1- How the little deer was Named
2- The First Spoken words
3- The First Friend
4- The First Knowledge of a Human Being
5- The First Adventure
6- The First Lesson
7- The First Unpleasant Experience(needs a picture)
8- The First Sharing
9- The First Music Session
10- The First Dance
11- The First Migration
12- Nayantara’s Wish Fulfillment
A synoptic view
This is a series of short stories about a little deer – Nayantara. This series is designed to reveal to the primary school aged child, the harmony and beauty between the animal world and the world of nature.
Children are helped to accept experiences in life – the pleasant and the unpleasant, by observing events and happenings around them. Frequently, their minds keep puzzling about incidents they do not understand. Adults, unless sensitive, are often unaware, and are surprised by the ‘unexpected’ questions from the child, when he wants to know the ‘”why”’ about the world around him. Pleasant events, like the delight of watching a plant grow from a seed to a seedling to a sturdy plant; little kittens wobbling on unsteady legs to naughty frisking. Unpleasant things, like the sudden clap of thunder and inward fear; the rise of parents’ quarreling voices and the bewilderment about them. It is through observing the calmness and the fury of nature, the accord and the discord in the animal and natural world, that helps children adapt to the changing events with amazing ability.
Nayantara stories tell of such pleasant and unpleasant events she experiences, her feelings, her oneness with the natural world, so that the child reading them is able to enter into the gentle world of Nayantara, and to follow her through her “first experiences”, as if living in her world itself. The stories are written in a simple descriptive animated fashion to open up scenes of this natural world of delightful fantasy to the reading child.
HOW THE LITTLE DEER WAS NAMED
Once upon a time, there was a far away forest. Early in the morning, the sun would try cheerfully to fall in golden streaks through the fresh green leaves of the trees. Every morning, the old forest, looked forward to stretching the lazy arms of his trees, and catching the warmth and light of the friendly sun.
There were trees that were old and wrinkled, and had grown stout with age, and trees that were young and slender and stood up as tall as they could. As the sun rose bright and strong, and chased away the misty shadows, the dewdrops balanced themselves on pearly leaves hesitatingly, and with every whisper of the breeze they would run off to the edge and fall onto the moist, brown earth.
Here and there, on the ground, insects, both large and small, woke up, sleepily swishing their whiskers this way and that. Ants, tiny and large, hurried about busy getting their families ready for the hard day’s work. Up on the branch of a tree which could not be seen, a bird called “coo-coo”. It was the cuckoo, calling its summer call — “get up you lazy heads, soon it will be too hot except to curl up and close your sleepy eyes. Hurry, hurry, there’s the day’s work to be done.”
In the cool shelter of the forest, where the trees seemed to be bent close as if sharing a secret, there came a slight rustling sound of leaves, and from under a pile of golden brown leaves peeped a pair of gentle eyes, large and wondering. Two little legs stood up, and with a quick bount of tiny feet, a little deer shot out of the leaves, like a streak of warm golden lightning. The little animal stood for a while, as if it were thinking of balancing on one foot and had not yet made up its mind. A thin shaft of light came in shyly from the curtained leaves, and fell fully on the wide honey eyes of the deer.
And if you looked closer and closer into those eyes, it was like gazing into a deep-deep pool of cool velvety water, with rippling lines .There was such a stillness and calmness, as if nothing could upset it, just like the sea, when the storm refuse to play with it. The kindly sun looked through its rays, and saw the wistful eyes and said, “Little deer, how timid and gentle you are, and because I can see you through your eyes, I shall call you ‘Nayan’ (eyes).”
The little deer looked up trembling, at the fierce but kind voice of the sun, and said nothing, but trembled a little more. And the sun’s rays stroked its brown spotted back till it shone with flashes of gold. Yet still the eyes seemed thoughtful. Then the little deer saw its mother and her older brother and sister go striding by with long swaying loops and with a quick whisk of its hooves, it joined them on their day’s adventure.
It was dusk. The sun gave a tired yawn, that showed its face, all rosy and warm. It curled up to sleep in the lap of the day, as a child would in its mother’s fold. Then the night awoke and raised her lazy arms over the forest leaves, and covered the also sleepy forest, with its soft light veils, and sighed and hushed the sun to sleep.
In the far nook ‘Nayan’ crept closer to her mother to feel her warm and loving, and looked into the dark of the night, matching its coolness , with the velvet in her eyes, wondering about the sun and his kindness. She rose and walked softly to the spot where the sun had called her ‘Nayan’, and stood with head bent, thinking the thoughts of the morning.
