By Rohini Chowdhury
Once there lived a monkey in a jamun tree by a river. The monkey was alone - he had no friends, no family, but he was happy and content. The jamun tree gave him plenty of sweet fruit to eat, and shade from the sun and shelter from the rain.
One day a crocodile came swimming up the river and climbed on to the bank to rest under the monkey's tree. 'Hello', called the monkey, who was a friendly animal. 'Hello', replied the crocodile, surprised. 'Do you know where I can get some food?' he asked. 'I haven't had anything to eat all day - there just don't seem to be any fish left in the river.'
'Well,' said the monkey, 'I don't eat fish so I wouldn't know - but I do have plenty of ripe purple jamuns in my tree. Would you like to try some?' He threw some down to the crocodile. The crocodile was so hungry that he ate up all the jamuns even though crocodiles don't eat fruit. He loved the sweet tangy fruit and shyly asked whether he could have some more. 'Of course', replied the monkey generously, throwing down more fruit. 'Come back whenever you feel like more fruit', he added when the crocodile had eaten his fill.
After that the crocodile would visit the monkey every day. The two animals soon became friends - they would talk and tell each other stories, and eat as much of the sweet jamuns as they wanted. The monkey would throw down all the fruit the crocodile wanted from his tree.
One day the crocodile began talking about his wife and family. 'Why didn't you tell me earlier that you had a wife?' asked the monkey. 'Please take some of the jamuns for her as well when you go back today.' The crocodile thanked him and took some of the fruit for his wife.
The crocodile's wife loved the jamuns. She had never eaten anything so sweet before. 'Imagine', she said, 'how sweet would be the creature who eats these jamuns every day. The monkey has eaten these every day of his life - his flesh would be even sweeter than the fruit.' She asked her husband to invite the monkey for a meal - 'and then we can eat him up' she said happily.
The crocodile was appalled - how could he eat his friend? He tried to explain to his wife that he could not possibly eat the monkey. 'He is my only true friend', he said. But she would not listen - she must eat the monkey. 'Since when do crocodiles eat fruit and spare animals?' she asked. When the crocodile would not agree to eat the monkey, she pretended to fall very sick. 'Only a monkey's heart can cure me', she wailed to her husband. 'If you love me you will get your friend the monkey and let me eat his heart.'
The poor crocodile did not know what to do - he did not want to eat his friend, but he could not let his wife die. At last he decided to bring the monkey to his wife.
'O dear friend', he called as soon as reached the jamun tree. ' My wife insists that you come to us for a meal. She is grateful for all the fruit that you have sent her, and asks that I bring you home with me.' The monkey was flattered, but said he could not possibly go because he did not know how to swim. 'Don't worry about that', said the crocodile. 'I'll carry you on my back.' The monkey agreed and jumped onto the crocodile's back.
The crocodile swam with him out into the deep wide river. When they were far away from the bank and the jamun tree, he said, 'My wife is very ill. The only thing that will cure her is a monkey's heart. So, dear friend, this will be the end of you and of our friendship.' The monkey was horrified. What could he do to save himself? He thought quickly and said 'Dear friend, I am very sorry to hear of your wife's illness and I am glad that I will be able to help her. But I have left my heart behind on the jamun tree. Do you think we could go back so that I can fetch it for your wife?'
The crocodile believed the monkey. He turned and swam quickly to the jamun tree. The monkey leaped off his back and into the safety of his tree. 'False and foolish friend,' he called. 'Don't you know that we carry our hearts within us? I will never trust you again or ever give you fruit from my tree. Go away and don't come back again.'
The crocodile felt really foolish - he had lost a friend and a supply of good sweet fruit. The monkey had saved himself because he had thought quickly. He realised that a monkey and a crocodile could never be true friends - crocodiles preferred to eat monkeys rather than be friends with them.