Imagine the biggest, proudest, strongest Tiger you have ever known. A Tiger so sure of himself and his place in the world that he stood taller than any animal. The first Tiger, before the world got complicated.He lived in a great forest and every morning whilst the birds still sang the sun’s praises, before it reached too high and became everyone’s enemy, he would walk to the edge of his forest and look out over his plain. The plain had water and things to eat and was empty but for these good things. One morning, fresh from his bath, the tiger came to the edge of the plain and the forest. And there, in the middle of the plain, were men. Inside the Tiger anger, curiousity, love, envy, all ran through him- for it was the early days of being when things were still able to be decided and nothing was obvious to anyone. This was the moment when all that began to change. The Tiger was tired by all the emotions running through him and so he retired to the forest to take some rest. He returned the next day to stand at the edge of forest and plain. He looked at the men who in the time the Tiger had taken rest had built huts. Around the huts were children, and cows on rope, chickens, and fences to mark many other things that the Tiger had never seen before. At that point in to view walked a Dog. The Dog saw the Tiger and, walking slowly without ever taking his eyes off the Tiger, sat down just beyond the Tiger’s reach. He was an old thin, tired, hungry dog but with clever eyes.
“My name is Bagra, pleased to meet you” said the Dog.
The Tiger looked in amazement at the Dog because he had never heard such a thing and was much amused.
“A dog? Have a name? How is a Dog to have a name? Oh Dog I was thinking just before of eating you but I am not so hungry that I would not rather sit and hear about how you came to have a name.”
“Well I am pleased to hear it” said the clever Dog “But all things in the village have a name. How else would anyone know what is what?”
“The village?” asked the Tiger.
“Yes that is what the men call when they live together.”
And the Tiger thought about that for a little while. And the Dog watched the Tiger very closely because he had never met one before.
After a time the Tiger said “They live together? Why would they do that?”
“So they don’t get scared”, answered the dog. “What are they scared of?”
“They do not know yet, but they know that they will be scared one day. The village is used to stop that.”
The Tiger did not know what to say to that, he had never heard anything so stupid. Thinking about it made him tired and hungry and so he said to the Bagra the Dog “You should go now Bagra I am growing hungrier. But if you come at the same time tomorrow I will think of what I would like to ask you.” The next morning Bagra returned as he knew he needed to and the Tiger was already waiting as the Dog knew he would be.
“Good morning Tiger” said the clever dog “Did you pass the night well?”
“Yes. It was cool, I was full, it was dark” answered the Tiger not unkindly,”I have a question? Could I live in the village?”
The Dog had been expecting this question and had sat a little bit further back fearing his answer would anger the Tiger. “No, I am afraid Tiger you cannot”.
The Tiger was shocked and confused. “Why not?” the Tiger asked.
“Because all the things in the village need to be of use. What use could you be Tiger?” softening his tone to cushion the blow.
“What do you mean, use?”
“Well, as you know the village stops the men being scared. And the roof on the hut keeps the sun and rain away. And the cows provide milk. Everything that is there is useful. If it does not have a use then it is not included”
“I could be of use” snapped the Tiger.
“Would you let yourself be saddled like the horses?” “No of course not, a Tiger is not to be ridden”
“Would you let yourself be milked like the goats?” “No of course not, a tiger is not to be milked”
“Would you let yourself be yoked like the oxen?” “No of course not, a tiger is not be yoked.”
“Then I think we can both agree that you can be of no use and so cannot live in the village.” finally finished the Dog. The Tiger was again very tired and hungry from all the thinking and so he said to Bagra the Dog, “You should go now Bagra I am growing hungrier. But if you come at the same tomorrow I will think of how I can be of use” The next Bagra returned as he knew he needed to and the Tiger was already waiting as the Dog knew he would be.
“Good morning Tiger” said the clever dog “Did you pass the night well?”
“Yes. It was cool, I was full, it was dark” answered the Tiger quickly, “I think you lied to me yesterday Dog”
The Dog denied the Tiger’s accusation most enthusiastically. The Tiger explained, “I have been thinking about the village and what I have seen from here is that there are things in the village that are of no use.”
“That is not the way of men,”said the Dog “Everything in that village has a use.”
‘How do you explain the snakes in the roof of the huts- what possible use could they be,” exclaimed a triumphant Tiger.
The Dog took a breath as he knew the Tiger would be disappointed by his answer,”The Snakes bring Luck to the hut. Nothing brings as much good luck as snakes in the roof.”
“But I could bring Good Luck” answered the Tiger.
“Are you lucky?”
“I don’t know”
“That’s the problem,” said the Dog,”To be of use bringing luck, being lucky is vital.”
“But I have ripped open many snakes,”the Tiger said,”And I never found any luck in any of them.”
The Dog explained that not everything that could be named could be seen, and if the men believed that the snakes were lucky- just as the village made them safe- then so it was. Belief in these things was enough.
When the Dog had finished his explanation the Tiger, slightly embarrassed it seemed to the Dog, said,”There is one other thing in the village that is without use. You- what use are you? You cannot be milked, you cannot be ridden, you cannot be yoked. What use are you to be in the village.”
