The Rat's Wedding
Once upon a time, there was a plump, well-fed Rat caught in a sudden downpour. Stranded far from any shelter, he decided to take matters into his own paws. With determination, he dug a cosy hole in the ground, settling into it comfortably while the raindrops danced outside, forming tiny puddles on the road.
During his digging adventure, he stumbled upon a dry and suitable piece of root that would make excellent fuel. Being a thrifty rat, he carefully set it aside, planning to take it home later. Once the rain shower had passed, he embarked on his journey with the dry root clutched in his mouth.
As he made his way, gracefully tiptoeing through puddles, he noticed a poor man struggling to light a fire. A group of children surrounded him, their hungry cries filling the air.
"Wow, what a terrible racket!" the Rat exclaimed, his heart filled with compassion and curiosity. "What's going on here?"
"The kids are starving," replied the man, "they're crying out for their breakfast. But the firewood is damp, and the fire just won't catch, so I can't bake their cakes."
"Hey, if that's your only problem, maybe I can lend a hand," said the kind-hearted Rat, offering a solution. "You're welcome to this dry root, and I bet it'll make a nice fire for you."
The grateful man accepted the dry root with a thousand thanks and, in return, handed the Rat a small piece of dough as a token of his appreciation.
"Wow, I'm one lucky fellow!" thought the Rat cheerfully as he trotted away with his prize. "And pretty clever too, I'd say! Imagine striking such a deal—enough food to last me five days for a simple old stick! Wait, this is what it means to have brains!"
As he continued on his way, carrying his newfound fortune, he soon arrived at a potter's yard. The potter, leaving his spinning wheel behind, was desperately trying to soothe his three crying children.
"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed the Rat, covering his ears. "What a racket! Can you tell me what's going on here?"
"I think they're hungry," replied the potter with a sigh. "Their mother went to the market to buy flour because we have none at home. Meanwhile, I can't work or rest because of their cries."
"Is that all?" answered the helpful Rat. "Well, I can assist with that. Take this dough, cook it up quickly, and give it to them to fill their hungry stomachs."
Overwhelmed with gratitude, the potter insisted that the Rat accept a well-burnt pipkin as a token of his appreciation. The Rat happily agreed, though it was a bit tricky for him to manage, balancing it gingerly on his head.
He set off down the road, his tail tucked carefully under his arm to avoid tripping, all the while thinking, "I'm such a lucky fellow, and clever too! I'm a real pro at making deals!"
Eventually, he reached a spot where some herdsmen were tending to their cattle. One of them was using his shoes as a makeshift bucket to milk a buffalo.
"Oh, come on!" the Rat exclaimed, disgusted by the sight. "That's a pretty dirty trick. Why don't you use an actual bucket?"
"Because we don't have one," grumbled the herdsman, annoyed by the Rat's interference.
"If that's the issue," replied the finicky Rat, "please do me a favor and use this pipkin. I can't stand dirt!"
The herdsman, not one to decline, accepted the pipkin and proceeded to milk the buffalo until it was overflowing. Then, turning to the Rat, he said, "Here, little guy, you can have a drink as payment."
But the Rat, being both kind-hearted and clever, had other ideas. "No, no, my friend," he said, shaking his head. "That won't work! I couldn't possibly drink the value of my pipkin all at once. Heck, I couldn't even hold it all! Besides, I never make a bad deal. So, I'd expect you to at least give me the buffalo in exchange."
"Nonsense!" the herdsman scoffed. "A buffalo for a pipkin? Who ever heard of such a thing? And what would you even do with a buffalo if you had it? The pipkin is about all you can handle."
And so, the Rat's adventures continued, marked by his clever dealings and knack for helping those he encountered along the way.
In response to the neatherds' teasing about his size, the Rat decided to stand up for himself, not one to tolerate jokes about his stature.
"Hey, that's my business, not yours," he retorted firmly. "Your job right now is to hand over that buffalo."
Amused by the Rat's audacity, the neatherds decided to have a little fun at his expense. They loosened the buffalo's halter and began to tie it to the Rat's tail.
"No, no!" the Rat exclaimed urgently. "If the buffalo pulls, my tail skin might come off, and that wouldn't be pleasant. Tie it around my neck, if you please."
