The Elephant and The Tragopan

In Bingle Valley, broad and green,
Where neither hut nor field is seen,
Where bamboo, like a distant lawn,
Is gold at dusk and flushed at dawn,
Where rhododendron forests crown
The hills, and wander halfway down
In scarlet blossom, where each year
A dozen shy black bears appear,
Where a cold river, filmed with ice,
Sustains a minor paradise,
An elephant and tragopan
Discussed their fellow creature, man.

The tragopan last week had heard
The rumour from another bird
—Most probably a quail or sparrow:
Such birds have gossip in their marrow—
That man had hatched a crazy scheme
To mar their land and dam their stream,
To flood the earth on which they stood,
And cut the woods down for their wood.
The tragopan, good-natured pheasant,
A trifle shocked by this unpleasant
Even if quite unlikely news
Had scurried off to test the views
Of his urbane and patient friend,
The elephant, who in the end
Had swung his trunk from side to side
With gravitas, and thus replied:
“Who told you? Ah, the quail—oh well,
I rather doubt—but who can tell?
I would suggest we wait and see.
Now would you care to have some tea?”
“Gnau! gnau!” the tragopan agreed.
“That is exactly what I need.
And i f you have a bamboo shoot
Or fresh oak-leaves, or ginseng-root—
Something that’s crunchy but not prickly…
I feel like biting something quickly.”
The elephant prepared the tea
In silence, then said carefully:
“Now let me think what I can get you.
I fear this rumour has upset you.
Your breast looks redder than before.
Do ruffle down. Here, let me pour.”
He drew a lukewarm gallon up
His trunk, and poured his friend a cup.

A week passed, and the tragopan
One morning read the news and ran
In panic down the forest floor
To meet the elephant once more.
A cub-reporter bison calf
Who wrote for Bingle Telegraph
Had just confirmed the frightful fact
In language chilling and exact.
“Here, read it!” said the tragopan,
And so the elephant began:
“Bingle. 5th April. Saturday.
Reliable informants say
That the Great Bigshot Number One
Shri Padma Bhushan Gobardhun
And the Man-Council o f this state,
Intending to alleviate
The water shortage in the town
Across our ridge and ten miles down,
Have spent three cartloads of rupees
So far upon consultants’ fees—
Whose task is swiftly to appraise
Efficient, cheap, and speedy ways
To dam our stream, create a lake,
And blast a tunnel through to take
Sufficient water to supply
The houses that men occupy.”

What do you think, “the tragopan
Burst out, “about this wicked plan
To turn our valley blue and brown?
I will not take this lying down.
I’ll cluck at them. I’ll flap my wings.
I tell you, I will do such things—
What they are yet I do not know,
But, take my word, I mean to show
Those odious humans what I feel.
And the Great Partridge will reveal
—That Partridge, dwelling in the sky.
Who looks down on us from on high—
He will reveal to us the way—
So kneel with me and let us pray.”

The elephant said, “Let me think.
Before we pray, let’s have a drink.
Some bamboo wine—perhaps some tea?
“No, no— ” the bird said angrily.
“I will not give in to distraction.
This isn’t time for tea but action.”
The wattled horns upon his head
Stood upright in an angry red.
The elephant said nothing; he
Surveyed the landscape thoughtfully
And flapped his ears like a great fan
To cool the angry tragopan.

An illustration of a tragopan and an elephant having tea

Illustration by Suzanne Dunaway

“It’s infamous, I know,” he said,
But we have got to use our head.
Praying may help us—who can tell?
But they, of course, have gods as well
I would endeavour to maintain
Our plans on a terrestrial plane.
What I suggest is we convoke
The Beastly Board of Forest Folk
For a full meeting to discuss
The worst that can occur to us.”
And so that evening, all the creatures
— With tusks or gills or other features—
Met at the river’s edge to plan
How they might outmanoeuvre man.
Gibbons and squirrels, snakes, wild dogs,
Deer and macaques, three types of frogs,
Porcupines, eagles, trout, wagtails,
Civet cats, sparrows, bears and quails,
Bloodsucking leeches, mild-eyed newts,
And leopards in their spotted suits—
Stated their stances, asked their questions,
And made their manifold suggestions
Some predators drooled at the sight,
But did not act on appetite.
The leopards did not kill the deer.
The smaller birds evinced no fear.
Each eagle claw sat in its glove.
The mood was truce, if not quite love
At meetings of the Beastly Board
Eating each other was outlawed.

