A tale from the Sunderbans
Once there lived a not-so-clever rhesus monkey in the mangrove forests of the Sunderbans. He ate all that he could get his hands on — fruits, seeds, shoots, leaves, insects and what have you; but his favourite food was fish from the channels that criss-crossed the delta.
Though he could swim well, he was never good at catching them. Hence, he made a devious plan to get a fishing cat to catch fish for him.
One day, the monkey saw a fishing cat dive into a channel for a hearty breakfast. “Hello, Cat! I have been watching you and, you know what, you are a great fish-catcher. I was wondering if we could launch a business together. We could sell fish in the market,” said the monkey.
The fishing cat was no fool, but he agreed to the monkey’s plan. Together they dragged an old net and threw it into the water. When they pulled it out, however, there were only two fish caught in it.
“Hey Monkey, you take today’s catch and I will take tomorrow’s when it is high tide and there will be more fish in the river,” said the sly cat.
“No, no, no, you take today’s and I will take tomorrow’s,” replied the monkey.
The cat ate the two fish and licked his lips in satisfaction. The poor monkey watched hungrily.
The next day there were no fish in the net. The monkey was furious.
“You cheated me!”
“Not at all, dear friend! Come, let us sell this stinking net in the market and get some money. With that we could buy some fresh fish,” suggested the cat.
The monkey readily agreed.
“I will beat the drums and you call out ‘Stinking net for sale’,” said the cat as he started beating an old drum with his paws.
The monkey dragged the net along and called out, “Who would like to buy my stinking net?”
The people in the market were annoyed. “This monkey is here to make trouble. Who will buy a stinking net from a monkey anyway!” they cried. They came after the two creatures with sticks to beat them up. The two dropped the net and the drum, and climbed up a tree. A few people, however, followed them and began climbing the tree. The two animals had nowhere to go.
“Hey Monkey, ours is a 50-50 partnership. Hence let us climb down… you take the beating while I take the pain.”
The monkey thought that was fair and both scampered down the tree. The people caught the monkey by the tail and caned him. He took the caning in silence while the cat meowed in “pain”.
After the crowd left, the two made their way back to the market.
“Hey Monkey, listen to my next plan. I will wait here while you get that old woman’s basket of fish,” said the cat pointing to a fish-seller who was nodding off in the noon sun.
“Hey, wait a minute! How come I am doing all the work? What are you going to do?”
“I am going to wait for you… someone has to do that, right?”
“Yes, I guess so,” said the monkey doubtfully.
With amazing speed, he snatched the basket from the old woman and both swiftly ran up a tree to enjoy their loot.
“Now, let’s make a new deal. Smell the fish, Monkey…do you like it?”
“Hmmm, heavenly…I love it. Can we eat now?”
“As before, we go 50-50. You get to smell the fish all you want and I get to eat them after you have taken away all the flavour.”
The monkey was not sure of the deal but agreed nevertheless. When the cat had eaten all the fish, the two climbed down the tree with the basket in the cat’s paws.
“There they are! Catch the thieves!” shouted the people from the market.
“Here, hold the basket while I pretend we are innocent. I will curl up on that high branch. Now, all you need to do is to return the basket to the old lady.”
With that, the clever cat leaped back up on the tree and let the monkey to face the angry people. Sure enough he got a beating once again, which he would remember for a lifetime.
Some time later, when the people had all gone away, the monkey got up slowly. In great pain, he climbed up the tree and sat by the side of the fishing cat.
“Cat, I have learnt a good lesson. I do not want fish anymore. You eat fish and I will eat fruits and leaves…Is that a good deal?”
“It sure is, my good friend!” replied the cat, smugly.