Tamarind author, Narinder Dhami, takes us to India for an awesome animal story from her childhood . . .
When I was a little girl, for some reason I was obsessed with elephants. I was given a toy elephant on wheels when I was four. ‘Mimi’, as I called her, was an Indian ceremonial elephant with a tasselled head-dress, and I used to push her around the garden. For the next couple of years Mimi featured in almost every photo that my parents took of me!
I loved stories and books from a very early age, and of course, elephants featured in many of the traditional tales which my Indian father loved to tell to me and my sisters. These tales opened up a whole new world for me and later I discovered that these collections of ancient stories were called the Panchatantra, the Hitopradesha and the Jataka. I loved stories such as ‘The Mice and the Elephant’, ‘The Elephants and the Hares’, ‘The Noble Elephant’ and ‘The King’s White Elephant’. But my favourite was ‘The Elephant and the Dog’, from the Jataka, and it goes like this:
Once upon a time there was an elephant which lived in the king’s stables. The king was very fond of the elephant, and so the elephant was pampered and well-treated and only ever ate the best food.
Near the king’s palace lived a skinny, starving dog, and he began sneaking into the stables and finishing up the elephant’s food. For a while, the elephant didn’t notice, but soon he and the dog became great friends. They shared the food and the dog would curl up next to the elephant to sleep.
One day a farmer, who was visiting the palace, took a liking to the dog and asked the elephant-keeper if he could buy him. Now, the elephant-keeper didn’t much like the dog hanging around the stables so he agreed. The farmer paid the elephant-keeper and took the dog back to the country with him.
The elephant missed the dog very much. He was so upset that he wouldn’t eat his food, now that the dog was no longer there to share it with him. The elephant could not sleep either, without his friend by his side. He used to love to bathe in the river, squirting water over himself with his trunk, but now he wouldn’t leave the stables, no matter how much the elephant-keeper tried to coax him out.
Eventually the king found out why the elephant was so sad, and he sent his men all over the country to look for the dog and bring him home.
When the dog arrived, he and the elephant were thrilled to be reunited. And from then on the dog lived in the stables with the elephant, and they were friends to the end of their days.
I don’t know quite why this story appealed to me so much, but maybe it was because I had already realised the importance of true friendship, even though I was only a young child.
That’s what I like to think, anyway!