Jakaranda, The Great Elephant Dancer Part 2
The next day, Jakaranda set off early to explore the forest, taking a narrow path through the scrub that was not normally used by elephants. His progress was slow; he had to pause several times to uproot troublesome undergrowth and tear branches from the trees that might otherwise have poked him in the eyes. At times he found it hard to maintain his footing; it was as though the very ground was collapsing beneath his feet! Still he pushed on, grumbling under his breath. But that didn’t stop him enjoying the scenery.
The forest really would make a spectacular setting for a dance; it would help to achieve a certain atmosphere – une ambiance, if you will. It was hard to explain what he had in mind – it was not yet an idea, but only its shadowy beginnings; a fragile thing, and not to be forced. But if he could just find the right place in the forest – the perfect setting – then perhaps the idea would have space to germinate and grow. His idea, in the right place, could be born.
Jakaranda searched the forest all day, but eventually he found it; a small glade in a steep dip that formed a natural amphitheatre, surrounded by stands of banyan, tamarind and fig. There were little bushes here and there, but those were no problem for an elephant; he pulled them up and ate them. He trumpeted experimentally, listening carefully to the resulting echo. He tooted a little tune, then grunted in satisfaction. The sound quality was excellent here. Yes, he thought, this will do nicely. He urinated against a tree to mark the spot, then made his way back down the path to rejoin the herd.
When Jakaranda arrived he found the elephants all gathered in the clearing. They were standing in a circle, but they were not dancing. Instead an argument was taking place. As Jakaranda approached the group he spotted his friend Bilimbi and went to talk to him.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“The mice are angry. They have sent a delegation.”
“I do not know. They demand to speak to the King of the Elephants.”
“But the elephants have no king!”
“We told them that, but it only makes them angrier. They demand to see the King! They will speak with no other. And they refuse to go away!”
“Oh, how awful!”
“Mice.” Bilimbi shook his head and sighed. “Until this day I had never even heard of them.”
“Ah, well – I know about mice, at least. The other day I met a monkey who told me all about them. Perhaps I can help?”
“Then you’d better get over there quick!” cried Bilimbi. “Before something bad happens.”
“Alright,” said Jakaranda. “I will try.”
When Jakaranda arrived in the middle of the herd, he saw a group of five tiny creatures running around in agitation and shouting in high-pitched voices. These were mice, he assumed.
“There he is!” yelled one. “Jakaranda, King of the Elephants. He’s the culprit!”
“Yes, you! Don’t try to deny it.”
“But I am not the King of the Elephants.”
“Oh, sure,” said the mouse. “‘The elephants have no king.’ What nonsense!”
“It is not nonsense. It is true.”
“Then how come we got this treaty, eh?” The mouse brandished a scrap of paper. “This is a bindin’ contract between the mice and the elephants. Signed by the King of the Elephants. Says so right ‘ere. Next to King of Mice.” The little creature pointed to his chest. “That’s me.”
“Let me see that,” said Jakaranda, reaching down with his nose. The mouse handed him the treaty, and the elephant brought it up to his eyes. The writing was tiny. He squinted and moved the paper back and forth, and after a great struggle, finally succeeded in making out the words.
Sapturpani, an old female and one of Jakaranda’s very first lovers, stepped forward to whisper in his ear. “What does it say?”
“‘In recognition of the great services performed this day by the esteemed and noble nation of Mice for the benefit of the fine nation of Elephants, in rescuing their beloved King from a pool of quicksand in which, were it not for the intervention of the King of Mice, he would surely have met his doom, the King of the Elephants hereby warrants and requires that from this day on, and until the End of Time, no Elephant shall enter the forest save to walk along the wide north-south pathway that leads to that Great Clearing in which the Elephants have since time immemorial performed their esteemed mating rituals.’ Hmm. It is signed by both kings.”
“But the elephants have no king!” hissed Sapturpani. “It must be a forgery!”
“Most likely,” agreed Jakaranda. “Mice cannot be trusted. But don’t worry; we won’t fall for their tricks.” He turned back to the King of Mice, who was tapping his foot impatiently. “Well, now – you say you are the King of Mice, is that correct?”
“Yeah,” said the mouse, “that’s right. And I ain’t used to bein’ kept waitin’.”
