Dear reader, I am sure you know that a snake and a mongoose are sworn enemies. They are always ready, willing and waiting to kill each other. But I do not think you know that this wasn’t always the case. Once upon a time, not very long ago, they were the best of friends. Surprised? Let me tell you the full story….
On the foothills of the Himalayas, there was a forest. In one corner of the forest, beside a huge river called Neera, lived a snake and a mongoose. The snake was called Sarpu, while the mongoose was named Mongu.They had grown up in each other’s company, hunting, eating and playing together.

One day Gidh, a vulture who lived close by, told Mongu, “Hey Mongu, do you know, in Madhuban they are having a contest on full moon night?”

Madhuban was a jungle across the Neera river, which was ruled by an elephant called Gajraj.

“What kind of contest?”

“The longest tail contest. The one with the longest tail will be declared the winner. Animals form different jungles will be participating. Gajraj himself will be the judge.”

“What is the prize?”

“The winner will be made the king of Tapu for a period of one year.”

Tapu was a small island in the middle of Neera. It was reputed to have many exotic plants, fruits and flowers and was a part of Gajraj’s kingdom.

A Tale of Tails
A Tale of Tails [Illustrations: Kusum Chamoli]
“Sarpu why don’t you participate?” suggested Mongu.

“I don’t think he can?” said Gidh.

“Why?”

“Because no one would know where his head ends and tail begins.”

“Mongu, I think you can take part. You have a long and beautiful tail,” suggested Sarpu.

“He won’t stand a chance,” Gidh said.

“Why?”

“Have you seen a lemur or a langur?”

“No,” replied Sarpu and Mongu.

“They have tails which are much longer than Mongu’s.”

Mongu looked crestfallen. “It would have been such fun to become the king of Tapu,” he said wistfully.

“I know,” Sarpu nodded sharing his friend’s disappointment. Mongu and Sarpu, unlike other members of their respective clans, were strict vegetarians. Hence, the idea of sampling the delicious fruits and plants of Tapu was extremely appealing to both of them.

After a few minutes of silence Sarpu said, “Don’t lose hope my friend. I have an idea. I’ll swallow the end of your tail in my mouth. That way everyone will think my body is only an extension of your tail.”

“That’s a great idea,” Mongu said jumping up.

“Wait a minute,” Gidh interrupted. “Hasn’t Gajraj ever seen you or Mongu before?” he asked Sarpu.

“No, neither he nor anyone staying in Madhuban or any of the other jungles has ever seen us. We too haven’t seen them. Don’t forget we have lived our entire lives in this corner of the forest. Except you no one has seen us.”

“In that case you might just be able to get away with it. But I wouldn’t advise.”

“Why?”

“It amounts to cheating. If you want to win you must do so only by fair means.”

“Oh! Come on, Gidh, don’t be such a spoilsport,” said Sarpu.

“I am sorry, Sarpu. I can’t take part in any plan which is dishonest. Don’t forget I am the descendant of Jatayu who gave up his life to save Sita from the clutches of the demon king Ravana.”

“Okay, okay, if you want to keep out, do so. But please, don’t tell anyone.”

“Okay, I promise,” Gidh said and, flapping his wings, flew away.

* * *

On full moon night, all the contestants had lined up in a clearing in the middle of Madhuban.

“Friends, after I raise my trunk and trumpet I want all the contestants to climb the huge rock that is in front of you. Each one should sit on top and let his tail hang down. I will personally come and measure the length of each contestant’s tail using my trunk. Is it clear?” Gajraj looked at everyone. All the animals nodded their heads and shook their tails.

Gajraj raised his trunk and trumpeted.

The contestants scrambled up the rock and took their positions. It was really an impressive sight – lion, tiger, cheetah, lemur, langur, cow, giraffe, horse, donkey and many other animals and of course our friend Mongu (and his tail Sarpu) – all sitting with their tails hanging down.

Gajraj patiently went around measuring the tails with his trunk. His assistant Chipku the chimp was with him faithfully noting down the measurements.
An hour later, Gajraj announced the results.

“Friends it was a keen contest. The tails of lemur and langur measured two ‘trunk’ lengths, but the winner by quite a margin is Mongu, the mongoose. His tail is five ‘trunk’ lengths. In all my life, I have not seen such a long tail. He is truly the champion. Please give him a big paw.” There was a thunderous applause as the animals clapped their paws, beat their tails and stomped their hooves to express their appreciation.

After the applause had died down, Gajraj announced, “Friends, now I invite you to join me in a feast. Since I don’t take meat, the feast is vegetarian. Please enjoy the milk and the choicest fruits and plants of Tapu.”

The animals all rushed to the spot where the feast was laid out and started eating. Poor Sarpu, he could smell the milk and fresh fruits, but couldn’t taste them.

As the sweet aroma of the warm milk and delicious fruits wafted across, his mouth started watering.

“That scoundrel Mongu is so busy eating that he has forgotten all about me. Doesn’t he know how much I love milk and fruits,” Sarpu grumbled to himself getting more and more desperate.

“I think I’ll quietly slip away and drink some milk and sample a few fruits and come back before anyone notices.” Sarpu looked around. Everyone seemed busy. He let go of Mongu’s tail gently, slipped away to a corner and started sampling the goodies on display.

Suddenly he felt a huge foot on the tip of his tail.

“Got you, you scoundrel.” Sarpu looked up. It was Gajraj and encircled by his trunk, Mongu was hanging helplessly.

“So you two rogues wanted to cheat and win the contest. You almost had me fooled. If it wasn’t for the greed of this long rope like creature, you would have succeeded in your plan, Mongu. Now I’ll teach you a lesson you will never forget.”

Sarpu and Mongu were severely thrashed by Gajraj and sent packing.

“I never want to see your dirty faces in Madhuban,” thundered Gajraj.

As they limped back, Mongu screamed at Sarpu, “You greedy fool! Could you not have waited for some time?”

“You are calling me greedy? You thankless rascal! You were gulping down food as if you had never ever eaten in your life. Even for a second did you pause to wonder whether I might be hungry too? You were not bothered about me at all. You had completely forgotten that you won only because of me.”

“Who are you calling a rascal?” Mongu screamed and flew at Sarpu’s throat. Sarpu hissed and attacked Mongu with his deadly fangs.

In a few minutes, the two friends had mauled each other to death.

Gidh, hearing the noise came out investigate. “Cheaters never prosper,” he said to himself, shaking his head sadly.

Dear reader, since then a mongoose and a snake have never seen eye to eye or for that matter tail to tail.