Monday, 27 April 2009

The Turtle Raft, a Thai children's story

Once upon a time in the province of Nakhon Si Thammarat there lived a kind old farmer and his wife. They led a peaceful life planting crops and vegetables and catching fish from the streams. One day the two could find no fish and so they walked sadly home. On the way, they met a blind old turtle whose shell was so dry that it almost seemed to crack. The kind couple helped carry the turtle to a shady pond where they left him to go about his own way. The very next day the two decided to fish on different sides of the stream.What happened next could be called coincidence or chance or whatever you might want to call it, but wherever the old man threw his net he could only catch that same blind old turtle. The old turtle would be freed only to be caught by the woman's bamboo dip net over on the other side of the stream. This happened all day long. The old man was so angry that he finally called his wife saying, Let's go back home and make the old creature into turtle soup!

My dear man: replied the old woman, its flesh must be as tough as rawhide, and how will you chew it?

After much debate the old man and woman decided to keep him as a pet along with their host of dogs. Time passed by. The old couple, their dogs and one turtle were quite happy in a peaceful way. One quiet dark night, the turtle crept into the old man's mosquito net and said, "Old man, old man! Get cut of bed and build a raft! The floods are coming!" At first the man wouldn't listen but the turtle was persistent. Finally he got out of bed, put on his rubber thongs, and with his axe began to chop the bamboo trees. The neighbors heard the commotion and when they found out he was building a raft they roared with laughter. "Why listen to a stupid old turtle?" they jeered. Even the old woman tried to stop him, for she did not want her husband to be the laughing stock of the village.

That night a terrible storm brewed. The river swept in and the whole village was brought down, some drowned while others were swept away by the current, but the old man, his wife, their dogs and the old turtle were safe on the raft. As the raft drifted along the river, a venomous snake slithered on board. The old man was about to kill it his axe but at the turtle, he decided to let it stay on the raft.

By and by, a bevy of forest animals such as a squirrel, a lizard, a monkey and a tiger joined the raft team. Each time a fierce animal climbed onto the raft the old man would aim to kill but he was stopped by the wise old turtle. Then one day, the old man and woman heard a young man splashing in the waters, shouting for help. The old turtle did not want the young man saved; but no matter how persistent it was, the old couple took pity on the young man and pulled him onto the raft. For several days they nursed and fed him until he became strong.

Soon the storm subsided as did the floods, and sadly each animal bade farewell to the kind old man and his wife. Back at their hut again, the two began to weed the soil and plant crops and vegetables as they did before. The forest animals were not forgetful and through the years they would each bring the old couple gifts such as wild fruits and beautiful plants. One day the tiger who had been on the raft was walking through the forest when he sniffed the aroma of good rich food. Peering through the leaves he saw some workers setting some gold and silver dishes onto a beautifully embroidered table cloth. When the waiters saw the tiger they dropped and fled. The tiger immediately picked the table cloth from all four corners with his mouth and with the food and dishes still in their place; he took the riches to the old couple's hut. Although the couple was out working in the fields, when they returned they saw the tiger's claw prints and assumed that the gift was from their tiger friend.

Soon afterwards there was another visitor this time it was no animal but that very young man whom the two had saved from the floods. Boasting that he was a courtier from the King's palace, the young man began to eat and drink the humble food which was offered to him on gold and silver plates. The first query which the young man had on his mind was: where was that treacherous turtle who wished to have him drowned?

When he found out the dwelling place of the turtle, he dashed off to seek revenge. It happened that the turtle was just about to journey to the old couple's house when the young man spotted him. The man started to throw stones at the turtle but the latter, as blind and old as he was, managed to slip into a nearby pond. Furious, the young man ran back towards the old couple's house and demanded an explanation as to how they obtained the gold and silver plates. "From the tiger," explained the old man. This was no satisfactory explanation for the vengeance-seeking human and he swiftly proceeded to call the palace soldiers. By this time the injured and sick turtle had reached the little hut but it was too late the old man and woman had already been taken captive by soldiers. The two were to be punished in the capital city.

Very soon, the turtle had broadcast the fate of the old man and woman. The animals in the forest had a conference to decide on how they could help their dear friends. As planned, the snake slithered into the chamber of the beautiful royal princess, the King's only child, and bit her in the arm. The poison caused her to fall into a deep slumber. The royal gong was sounded throughout the kingdom but no doctor could cure the ailing princess. It was all confusion at the palace gates and the monkey found this to be the right time to sneak into the prison where the old man and woman were imprisoned. When the monkey saw them he placed a magical cure of grounded leaves taken from the top of a tree in their hands and bade them to cure the princess with it. When news of their magical curing power reached the King's ears, they were sent for. The young princess was immediately cured; the old man and woman were set free, handsomely rewarded by the King and lived happily ever after.

The moral of this story is: those who are ungrateful are more harmful than the most vicious animals.

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