The story of the Cat and the Mouse

Posted on July 22, 2010

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Once there lived a mouse by the name Palita in a large forest. It resided in the base of an expansive banyan tree. In one of the branches of that tree, there also lived a cat by the name Lomasa, which subsisted on birds that visited the tree.

There was also a Chandala hunter living nearby, who used to set up traps made of net every evening. Various animals would fall into traps each night, and the Chandala would return the next morning to collect his nets and catch.

One night, the cat Lomasa was caught unaware in one of the traps. Palita, the mouse, came out of his hole and started feasting on a piece of meat left behind by the hunter. The mouse even got upon the trapped cat that lay helpless. Suddenly, the mouse Palita observed two threats – a mongoose by the name Harita which had arrived there attracted by the mouse’s scent, and an owl Chandraka of sharp beaks that lay perched on one of the tree’s branches.

The mouse realized that if he got off the trap on to the ground, the mongoose would prey on him. However, if he remained there, the owl was sure to snatch him. Thinking that it is best to take refuge with an enemy to ward off a stronger enemy, the mouse decided to seek the cat’s protection.

Palita said, “O cat, are you alive? I wish to make peace with you as both the owl and the mongoose are intent upon feasting on me. I shall rescue you if you agree not to kill me. Without my help, you cannot escape. A wood that supports a man to cross a river also crosses the river with the help of the man. Let us escape from this unfavourable situation by helping each other. What do you say?”

The cat Lomasa expressed words of agreement, and the mouse soon crouched beneath the cat’s body as if the cat were its parent. Seeing no chances of seizing the prey, the disappointed owl and mongoose soon left that place.

* * *

The mouse then started cutting the ropes of the snare, but at a slow pace. The cat soon became impatient, and said, “Have you forgotten your words now that you are out of the reach of danger? Expedite your work, for the hunter will soon be here”.

Palita replied, “I do not want to hurry my work, for I wish to release you at the right time. An act done at an improper time will fail to yield results. If I release you now, you are sure to eat me. I shall free you at the time when the hunter is at sight. At that moment, your heart will not be set upon eating me, as your focus will be on escaping from the hunter. I too shall use that moment to save my life.”

The disappointed cat Lomasa said, “The honest ones do not repay their debt to friends in this manner. Please act with haste”. The mouse said, “O Cat, listen to me. That friendship in which there is fear and which cannot be kept up without fear, should be maintained with great caution like the hand of the snake-charmer from the snake’s fangs. However be assured that I will cut the last string at a time expedient to both of us”

As mouse and the cat were thus talking with each other, the night gradually wore away. Soon the Chandala, whose name was Parigha, appeared on the scene. The mouse very quickly cut the remaining string that held the cat. Freed from the noose, the cat ran with speed and got upon the tree. Palita also quickly fled and entered his hole. The hunter, seeing everything, was frustrated and he quickly left that spot.

* * *

The cat Lomasa, from the branches of that tree, addressed the mouse Palita inside the hole, “You suddenly ran away without conversing with me. I hope you do not suspect my intentions, as I am certainly grateful to you. Why do you not approach me at a time when friends should enjoy the sweetness of friendship?”

The mouse turned down Lomasa’s request for friendship citing the following arguments:

  • There is no such thing in existence as a foe or a friend. Only circumstances create friends and foes. Both friends and foes arise from considerations of interest and gain. Friendship morphs into enmity over time. Similarly a foe also becomes a friend. For these reasons, both friends and foes must be studied and well understood.
  • Everyone is moved by the desire of gain in some form or other. One never becomes dear to another without cause.
  • Even the father, mother, wife, son, maternal uncle, sister’s son and other relatives, are guided by considerations of interest and profit.
  • One becomes dear due to his disposition. Another becomes dear for his sweet words. A third becomes so due to his religious affiliation. Generally, a person becomes dear for the purpose he serves.
  • The affection between us arose from a sufficient cause. That cause exists no longer. For this reason, our affection should come to an end. What is that reason, I ask, for which I have become so dear to you, besides thy desire of making me thy prey?
  • The circumstances under which peace or war is declared can change as quickly as the clouds change their form. Similar is the case for friendship and enmity. This very day you were my foe. This very day, again, you were my friend. This very day you have once more become my enemy. Such are the considerations that affect living creatures.
  • You have no use for me except to make me your meal. I am your food. You are the eater. I am weak and you are strong. There cannot be a friendly union between us when we are not equals. I am filled with alarm even if I see you from a distance.
  • If you think that I have done you a service, advise me as a friend would if you see me acting trustfully or heedlessly. Such an action will be grateful of you.
  • A residence near a person possessed of strength and power is never recommended by the wise.
  • He who blindly trusts friends and always mistrusts foes puts himself in peril
  • You were entangled in the net for the sake of food. Having been freed, you now experience the pangs of hunger. I shall not, therefore, unite with you in friendship.
  • Be comfortable considering that I am making these decisions for my own benefit.

Thus rebuked soundly by the mouse Palita, the cat, blushing with shame, once again tried to convince the mouse to accept the offer of friendship. But the mouse turned down Lomasa’s request.The mouse continued, “One, should never trust a person who does not deserve to be trusted. Nor should one repose blind confidence upon a person deserving of trust. In brief, mistrust is productive and is beneficial to oneself. However weak people may be, if they mistrust their foes, the latter, even if strong, never succeed in achieving a position of power. O cat, I should always be wary of you, and you should always be wary of the Chandala whose rage has been kindled by your escape”

As the mouse uttered these words, the cat, frightened at the mention of the hunter, hastily left the tree and ran away with great speed. The wise mouse Palita, having completed its conversation, entered another hole.

(Source: Mbh Shanti Parva, Chapter 137)

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