“Alright, alright, it won’t take long. So this is your signature, is it?”
The King laughed. “Don’t be daft! That’s my great old granddappy, that is, from generations back… let’s see, must have been my four hundred and twenty-sixth forefather. Long time ago now. More’n a hundred years.”
Jakaranda smiled. “Well, there you have it! I couldn’t possibly have signed this paper. Why, I am less than forty years old!”
“And I’m one and a half,” replied the King. “So what?”
“Don’t you see? If neither of us signed this treaty, then it’s null and void!”
“It doesn’t apply,” explained Jakaranda. “It’s worthless – just a piece of paper with stupid little marks on.”
“You got a lot to learn about jurisprudence, my son,” retorted the King of Mice. “It’s signed King of the Elephants, innit? Not bleedin’ Bhallatak.”
“He were King of the Elephants back then – called himself Bhallatak if I remember rightly. But he din’t sign his name, did he? ‘King of the Elephants’ – he signed for the office, get it? And right now that means you. But it don’t matter who the King is – whoever he is, he’s bound by this treaty. In perpetuity.”
“Hm, well,” said Jakaranda. “Let’s set that aside for now. I can see you’re very angry. How could you get so worked up over a piece of paper? It can’t be that! Tell me, King of Mice – what has upset you so much? What is it really?”
The Mouse King was furious. “How bleedin’ dare you!” he cried. “Playin’ games with me? Pretendin’ you don’t know? Oh, how far have the elephants fallen! Ashes! All is ashes!” The King of Mice turned his face to the sky and scratched his cheeks with his tiny claws.
“Now, now – calm down, will you? I truly have no idea what you’re talking about. Please cut the dramatics and tell me what has happened!”
“Argh!” cried the King. “Disgraceful!” He panted heavily. Two mice came up on either side and spoke to him softly – he waved them away. “Alright,” he said. He drew in a great shuddering breath, then let it out slowly. “I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you’re that stupid you really don’t know.”
“I don’t!” said Jakaranda. “But please, I’m not stupid!” Poor Jakaranda. He had come to help – and now he was being insulted.
“Shut up!” squeaked the King of Mice. “Stop interruptin’ me!”
But Jakaranda had not interrupted – had he? For a moment he was puzzled. But then he remembered what the monkey had said – that mice had no morals; that they even ate their own shit! No wonder the Mouse King was so rude. Well – Jakaranda did not have to sink to his level.
“Sorry,” he said. Mice might be nasty, vulgar creatures, he reflected, but elephants were decent people.
The King of Mice cleared his throat, and began to speak: “This morning, you broke the treaty when you strayed from the main path through the forest. You took a path that’s just for small creatures and the animals that hunt us. You, King Jakaranda, of all elephants! Don’t you know that’s where we got our burrows, under the bushes that make sweet berries? There’s nothing we can do about the hunters, but at least our tunnels are deep enough to withstand their footsteps! Elephants are a different matter, though – what burrow can endure your might?
“But we got this treaty, see? Only now you broke it! You walked down that path and ripped up the bushes and caved in half our burrows with your big clumpy feet! There’s more’n fifty dead and more wounded, and dozens of pups scared out o’ their wits. All on account of your actions – you, the Great Dancer; King of the Elephants! Hard to believe – but I saw it with my own eyes! Frankly,” said the Mouse King, his voice dipping to a murmur, “I’m disappointed.” He folded his arms across his little chest and stared accusingly at Jakaranda.
“Disappointed,” mumbled the elephant, his mind whirling. “Well, I’m sorry.”
“What’s that? Sarcasm?” The King trembled with rage. “Now look here—”
“No, no! I mean it – I really do! I am truly sorry.”
The Mouse King glared at him suspiciously with his beady little eyes; Jakaranda suppressed a shudder. Finally the King’s gaze softened. “You’re sorry?”
The King sighed. “It’s too late to make amends – but why’d you break the treaty?”
Jakaranda shrugged. “I didn’t know about the treaty.”
“But you are the King of the Elephants!”
“No; I keep telling you – the elephants have no king!”
Just then Mohwa, the oldest elephant in the herd, stepped forward; he had been listening in. “Wait,” he wheezed. “Did I hear something about Bhallatak?” He was old, and could be forgiven for being a little slow.