Suddenly, she felt a light hand on her head, and when she raised her eyes, startled and wide, the moon leaned far out of the night and traced a pool of silver around the feet of the little deer, and said, softly… so softly, ‘My friend, the sun, has given you his light and called you ‘Nayan’, so that through the windows of your eyes the world may look into you and know you. But your wistfulness make the world sad, and since I have no power to send it away, at least I can give you my radiance, so that the light of joy and the glow of tenderness can shine side by side. So I shall call you ‘Tara’ (star).
And so from that day onwards, the little deer was called “Nayantara”. When she smiled at her friend, the sun, she thought of the gentle moon, and when she looked up shyly at the moon, she though of the kindly sun. When she was happy and smiled with a joy in her eyes, there was a hint of hesitation, and when her eyes shimmered with hurt, there was still a sparkle of hope. Now was’nt that a pretty name….. to be called “starry-eyed”
THE FIRST SPOKEN WORDS
The far away forest in which Nayantara was getting a little bored with nothing to do, all the trees were quiet throbbing in the heat of the fierce sun. It seemed as if the sun was not in a very good mood, and was shining with all his might in a fierce fashion.
The far away forest had heard from his friend, the broad lazy river, who was his neighbor, that the sun and the rain clouds had had an argument. The leader of the rain clouds had pleaded with the sun to allow them to come over the forest and give it a drink of rain water, for the foresee looked so tired and thirsty. The sun thought it below his dignity to hide behind the clouds, at least, not as yet. He said that the summer season was not yet over and that the rain clouds had come too early.
In vain the leader of the rain clouds pleaded, the sun would not give in. And so all the time, the army of the rain clouds kept getting bigger and bigger, and looked more and more angry darkly at the sun, as they banked against the horizon. The broad lazy river wished the sun would yield, for his river bed was dry and sandy; while the far away forest wished that the sun would not be so stubborn. The leader of the trees, the leader of the brooks, and the leader of the animals had requested the forest to invite the rain clouds, as soon as possible as they were thirsty and hot. So everyone waited: the river, the far away forest, the rain clouds, the trees, the brooks and the animals, for the fierce sun to change his mind.
Tucked away in the nook, Nayantara sat with her father, mother, brother and sister, waiting quietly as did the other animals. Nayantara was so hot that she hung her little tongue out and panted like the rest of the family, and her little nose was hot and dry. She got up listlessly and went to the little shallow brook, which now had only small puddles of stagnant water to offer the thirsty animals. She nudged a round little rock that stood in the bed of the brook hoping to find a little hollow of fresh cool water under it, but to her surprise she found a big bony toad looking up at her from its beady eyes. He was disturbed from his drowsy nap in the shelter of the little rock, and squinted angrily at this intruder.
When it saw the gentle brown eyes of the Nayantara looking at him in faint puzzlement, it became less angry and said with a gruff croak.
“Now, isn’t it enough that I am trying to bear this heat as patiently as I can, without your stumbling in and making it more unbearable?”
Nayantara looked at him with eyes filled with pain that seemed to say, “I’m sorry I did not know that you were resting. I would not have disturbed you for anything if I had known.”
And so the toad who had lived many years in the forest, and had a great deal of experience, saw through Nayantara’s eyes that she was really sorry, and so to hide his previous anger, he stretched his leathery spotted skin and yawned and said grudgingly, “Alright, I forgive you, you didn’t know”.
Since he had nothing else to do, he thought he would come and give the little deer some fresh cool water.”
Nayantara looked wishful and nodded her head shyly, “Well”, said the toad, a little more livelier, “I for one would like to have a nice mushy puddle and water weeds in which to soak and splash about. I wish the sun would give in, I know he has to some time or the other” and with this wise saying he promptly burrowed under the rock again, his flat webbed feet disappearing under the shade.
Nayantara looked very thoughtful and wished she could help the big wise toad. He certainly could have been angrier with her, but he was kind, inspite of his gruff croak. She shook her head briskly, as if she had made up her mind about something, and trotted off to the clearing in the forest, look at the sky.
She looked up and for a moment was blinded by the fierce flash of the sun, and although she was quaking with excitement and fear, she continued looking bravely, till she could see the round rim of the sun and his angry face.
Now, the sun was also tired of this game of holding out. Actually, these were all his dear friends: the far away forest, the lazy river, the trees and animals. The real reason why he did not want to leave off shining, even for a short while, was because he would be very lonely behind the rain clouds. But still he could not really be mean. He knew his friends were thirsty, and wanted once again the moistness of the earth, and the springy grass beneath their feet, so he was looking around for some excuse to give in, but he did not want to do it on his own. He was a proud and sensitive sun, and did not want to be laughed at for being called a weak-minded sun.