The arguments grew sharp and heated.
Some views advanced, and some retreated.
Some feared to starve, and some to drown.
Some said they should attack the town.
The trout said they were unconcerned
If the whole bamboo forest burned
So long as they had space to swim.
The mynahs joked, the boars looked grim.
They talked for hours, and at the close
At last the elephant arose,
And with a modest trumpet-call
Drew the attention of them all:

“O Beasts of Bingle gathered round,
Though in our search for common ground
I would not dream of unanimity
I hope our views may reach proximity.
I speak to you as one whose clan
Has served and therefore studied man.
He is a creature mild and vicious,
Practical-minded and capricious,
Loving and brutal, sane and mad,
The good as puzzling as the bad.
The sticky centre of this mess
Is an uneasy selfishness.
He rips our flesh and tears our skin
For cloth without, for food within.
The leopard’s spots are his to wear.
Our ivory unknots his hair
The tragopan falls to his gun.
He shoots the flying fox for fun.
The black bear dances to his whim.
My own tame cousins slave for him.
Yet we who give him work and food
Have never earned his gratitude.
He grasps our substance as of right
To quench and spur his appetite,
Nor will he grant us truce or grace
To rest secure in any place.
Sometimes he worships us as Gods
Or sings of us at Eisteddfods—
Or fashions fables, myths, and stories
To celebrate our deed and glories.
And yet despite this fertile fuss,
When has he truly cared for us?
He sees the planet as his fief
Where every hair or drop or leaf
Or seed or blade or grain of sand
Is destined for his mouth or hand.
If he is thirsty, we must thirst—
For of all creatures, man comes first.
If he needs room, then we must fly;
And if he hungers, we must die.
Think what will happen, when his scheme
To tame our valley and our stream
Begins to thrust its way across
These gentle slopes of fern and moss
With ax, explosive, and machine.
Since rhododendron logs burn green
They’ll all be chopped for firewood—
Or logged and smuggled out for good.
As every bird and mammal knows,
When the road comes, the forest goes.
And let me say this to the trout—
The bamboo will be slashed, no doubt,
And what the tragopan and I
Delight to eat, will burn and die.
But what will happen to your stream?
Before the reservoir, your dream
Of endless space, can come about,
The soot and filth will snuff you out.
What tolls for us is your own bell.
And similarly let me tell
The leopards who may fancy here
A forestful of fleeing deer—
After your happy, passing slaughter,
You too will have to flee from water.
You will be homeless, like us all.
It is this fate we must forestall.
So let me say to every single
Endangered denizen of Bingle—
We must unite in fur and feather—
For we will live or die together.”

All this made such enormous sense
That all except the rather dense
Grey peacock-pheasants burst out cheering.
The peacock-pheasants, after hearing
The riotous applause die down,
Asked, with an idiotic frown:
“But what is it we plan to do?”
A bison calf remarked: “I knew
Those peacock-pheasants were half-witted.”
And everybody joshed and twitted
The silly birds till they were dumb.
“How typical! How troublesome!”
A monkey said: “What awful taste!
How graceless and how brazen-faced,
When all of us are clapping paws,
To undermine our joint applause.”
Oddly, the elephant was the beast
Who of them all was put out least.
He flapped his ears and bowed his head.
“The pheasants have a point,” he said.

“Unfortunately,” he went on,
“The days of beastly strength are gone.
We don’t have mankind on the run.
That’s why he’s done what he has done.
We can’t, as someone here suggested,
Burn down the town. We’d be arrested.
Or maimed or shot or even eaten.
But I will not admit we’re beaten.
Someone suggested that we flee
And set up our community
In some far valley where no man
Has ever trod—or ever can.
Sweet to the mind though it may seem,
This is, alas, an idle dream—
For nowhere lies beyond man’s reach
To mar and burn and flood and leach.
A distant valley is indeed
No sanctuary from his greed.
Besides, the beasts already there
Will fight with us for food and air.
No, we must struggle for this land
Where we have stood and where we stand.
What I suggest is that we go
To the Great Bigshot down below
And show him how self-interest
And what his conscience says is best
Both tell him ‘Let the valley be.’
Who knows—perhaps he may agree,
If nothing else, to hear us out.
But we must take, without a doubt,
Firm data to support our prayer—
And in addition must prepare
Some other scheme by which he can
Ensure more water gets to man—
For, by the twitching of my trunk,
Without that we’ll be truly sunk.”

