The Crocodile and the Monkey
About the poem:
A poetic version of the moral tale of a crocodile and a monkey from the Panchatantra, The crocodile and the monkey by Vikram Seth is one of the poems from Seth’s Beastly Tales from Here and There, which is a collection of moralistic poems with animals depicting human traits. In the poem, a wife’s needs displace a friend’s. Mrs. Crocodile is drawn as a zaftig, scaly monstrosity with the expression of a nagging, vain, cuckolding wife. A good monkey may be hard to find, but Kuroop the crocodile has no choice but to satisfy his wife’s prandial passion by acquiring the mango-rich heart of the monkey. Only a foolish monkey would be so kind as to give a lowly crocodile the freshest mangoes from the trees. Kuroop the crocodile falsely convinces the monkey to attend their home across the river for a dinner. While the monkey rides upon his back, Kuroop generously offers him a choice as to the manner of death. But the monkey is not so easily duped by trickery. By cleverly stating that he never carries his precious heart with him and has left it in the trees on the shore from which they came, the monkey is saved. And upon his return, he crowns Kuroop with rotten mangoes hurled from the trees. The main moral is that one should not trust those who are normally untrustworthy. Even when we are walking towards our death, if our ‘friend’ backstabs us, we should not give up. We still have hope at the last moment as long as we do not give up.
Line wise explanation of the poem:
On the Ganga’s greenest isle
Lived Kuroop the Crocodile:
Greeny-brown with a gentle grin,
Stubby legs and scaly skin,
He would view with tepid eyes,
Prey below a certain size
But when the substantial dish
Dolphin, turtle, fatter fish
Swam across his field of view,
He would test the water too.
Out he’d glide, a floating log,
Silent as a polliwog
Nearer, nearer, till his prey
Swam single length away;
Then he’d lunge with smiling head,
Grab, and snap, and rip it dead
Then (prime pleasure of his life)
Drags the carcass to his wife,
Lay it humbly at her feet,
Eat a bit, and watch her eat.
The poem begins with the introduction of Kuroop, the crocodile. Kuroop inhabits the greenest island situated on the river Ganga. This is continued with the physical description of Kuroop, mentioning the skin of a greenish-brown color and a scaly texture. The crocodile has small, stubby legs and a perpetual gentle grin, and his eyes hold an apathetic expression. His hunting skills have been elaborated upon. Whenever Kuroop would pry any prospective preys crossing, he would follow them, as silent as a tadpole, until he’d be close enough to lunge at and tear them. Then he would carry the hunted to his wife and present it to her and together they would devour it.
All along the river-bank
Mango trees stood rank on rank,
And his monkey friend would throw
To him as he swam below
Mangoes gold and ripe and sweet
As a special summer treat
“Crocodile, your wife I know
Hunger after mangoes so
That she’dpine and weep swoon,
Mangoes-less in burning June.”
The Kuroop the crocodile,
Gazing upwards with smile,
Thus the addressed his monkey friend:
“Dearest monkey, in the end,
Not the fruit, but your sweet love,
Showered on us from above,
Constant through the changing years,
Slakes her griefs and dries her tears.”
(This was only partly true
She liked to love, and mangoes too.)
The scene described is one of a mangrove, which is known by the mention of mango trees surrounding the river. The monkey, from the title of the poem, is introduced here. The monkey, being able to climb on trees, would pluck mangoes from the trees and throw them down to the crocodile so that he could take them to his wife. The monkey’s kindness and consideration are known through these lines as he wants to wipe away the crocodile’s wife’s grief and satiate her hunger for golden sweet mangoes. Kuroop also acknowledges the monkey’s gratuitous gesture and thanks to him for how he has been constantly showering his love through mangoes on Kuroop and his wife.
One day Mrs. Crocodile,
Gorged on mangoes, with a smile
Sad, yet tender- turned and said:
“Scalykins, since we’ve been wed,
You’ve fulfilled my every wish
Dolphins, turtles, mangoes, fish
But I now desire to eat,
As an anniversary treat,
Something sweeter still than fruit,
Sugar-cane or sugar-root:
I must eat that monkey’s heart.”