So, when it looked down into Nayantara’s frightened but bravely shining eyes, it shone a little less fiercely and said kindly, “Well, little Nayantara, do you want to tell me something.” And, Nayantara could only shake her head silently. “Speak up little one,” said the sun, not because he did not understand the pleading in her eyes, but that he wanted the listening forest to hear her request; so that when he gave in, he could say that he was too kind to bear the suffering in the little deer’s eyes, and it was only because he was a generous and considerate sun, that he would give in.
Then Nayantara knew that much depended upon her speaking, and she trembled as she tried to overcome her shyness to open her mouth and say a few words. She had always spoken to her family with her eyes alone. In fact, when she wanted to ask for or say something, she had only to look at them, and they knew her thoughts. This time she had to speak, so lifting up her head with timid eyes, she pawed the earth with her little hoof as to stand up more straight, and said looking full into the sun’s face. “…. Please oh please, let it rain…..”
And with the first musical note from Nayantara, the tinkling echo seemed to spin slowly around, like rippling circles in a pond, and then with increasing strength it seemed to fill the whole forest with its gentle music “please… oh, please … let it rain.” The river heard it and shuffled its bed-sand briskly, as if in preparation for the rain. The forest heard it too and immediately, the trees became alert and watchful, the animals tiredly snoozing in the shadows perked up their ears and looked at the sky excitedly, and the old toad scurried out of the shade of the rock, and waited grinning wisely, for it knew who had first started the echo.
Almost like magic, the sun’s heart melted. It seemed to bow gracefully to the leader of the clouds, as if granting it permission in a lordly fashion. It thought secretly “Thank God that the little deer asked me, and everybody has heard. I could not bear the anger of my friends any longer.”
The leader with a wave of friendliness sent out a refreshing breeze to say “Thank you”, and straightaway flew across the sky with its band of followers. The sun retreated charmingly, and with the first shower of gentle rain, everything seemed to come alive; the river, the forest, the gleeful animals, scampering in the rain. The toad hopped around madly croaking with delight, but suddenly, it remembered and stopped and thought “where was the little deer?”, and even before he realized it there was Nayantara, standing shyly besides him, and smiling with her eyes.
The toad understood, and so she trotted and he hopped besides her to the clearing in the forest, and they lifted up their rain-glistening faces to the sky: his face aged and leathery, hers fresh and furry: the old and the young together in joy. The sun peeped now and again through the curtain of the friendly clouds, and was glad that his world was happy again.
* * *
THE FIRST FRIEND
One day, the far away forest was feeling a little tired, and so it yawned and stretched out its arms. Now when the forest wanted to stretch its out arms, the trees had to do the same whether they liked it or not. So each tree, little or big, shook themselves, flung out their branches and rustled their leaves. The leaves liked rustling themselves. It gave them a chance to dance with the sun and the shade. They shimmered and shone and darkened and glowed, and had such a good time.
While the branches shook and the trees rustled, Nayantara looked up curiously, as an old tree shook down its little nuts, till they rolled and bounced all over the ground, some green and juicy, others ripe and golden brown, and still others old and wrinkled. The old ones fell more quickly, as they were tired of holding on to the branches for so long. The leaves made a swish- swish sound, and the berries fell pitter patter all around. One fell pop! On top of Nayantara’s head. At first she was startled, but then scampered about playing a game of hide and seeks with the berries as they fell, now on her head and now on her shiny gloss back.
“Chirrup… chirrup … chirrup….” said an angry voice. Nayantara stopped bewildered and looked around, sometimes the voice came from the tree top, sometimes from its base, a ‘chirrup’ here and a ‘chirrup’ there. At last Nayantara discovered the owner; a tiny little squirrel standing on its hind legs, at the foot of the tree and pawing the air with its forelegs. Nayantara looked in astonishment: a strange little creature, with a white strip on its grey back, no bigger than a field mouse, a bushy tail swishing up and down, and two small darting brown eyes that were now very furious indeed.
“Chirrup… chirrup, you clumsy big animal”, said the squirrel looking very severe with its arms folded sternly across its chest. “Don’t you know what you are doing; you are ruining all my store of food, for the next month. Every time you bring your big hooves down, you trample my breakfast, lunch and dinner.” He stopped breathless, but still looked very angry.
“I am really very sorry”, said Nayantara, looking at the squashed and crushed berries… I did not know…”
“Yes, that’s all you know, if only you big ones would have some consideration for the little ones, the world would be a much happier place to live in… for us at least….”
Now Nayantara wanted to do something for the angry little squirrel to show him that she was really very sorry, and so she said, a little hesitantly, “May be we can collect together, those which are really not squashed.”
“How stupid can you be”, said the squirrel, jumping up and down.”
“How do you know which are the ones I like – green, brown, orange or red — there are all kinds. Besides, how would you pick them up; I have my paws while you have those terrible hooves’. He sniffed with his little nostrils twitching… “That’s a fine way to help me.”
