Presented here is a retelling of a folktale from the Indian state of Kerala that provides a warning to those who enjoy inflicting pain and humiliation upon others.
The Elephant and the Tailor
Many years ago in a different time, a mahout (1), as regular as the sun rose, escorted his elephant to the river to bathe and wallow in the water. Their route took them through the main street, lined with shops selling different wares and services. After his elephant had finished bathing, he returned home using the same route. The elephant was always very well-behaved becoming a popular character, and a familiar sight.
One morning, a tailor, whose shop they passed daily, offered the elephant a banana. The tailor was amused seeing the elephant take the banana in its trunk and drop it into its mouth, and the elephant enjoyed the snack. Every day after that, the tailor came out and offered the elephant a banana, which it enjoyed and grew to expect, and it became a habit. The tailor had a cruel streak to his character, being someone who gained pleasure from the pain of others, and laughed at their suffering.
One morning he had an idea that he thought would be very funny. As usual, the elephant stopped outside his shop, its trunk extended, expecting to receive a banana. But the tailor held a long sharp needle in his hand in the place of a banana and jabbed its trunk as it went to take hold, causing the poor beast sudden pain and shock. The elephant was stunned, disappointed, and bewildered at the cruel trick, but the tailor thought it was a great joke and spent the rest of the day laughing. The mahout was angry with the tailor but thought it better to continue to the river than make a scene. The other shopkeepers and their customers who saw what the cruel tailor had done were appalled.
Although the needle had hurt the elephant, it was not so much the pain as the insult it perceived it had suffered that offended. However, the elephant was intelligent. Like most intelligent beings, it was peace-loving and controlled its pain and anger, much better than lesser beings in similar situations would have done. It could have easily killed the tailor or wrecked his shop if it had wanted. Instead, the elephant took comfort from the calm, soothing words offered by his mahout, who glowered angrily at the laughing tailor. Although disappointed and humiliated, the elephant serenely continued to the river to wash and wallow as usual, as if nothing had happened.
Nevertheless, as it bathed, its thoughts dwelt on the nasty trick the cruel tailor had played and came up with an idea. As it finished bathing, it filled its trunk full of dirty water and began the return journey home through the main street with the mahout riding upon its back. Upon reaching the tailor’s shop, who was still laughing over his cruel trick, the elephant stopped as if waiting for a banana.
In the hope of getting another good laugh, the tailor went out with the needle and held out his hand as if offering a banana, all the time chuckling in anticipation. The elephant slowly, calmly, and deliberately held out its trunk as if to accept a treat. But instead of reaching for the tailor’s hand, it aimed at his head and squirted the contents of its trunk all over the sniggering tailor, drenching him in dirty water!
Once its trunk was empty, the elephant quietly turned and walked sedately home with its mahout sitting on its back, crying with laughter. Seeing how the elephant had unexpectedly turned the tables on the cruel tailor, the other shopkeepers and customers gave a great cheer and applauded as it passed sedately. The mahout could not contain his laughter, crying to the tailor,
“Ha! How does it feel now the joke’s on you!”
Turning The Tables
The story carries a warning to those who mistreat animals. As an animal, the elephant’s natural instinct may caused it to react automatcilly in anger, or self defense, perhaps killing, or injuring the tailor, or wrecking his shop. However, the calm reaction of the elephant, although hurt and disappointed, elevate it above the tailor. Furthermore, its measured response in drenching him with dirty water instead of reacting violently, turned the tables completely on the spiteful tailor elevating the animal above him, and reversing the joke making him the but of humour, while the elephant earned greater respect and admiration.
© 09/03/2023 zteve t evans
References, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright March 9th, 2023 zteve t evans
- PDF Folk tales of Kerala.pdf
- (1) In this part of the world someone who rides, trains, or looks after elephants is known as a mahout. Mahout – Wikipedia.
- Kerala – Wikipedia
- File:Indian Elephant, from the Animals of the World series (T180), issued by Abdul Cigarettes MET DP842663.jpg – Wikimedia Commons
- File:An elephant keeper riding his elephant – Tashrih al-aqvam (1825), f.117v – BL Add. 27255.jpg – Wikimedia Commons
Love this post Zteve. Animals are more clever than we give them credit for.
They certainly are, thanks for commenting appreciated!
Fascinating tale Zteve
This post does bring back some memories for me, as I’m from Kerala. My mom used to tell me many stories when I was a kid, and this happened to be one of them. 😊
That’s interesting and I am glad you liked it. Thanks for commenting, appreciated!