“There’s no need to be embarrassed to say it Tiger. You are right, I am of no use to the men. But that is why man treats me so badly. He beats me with sticks when he is angry at others, he will not let me near the hut at night for rest, he will not share his food with me. I am not of the village but an outsider kept within for hope of finding a use for me. But what I can do they do not want or do not value. Look how thin and tired I am. If it were not for my one friend I would surely be dead already so badly do they treat me.”
The Tiger was about to ask a question but the Dog interrupted saying,”I can see that you have a question about what we have discussed, but I can also see that you are growing hungry and so I will go now but return tomorrow morning if you wish.”
The Tiger realised that he was in fact hungry and so bade the Dog farewell for the day. “It was cool, I was full, It was dark”, said the Tiger the very moment the Dog had sat down the next morning. “I want to know about your one friend. Tell me.”
Bagra the Dog knew that the Tiger would ask this and so had organised his thoughts in preparation. He told the Tiger of his friend a man who had once been young and healthy. He had taken a wife which is when the old Dog had met him, and the Dog had known the man and woman to be very happy. They loved each other a great deal and talked of the children they would have sitting on a tree root, sometimes with Bagra the Dog at their feet, every night as the sun set. But the first child the woman was given withered in her belly until there was nothing left to be born. The man and woman were very upset but in time she grew pregnant again. Each night the man would sit up after his wife had gone to bed scratching Bagra’s ear with his foot as he described the delights of having a child. Having no children of his own, the dog liked to hear the stories
the man would tell about what the future would hold for them. But when it came for the baby, that so much had been hoped for, to be born, this one too had withered in the belly. Again and again the man and woman tried to have a baby but each time no life came when it was time. With each disappointment the woman grew weaker, getting sadder and smaller with each grief. The man still loved the woman and when the sadness was not on her she still loved him. But the man would no longer talk to Bagra of things to come but sit each night as his wife slept, silently staring out at the dark as Bagra sat at his feet.
Eventually, after too many disappointments, the woman- who had withered a little herself with each child hoped for but not delivered- had nothing left to wither. She passed away, quietly without a sound one night, her body as bitter as tamarind water.
The man had not cried. He had known, just as Bagra had known, that it was inevitable- the body can only withstand so much and she had had her fill.
That had been many many years ago. In the time since the man had grown old and weak, carrying his sadness with him, but his body refused to die- the body still hoping for that child even though none was possible. The man would still roll little balls from his rice and pass them to Bagra to stop him from starving, and they would still sit at night and look out into the dark but the man’s body was broken, and his soul was as heavy with sorrow as a man could take, moving through life with no way to die but no reason to live.
This was the only man in the village who had ever shown kindness to Bagra. And he was his one friend. The Tiger had sat quietly throughout the Dog’s story. At the end of his story the Dog stood and walked away knowing that listening so intently would have made the Tiger hungry. The next morning the Dog arrived to meet the Tiger.
“I have been thinking about your story of your one friend. Thank you for telling me it.” said the TIger.
“It makes me very sad to think of him in this way,”replied the Dog. “I have known my friend for a very long time and he has been with such sorrow for so long, stumbling on. There seems nothing I can do. I wish more than anything that he could die and be at rest. He deserves another chance at life. His only joy is keeping me alive and I have no joy in living as old as I am. There is no use to the pain that both of us feel in our old and broken bodies and with his old and broken heart”
The Tiger was surprised at what the clever Dog said, not expecting it at all.
They both sat in silence for a little while as people are like to do when such things have been said.
After a time and with a quieter voice than usual the Tiger said, ” I have a plan”.
The Dog knew what the Tiger’s plan was. He had known for a long time. At nightfall the Dog returned to the Tiger’s place and led the Tiger into the village quietly. Padding gently through the village the two animals came to the one friend’s hut and slipped inside. There the old man lay on his bed, his eyes staring straight up at the ceiling, not sleeping just staring. The dog approached and the man’s old hand rested on top the dog’s head and the old man closed his eyes. It is unsure whether the old man ever saw the Tiger in his hut. I think he did. But in any case with powerful move of his paw the Tiger had killed the man with a blow to the head. Barely a sound was mad, so fast and strong was the Tiger.
The Tiger did not say a word but turned and left alone. The dog remained where he had been, with his friend’s hand still on his head, and wept. The next morning the Dog walked to the Tiger’s place. He did not ask how the Tiger had spent the night.
He sat down in his usual space.
There was a commotion in the village, men running around, lots of shouting.
“What is going on in the Village?” asked the Tiger.
“The men are preparing a hunt,” said the Dog. “The thing they have been scared of all this time has finally arrived. You are of use to the man now Tiger.”
“A hunt? Did you know this was going to happen, Bagra?”
“I could have foreseen it, I am a clever dog.” Bagra the Dog replied.
“I thought we were friends.” “We are friends,” replied the Dog “But you asked before what my use was, my only use was to be friend to that man who had been friend to me all this time. You are Tiger, they will not find you today, you will survive.”
“But now I will never live in the village” said the Tiger.
“You don’t want to live in the village” replied the clever the Dog.
For a little while they both sat in a silence of men at the end of things.
“You better go, this thinking has made me hungry” the Tiger said finally. Bagra with what looked to me like a smile lay down and said, “Today Tiger I think I have some more things I must tell you” and began to tell the story that never ends.