Nayantara looked down guiltily and sighed and said, “Yes, I think you are right, but all the same I wish I could.”
The little squirrel having had his say relented a little, and ran up a tree limb the better to look down upon the sorry Nayantara. It made him feel quite big. He suddenly twirled around and hung by his tail, swinging back and forth, and said in a very condescending manner.
“Well … may be you can, you see even though I am very quick to catch the slightest movement, I am very little. I’m afraid a big animal like you might pounce upon me when I’m not looking while I’m collecting nuts.”
And truly, the little squirrel’s ears pricked up at the slightest crush of twigs under Nayantara’s hooves, while his little eyes darted hither and thither. “So, you see,”, the squirrel continued in a more friendly manner, “you can keep guard over me, while I get through my work, and let me known in time if a big animal is approaching, so that I can scurry back into shelter. But mind you, keep still, otherwise I will not be able to hear.”
The little squirrel quite forgot that big animals can be seen and not only heard. So while he was busy rushing up and down, Nayantara stood patiently by. At times she became a little tired, and wished she could rest on one foot while standing on the other. At one point a little beetle came right on to the tip of her nose, and all she could do was to look at it in a cross-eyed fashion, for she did not dare even to flick an ear, for fear of disturbing the hushed peace that was all around. The trees wishing to help, stopped the waving of their branches, and also looked down in still silence.
Nayantara did not know whether she just felt it, or whether it was because of the frightening silence, but when the beetle dropped of her nose, and she looked away thankfully, that she saw a flash of silver black in the branch above the little squirrel’s storehouse, and there in the quietness, a huge slithery snake inched close and closer, so silently that it did not seem to move at all. For a moment, Nayantara let out as short sharp breath so loud that the squirrel nearly jumped out of his skin, as he busied himself over the hole in the tree trunk. He glanced at Nayantara questioningly and at the alarm in her eyes, he instinctively glanced up and saw the wicked gleaming eyes of a cobra.
Now it is well-known that a little animal which looks into the eyes of a snake become hypnotized, and that is just what happened to the little squirrel, whose gaze was caught by the cobra’s horrible fascinating gleaming eyes and he could not move a limb much as he wanted to. Nayantara felt that there was something wrong. The helpless little animal seemed to be waiting to be eaten by that ugly looking snake. She did the first thing that came to her mind. With a bound as quick as lightening she leaped and kicked the little squirrel out of the path of the wicked snake. She hoped that he was not much hurt, for she tired to kick him as gently as possible.
It happened so quickly, that even the snake whose body was becoming tensed and ugly for the spring on the squirrel was taken aback. In a second the squirrel who quivered in the air with the force of the kick, quickly recovered his balance, turned a somersault and fled into an unused squirrel hole. The snake hissed and looked around with a sense of bewilderment, at the quick turn of events. Gone was his prey, and gone was the flashing hoof that had appeared before him, while he was intent upon the squirrel… For Nayantara, sensing that the danger could spread to her, sprinted a safe distance away, in frightened excitement. The snake shook its head in a swaying fashion, and drew in its hood. “Well,” it thought, “There are still other unsuspecting squirrels somewhere else”, and so he slithered and shimmered down the trunk, across the berries to another part of the forest.
When the squirrel smelled the danger fading away, and when Nayantara could no longer see the silver glitter of the snake, from behind the tree where she had stood so still, the squirrel poked its head out cautiously and met Nayantara’s eyes. It cam out on tip-toe, and then pranced in glee towards Nayantara.
“Well…well….” he said using his favorite words. “You certainly are a good protector; I shudder to think what my fate would have been, if you were not here. Not to say that my back is not sore — it is you know”, ruffling up his tail, “but then I am really very strong, and can take a gentle kick sometimes, especially if it is for my own good …that is. So now, I must say, than you.”
So the little squirrel stood on its hind paws, and put out a little fore paw in a very dignified manner, as if to shake hands. Of course, Nayantara did not know how to shake hands with a hoof, so she did the next best thing. She came closer to the little squirrel, and nuzzled its paw with her wet nose, and said, “I really should have seen the snake, but it was like this…. There was a battle on…”
“Never mind, never mind,” said the squirrel interrupting her with a wise nod of his head, “why should you bother to explain, the important thing is that when you knew, you used your head and did your best for me, that is all that matters.”
There was an understanding silence between the two, as if there was no need for words, and the trees sensing this understanding, gently shook their leaves in applause. The squirrel blinked at Nayantara, and Nayantara smiled with her eyes that had the radiance of the sun in them. “Now, we must go about our work”, said the squirrel busily, thinking that he was really getting too sentimental.
“Look here, how it would be, if I ran up the tree, and scouted for a bunch of nice green grass for you. Would you like that?”
Nayantara nodded shyly, for she knew that this was a simple offer of friendship — given without fuss, but with quiet concern.
And to this day, they are the best of friends. The trees became accustomed to seeing the dainty deer, mincing along the forest path, stopping with her ear to the ground from time to time, as if to listen to earthly sounds, but in reality listening to the chirrup talk of her friend: the squirrel. And they often took turns watching while Nayantara contentedly munched at sweet grassy patches, the little squirrel perched upon her glossy back, kept a sharp look out, and when the berry trees pattered down their ripe fruit on the forest floor, Nayantara kept a loving watch over the busy scurrying activities of her friend, the little squirrel.
THE FIRST KNOWLEDGE OF A HUMAN BEING
Nayantara stood at the end of the stream, which made little bubbling noises, as it slipped around and about the mossy stones in its busy way. Here it was cool and quiet. It was summer but still the silver stream bubbled along bravely, as if to say, “You cannot stop me, no matter how weak I became. When the rains come I shall be a raging torrent, just you see.”
Nayantara perked up her ears, as if she were actually hearing these words, but the stream only went, “bubble gurgle sssh”, and again “bubble gurgle sssh”. One or two bold little fish turned somersaults, their little bodies shimmered as they flashed back into the stream. The flame of the forest that stood over the stream, sent a flaming red petal twisting down, right on the top of Nayantara’s nose, which made it twitch and tickle until she had to make a loud “stishoo”. It caused a flutter of wings in the trees above, and a wondering voice said from all the confusion of red gold and green of the branches, “Imagine that! … a real deer with a real sneeze!”
Nayantara looked up but could see nothing, except the light of the sun dancing through the flowers, which dazzled the little deer. She said softly, “Hello there…. who are you?”
Almost before she finished, there was again the flutter of wings, and a bright green parrot with a cheeky pointed red beak stared at her solemnly as it sat swaying on a branch that almost reached her nose. Nayantara laughed as the saucy little bird, cocked its head this way, and that, still staring at her solemnly. The parrot said, “I do declare this deep also laughs … strange indeed.”
At which Nayantara laughed so much that she had to slide to the ground, her sides were hurting with so much laugher. Not only was this bird a joking bird, it was also pretty except for his strange little beak.
She had seen crows, bottle birds, kingfishers, mynas and, yes, horrid looking vultures, but had never seen such a sprucely dressed bird, all in green and red spots. “Well,” said Nayantara, when she has finally stopped laughing and gasping as tears of laughter trickled down, “whoever heard a bird like you talk”.
The parrot became quite indignant and strutted up and down the swaying branch and said, “Well, we parrots can talk like human beings do.”
“What is human being”, another type of bird?” asked Nayantara.
“Oh, no- no” said the parrot, “its something like you animals.”
He looked up and down the deer speculatively, and said nodding his head every time he made a tally.
“Its got two ears like yours, a nose not so flat and shiny like yours, two eyes,” he said almost reluctantly, “not so pretty and soft like yours, and yes, fur, only in some places, two straight lines above the eyes, and a lot on the head too much in fact, two long legs, not four like yours, the other two are somewhere at the top and they are called hands.”
Nayantara stretched out her forelegs and looked at them puzzled, “How can they be near the top. Do they grow from the head?”
“No, you silly dear deer”, said the parrot, growing fond of her every minute, glad that he now could teach her what those silly human beings in the farmhouses near the forest . where these odd looking ugly human beings were trying to teach others like him whom they had captured how to speak their strange language. And what was worse they locked up his mates in cages making strange noises giving them peanuts, every time they made a noise like them. He could have taught them many noises, which he was sure they couldn’t repeat, but he did not want to waste time on them he did not want to get near them at all. They were cruel creatures. If the only way to get his food was to make noises they liked then he would always forget about their funny noises, and make noises of his own liking. But now to business on hand; to teach this very willing pupil.
“Human beings have five paws at the end of each front leg. They spread them out, and put them down quickly. He wondered why they made such a fuss hat his captured friends should pickup things around these human beings and clap their front paws and make funny laughing noises”
“But how”, protested Nayantara, “I just cannot understand, it’s not possible.”
“It is. Look, I will show you how, stand near this tree trunk.” Nayantara stood up and trotted dutifully towards the tree. “Alright, now put your front paws on the tree at the slant, now lift them upwards.”
Nayantara tried valiantly, but could only put one hoof up at a time. One time, she tried both, but lost her balance and rolled over the grassy bump. The parrot made clucking noises and said, “You will never know how, now.”
‘Well,” said Nayantara, sitting up and looking a trifle upset that the little parrot had made her look so foolish. “I don’t have to do a thing in order to understand it. Do I?”
“I guess, you are right,” said the parrot hopping up close to her, and fluffing his feathers with his beak, also at a loss for words that could explain how a human being walked with one set of paws and could use the other two to put food in their mouths. Suddenly there was a chirp- chirp- chirp from the rotting log across the stream, and a little squirrel stood up on its hind legs and said, “Goodness gracious me! Why are you looking so solemn, Nayantara?”
Now the little squirrel was the one which Nayantara had saved from being swallowed up by a snake and ever since then was her little friend. He sometimes went to sleep between her paws while she was sitting and gazing across the horizon, or just pranced up and down her back in fun.
“Well, its this”said the parrot hopping up between Nayantara and the squirrel, so that his importance was not lessened in front of this little mew creature. “I was only trying to tell her how a human being looked like, these creatures, we call men.” “Oh,” said the squirrel, sitting up on its hind legs and scratching his head with one paw, “I would like to know that”.
The parrot suddenly looked at the squirrel intently and shouted excitedly.” “Stop! Just like that, don’t move.”
The squirrel was so startled that it dropped onto his four paws ready to scurry off; He was always frightened of sudden noises.
“Now, you have spoilt it”, said the parrot scowling.
“Well, how you do shout”, said the squirrel trying to maintain his dignity.
“We try not to shout in the forest, it only tells the big animals where the little ones are, and it’s not good for us you know.”
“Oh, alright”, said the parrot, who was always trying to manage others.
“Do it again”.
“Easy”, said the squirrel, and went back to the same pose of scratching his head,
“Not that way”, said the parrot, “That is what a human being does when he wants to think hard Just hold your front paws sideways.”
The little squirrel did just that, though he kept swaying a little while trying to look confident. The parrot turned to Nayantara and said triumphantly, “Well, that is how a man stands. Stands with two paws on the ground and two hanging by his side”.
“How does he walk”, asked Nayantara. “Does it have to put down all the four paws to walk?”
“Well, no,” said the parrot, “He walks like I do, one paw — I mean first, and then the other after”, and he proceeded in a very upright position to put one foot forward and then the another.
“Can I get back to all my four paws?”, asked the little squirrel, whom the parrot had quite forgotten in his eagerness, to show off “Yes, yes, please do”, said the parrot absent-mindedly, as he counted and repeated “one foot forward, left and then right, left and then right”. The squirrel darted up to Nayantara and they both looked at each other, amused but dare not laugh for fear of angering their little green teacher, who was so much in earnest.
Nayantara suddenly had an idea. She bounded up to the parrot who stopped striding, and the squirrel stood up on its hind legs, while Nayantara said excitedly, “I know now what a human being looks like”.
With a lot of fur on its head, it stands up like the little squirrel. The squirrel clapped its paws and the parrot preened his feathers hiding a smile as if the solution had been found at last. He was the only one who knew that was not exactly how a human being looked like, but what did it matter in this great old far away forest.
* * *
THE FIRST ADVENTURE
The far away forest was in a deep- deep valley between two hills which formed part of a range of mountains. The mountains went up and down against the skyline. They had curves and slopes so dangerous and yet so temping for all types of fleet footed animals, not the least among them the deer. Deer are fast moving sure footed animals like the mountain goat. and yes the dreaded large sleek black cats called panthers and the spotted yellow and black flecked cheetahs. The panthers and cheetahs had yellow gleaming eyes that glittered in the dark, which was the time they like to prowl about and pounce upon unsuspecting goats and deer. During the day they hid in caves among the rocks of the mountain side. They stayed away from lions as if by understanding. Their abode was hills and mountains. The lions prowled along the forest and the plains.
These were the stories that grandfather deer would talk about, as his herd gathered about in groups in a safe part of the wood. This was the time of the evening that Nayantara liked best, as she listened with fascination; and the evening grew darker and darker. The sun which seemed to stay in the sky forever during the day, caste a pink glow, and lit up the edges of the clouds with pearly pink shades, which sat on the rim of horizon. But this lasted only for a few miraculous minutes.
When the sun disappeared bit by bit behind the edge of the world, its pink face blushing and rosy, as if it had a nice scrub by the evening air before going to bed, it dipped suddenly, and soon the light was gone. The birds clustered together in groups on trees chattering away, all eager to talk about the day’s events and no one listening to the other. They swooped in circles like ballet dancers, and sat upon favorite trees. The crickets began their chirp- chirp; and here and there was the thud splash as a crocodile clumsily fell into the swampy pool. So there was a hush, the night air was cool and lulled everybody to sleep with a soft caressing lullaby.
But ever so often, when Nayantara was awake earlier than the others, she would trot off to the forest’s edge and look up at the mountain and long to be at the top. She could then reach further up the sky, and be closer to the sun when it set, and may be the moon when it disappeared in the sun’s morning rays. May be some-day!
