Once upon a time, there was a shepherd who owned a hundred sheep. He used to take them all grazing to a nearby forest every day. There was tasty grass, many delicious shrubs and plenty of dry leaves in the dense forest and the goats were able to graze for a long time. The shepherd took the goats to the forest around 10 O’clock in the morning and allowed them to graze till 4 in the afternoon.
One day, it began to rain very heavily in the afternoon. There were thick and dark clouds and it looked as if night had already crept in on the world. Even before the shepherd could drive the goats back home, they began to run homeward. But not all of them could return. The lame one, him with the flowing beard, limped and could only move slowly. Therefore, it could not clear out of the forest along with the other goats.
As it was very dark, the poor goat lost its way and meandered in the forest. The harder it tried, the deeper it got into the forest. As it was raining heavily and dark, the shepherd was unable to get back to the forest in search the lame goat.
During the night, it was natural that the goat was scared. It had heard about there being many wild and dangerous animals like lions and tigers in the forest. There were also elephants, bears, monkeys, wolves and jackals. The poor goat was afraid a wild animal might attack it.
Around midnight, when rain had stopped, the goat heard some rustling sound. Just as it had feared, it saw a lion advancing towards it. The king of the jungle had smelt a goat even from a distance. It hoped to have it for its dinner, since the lioness in its pride had not returned from their hunt of the evening.
The goat was at its wits’ end. It began to tremble with fear. But soon it thought “What is the use of being afraid? The lion will definitely kill me. Instead of appearing to be afraid, why not pretend to be brave?”
When the lion was within earshot, the goat stood up and welcomed it.
“Come, my dear lion,” it said, “Come.”
It was clear the lion was not prepared for such a welcome. Never before had any animal welcomed it. They had all turned round and ran away as fast as they could. It thought “This goat appears to be different.”
The lion paused for a while and asked “Hey, goat! How is it that you are welcoming me? Are you not afraid that I would make a meal of you?”
“I am not like any other goat. You do not know about me,” the goat smiled.
“That’s true,” said the lion. “I have not come across a goat that addresses a lion or any other animal, for that matter. What is so wonderful about you?”
The goat said
Eka simham bakshayaami
The lion was surprised. “I cannot understand what you are saying! It is Greek and Latin to me. Explain what you mean.” The goat smiled. “It is the language of the Gods. Ajam ekam means I am a goat. I have only told you about myself. I have said I have eaten a hundred tigers so far.”
The lion was stunned. “What? You have eaten a hundred tigers!”
The goat smiled again. “That’s true. Not only that I have devoured 15 elephants, like young boys swallowing chocolates.”
The lion did not believe it. “Come on! You are a grass eater. Who will believe when you claim to have eaten a hundred tigers and 25 elephants?”
The goat was again afraid the lion might advance and kill it with one mighty blow. But it did not show its fear. “You do not believe me. Then come near me. Let me fulfill my wish.”
“Your wish? What’s it?”
“I have told you of my desire to eat a lion and then shave off this beard of mine. It is clear that you did not understand me. I have taken a vow to shave off the beard after feasting on a lion. Unfortunately, I haven’t come across a lion all these days. Obviously, the time has come for me to fulfill my vow. I am happy you have come. Please come so that my dream may come true. Come.”
The goat limped and took a step or two towards the lion. The king of the jungle turned its back and began to run for its life. Who would not be frightened of meeting an animal that had eaten a hundred tigers and 25 elephants?
The goat was relieved that it had saved itself by scaring away the lion, by using its brain. “I am glad I got out of the situation by thinking coolly. I would surely have lost my life had I shown that I was scared.”
What about the lion? It was also happy to escape the goat. It began to run farther and farther away from the goat.
After it had run for nearly half an hour, the lion saw a jackal coming in the opposite direction. The jackal saw the lion, too. When they came nearer to one another, the jackal saw how pale the lion’s face was. There was fear writ all over the king of the jungle. It could sense that something was wrong.
It stopped and greeted the lion. “O king of the jungle, why are you running so fast? You look frightened. Tell me what happened.”