“Yeah, Bhallatak. King of Elephants back in olden times.” The King pointed at the scrap of paper; Jakaranda still clutched it in his nose. “He signed a treaty with the King of Mice.”
“Hmm,” said Mohwa. “Well, I don’t know about that. But I remember my grandfather used to talk about Bhallatak. Stories, you know. ‘Once upon a time long ago, back when elephants had a king,’ he’d say. And then he’d begin. Can’t remember much, mind you – but I remember how I loved those stories. And I remember Bhallatak. Course it was just stories – you know, stuff he made up to amuse his grandcalves.” He coughed. “Still – could be there’s some truth behind it.”
“Wait a minute,” said the Mouse King. “Are you serious? Have you elephants forgotten your own history?”
“Of course not,” snapped Mohwa. “An elephant never forgets.”
“You have though, haven’t you? To you, Bhallatak’s just a story.” The King shook his head in disbelief. “Well, I’m telling you – he was real. And once he was King of the Elephants.”
“Perhaps,” allowed Jakaranda. “But now we have no king. Mouse, I promise you – I did not know about the treaty. I did not mean to damage your burrows. I am full of remorse.”
The King of Mice sighed. “You can’t undo what’s done. But I accept it were just ignorance. Very well. You ain’t ignorant now – you know about the treaty, and you know where we got our burrows. So from now on, will the fine nation of Elephants promise to honour our old agreement?”
“Ah,” replied Jakaranda. “There’s a problem with that.”
The Mouse King narrowed his eyes. “Oh yeah? What problem?”
“If the elephants have no king, how can we be bound by this treaty signed by an imaginary one? Even if I accept it, I can tell you now the rest of the herd won’t.” Jakaranda peered at the paper again. “This will never do. With the best will in the world, I’m afraid this paper is worthless.” And with that, he began to eat the treaty.
The King of Mice was furious. “Stop!” he cried. “That’s an important historical document! Spit it out at once!”
“It’s just an old bit of paper,” said Jakaranda, still chewing. “It doesn’t even taste good. Don’t worry – we’ll get you a new one. A new treaty, for the modern age.” He swallowed. “How’s that?”
“But,” stuttered the King. “But…”
“Don’t worry, King Mouse,” said Jakaranda. “Just stay here while I talk to the herd.” And he turned and walked away.
Mohwa came with him. When they were out of earshot of the mice he turned to Jakaranda and said, “Why did you eat the treaty?”
“Bah,” said Jakaranda. “Treaty, indeed! Do not fall for their tricks.”
“What do you mean? King Bhallatak—”
“Don’t you see? They have stolen your grandfather’s stories and are using them to deceive us! They must have overheard him talking.”
“You think so?”
“Mice are immoral, promiscuous creatures who eat nothing but their own shit.”
“Mice know only how to lie.”
“But Jakaranda – how do you know so much about mice?”
“Yesterday I met a wise old monkey in the forest. She told me all about them. I didn’t know it at the time – but now I wonder; did she have a premonition? Did she come to warn me?”
Mohwa stared at him, aghast. “But there’s no such thing as—”
“I know, I know. Not among elephants. But monkeys?” Jakaranda shrugged. “Who knows? Of course, that is why she made no mention of her magical powers. Monkeys are sly. They know elephants do not believe in such things.”
“But what are we to do?”
“Exactly what I said. We’ll give the mice a new treaty.”
Mohwa looked confused. “But the monkey warned you not to trust them. Why make an agreement at all?”
“Ah,” said Jakaranda. “There is a subtle reason for that.” He smiled. “Tell me, Mohwa – did you notice how he played on our emotions? How quick he was to take offence?”
“Well, of course. He was upset.”
“About his burrows, yes. But I apologised for that. Most sincerely. And it wasn’t even my fault!”
“You see, it is all a strategy. He is playing upon our innate sense of decency. He is trying to make us feel bad, as though we are somehow oppressing the mice just by walking in the forest! But do not be fooled. It is a big swindle.”
“I don’t understand,” said Mohwa.