And so it happened that a rally
Meandered forth from Bingle Valley
A few days later, up and down
The hills towards the human town.
With trumpet, cackle, grunt and hoot
They harmonized along their route,
And “Long live Bingladesh” was heard
From snout of beast and beak of bird.
“Protect our spots,” the leopards growled;
While the wild dogs and gibbons howled:
“Redress our sad and sorry tale,
The tragedy of Bingle Vale.”
And there, red-breasted in the van,
Cluck-clucked the gallant tragopan—
Raised high upon the elephant’s neck,
And guiding him by prod and peck.
The only absentees, the trout,
Were much relieved to slither out.
They asked: “How can we wet our gills
Clambering up and down those hills?
The journey will be far too taxing;
We’d rather spend the time relaxing.
We’ll guard the valley while you plead.”
“All right,” the other beasts agreed.

Meanwhile from fields and gates and doors
The villagers came out in scores
To see the cavalcade go by.
Some held their children shoulder-high
While others clutched a bow or gun
And dreamed of pork or venison—
But none had seen or even heard
Of such a horde of beast and bird,
And not a bullet or an arrow
Touched the least feather of a sparrow.
So stunned and stupefied were they,
They even cheered them on the way
Or joined them on the route to town—
Where the Great Bigshot with a frown
Said to his Ministers, “Look here!
What is this thing that’s drawing near?
What is this beastly ragtag army—
Have I gone blind? Or am I barmy?”

“Yes, yes, Sir—” said the Number Two.
“I mean, no, no, Sir—what to do?
They’ve not gone through the proper channels
The Protocol Protection Panels
Have no idea who they are.
Nor does the Riffraff Registrar.
It’s possible they don’t exist.”
“Well,” said the Bigshot, getting pissed,
“Exist or not, they’re getting near.
And you’ll be Number Twelve, I fear,
Unless you find out what the fuss
Is all about, and tender us
Advice on what to say and do.
And think. And be. Now off with you.”
The Number Two was almost crying.
He rushed off with his shirt-tails flying,
Without a cummerbund or hat.
And flew back in a minute flat.
“Oh, Bigshot, Sir, thanks to your grace,
By which I’m here in second place.
Thanks to your wisdom and your power
Which grows in glory by the hour.
Thanks to the faith you’ve placed in me.
Which gives me strength to hear and see,
Thanks to — ” “Yes, yes,” the Bigshot said,
“Thanks to my power to cut you dead.
What is it you have come to learn?”
“Sir, Sir, they plan to overturn
Your orders, Sir, to dam up Bingle.
And, Sir, I saw some pressmen mingle
With the parade to interview
A clouded leopard and a shrew.
The beasts are all against your plan.
The worst of them’s the tragopan.
His eyes are fierce, his breast is red.
He wears a wattle on his head.
He looks so angry I’ve a hunch
That he’s the leader o f the bunch.
And when I met them, they weren’t far—
Oh Sir—oh no, Sir—here they are!”

An illustration of butterflies, frogs, a lizard, deer, an eagle, a bear, and a tragopan walking together

Illustration by Suzanne Dunaway

For now a hoolock gibbon’s paw
Was battering on the Bigshot’s door
And animals from far and wide
Were crowding in on every side.
“Save Bingle Valley!” rose the cry;
“For Bingle let us do or die.”
“Wait!” screamed the Bigshot in a tizzy.
“Wait! Wait! You can’t come in. I’m busy.
I’m the Great Bigshot Number One ,
Shri Padma Bhushan Gobardhun.
I rule by popular anointment.
You have to meet me by appointment.”
“What nonsense!” cried the tragopan:
“You try to stop us if you can.”
The Bigshot sensed their resolution,
And turned from awe to elocution.
“Dear friends,” he said, “regretfully,
The matter isn’t up to me.
What the Man-Council has decreed
Is not for me to supersede.
It’s true I, so to speak, presided.
But all—and none — of us decided.
That is the doctrine, don’t you see,
Of joint responsibility.
But if next year in early fall
You fill, in seven copies, all
The forms that deal with such a case
And bring them over to my place
Together with the filing fees
And three translations in Chinese,
The Council, at my instigation,
May give them due consideration.
Meanwhile, my friends, since you are here
A little early in the year
—No fault of yours, o f course, but still.
It’s not the best o f times—I will
Invite you to a mighty feast
Where every bird and every beast
Will sup on simply super food,
And later, if you’re in the mood,
Please come to hear the speech I’m due
To give this evening at the zoo.”

