Saturday, March 06, 2004

More from Lin Yutang's Wisdom of India and China, pub. 1942

The Frogs That Rode Snakeback

There was once an elderly black snake in a certain spot, and his name was Slow-Poison. He considered the situation from this point of view: "How in the world can I get along without overtaxing my energies?" Then he went to a pond containing many frogs, and behaved as if very dejected.

As he waited thus, a frog came to the edge of the water and asked: "Uncle, why don't you bustle about today for food as usual?"

"My dear friend," said Slow-Poison, "I am afflicted. Why should I wish for food? For this evening, as I was bustling about for food, I saw a frog and made ready to catch him. But he saw me and, fearing death, he escaped among some Brahmans intent upon holy recitation, nor did I perceive which way he went. But in the water at the edge of the pond was the great toe of a Brahman boy, and stupidly deceived by its resemblance to a frog, I bit it, and the boy died immediately. Then the sorrowing father cursed me in these terms: 'Monster! Since you bit my harmless son, you shall for this sin become a vehicle for frogs, and shall subsist on whatever they choose to allow you.' Consequently, I have come here to serve as your vehicle."

Now the frog reported this to all the others. And every last one of them, in extreme delight, went and reported to the frog-king, whose name was Water-Foot. He in turn, accompanied by his counselors, rose hurriedly from the pond--for he thought it an extraordinary occurrence--and climbed upon Slow-Poison's hood. The others also, in order of age, climbed on his back. Yet others, finding no vacant spot, hopped along behind the snake. Now Slow-Poison, with an eye to making his living, showed them fancy turns in great variety. And Water-Foot, enjoying contact with his body, said to him:

I'd rather ride Slow-Poison than
The finest horse I've seen,
Or elephant, or chariot,
Or man-borne palanquin.

The next day, Slow-Poison was wily enough to move very slowly, So Water-Foot said: "My dear Slow-Poison, why don't you carry us nicely, as you did before?"

And Slow-Poison said: "O King, I have no carrying power today because of lack of food." My dear fellow," said the king, "eat the plebeian frogs."

When Slow-Poison heard this, he quivered with joy in every member and made haste to say: "Why, that is a part of the curse laid on me by the Brahman. For that reason I am greatly pleased at your command." So he ate frogs uninterruptedly, and in a very few days he grew strong. And with delight and inner laughter he said:

The trick was good. All sorts of frogs
Within my power have passed.
The only question that remains,
Is: How long with they last?

Water-Foot, for his part, was befooled by Slow-Poison's plausibilities, and did not notice a thing.

In Lin Yutang's introduction to this section - called The Panchatantra (this story isn't in that collection yet) - he says, "But I do wish that the wise, learned and calculating appeasers of America and Europe had read The Frogs that Rode Snakeback in the childhood and taken that simple wisdom to heart, for I believe Water-foot who gave away the plebeian frogs to the snake was the first of the race of appeasers."

No comments: