Oral Literature: The Monkey and the Crocodile

On the banks of the Ganges River, a monkey lived in a rose-apple tree. The rose-apples were delicious and plentiful.

While he was eating them with obvious relish one day, a crocodile came out of the river, and the monkey threw down a few rose-apples and said, “These are the best rose-apples in the world. They taste like nectar.”

The crocodile chomped on them and found them truly wonderful. The monkey and crocodile became friends, and the crocodile took to visiting the monkey every day to eat the fruit of that wonderful tree and to talk in its shade.

One day the crocodile went home and took some of the fruit to his wife. “These are wonderful. They taste like nectar. Where did you get them?” asked the wife. He said, “From a tree on the banks of the Ganges.”

“But you can’t climb the tree. Did you pick them up from the sands?” “No, I’ve a new friend who lives in the tree, a monkey. He throws them down for me and we talk.”

“Oh, that’s why you’ve been coming home late! A monkey that lives on such fruit must have such sweet flesh. His heart must taste like heaven. I’d love to eat it,” said the crocodile wife.

The crocodile didn’t like the turn the conversation was taking. “I how can you talk like that? He’s my friend! He’s like a brother-in-law to you.”

But the wife sulked and said, “I want his heart. Why are you so taken with this monkey? Is it a he or a she? Bring me his heart, or hers, which is even better. Or else I’ll starve myself to death.”

The crocodile tried his best to talk her out of her jealousy and ill-will, but he couldn’t. He agreed to bring the monkey home on his back for a meal, as it were.

Next day, he invited the monkey to go home with him. “My wife has heard so much about you. She loved the rose-apples. She wants you to come home with me. If you come down from the tree and sit on my back, I’ll take you there.”

The monkey said, “You are a crocodile and live in the water. I can’t even swim. I’ll drown and die.”

“Oh no, I’ll take you carefully on my back. We don’t live in the water. We live on a dry, sunny island in the middle of the river. Come with me. You’ll enjoy it.”

The monkey was persuaded and came down. He brought handfuls of rose-apples for the crocodile’s wife. As the crocodile swam through the river, he felt terribly guilty. His conscience wouldn’t allow him to take his friend home and let his wife make a meal of his heart, without at least telling him what he was doing. So he said, “I haven’t been quite straight with you. My wife sent me today to bring you home because she wants to eat your heart. That’s what she wants, and I couldn’t go against her wishes.”

“Oh, is that what she wants? My heart! Why didn’t you tell me this before? I would have been happy to bring it down and give it to your wife,” said the monkey.

“What do you mean?” asked the crocodile. “I don’t carry my heart around with me. I usually leave it in the tree when I come down. Let’s go back and I’ll give it to you.”

The crocodile turned around and swam back to the bank. The monkey quickly jumped off his back and clambered up the tree to safety.

(Folktale from India)

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