At this pathetic tactless bribe
a sound rose from the beastly tribe
So threatening that the Bigshot trembled
And said to all who were assembled:
“My beastly comrades, bear with me.
You are upset, as I can see.
I meant the stadium, not the zoo.”
He gestured to his Number Two
Who scrawled a memo in his diary.
“Perhaps an innocent inquiry,”
The elephant said, “may clear the air.
Please tell us all, were you aware,
Sir Bigshot, when you spoke just now,
That even if we did somehow
Fill out your forms and pay your fees,
Your cure would postdate our disease?
Before next fall our valley would
Have disappeared for ill or good.
The remedy that you suggest,
It might be thought, is not the best.”

A crafty look appeared upon
The Bigshot’s face, and then was gone.
“Of course, my friends, it slipped my mind.
But then, these days, I often find
I have so many files to read,
So many seminars to lead,
So many meetings to attend,
So many talks, that in the end
A minor fact or two slips by.
But, Elephant, both you and I
Appear to understand the world.”
And here the Bigshot’s fingers curled
Around a little golden ring.
“This vast unwieldy gathering,
Dear Elephant, is not the place
Where we can reason, face to face,
About what can or should be done.
We should discuss this one on one.
To be quite frank, your deputation,
Has not filled me with fond elation.
Tell them to leave; I’ll close the door,
And we’ll continue as before.”

An illustration of an elephant, a tragopan, a snake, a deer, a leopard, a squirrel, and two fish walking together

Illustration by Suzanne Dunaway

Although the other beasts agreed,
The elephant declared: “I’ll need
My secretary and mahout
To help me sort this matter out.
Like all the rest, he’s left the room,
But he can come back, I presume.
There’s two of you and one of me—
So I expect that you’ll agree.”
The Bigshot nodded: “Call the man.”
Quick as a quack the tragopan
Opened the door and strutted in
To greet his buddy with a grin.
The Bigshot and his Number Two
Scowled as they murmured, “How d’you do?”

Tea came; the Bigshot looked benign.
“Milk?” “Thanks.” “And sugar?” “One is fine.”
“It’s not too strong?” “I like mine weak.”
At last the moment came to speak.
“You see, good beasts,” the Bigshot said,
“We need your water—or we’re dead.
It’s for the people that I act.
The town must drink, and that’s a fact.
Believe me, all your agitation
Will only lead to worse frustration.
Go back, dear beasts, to Bingle now.
We’ll relocate you all somehow
In quarters of a certain size.”
He yawned, and rolled his little eyes.

Immediately, the tragopan
Pulled out his papers, and began,
With fact and query and suggestion,
To give the Bigshot indigestion.
“You say the town is short of water,
Yet at the wedding of your daughter
The whole municipal supply
Was poured upon your lawns. Well, why?
And why is it that Minister’s Hill
And Babu’s Barrow drink their fill
Through every season, dry or wet,
When all the common people get
Is water for three hours each day?
At least, that’s what my data say,
And every figure has been checked.
So, Bigshot, wouldn’t you expect
A radical redistribution
Would help provide a just solution?”

The Bigshot’s placid face grew red.
He turned to Number Two and said
In a low voice: “This agitator
Is dangerous. Deal with him later.”
Then, turning to the elephant,
He murmured sweetly, “I’ll be blunt.
Your friend’s suggestion is quite charming,
But his naivete’s alarming.
Redistribute it night and day,
Redistribute it all away,
Ration each drop, and you’ll still find
Demand will leave supply behind.”

The elephant first sipped his tea,
Then ate a biscuit leisuredly,
Then shook his head from side to side,
And, having cleared his trunk, replied:
Well, even as regards supply,
I do not see the reason why
You do not use what lies to hand
Before you try to dam our land.
Even my short walk through this town
Shows me how everything’s run down
During your long administration.
Your pipes cry out for renovation,
Your storage tanks corrode and leak,
The valves are loose, the washers weak.
I’ve seen the water gushing out
From every reservoir and spout.
Repair them; it will cost far less
Than driving us to homelessness
By blasting tunnels through our hills
And bloating your construction bills.
But that’s just one of many things:
Plant trees; revive your wells and springs.
Guide from your roofs the monsoon rain
Into great tanks to use again.
Reduce your runoff and your waste
Rather than with unholy haste
Destroying beauty which, once gone,
The world will never look upon.”
The elephant, now overcome
With deep emotion, brushed a crumb
Of chocolate biscuit off his brow.

