest goddess appeared and caught them both by their ears. A thorough scolding and much crying and many apologies later, they timidly asked the goddess for one wish. They wanted that people should look up to them and admire them and value them just the way they are ,and consider them things of beauty, and hang their pictures on their walls.
Vandevi thought for a while and found a solution. He sent them into a painting by Jogen Chowdhury, where they would be together for eternity, valued in crores for their beauty, adorn walls of museums and homes, where people gaze at them and admire them for their beauty. This is a copy of the picture you can see. Other creature who had similar problems and similar wishes were also accommodated in the paintings of Jogen Chowdhury, Pablo Picasso and Rabindranath Tagore.There they all lived happily ever after