“We will make a treaty – then the mice will go away. The elephants will keep to the agreement – we will be scrupulous! This will establish our moral authority. Then, if the mice do likewise, there will be no problem. But mark my words: soon the mice will come back and claim we have broken the agreement. Of course, we elephants shall know otherwise – and then we will have them! We will have incontrovertible proof that they are nothing but liars and cheats.”
“Ah, I see! And what then?”
“Simple,” said Jakaranda. “We’ll ignore them.”
The elephants had a big meeting to discuss the issue of the treaty. They talked and talked, and it soon became clear nobody knew anything about it. But it was true that none of the elephants could recall ever having entered the forest, except to walk along the main pathway to the clearing. The elephants were puzzled as to why this should be the case. Several elephants admitted to a vague sense of unease about straying from the path, and it was soon determined that this must relate to some vestigial superstition or other. There was no logical reason for it, after all. It was just an old custom.
The elephants talked more, and decided that by going against this custom, Jakaranda had done no wrong. If anything, he had done them a favour; he had forced them to call into question their own illogical behaviour. More than one elephant thanked him for this. Some expressed the hope that this process of internal questioning could be the first step in a journey towards a more progressive, rational society, where all elephants could – like Jakaranda – achieve their true potential.
Many agreed that the destruction caused by Jakaranda was regrettable. Still, the King of Mice had admitted himself that nothing could be done about it. Jakaranda had already apologised, and his apology had been accepted. But some doubted that any destruction had been caused at all. After all, the elephants had no idea where the mice really had their burrows. What if the Mouse King was lying? Everyone knew that mice were untrustworthy; Jakaranda had heard it first-hand from a monkey unfortunate enough to have had dealings with them for years. The elephants talked some more, but the question remained unresolved.
Finally, they moved on to the subject of the new treaty promised to the mice by Jakaranda. This matter, at least, was decided quickly. They couldn’t prove it, of course, but taking into account the known facts about mice, the chances were there was a great swindle afoot. If they could repeatedly get the better of a wise old monkey, mice must be devious creatures indeed! For elephants, the risks were simply too great. There would be no treaty.
Jakaranda protested. He did not want to break his promise to the King of Mice. He was an honest elephant, and he had morals. He did not want to end up looking bad. They all talked about it, and at last the senior elephants spoke sternly. They reminded Jakaranda that he had no authority to make promises on behalf of the herd. He was not the King of Elephants, no matter what the mice might think. Nobody had ever appointed him Spokesman. He had overstepped himself. If Jakaranda had made a promise he couldn’t keep, that was his fault, and his alone. He could apologise to the King of Mice if he wanted to. But the elephants would sign no treaty.
Jakaranda made his way back to the King to convey the bad news.
“I can only apologise,” he said. “I did my best, I assure you. And at considerable risk to my own reputation; the elders are not happy with me. Oh, don’t get me wrong! I don’t regret it for a moment. Someone, after all, has to stand up for what’s right. I consider it a great honour to have been an advocate for your cause. But I have been unsuccessful. The elephants will make no treaty with the mice.”
The Mouse King was beside himself. “You told us to wait, and we waited. We been waiting here half the night for you elephants to reach a decision, talkin’ and talkin’ cos you got no king. We ain’t slept, nor had no grub, neither! And now you’re tellin’ me it were all for nothing?”
“I’m sorry,” said Jakaranda. “But the herd has spoken.”
“Well, I ain’t havin’ it! You go back there and talk to ‘em some more. You promised me a treaty! We’ll come back later, after we’ve all had a kip and a bite to eat.”
“It will do no good,” said Jakaranda. “Though if you insist, I will try. But please – you are honoured guests! You are most welcome to sleep here.” He pointed with his nose. “There in those bushes. And if you are hungry, well – why not just eat your own shit?”
“Gah!” screamed the King of Mice. “Outrageous! Insult upon injury! I can stand no more!” He pointed a trembling claw at Jakaranda. “We came to you in friendship. But now you have made us your enemies.” And with that, he turned his back on the elephants and began to walk away. The four other mice fell in behind him. As they left, one turned round and fixed Jakaranda with a look of such ferocity the elephant flinched. The mouse held his gaze a moment longer, then spat on the ground and stalked off.
Jakaranda shook his head in disbelief. Mice really would take offence at anything! But it was all a strategy; he had known it all along. The monkey had warned him. And the elders had been right.