The Panchatantra – Story 6a

THE CRANE AND THE CRAB

There was once a crane on the banks of a lake. He  was old and wanted to have an easy life with plenty of fish to eat. He sat on the edge of the water with a most  dejected appearance and did not even eat the fishes which  were very near and could be caught.

Among the fishes  was a crab. He went near the crane and said, ‘ Uncle, why are you not attending to your food and recreation  to-day as usual ?’ The crane replied, ‘ 1 have lived so  long comfortably on fish and so have become their  friend. Now a great evil is going to befall you all.  Owing to this, in my old age I am suddenly deprived of  the prospects of having an easy existence. So I am dejected. After all, I cannot but feel the great calamity  which is about to befall those at whose expense I have  lived so long especially when I too suffer by it.’ 

‘What  is the nature of this great calamity, uncle?’ asked the crab. The crane replied, ‘ Early this morning, I heard several fishermen talk among themselves on the banks of this lake thus, “This is a big tank with plenty of fish. We shall finish fishing in the four other tanks by Sunday evening. We shall come here positively on Monday  morning at dawn and catch all the fish and other water  animals by spreading the big nets which we have recently  made.” So this tank will be denuded of all fishes and other creatures of the water in another seven days, this  being Monday. I too will lose my easy livelihood in this old age. Thinking of this, I feel no inclination  either for food or for sports.’ Hearing the cunning words of the crane, all the fishes and other denizens of the water were filled with fear for their lives. Addressing the crane variously as  father, grandfather, uncle, brother, friend, and preceptor, according to their age and standing, they said to him, ‘ You were wise enough to get timely information about the calamity. Surely, you will be able to find out a way of escape from it. You ought to save us from the certain death which awaits us.’ 

The crane said, ‘ I am an egg-born creature. How can I compete on equal terms with the foetus-born men? Still, I have thought of one plan which may work well provided all of you co-operate. Attached to a big temple, a short distance away, there is a large tank with deep water and thousands of lotuses. There fishing is forbidden, and all of you will be safe. I can manage to carry you there on ray back in batches.’ Then all the fishes, deceived by the cunning words of the crane, cried out to him, ‘Oh Uncle, oh friend, oh benefactor, carry me in the first batch. Have you not heard of the saying ” Steadfast friends who have real love sacrifice even their lives for the sake of their friends. This they do out of the goodness of their hearts, remembering the good deeds their friends must have done them in the past birth.” 

Then the wicked crane, smiling within himself, thought, ‘ By this method,I can seduce these confiding fishes and eat them with ease.’ So he acceded to the entreaties of the fishes. Taking batch after batch on his back, he pretended to go to the deep tank near the temple. He would alight on a huge rock heated with the sun’s rays, deposit the unfortunate fish there and eat them up. Daily he used to get more and more elated. He would lull the remaining fish in the tank into false confidence by all kinds of concocted messages purporting to be from their brethren safely transported to the secure tank. The crab also, becoming very much concerned for his safety as the day of the threatened fishing was drawing near, beseeched the crane again and again to carry him. ‘Uncle, you should save me also from death,’ said he. 

The crane thought, ‘I am fed up with the flesh of different kinds of fishes. If I accede to this fellow’s request I can taste new meat of a relishing type.’ So he took the crab on his back and flew. He took him to the burning rock and began to descend on it. Then the crab asked, ‘Uncle, where is that deep tank near the temple ?’ The crane replied laughingly, * See yonder burning sheet of rock glistening in the sun. All the denizens of the tank carried by me so far have found eternal peace there. You too will attain such peace soon.’ The crab looked down and saw a huge and fearful heap of fish bones on that murderous rock. Then he thought to himself, ‘ In this world, clever men assume for the attainment of their ends the garb of enemies though they are friends, and of friends, though they are . enemies. It is safer far to play with serpents than to friends though they are enemies. It is safer far to play with serpents than to live with rogues or enemies or evil-hearted persons or people with vacillating minds or illiterate fools or wicked friends. But serpents are guarded against and thus almost always avoided while these others with their deceptive forms are trusted and lead us to ruin. So, this villain has eaten away all the fishes already. This hill of bones is caused thereby. 

I  must now take revenge on him, taking advantage of this excellent opportunity. It has been said that even one’s, own preceptor should be punished if he is proud, cannot distinguish between right and wrong, or has deviated, from the correct path. Till the evil comes, we may fear it. As soon as it comes, however, we should cast off fear and try to avoid the evil. So, just when he has alighted and before he throws me on the rock, I shall seize his neck as in a vice with my legs.’ He acted as- he said. The crane was helpless to do the crab any injury in the peculiar position he was in, and tried to. fly away as a last resort. The crab tightened his hold on the tender neck of the bird and pierced it till the head was severed from the body. Then he took the severed head which was white and slender like a lotus, stalk and slowly went to the tank from which he had been taken. All the remaining fishes asked him, ‘Brother, why have you returned?’ He showed them the crane’s head and said, ‘ All of us were cheated by this double dealing hypocrite. The poor fishes fell victims to his false words and were taken and thrown, on a rock not far from here and eaten. Owing to my being destined to live longer, I was able to escape from this rogue who has committed the grossest breach of trust, and to kill him and bring his head. Hereafter » there need be no fear. The fishermen bogey was a mere invention of his to carry out bis fell design. All of us can therefore live in peace.’ 

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