The lion slowed down and warned the jackal. “Do not go that way. There is danger there.”
“Danger?” asked the jackal. “Of what danger could a lion be afraid of? Is there a man with a gun?”
“There is something more dangerous than a man with a gun. There is a terrible billy goat out there.”
“A goat? A billy goat? A goat can never pose a lion any danger. It is the goat that should be scared of seeing a lion.”
“You are talking about an ordinary goat. This one is terrible. It has already eaten a hundred tigers and 25 elephants. It wants to eat me and shave its beard off.”
“Ha, ha!” laughed the jackal. “O king of the jungle. Whoever has heard of a billy goat eating tigers and elephants? It cannot eat even a hare. It is obvious some silly billy goat has tricked you. Come. I will take you to the goat. You can just pounce on it and reduce it to pulp in a few seconds. You can have your dinner. When you have eaten, I will devour what is leftover. Come.”
“No. No,” said the lion. “I do not want to take a risk.”
The jackal was all assurance. “There will be no risk at all. I will come with you, too.”
The lion was not convinced. “You will be the first to run away if the goat attacks us.”
“I will not,” the jackal said. “If you have no confidence in me, I will tie myself to you with this creeper.” It pulled a creeper growing nearby and tied one end around the neck of the lion and tied the other end around its own neck. “Look, I cannot run away.”
With the jackal leading the way, the lion followed, rather hesitantly.
The goat, happy to have sent the lion away, did not sleep. It kept wide-awake since it was aware that some other wild animal could still attack it. It realised the need to be vigilant. How right the goat was! It saw the jackal at a distance bringing the lion with it.
“I had frightened the lion away,” the goat thought. ” The wily jackal seems to have convinced it that there was danger from me. What should I now do?”
It began to think. It got an idea. It put on a brave smile again and welcomed both the lion and the jackal. This time, however, it did not speak with the lion. Instead, it addressed the jackal and said “My dear friend, I am very glad, indeed, to note that you have kept your promise. The lion had run away from me just when I was about to fulfill my vow. I am happy you are bringing it to me. Thank you ever so much.”
The lion was perplexed. What promise could the jackal have made the goat, it wondered. “Who is playing a trick? Is it the the jackal or the goat?”
The goat realised the lion’s predicament but continued talking to the jackal, “Yesterday, I had told you of my desire. I informed you that I had eaten a hundred tigers and 25 elephants and that I intended to shave off this beard after make a meal of a lion. I told you how a lion always eluded me. You promised to bring me a lion and help me fulfill my vow. When this lion came earlier, I thought the time had come for me to shave off the beard. But, alas! he ran away. Thank you for bringing him back. Come, drag the lion near me so that I land one mighty blow on his neck. Do not let the lion run away again. Come, pull harder and bring it to me.”
Before the jackal could say anything, the lion said “You wicked fellow! You have struck a deal with the goal to kill me!” The lion hit the jackal with its mighty paw. The jackal writhed in pain. The lion jumped quickly, turned around and began to run away once again. And because the jackal was tied to the lion with a creeper, it dragged it along.
The lion ran over rocks and thorns in a bid to escape the terrible goat and the poor jackal was dragged along. Hit by stones and pierced by thorns, the jackal howled in pain. It was only after the lion had run for nearly quarter of an hour that the creeper snapped, freeing the jackal. It fell in a pond, licking its wounds.
The goat was relieved to find the lion run away, dragging the jackal with it.
A few hours later, dawn broke over the forest. The sky was clear and the sun rose brightly. Shortly afterwards, the shepherd came searching for the lame billy goat. He thanked God when he found the goat resting under a tree. He lifted it, flung it over his shoulders and carried it home.
“Baa, baa!” the goat bleated. The shepherd thought it was thanking him. He had no idea that it was trying to tell him how it had escaped from the jaws of death.
Note: My grandfather used to tell us this story all those years ago. My father put this together for his grandchildren, using some illustrations as well. I wrote this story here courtesy Mr N Ganesan and the late Natesa Iyer. I am sure they would approve.