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Children's booksPanchatantraShort Tale

The Cat’s Judgement

At one time there lived many animals in a certain tree. And beneath the same tree dwelt one bird, a partridge. One day the partridge went foraging with other birds to a spot where the rice was ripe and abundant, and he did not return at nightfall.

However, one fine day the partridge, who had grown extremely plump from eating rice, remembered his old home and returned. This, indeed, is not to be wondered at.

Now when he saw the rabbit in the hole, he said reproachfully: “Come now, rabbit, you have done a shabby thing in occupying my apartment. Please be gone, and lose no time about it.”

“You fool!” said the rabbit, “don’t you know that a dwelling is yours only while you occupy it?”

“Very well, then,” said the partridge, “suppose we ask the neighbours. For, to give you a legal quotation”

Hence, even supposing this apartment to be yours, still it was unoccupied when I moved in, and now it is mine.”

“Well, well!” replied the partridge, “if you appeal to consecrated tradition, come with me, and we will consult the specialists. It shall be yours or mine according to their decision.”

“Very well,” said the other, and together they started off to have their suit decided. I, too, was at their heels, out of curiosity. “I will just see what comes of all this,” I said to myself.

Now they had not travelled far when the rabbit asked the partridge: “My good fellow, who is to pass judgement on our disagreement?” And the partridge answered: “On a sand-bank by the sacred Ganges – where there is sweet music from the dancing waves that inter-cross and break when the water is swept by nimble breezes – there dwells a tomcat whose name is Curd-Ear. He abides unshaken in his vow of penance and self-denial, and character has begotten compassion.”

But when the rabbit spied the cat, his soul staggered with terror, and he said: “No, no! He is a seedy rascal.”

Upon hearing this, Curd-Ear, whose manner of life had been assumed for the purpose of making an easy livelihood, desired to win their confidence. He, therefore, gazed straight at the sun, stood on his hind-legs, lifted his fore-paws, blinked his eyes, and in order to deceive them by pious sentiments, delivered the following moral discourse. “Alas! Alas! All is vanity. This fragile life passes in a moment. Union with the beloved is an empty dream. Family endearments are a conjurer’s trick. But for the moral law, there would be no escape. Oh, listen to Scripture!”

Having listened to this moral discourse, the rabbit said: “Friend partridge, here on the river-bank is the saint who expounds the moral law. Let us ask him.”

But the partridge said: “After all, he is our natural enemy. Let us ask him from a distance.” So together they began to question him: “O holy moralist, a dispute has arisen between us. Pray, give judgement in accordance with the moral law. And whichever of us is found to speak falsely, him you may eat.”

“Dear friends,” said the cat, “I implore you not to speak thus. My soul abhors every act of cruelty, that street-sign pointing to hell. Surely, you know the Scripture”

Nay, even those who slay living creatures in the act of sacrifice are befuddled, and their hermeneutic theology is at fault. And if you object to me the passage, ‘One should sacrifice with goats,’ in that passage the word ‘goats’ signifies grain that has aged seven years. ‘Go, oats’ – such is the true exegesis. And then”

No, no. I shall eat nobody. However, I am somewhat old and do not readily distinguish your voices from a distance. So how am I to determine the winner and loser? In view of this, pray to draw near and make me acquainted with the case. Then I can pronounce a judgement that discriminates the essence of the matter, and thus causes no impediment in my march to the other world.”

Therefore confide in me and speak clearly at the edge of my ear.”

Why spin it out? That seedy rogue won their trust so fully that both drew near him. Then, of course, he seized them simultaneously, one with his paw, the other with the saw of his teeth. And when they were dead, he ate them both.

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