Panchatantra Stories – The Singing Donkey
Donkeys are used as beasts of burden by washer men in India. Although in recent years many rich Indians families have installed washing machines in their homes, the washing of clothes by washer men has been an Indian tradition for centuries. They belong to a caste of their own as it is a family trade, handed down from father to son for generations. Most washer men own donkeys which help them carry the dirty clothes to the nearby river or lake for washing. Each morning, the clothes are washed and hung to dry at the bank of the river, while the donkeys are kept tied to nearby trees. Later in the evening, the dry clothes are bundled on the backs of the donkeys and carried to the washer man’s house for ironing, and then delivery. The donkeys are set free in the evenings once the washed clothes have been returned. They are allowed to roam free during the night, until work begins again the next.
There was once a donkey who became the friends with a fox during his night-time wandering. Since the donkey was older in age, the fox addressed him as Chachaji, which means uncle or father’s brother, out of respect. The donkey called the fox Bhatija, or nephew.
One night the donkey and fox found their way into a cucumber farm. They ate the fresh cucumbers to their hearts’ content. For the next few weeks they were at the farm every night enjoying the cucumbers.
“Oh, these are so delicious, I cannot stop eating them, Chachaji,” said the fox one night.
They are luscious, dear Bhatija, but look at the sky and the bright full moon,” replied the donkey. “It is so romantic. The night is so pleasant with the cool breeze. I feel like singing.”
“Chachaji, please don’t do that,” begged the fox. “We will be in great trouble if the guards hear your singing. It is best to be quiet and enjoy the cucumbers.”
“My dear, I cannot help singing in these beautiful surroundings,” sad the donkey, clearing his throat for a song.
“Chachaji, you know you do not have a melodious voice. Your singing will only make the guards angry,” said the fox.
“What do you know about music and rhythm? You do not appreciate the beauty of music,” replied the donkey with hurt in his voice.
Now Chachaji, please stop it. Your singing will please no one but yourself. It will only make the watchman rush out and give you the kind of reward which you will remember the rest of your life.”
“You think I cannot sing?” said the donkey proudly. “I know I can sing very beautifully. Sit down and listen to me quietly, my dear Bhatija.”
It was obvious that the donkey was not going to take the fox’s advice and that soon they would be in trouble with the watchman.
The fox decided to save himself. “Chachaji,” he said, “wait a little. Let me go out and keep watch over the guards. You can sing to your heart’s content once I have gone.”
The fox hurriedly left the farm before the donkey could begin his loud, harsh singing. The watchmen were already on the lookout for the animal who had been taking the cucumbers at nigh and, as soon as they heard the singing of the donkey, they rushed out towards him with their heavy sticks. They beat the donkey until he fell unconscious to the ground. They then tied a stone to his neck before leaving him to die.
Fortunately, the donkey recovered, and somehow dragged himself out of the farm to where the fox was waiting for him.
“So in spite of my warnings you did sing, Chachaji,” said the fox, laughing. “And is this the reward the guards have given you? Well, accept my congratulations.”
“Bhatija, do not taunt me,” moaned the donkey in a gruff voice. “I am already depressed. I was a fool not to have listened to good advice given by a friend. I have suffered heavily as a result. Please leave me to lament over my foolishness.”
In the morning when the washer man found the donkey, he swore at his own fate. “What good is a wounded donkey to me? I have to work and provide for my family, I cannot waste time on a foolish donkey who gets himself injured overnight.” The washer man hurried off, carrying the bundle of dirty clothes on his head and leaving the donkey behind.