Selections from Toontooni'r Boi:
Tales of Birds, Beasts and Men
Translated from Bengali by Indrani Chakraborty
1. The Wicked Tiger
2. Toontooni and the Naughty Cat
In the evening, when the children tend to fall asleep without having their meals, it is then that the loving women of some parts of East Bengal narrate these tales to keep them awake. Those children, even after growing up, cannot forget the sweetness of these tales. I hope, my young, tender, male and female readers will also find these stories equally endearing.
-- Upendrakishore Raychaudhuri
(Author's Preface, Kolkata, BE 1317)
From one perspective, Upendrakishore has no equal in children’s literature.
Toontoonir Boi, Chheleder Mahabharat, Chhotta Ramayana or the feel and language of his countless stories, poems and essays published in Sandesh, though of venerable literary origins, have a quality that greatly appeal to children.
A number of excellent literary works for children can be more fully appreciated only as an adult. This applies to the writings of Rabindranath, Abanindranath, and even Sukumar Ray or Leela Majumdar. The pleasure from reading Ha Ja Ba Ra La or Buro Aangla as an adult is not the same as the thrill of reading Toontoonir Boi. To enjoy Toontoonir Boi, the mature reader must awaken the child within.
It is the magic of Upendrakishore’s writing that reaches and delights this inner child. Of how many children’s storytellers can this be said?
-- Satyajit Ray
(Excerpted from Prabandho Patrika, Sharodiya, BE 1370)
The Wicked Tiger
There lived a big tiger, inside an iron cage, beside the lion-gate1 of the palace. With clasped hands, the tiger would plead with everyone who passed by the palace, ‘Brother, please open the cage door, just once.’ Hearing this they would say, ‘Oh really! We open the door and you grab us by the throat!’
Now then, the palace was hosting a grand party. Famous pundits were coming in hordes for the banquet. One of the priests looked like a rather simple fellow. The tiger started bowing before him repeatedly.
The priest saw this and said, ‘O, this tiger is so gentle! What do you want, son?’ With hands joined in pranam, the tiger said, ‘Sir, if you could just open the door of the cage, only once. I beg of you.’
The priest was a very good-natured soul; he opened the cage door at once. And the rascal tiger came out laughing and said, ‘Thakur2, I want to eat you.’
Anyone else would perhaps have run for his life. But this priest didn’t know how to run. He was very agitated -– ‘Never heard such a thing before! I did you such a favour and you say you want to eat me! Is that the way to behave?’
The tiger said, ‘Of course, Thakur, everybody does that!’
The priest said, ‘No, never! Come with me, let me ask three testifiers. Let’s hear what they have to say.’
The tiger said, ‘Okay, done. If the testifiers agree with what you have to say, I’ll let you go and I’ll leave. But if they agree with what I say, I’ll gobble you up.’
The two went out into the field to look for testifiers. Farmers often leave a raised piece of ground in between two plots of land -– it is called an aal3. The priest pointed to the aal and said, ‘There’s my first testifier.’
The tiger said, ‘Right, ask him. Let’s hear what he has to say.’
The priest then asked, ‘Hey you, Aal, you tell me, if I do someone a favour, will he return it with a disfavour?’
The Aal said, ‘Oh yes, Thakur. Look at me. I stand between the fields of two farmers. It’s such a big help to them. One cannot take away another person’s land; the water from one land doesn’t flow into the other person’s land. I do them such a great favour -– but the rascals run the plough over me to expand their land.’
The tiger said, ‘You heard that, Thakurmoshai? If a favour is usually returned with a disfavour?’
Thakurmoshai said, ‘Hold on, I have two more testifiers to go.’
The tiger said, ‘Okay, let’s go.’
There was a banyan tree in the middle of the field. Thakurmoshai pointed at it and said, ‘That’s my testifier.’
The tiger said, ‘Fine, ask him. Let’s hear what he has to say.’
Thakurmoshai said, ‘Dear Banyan Tree, you are quite old. You’ve seen and heard a lot. Tell me something, would people be bad to the one who is good to others?’
The banyan tree said, ‘That’s the first thing people do. Those folks out there sat under my shade to cool themselves but they poked and pricked me for my gum. On top of that, to hold that gum, they plucked my leaves. Now look there, they are walking away with a branch broken from my trunk.’
The tiger said, ‘Now what, Thakurmoshai? Did you hear what he said?’
The priest was now in a fix. He didn’t know what to say. It was just then that a fox was passing by. Thakurmoshai pointed at that fox and said, ‘There is my other testifier. Let’s hear what he says.’
He then called out to the fox and said, ‘O wise Fox, wait a minute. You are my testifier.’
The fox stopped but didn’t come close. From that distance, he asked, ‘How’s that? How did I become your testifier?’
Thakurmoshai asked, ‘Tell me, son -– if someone does you good, would you return it with something bad?’
The fox said, ‘Who has done whom what good, and who has done whom what bad? When I hear that I could tell.’
Thakurmoshai said, ‘The tiger was in the cage and I, the Brahmin, was on the road, passing by …’
The fox, hearing this, promptly said, ‘This is so complicated. I can’t say a thing till I see that cage and that road.’
So they all had to come to the cage. The fox circled the cage for quite some time and said, ‘Right, I have got the cage and the road. Now tell me, what happened.’ Thakurmoshai said, ‘The tiger was inside the cage, and I, the Brahmin, was on the road, passing by.’
At this point, the fox cut him off and said, ‘Hold on, don’t rush. Let me first understand this part. What did you say? The tiger was your Brahmin and that road was going through the cage?’
The tiger, when he heard this, burst out laughing, ‘You fool! The tiger was inside the cage and the Brahmin was on the road.’
The fox said, ‘Wait a minute -– the Brahmin was inside the cage, and the tiger was on the road.’
The tiger said, ‘You idiot! The tiger was inside the cage and the Brahmin was on the road.’
The fox said, ‘This is such a puzzling affair. I can’t follow a thing. What did you say? The tiger was inside the Brahmin and the cage was walking on the road?’
The tiger said, ‘I haven’t seen such an idiot ever before. The tiger was inside the cage the Brahmin was on the road.’
Then the fox scratched his head and said, ‘No, I cannot understand something so complex.’
By then, the tiger was mad.
He chided the fox and said, ‘You have to understand. Look, I was inside the cage, look, like this …’
As he said this, the tiger stepped inside the cage and the fox hastily closed the cage door and locked it up. Then the fox turned to the Brahmin, ‘Thakurmoshai, now I understand everything. If you want to hear what I have to say— then that would be— you must never do good to a bad person. Therefore, uncle Tiger is right. Now you better hurry, there’s still some food left over.’
With this the fox wandered into the forest and Thakurmoshai went to have his meal.
 lion-gate: the main entrance to the palace, flanked by stone lions
 thakur/thakurmoshai: a form of address for a Brahmin priest
 aal: a divider, a ridge around an agricultural land.
Published in Parabaas, March 20, 2006
The original story "Dushtu Bagh"
[dushhTu baagh*] by Upendrakishore Raychaudhuri
is included in the collection Toontoonir Boi, first published by Upendrakishore's own U. Ray & Sons; Calcutta, 1910.
Indrani Chakraborty. Indrani holds an MA in English literature from the Jadavpur University. She ....
Illustrations by Upendrakishore Raychaudhuri himself, taken from Toontoonir Boi (Subranarekha Edition; Subarnarekha, Kolkata, 2002).
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