A tiger was caught in a storm, he had wandered into the fields looking for something to eat. He huddled close to the wall of Naini’s hut for shelter. Naini was an ill-tempered old woman who lived on the outskirts of the village. She was feeling especially ill-tempered that day, because her roof leaked badly. “This drip-drip!” she muttered, pushing her tin trunks and bed from place to place to keep them dry. “Is there no escape?” She slammed the bed against a trunk, picked up a small wooden box and shoved it against the wall. The wall shook. The tiger felt the wall shake and heard Naini shout, “It’s killing me, this drip-drip!” The tiger was puzzled and frightened. “What could this drip-drip be? It makes such a terrible noise. It must be a dreadful creature!” Just then Bholenath, the potter, passed by. He was in a bad mood, too. His donkey had run away. He suddenly saw an animal huddled against the wall of a hut. “There he is!” he shouted and running to the tiger kicked it. Then he pulled the tiger’s ears. “Move, or I’ll break your bones!” The tiger was really frightened. “This must be that terrible Drip-Drip,” he thought. Without a growl, he followed the potter home. When they reached Bholenath’s hut, the potter tied the tiger outside with a sturdy rope. “You can stay out in the rain!” he shouted. The potter’s wife got up early the next morning. As she came out of the hut she saw the tiger and screamed. Bholenath came running out. He stopped short when he saw the tiger. Then he turned and ran. His wife followed him still screaming. They shut the door of their hut and pushed their bed and trunks against it. Other people in the village were awake by now. They saw the snarling tiger tied outside Bholenath’s hut. Astonished, they hurried off to tell others about it. The terrified tiger finally chewed through the rope, and ran back to the jungle. After a while Bholenath peeped through a small hole in the door. “The tiger’s gone!” he whispered. Trembling with relief, he opened the door.
Many people came to visit Bholenath that day. “Did you really kick him?” asked the carpenter. Bholenath had recovered from his fright now. “I not only kicked and slapped him, I even pulled his ears,” he replied with a laugh. Word of the incident spread until even the king heard the story. He sent for the potter and said, “I have never heard of such bravery! We need men like you in the army. You shall be my General!” One evening, when the whole court was gathered, a soldier rushed in crying, “War! The neighbouring king has declared war. He’s at our borders with eighty thousand men!” The king called Bholenath, “The time has come to prove your bravery. I appoint you my Commander-in-Chief.” “I-I will do my best,” Bholenath stammered, his heart pounding with fear. That night Bholenath said in despair to his wife, “I don’t even know how to ride a horse. What will I do?” “Don’t worry,” she replied. “I’ll tie you to the horse. What happens after that is in God’s hands.” Early the next morning, a messenger arrived with a magnificent black stallion. “It belongs to the king himself! He has sent it for you to ride into battle.” Bholenath glumly followed his wife out to the horse. Four servants lifted him onto the black stallion, then his wife tied him securely to the horse. She even tied one end of the rope to the horse’s tail. The horse didn’t like the feel of all these ropes, and rearing up suddenly, galloped off with Bholenath holding on desperately. Suddenly, Bholenath realized that the horse was heading straight for the enemy camp. “No, no!” the potter shouted. He saw a banyan tree with its aerial roots hanging over the road. As the horse galloped under it, Bholenath reached up to pull himself free. But, the horse was going too fast and the roots came right off the branches, and hung flapping in his hands. “Help! Help!” the potter shouted, waving the roots to attract attention. The horse galloped straight into the enemy camp. The soldiers saw a wild-looking man, hair and clothes flapping, ropes all around him, on a fierce black stallion, waving tree roots and shouting. “It’s the advance guard!” a soldier yelled. “It’s a demon!” screamed another. “The king has a demon army!” shouted a third. “Run!” cried a fourth. “Run!” echoed the others and ran for their lives. Bholenath’s horse reached the middle of the camp. The ropes which had held the potter on the horse came apart and he fell off the horse. He looked around the empty camp bewildered. Then, slowly and painfully, he stood up and led the horse back home. The king’s army had ridden out to join their Commander. They met him walking wearily home. “The enemy has gone,” he told them. The soldiers rode to the camp to see for themselves. The camp was empty. The soldiers rode triumphantly into the city and told the king what had happened. “Scared away a whole army single-handed?” cried the king delightedly. “What a man!” And, even today, the people tell the story of the valiant potter who caught a tiger and defeated an entire army all by himself.
By Alka Shankar and Sharleen Mukundan; Published by National Book Trust, India