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Two otters and an expectedly wily jackal

The moral of a Jataka tale that still rings true.

more lifestyle Updated: Apr 24, 2016 14:31 IST
Renuka Narayanan
Renuka Narayanan
Hindustan Times
Renuak Narayanan,bandar-baant,Jataka tale
Locals line up their boats at the Assi Ghat in Varanasi. (Ajay Aggarwal/HT photo)

The moral of this story is well-known as ‘bandar-baant’ in Hindi, meaning ‘the monkey’s division’ of goodies being fought over by two parties in which the monkey, as arbitrator, leaves them with very little and takes away the most for itself. This moral still holds true in a house divided, does it not, applying both at home and in matters of state? I came across an interesting variation last week in a Jataka, cast as a tale told by the Sakyamuni to the assembly of bhikkus during a retreat at Jetavana. I enjoyed this timeless story so much, including the old names, that it seems worth recounting for our present times.

Long ago, though certainly not far away, “when Brahmadatta was king of Benares”, there lived a jackal named Mayavi — an apt name, meaning ‘illusionist’ or ‘deceiver’. He found himself a mate and they lived happily by the Varuna or perhaps it was the Assi. One day, Mrs Mayavi told her husband that she longed to eat fresh river fish. Happy to oblige, the jackal went scouting by the riverbank, hoping to steal something from a fishwife’s basket, where he suddenly saw a most interesting sight.

Two sleek, handsome otters were in search of lunch. One of them spotted a fine, big fish and leapt into the water after it but the fish was strong and helped by the current, it almost got away. “Help me!” called the otter in the water and its friend on the bank jumped in and between them, they landed their catch.

Then, despite rejoicing in fine classical names like Gambhir (meaning ‘thoughtful’, ‘influential’ and ‘considerate’) and Anuthi (meaning ‘unique’ and ‘extraordinary’), they fell to squabbling in the usual depressing manner about how to share their lunch, though, mind, it all began very politely. “You caught this, so please do the sharing,” said Anuthi first, with a deep namaste. “Not without your help, so you must do the honours,” bowed Gambhir with exquisite courtesy. And so it went on for a good half an hour while the fine, big fish lay between them waiting to be eaten. The jackal had hidden himself behind a big mango tree at some distance from the bank and watched these proceedings with keen interest.

When the two otters, worn out with arguing, flopped down on either side of their catch, the jackal judged it the right moment to step forth, and greeted them very civilly. “Welcome, friend” said the otters. “Perhaps you can settle our dispute for us.”

“Why, certainly,” grinned the jackal, “here’s how.” And very swiftly, he bit the fish into three portions with his sharp teeth. “Here’s the head, for you,” he said, pushing it at Gambhir, “and here’s the tail, for you”, and pushed that at Anuthi, “and here’s my share, for settling your dispute.” And in the blink of an eye, he seized the entire fat midsection of the fish and bounded up the riverbank and home to his delighted wife. “But you can’t swim, how did you get this?” she marvelled between bites. “Serves them right for fighting,” said Mayavi, “It’s their loss.”

You can email Renuka Narayanan at

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Apr 24, 2016 14:31 IST