One morning when she was looking up, and saw the sun rise all rosy, and sleepy eyed, and she said a shy hello to it; The sun said, “Well my little Nayan, and how are you this morning?”
“Very well”, she said wistfully with a little something more unsaid in her eyes. The sun seemed to sense this and said, “Do you want to say something more, little one.”
She shook her head hesitantly, and then said suddenly, “I wish I could see you a little closer up.”
The sun smiled and said wisely, “I will always look the same, no matter how far I am.”
He did not want to say anything more, how burning hot he could be if things and creatures got closer to him. She wouldn’t understand, it was too complicated. So he hid behind a cloud for he did not want to get into a lengthy explanation any way. Nayantara sighed and walked back to where the rest of the family was stirring. Suddenly she heard a “squeak- squeak”, and there before her eyes on a branch level with her sight alighted a large bird with a long curved beak, bright staring eyes, and a huge flutter of very huge wings.
“Well, .. well,” it said “Fancy a leggy creature like you talking with the mighty sun. So you want to get closer to it”, it said fluttering up and down with a rush of wings, up and above, low and about; till she couldn’t follow it with her eyes. It was here, it was there, it was everywhere. Slowly and majestically, it settled on a branch above her eyes, till she had to squint up to see that it was really there “Oh, Oh”, she said “You do move about so, can’t you stay still?. By the way who are you?”
The flying creature said slowly and haughtily, “Well I’m settled now. I’ll have you know that I am the mighty eagle. I can fly higher than any other flying creatures. I have my nest on the highest top of that mountain”, it said pointing its curved beak as high as it could to the sky. “Yes, I do”, it said regally, as it saw Nayantara’s eyes widen with astonishment.
“You don’t believe me I could show you, yes I could, provided…?”
“Provided what?”, asked Nayantara excitedly.
“Provided”, it continued almost as if it did not hear Nayantara’s interruption, “you follow my instructions exactly and follow me…”.
“Follow you… where?”, asked Nayantara.
“Well”, said the eagle, “I’ll show you the way up the mountain and you follow me.”
“But, where up the mountain”, asked Nayantara, her words tumbling out, excitedly.
“Yes, yes”, said the eagle walking up the branch close to her ear, “you follow the path I show you, and who knows”, it said cunningly, “you may come as close as possible to your friend the sun. Wouldn’t you like that.”
“Yes, I would, I would”, said Nayantara excitedly, forgetting for the moment that the mountain was the home of those frightful animals her grandfather spoke about.
“Well, then let’s set about it”, said the eagle now getting as excited as the deer, as he was tired of flying around looking for squirrels and little birds to take to his nest the “ Erie”.
Now Nayantara had a secret yearning for adventure; she wanted to go badly, to look down and see the far away forest from the top, to look at the world from a height, to be close to her friend the sun, and to feel the exaltation of being at the top of a mountain. So she said impulsively, “Oh, alright”, if you promise to protect me from the mountain cheetah if its near”.
“Of course, of course”, said the eagle soothingly, not knowing how he would do it, but wondering how he would be able to think of something, if he had to.
This was a great change talking to a four legged harmless creature with soft trusting eyes. He preened himself. He had to be more responsible if he was to protect this little deer, which he was growing fond of every minute. “We shall go now”, he said firmly.
“Now”, said Nayantara taken aback, “But, .. but I shall have to tell my mother.. I don’t know when we shall come back, and she will be anxious if she finds me missing and and….”
“Look”, said the eagle getting more interested in the prospect of the adventure. “What’s the use, she’ll only say no; besides she doesn’t know me; she may not trust you with me. I say if you don’t want to go just say so. I have other work to do…”.
“No, no”, interrupted Nayantara, “I will go,.. I mean I’ll come… it’s just that.”
“What’s the fun of telling everyone about a secret adventure”, said the eagle tossing his head. “No, no”, it will spoil the fun… come.”
So, guess what happened… There was Nayantara, thrilled, and yes a little frightened setting up the mountain with brisk bounds, while the eagle flew a little way at a time in front of her, cawing and creating such a ruckus, causing squirrels to scurry into the tree hollows, and scattering the little birds into safer places when they heard his loud and ear-wracking squeaks and screams.
Past thickest and bramble, past bush and thorn, past boulders and rocks they went; Nayantara sure footed and thrilled, the eagle protective and anxious. The air was getting cooler as they went. The sun shone and looked disapprovingly at this escapade; but he promised himself he would say and do nothing. The little deer must learn sometime, and all experiences good and bad would make her more grown up, he said to himself. Of course, being the kindly sun he was, he could see that she was safe along the path the eagle was taking her. He made sure of this, as the mountain cheetah was away on the other side, and the wind was not blowing in its direction, otherwise it would have sniffed her scent, and would have prowled after her.
