It was Friday evening. The best evening of the week - no homework!
Nishad settled down in his father's big, comfortable chair and began to read. His mother had given him a present a few weeks back, a bright yellow, cheerful-looking book called The Panchatantra.
Nishad looked at the front and back covers. There were some funny pictures of people chasing each other. One man was on a tree, peeping through the leaves at a fierce lion below. There were other animals' too-jackals, camels, foxes and crows.
As he looked at these pictures, Nishad thought, these animals don't look like the lions and camels I saw at the zoo! Their faces look more like the faces of people!
Still wondering why these animals reminded him of people, Nishad began to read the first story, a story called "The Lion-Makers".
I think you may know the story Nishad read that evening. There were three clever men who had read many big books and could speak very well. A friend of theirs had not read as many books as they had, and he could not say or do clever things like they could. So they often called him a fool and made fun of him.
Do you remember the story? Once the four friends traveled through a forest and saw a big heap of bones.
The three smart men said, "Here's a chance to show the world how wise we are. Look - something died here a long time ago. And we can bring it back to life!"
Then the first man put the bones together in the right shape. "Your turn," he said to the next man, looking proud of himself.
"Watch this!" the second man announced, and he gave the bones skin, flesh and flood.
"That's nothing," boasted the friend. "I can give this heap of bones and skin life. Stand back, all of you!" And he stepped for ward to it.
Just then, the fourth friend - the one they called the fool - stopped him.
"Wait!" he shouted. "It looks like huge, fierce animal. In fact, I think it is a lion! Why do you want to bring it back to life?"
The three clever men laughed at him and pushed him aside.
"What do you know about it?" they asked him. "How else will we show the world who wise and powerful we are?"
Their simple friend saw that nothing would stop them.
"All right, do what you want," he told them. "But give me a minute to climb this tree." And he scrambled up a tall tree nearby.
He peeped through the leaves and saw the third friend bringing the lion back to life. He heard the lion, hungry after a long nap, wake up roaring. Then he saw the powerful animal pounce on one clever man after the other. By the time the lion had finished his meal, there was a new pile of bones on the forest floor.
Why didn't the three men leave the dead lion alone? Now the man-eater would roam the forest in search of more victims! Why didn't they listen to their friend's good advice?
Nishad asked himself these questions again and again, but he could not think of any answers. And he was also getting very sleepy, with the story and the questions going round and round in his head . . .
Then Nishad had a very strange dream.
The lion-makers in his dream had left the yellow-story book and become real people. They now reminded him of some people his father and mother read about in the newspapers. He had seen his parents shaking their heads sadly then, like the man on the tree.
In his dream, Nishad saw an old stone pillar. It was smooth and beautiful, and it stood right in the middle of the town near the big meeting hall. The pillar (it seemed to Nishad in the dream) had been there as long as he could remember; as long as his parents could remember; and as long as their parents could remember . . .
Some people said the pillar was first a rock, with some writing on it. More and more people carved messages and all kinds of things on the rock. Then as the years went by, the rock became a proud, tall pillar. This was what some people now said. All they new for sure was that by the time the town began to grow, and look like it did now, the pillar was there. It was as if the town grew around it.
As Nishad came nearer (floating in the surprising way of dreams) he heard, then saw, a big noisy crowd around the pillar.
Nishad looked around him and saw many familiar faces. His parents, his teachers, his friends, the old couple next door. The tailor down the street and the shopkeeper. All of them looked puzzled and angry.
They were listening to two men and a woman who stood in front of the pillar, shouting. Even before Nishad could hear what they were saying, he saw that their faces were not like those of his friends and neighbours. These shouting faces were all twisted with anger.
Then he heard what one of them was saying: "This pillar should nor be here. Our leader has done so much for all of you, and we want to put up his statue right here in the middle of town. Who knows why this pillar was put here? And anyway it was built by someone from a town a hundred miles away, hundreds of years ago."
"Pull it down!" shouted the woman. "Take it away!"
"Listen to us. . . . We are your leaders," the other man said softly. Nishad looked at him. There was a greedy look in his eyes as he threw his arms before him, as if he was grabbing the air.
The shouting went on and on. Their faces grew more and more angry. And Nishad felt this horrible anger pouncing on one body after another.
"Break it down!" the shopkeeper shouted with them.
"No! It's been there as long as we have lived!" said the tailor, holding back the shopkeeper.
And as if they had not always lived one next to the other, the townspeople began to shout, argue and fight.
A stone flew past their heads and landed at the foot of the pillar.
Then they froze. They looked at the stone, at each other, and at the pillar. They stood still, as if in shock. As if they had come face to face with a big, fierce, man-eating lion.
Nishad gasped and woke up. He heard his mother calling him in the next room.
He got up, rubbed his eyes, then picked up the book and put it back on the shelf. Then he said to himself: "Oh I do hope there was fool or two somewhere in the dream! Lots of wonderful. Brotherly, simple fools!"