Robbing the Tigers

A long time ago, in one of the dense forests that abounded in northern India, there were several man-eating tigers; how they became to be man-eaters, no one ever knew. Practically every day, the tigers would pounce on some unfortunate man or woman. After devouring the bodies, they would collect whatever jewellery and money the victims possessed and carry it off to swell their ever-growing pile of treasure.

Now in a nearby village, a barber dreamt and schemed ways to get his hands on some of the tigers’ treasure so he could live a life of ease and luxury. He thought that if he went into the forest early in the morning, he would find the tigers asleep. Then he could quietly cut their throats and help himself to their treasure.

So bright and early one morning, the barber set off into the forest with his razors nicely sharpened. He had not gone far when suddenly, an enormous tiger confronted him. Quickly gathering his wits, the barber spoke to the tiger in a gentle voice. “Do not be afraid of me; I am your friend. All I want is to shave off your whiskers, which the king needs to prepare some medicine for his sick daughter.”

The tiger looked puzzled at such a request, and the barber, now full of courage, took out one of his razors. “Just let me shave off your whiskers, and the king will give me a big reward, out of which I will buy you a whole bag of sweets.”

Still perplexed, the tiger shook its mighty head. “What you ask is impossible. It is considered a disgrace for a tiger to be robbed of his whiskers. Death would be preferable. But I will tell you what I will do. Leave my whiskers alone, and I will pay you whatever the king promised reward.”

“In that case, I shall have to shave another tiger,” the barber said. “The king promised me one hundred gold pieces; I will not take less from you.”

The tiger, without arguing, took the barber to his cave and told him to take a hundred gold pieces from the vast heap of gold and jewels piled at the back of the cave.

The barber hurried home with his treasure, and that evening as he sat counting his gold and licking his lips at all the beautiful things he would buy, his friend the wood-cutter came into the hut.

The wood-cutters eyes nearly popped out with astonishment at the sight of so much gold. “Am I dreaming?” he blurted out. “Or did you dress the hair of the Goddess of Wealth to come by so much gold?”

“NĂ©ither,” replied the barber with a broad grin. “I merely threatened to shave a tiger, and he willingly paid me all this gold not to.”

At first, the wood-cutter would not believe such a tall story, but when the barber told him all that had happened, the wood-cutter went home full of ideas on how to hoodwink a tiger.

The wood-cutter was off into the forest at dawn with his giant axe. He soon met a tiger, who eyed him suspiciously.

“How lucky I am to meet you,” the wood-cutter said, waving his axe. “But not very lucky for you. The king promised me a big reward for a fine tiger skin to adorn his palace.”

This did not seem to make the tiger very happy. “Wait a minute,” pleaded the tiger. “My skin is valuable to me. I will give you double what the king has promised. Then we shall both be happy.”

The wood-cutter, like the barber, went to the tiger’s cave and jubilantly carried home a large pile of gold pieces.

That evening the wood-cutter and the barber spent hours boasting to each other how easily they had acquired so much wealth. Then the barber had a brilliant idea. “We are clever men,” he said. “So if we both go into the forest, surely together we shall be able to devise the means of getting all the tigers’ treasure.”

At first, the wood-cutter thought this was tempting fate too much, but then he let himself be persuaded by the thought of untold riches.

So the following day, our two friends went to the forest, and after walking for some time, they were surprised and a little scared to hear the growlings. What must be the number of tigers?

Not being all that brave, they quickly climbed a high tree. From their lofty perch, they could see no less than fifteen tigers sitting around in a circle in a nearby meadow, apparently listening to one young tiger standing in the centre.

Listening carefully, they could make out that the young tiger was grumbling in no uncertain terms about the waste of time and effort in stalking the solitary villagers when they could all make a concerted raid on the village and devour all the inhabitants.

No sooner had this tiger finished speaking when an old grizzled tiger stood up and gave the young tiger a resounding cuff on the head with his huge paw. “Stop talking nonsense,” he roared. “If we descend on the village and kill all the people in one fell swoop, what do we eat next week and the weeks after? Far better to kill the villagers one by one than we shall never know the pangs of starvation.”

All the other tigers seemed to agree with this advice, for the meeting broke up, and most of the tigers came trooping toward the tree where our friends were hiding.

The poor wood-cutter was so alarmed at the sight of so many tigers coming nearer and nearer he tried to climb higher up the tree but was so scared he slipped and, with a tremendous crash of broken branches, landed with an earth-shaking thud on the ground.

The barber quickly took advantage of the situation and shouted, “Catch them all, brother, do not let one get away.”

The tigers, startled by the crashing branches and the bar- ber’s shouting, dashed off in all directions.

With the tigers out of the way, our two friends soon found the tigers’ caves. Quickly bundling all the treasure they could carry, they made tracks for home as fast as their legs could.

The wood-cutter and the barber were now rich beyond care. They no longer had to work but enjoyed living like kings and boasting to anyone who listened to their gallant adventures among the tigers.

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