For Nayantara, it was the most breathless adventure she ever had. There was no following the adults, she was free to find her way scrambling and slipping, her fur was covered with burr, her little horns has loops of vine straggling from them, her hooves were scratched by thorn bushes, but she did not mind at all. The feeling of getting to the top soon spurred her on and on; the eagle fluttering and squeaking, made sure no dangerous animal was in her path. He was also caught up with the adventurous spirit with Nayantara. The trees were now taller, pine and spruce and large and juniper; all ever green; there were pine-corns scattered over the ground, and the birds that lived high up on the mountain, the thrush and the robin peered from their nooks at the strange bounding creature hobnobbing with the dreaded eagle.
At last the pair came round a bend and in the nestle of a rounded rock, there was the eagle’s home. The eagle fluttered excitedly and perched on the top looking down into the nest. Nayantara forgot to do likewise. She could only stand spell-bound and look and look instead all around her. The beauty made her gasp. She had never seen anything like this before! There below. her at the foot of the mountain was the far away forest. Living among its trees and streams, she never thought it looked so beautiful from the top.
Yes, the forest did look different top down; and yet it was the far-away forest that protected and cared for its trees, its streams and all manner of living creatures and animals. It looked like a carpet pile, a carpet of shades of tufted green, yellow green, apple green, lime green, blue green, dark green, black green, all greens touched by yellow blue, and black. But it was so quite, as if it hushed all its living moving creatures within its greens; and showed the sky its ever-lastingness by the constant shimmer of a velvet carpet top.
Nayantara then realised that any one thing can look different from different sides. This was a glorious secret and she hugged the thought to herself with delight. Wait till she told her friends, the trees, the streams, the frog, the squirrel, the wider beast, and yes even that odious woodpecker. She suddenly came to from her thoughts with the voice of the eagle. “Well, my dear”, it said “so you are speechless with the beauty of the forest, that’s how I see it from here always, never changing, a little more black with the dry trees in summer, and a little more green with the rains, but never changing. You and I may change, but nature never does”, he said wisely shaking his head, his unblinking sharp eyes piercing from their depths.
Nayantara said nothing but let out an “Oh, oh… hum ha”, and dance about hopping on two feet, turning in circles, butting imaginary bushes. The eagle gave a joyful little shriek seeing her prancing about. The sun watching from a western horizon, smiled peering from the clouds. In her excitement, Nayantara had forgotten to look for him but that didn’t matter. The little daisies at Nayantara’s feet that had never seen a trotting gentle creature like her, shook their snowy heads with delight.
Soon all too soon, the eagle flitting in and out of its nest pretending to be busy, while Nayantara trotted around, gave up with a sigh, and said to her, “Well, I’ve brought you up, now I must take you down, before its dusk,— and before all those hateful creatures who gobble up little creatures start prowling around.”
Nayantara stopped immediately and quitened down. Yes it was time. As much as she would have liked to stay, there was a time to go, just as there was a time to be. She would carry with her down to the valley of the far-away forest as much of the picture as she could remember: the heady cool air, the carpeted forest top of so many beautiful greens, perhaps she could try to match the colors in the forest itself; she would tell her friends about the rocks, the daisies and yes her new friend, the eagle. She stood for a moment took in the whole picture of sky mountains and valley in one sweep, and then trotted down dutifully after the eagle, eager to get her home and fly back to his nest.
She was soon down at the base. It took quicker to get down, as there was nothing much to see on the way; and she was hurried on by the eagle.
The brother, father and grandfather were standing anxiously at the edge of the forest. They had missed her in the evening; each group thought she was with the other. Now they knew, and how angry they seemed! Before she could be scolded, Nayantara rushed to them, poured out her story about her adventure and introduced her new friend all in one lone long sentence. Grandfather heaved a sigh of relief and smiled. He remembered the pranks he was up to when young. Nayantara’s parents…….. now that was a different story. While t hey politely thanked the eagle and said goodbye, Nayantara’s mother’s eyes were steely with anger.
One can guess what happened…. Late at night a punished Nayantara was sent to bed without any food. Her brothers and sisters were forbidden to talk to her. Her parents avoided her in stony silence. But she had a secret… a secret which few deer had experienced. She was at the top of the world alone with the sky, the mountains and the far away forest in a beautiful picture in her mind, which she would treasure for the rest of her life… thanks to her new found friend, the eagle, whom she hoped to see again.. but yes… not for another such venture. She has promised her mother that. Soon the punishment would be forgotten, and things would go on…. What was that the eagle said? … “You and I will change, but nature never will”.
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