“Dear chap,” the Bigshot said, somehow
I think you fail to comprehend
What really matters in the end.
The operative word is Votes,
And next to that comes Rupee-notes.
Your plans do not appeal to me
Because, dear chap, I fail to see
How they will help me gather either.”
He giggled, then continued: “Neither
The charming cheques that generous firms
With whom the Council comes to terms
—Who wish to dam or log or clear
Or build—will come to me, I fear,
Nor votes from those who think my schemes
Will satisfy their thirsty dreams.
It’s not just water that must funnel
Out of the hills through Bingle Tunnel.
Do animals have funds or votes—
Or anything but vocal throats?
Will you help me get re-elected?
You’re speechless? Just as I suspected.
I’ve tried to talk things out with you.
Now I will tell you what to do:
Lift up your stupid trunk and sign
This waiver on the dotted line.
Give up all rights in Bingle Vale
For fur or feather, tusk or tail.
Sadly, since you’re now in the know,
I can’t afford to let you go.
Your friend will never leave this room.
The tragopan has found his tomb.
As for yourself, my Number Two
Will soon escort you to the zoo.
From this the other beasts will learn
Your lands are ours to slash and burn
And anyone defying man
Will be a second tragopan.”
He giggled with delight, and padded
His cheeks with air, and gently added:
“But if you go cahoots with me,
I’ll spare your friend and set you free.”
He stroked his ring. “And I’ll make sure
You’ll be—let’s say—provided for.”
Before you could say “Pheasant stew”
The servile hands of Number Two
Grasped the bird’s collar in a vice.
The elephant went cold as ice
To see his friend cry out in terror.
He would have signed the form in error
Had not the tragopan cried out:
“Don’t sign. Gock. Gock.” And at his shout
The Bigshot’s son came running in
And struck the henchman on the chin.

An illustration of an elephant looking upset while looking at a person punching another person. Another person stands smugly before them. A tragopan flies in the air, looking alarmed

Illustration by Suzanne Dunaway

While the foiled killer squealed and glared,
For a long time the Smallfry stared
With indignation at his father.
“Papa—” he said, “I would much rather
Give up my place as Number Three
Than countenance such treachery.
Why can’t we let the valley live?
Those who succeed us won’t forgive
The Rape of Bingle. I recall,”
The Smallfry sighed, “when I was small
You used to take me walking there
With Mama in the open air.
For me, a dusty city boy,
It was a dream of peace and joy.
Along safe paths we’d walk; a deer
Might unexpectedly appear
Among the bamboos and the moss
And raise its velvet ears and toss
Its startled head and bound away.
Once I saw leopard cubs at play
And heard the mother’s warning cough
Before you quickly marched me off.
Until this day there’s not a single
House or hut or field in Bingle.
How many worlds like this remain
To free our hearts from noise and pain?
And is this lovely fragile vision
To be destroyed by your decision?
And do you now propose to make
A tunnel, dam, and pleasure lake
With caravans and motorboats
And tourists at each others’ throats,
Loudspeakers, shops, high-tension wires,
And ferris wheels and forest fires?
As the roads come, the trees will go.
Do villagers round Bingle know
What’s going to happen to their lands?
Are they too eating from your hands?
I had gone snorkling on the day
The Council met and signed away
The Bingle Bills. I know you signed—
But why can you not change your mind?
You talk o f sacrifice and glory.
Your actions tell a different story.
Do you expect me to respect you—
Or decent folk not to detect you?
Where you have crept, must mankind crawl,
Feared, hated, and despised by all?
Don’t sign, dear Elephant, don’t sign.
Don’t toe my wretched father’s line.
Dear Tragopan, do not despair.
Don’t yield the struggle in mid-air.
I’ll help your cause. And as for you—”
(He turned towards the Number Two)
“This time your chin, next time your head—,”
Rubbing his fists, the Smallfry said.

The Number Two lay on the ground.
A sniveling, groveling, snarling sound
Oozed from his throat. The Bigshot stood
As rigid as a block of wood.
He tried to speak; no words came out.
Then with an eerie strangled shout
He uttered: “You malignant pup!
Is this the way I’ve brought you up?
Where did you learn your blubbery blabbering?
Your jelly-livered jungle-jabbering?
Your education’s made you weak—
A no-good, nattering nature-freak
Who’s snorkled half his life away
Who asked you to go off that day?
You’ve been brought up in privilege
With Coca-Cola in your fridge
And litchis in and out o f season.
How dare you now descend to treason?
One day all this would have been yours—
These antlers and these heads of boars,
This office and these silver plates,
These luminous glass paperweights,
My voting bank, my Number Game,
My files, my fortune, and my fame.
I had a dream my only son
Would follow me as Number One .
I had been grooming you to be
A Bigger Bigshot after me.
You might have been a higher hero
And risen to be Number Zero —
But now, get out! You’re in disgrace,”
He said, and struck the Smallfry’s face.