With laughter all around, the neatherds obliged and tied the halter around the Rat's neck. After bidding them farewell with a polite nod, the Rat set off towards home, or rather, he set off with the rope. As soon as he reached the end of the tether, he was abruptly stopped; the buffalo, head down, continued to graze, paying no heed to the Rat. Only when it had finished its tuft of grass did it start marching off in another direction, dragging the Rat reluctantly behind.
The Rat was too proud to admit defeat. He nodded knowingly to the neatherds and said, "Well, well, good folks! I'm taking the scenic route home. It might be a bit longer, but it's much shadier."
Amidst the neatherds' laughter, he kept his dignity and trotted on. He reasoned to himself, "After all, if you're responsible for a buffalo, you have to ensure it gets its fill of grass. A well-fed beast is more likely to give milk. Plus, I have plenty of time on my paws."
Throughout the day, he continued to follow the buffalo around, pretending it was his charge. By evening, he was utterly exhausted and felt relieved when the buffalo finally settled down under a tree to chew its cud.
Just then, a wedding procession passed by. It seemed the bridegroom and his entourage had gone ahead to the next village, leaving the bride's palanquin to catch up. The palanquin bearers, being a bit lazy and noticing a shady tree, decided to take a break and prepare some food.
"What a miserly spread!" grumbled one of the bearers. "It's a grand wedding, and all we have is plain rice porridge—no meat, no flavor! It's almost tempting to tip the bride into a ditch!"
"Wait a minute!" the Rat chimed in quickly, seizing an opportunity to get out of his predicament. "That's a shame indeed. I completely understand your frustration. In fact, I empathize so much that I'd like to offer you my buffalo. You can slaughter it and cook it up."
"Your buffalo?" retorted the skeptical bearers. "Come on, that's absurd! Who's ever heard of a rat owning a buffalo?"
"Well," said the Rat with a hint of pride, "it might not be common, but just take a look for yourselves. Can't you see I'm leading the beast with a string?"
Ignoring the string, a big, hungry bearer exclaimed, "Forget about the string! Whether it's his buffalo or not, I'm having meat for dinner!"
In response to the Rat's proposal, the servants decided to go along with it. They slaughtered the buffalo and cooked its meat, enjoying their meal with gusto. After they had their fill, they offered the remaining food to the Rat.
"Here, little Rat-skin, this is for you!" they said casually.
The Rat, now quite indignant, retorted, "Hold on a minute! I want nothing to do with your porridge, or your sauce for that matter. Do you really think I'd trade my prized buffalo, the one that gave me quarts of milk today—the buffalo I've been looking after all day—for a tiny bit of rice? No way! I got a loaf in exchange for a stick; I got a pipkin for a small loaf; I got a buffalo for a pipkin, and now I want the bride in place of my buffalo—the bride, and nothing else!"
As the servants began to realize the implications of their actions and grew nervous about the consequences, they decided it was best to make a hasty escape. Leaving the bride in her palanquin, they scattered in different directions.
Left in control of the situation, the Rat approached the palanquin. With the utmost politeness, he drew back the curtain and, in his sweetest voice, asked the bride to come out. She wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry, but given the circumstances, she opted to follow the Rat, who was certainly a better companion than being alone in the wilderness.
As they journeyed together, the Rat couldn't help but pat himself on the back. "I am quite the clever one," he thought, "making such incredible deals!"
Upon arriving at his burrow, the Rat stepped forward politely and said, "Welcome, madam, to my humble abode! Please step in. If you'd allow me, since the passage is rather dim, I'll guide you."
He scurried inside first, but after a moment, when the bride didn't follow, he poked his nose back out, sounding a bit impatient. "Well, madam, why aren't you coming in? Don't you know it's impolite to keep your husband waiting?"
The lovely young bride, decked out in lavish attire and adorned with glittering jewels, laughed gently. "My dear sir," she replied, "I can't possibly squeeze into that tiny hole!"
The Rat cleared his throat and, after pondering for a moment, said, "You do have a point there. You're quite large, I suppose. I'll have to arrange something for you. For tonight, you can rest under that wild plum tree."
Source: Tales of the Punjab, Flora Annie Steel