BARBER HÍM AND THE TIGERS (Indian Fairy Tales, 1880) collected and translated by Maive Stokes

ONCE there lived a barber called Hím, who was very poor indeed. He had a wife and twelve children, five boys and seven girls: now and then he got a few pice. One day he went away from his home feeling very cross, and left his wife and children to get on as best they could. “What can I do?” said he. “I have not enough money to buy food for my family, and they are crying for it.” And so he walked on till he came to a jungle. It was night when he got there. This jungle was called the “tigers’ jungle,” because only tigers lived in it; no birds, no insects, no other animals, and there were four hundred tigers in it altogether. As soon as Barber Hím reached the jungle he saw a great tiger walking about. “What shall I do?” cried he. “This tiger is sure to eat me.” And he took his razor and his razor-strap, and began to sharpen his razor. Then he went close up to the tiger, still sharpening his razor. The tiger was much frightened. “What shall I do?” said the tiger; “this man will certainly gash me.” “I have come,” said the barber, “to catch twenty tigers by order of Mahárájá Káns. You are one, and I want nineteen more.” The tiger, greatly alarmed, answered, “If you won’t catch us, I will give you as much gold and as many jewels as you can carry.” For these tigers used to go out and carry off the men and women from the villages, and some of these people had rupees, and some had jewels, all of which the tigers used to collect together. “Good,” said Hím, “then I won’t catch you.” The tiger led him to the spot where all the tigers used to eat their dinners, and the barber took as much gold and as many jewels as he could carry, and set off home with them.

Then he built a house, and bought his children pretty clothes and good food, and necklaces, and they all lived very happily for some time. But at last he wanted more rupees, so he set off to the tigers’ jungle. There he met the tiger as he did before, and he told him the Mahárájá Káns had sent him to catch twenty tigers. The tiger was terrified and said, “If you will only not catch us, I will give you more gold and jewels.” To this the barber agreed, and the tiger led him to the old spot, and the barber took as many jewels and rupees as he could carry. Then he returned home.

One day a very poor man, a fakír, said to him, “How did you manage to become so rich? In old days you were so poor you could hardly support your family.”

“I will tell you,” said Hím. And he told him all about his visits to the tigers’ jungle. “But don’t you go there for gold to-night,” continued the barber. “Let me go and listen to the tigers talking. If you like, you can come with me. Only you must not be frightened if the tigers roar.”

“I’ll not be frightened,” said the fakír.

So that evening at eight o’clock they went to the tigers’ jungle. There the barber and the fakír climbed into a tall thick tree, and its leaves came all about them and sheltered them as if they were in a house. The tigers used to hold their councils under this tree. Very soon all the tigers in the jungle assembled together under it, and their Rájá—a great, huge beast, with only one eye—came too. “Brothers,” said the tiger who had given the barber the rupees and jewels, “a man has come here twice to catch twenty of us for the Mahárájá Káns; now we are only four hundred in number, and if twenty of us were taken away we should be only a small number, so I gave him each time as many rupees and jewels as he could carry and he went away again. What shall we do if he returns?” The tigers said they would meet again on the morrow, and then they would settle the matter. Then the tigers went off, and the barber and the fakír came down from the tree. They took a quantity of rupees and jewels and returned to their homes.

“To-morrow,” said they, “we will come again and hear what the tigers say.”

The next day the barber went alone to the tigers’ jungle, and there he met his tiger again. “This time,” said he, “I am come to cut off the ears of all the four hundred tigers who live in this jungle; for Mahárájá Káns wants them to make into medicine.”

The tiger was greatly frightened, much more so than at the other times. “Don’t cut off our ears; pray don’t,” said he, “for then we could not hear, and it would hurt so horribly. Go and cut off all the dogs’ ears instead, and I will give you rupees and jewels as much as two men can carry.” “Good,” said the barber, and he made two journeys with the rupees and jewels from the jungle to the borders of his village, and there he got a cooly to help him to carry them to his house.

At night he and the fakír went again to the great tree under which the tigers held their councils. Now the tiger who had given the barber so many rupees and jewels had made ready a great quantity of meat, fowls, chickens, geese, men the tigers had killed—everything he had been able to get hold of—and he made them into a heap under the tree, for he said that after the tigers had settled the matter they would dine. Soon the tigers arrived with their Rájá, and the barber’s tiger said, “Brothers, what are we to do? This man came again to-day to cut off all our ears to make medicine for Mahárájá Káns. I told him this would be a bad business for us, and that he must go and cut off all the dogs’ ears instead; and I gave him as much money and jewels as two men could carry. So he went home. Now what shall we do? We must leave this jungle, and where shall we go?” The other tigers said, “We will not leave the jungle. If this man comes again we will eat him up.” So they dined and went away, saying they would meet again to-morrow.

After the tigers had gone, the barber and fakír came down from the tree and went off to their homes, without taking any rupees or jewels with them. They agreed to return the next evening.

Next evening back they came and climbed into the great tree. The tigers came too, and the barber’s tiger told his story all over again. The tiger Rájá sat up and said, fiercely, “We will not leave this jungle. Should the man come again, I will eat him myself.” When the fakír heard this he was so frightened that he tumbled down out of the tree into the midst of the tigers. The barber instantly cried out with a loud voice, “Now cut off their ears! cut off their ears!” and the tigers, terrified, ran away as fast as they could. Then the barber took the fakír home, but the poor man was so much hurt by his fall that he died.

The barber lived happily ever after, but he took good care never to go to the tigers’ jungle again.

Told by Dunkní.

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