The Smallfry, bleeding from the nose,
Fell, and the Number Two arose,
And slobbering over the Bigshot’s hand
Called him the saviour of the land.
At this, the elephant got mad
And, putting down the pen he had
Clasped in his trunk to sign, instead
Poured the whole teapot on their head.
The water in a boiling arc
Splashed down upon its double-mark.
The Bigshot and his henchman howled.
The tragopan gock-gocked and scowled:
“You wanted water; here’s your share.”
Then guards came in from everywhere—
And animals came in as well—
All was confusion and pell-mell
While news-reporters clicked and whirred
At limb of man and wing of bird.
The elephant stayed very still.
The tragopan rushed round—until,
Provoked by a pernicious peck,
The Bigshot wrung its little neck.

The tragopan collapsed and cried
“Gock gock!” and rolled his eyes and died.
He died before he comprehended
His transient span on earth had ended—
Nor could he raise a plaintive cry
To the Great Partridge in the sky
Whose head is wrapped in golden gauze
To take his spirit in His claws.

What happened happened very fast.
The mêlée was put down at last.
The Smallfry cried out when he found
The pheasant stretched out on the ground.
The Bigshot too began repenting
When he saw everyone lamenting
The martyrs selfless sacrifice.
He had the body laid on ice,
Draped in the state flag, and arrayed
With chevron, scutcheon, and cockade—
And all the townsfolk came to scan
The features of the tragopan.
Four buglers played “Abide with Me”;
Four matrons wept on a settee;
Four brigadiers with visage grim
Threw cornflakes and puffed rice on him;
Four schoolgirls robbed the tragopan
Of feathers for a talisman;
And everyone stood round and kept
Long vigil while the hero slept.

A long, alas, a final sleep!
O, Elephant, long may you weep.
O, Elephant, long may you mourn.
This is a night that knows no dawn.
Ah! every Bingle eye is blurred
With sorrow for its hero-bird
And every Bingle heart in grief
Turns to its fellow for relief.
Alas for Bingle! Who will lead
The struggle in its hour of need?
Is it the grief-bowed elephant
Who now must bear the beastly brunt?
Or will the gallant martyr-bird
In death, if not in life, be heard?
Dare the egregious Bigshot mock
The cry, “Save Bingle! Gock, gock, gock!”
And can a ghostly Tragopan
Help to attain a Bingle Ban?

For it undoubtedly was true
That suddenly the whole state knew
Of Bingle Valley and the trek
That ended in the fatal peck,
And panegyrics to the pheasant
In prose and verse were omnipresent.
Suggestions for a cenotaph
Appeared in Bingle Telegraph,
And several human papers too
Discussed the matter through and through.
The water problem in the state
Became a topic for debate.
The Bigshot, struggling with the flood,
Was splashed with editorial mud.
Then intellectuals began
To analyse the tragopan.
Was he a hothead or a martyr?
A compromiser or a tartar?
A balanced and strategic planner
Or an unthinking project-banner?
It seemed that nobody could tell.
And maybe that was just as well—
For mystery matched with eccentricity
Provides the grist for great publicity,
And myths of flexible dimension
Are apt to call forth less dissension.

This is a tale without a moral.
I hope the reader will not quarrel
About this minor missing link.
But if he likes them, he can think
Of five or seven that will do
As quasi-morals; here are two:
The first is that you never know
Just when your luck may break, and so
You may as well work for your cause
Even without overt applause;
You might, in time, achieve your ends.
The second is that you’ll find friends
In the most unexpected places,
Hidden among unfriendly faces—
For Smallfry swim in every pond,
Even the Doldrums of Despond.

And so I’ll end the story here.
What is to come is still unclear.
Whether the fates will smile or frown,
And Bingle Vale survive or drown,
I do not know and cannot say;
Indeed, perhaps, I never may.
I hope, of course, the beasts we’ve met
Will save their hidden valley, yet
The resolution o f their plight
Is for the world, not me, to write.

Vikram Seth is an Indian novelist and poet. He has written several novels and poetry books. He has received several awards including Padma Shri, Sahitya Akademi Award, Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, WH Smith Literary Award and Crossword Book Award. Seth’s collections of poetry such as Mappings and Beastly tales, are notable contributions to the Indian English language poetry Canon.