“What?” “Well, darling, for a start,
He has been so kind to me;
Think how sweet his heart must be:
Then, the mango pulp he’s eaten
Year on year must serve to sweeten
Further yet each pore and part,
Concentrating on his heart.”
“Darling, he’s my friend.” I know;
And he trusts you. Therefore go-
Go at once and fetch him here
Oh, my breath grows faint, I fear…”
“Let me fan you- it’s the heat”
“No- I long for something sweet.
Every fruit tastes bitter now.
I must eat his heart somehow.
Get him here, my love, or I,
Filled with bitterness, will die.”
While feasting on her sweet mangoes, one fine day Mrs. Crocodile, with a pitiable smile turned to her husband, Kuroop and pleaded with him that through all these years he has fulfilled every wish of hers and had fulfilled all her whims and fancies, from dolphins to turtles to mangoes and fishes. But now, her heart desires for something sweeter than all these delicacies as an anniversary gift; she yearns for the monkey’s heart. Her request leaves Kuroop aghast as the monkey has always been nothing, but overtly kind and a good friend to Kuroop and his wife. To this, Mrs. Crocodile justifies her wish to state a logic as to how over the years the sweetness of the mangoes that the monkey has consumed would have accumulated in his heart, coupled with his love and kindness, and this would have made his heart very sweet to taste. She further asserts her wishes by putting up a show of how she is crumbling with longing for the monkey’s heart. Kuroop tries to dissuade her but to no avail.
When the monkey saw Kuroop
He let out a joyful whoop,
Jumped from branch to branch with pleasure,
Flinging down the golden treasure:
“Eat, my friend, and take your wife
Nectar from the tree of life
Mangoes ripe and mangoes rare,
Mangoes, mangoes everywhere.”
Then Kuroop the crocodile
Gazed up with a gentle smile:
“Monkey, you are far too kind,
But today, if you don’t mind,
Dine with both of us, and meet
Her whose life you’ve made so sweet.
when you meet her you will see
Why she means so much to me.
When she takes you by paw
Something at your heart will gnaw.
When you gaze into her eyes
You will enter paradise
Let us show your gratitude:
Share our friendship and our food.”
“Dear Kuroop, dear crocodile,
You can swim from isle to isle.
I can leap from limb to limb,
But, my friend, I cannot swim.
And your island’s far away.
If I get a boat someday…”
“Nonsense; jump upon my back.
You’re no heavier than my sack
Filled with mangoes to the crown.”
When Kuroop goes down to fetch the monkey for his wife, the monkey sights him. He greets Kuroop by throwing down ripe, golden mangoes from the trees to him so that he can take them to his wife and they both can enjoy them together. This itself shows how considerate and affectionate the monkey was and how much he valued Kuroop as a friend. Then, Kuroop invites the monkey over to dine with him and his wife on the pretense of wanting to introduce the monkey to his wife. Kuroop’s words have a dual meaning here. The phrase “When she takes you by paw, Something at your heart will gnaw. When you gaze into her eyes, You will enter paradise”, can also be interpreted as a warning as he is suggesting that meeting his wife will lead to the monkey’s heart being gnawed and him entering paradise or afterlife. The monkey replies to this invitation saying that conveyance will be a hindrance as unlike the crocodile, he cannot swim. He says that if someday he gets access to a boat, he will surely visit the crocodile and his wife. Considering his wife’s urgency, the crocodile comes up with a solution and suggests the monkey climb on his back so that he can give him a ride to his abode.
So the monkey clambered down,
Bearing mangoes, and delighted
With such warmth to be invited.
They were just halfway across
When the crocodile said: “Toss
All the mangoes in the water.”
“But these fruits are all I’ve brought her.”
“You yourself are the gift enough,”
Said Kuroop in accents gruff.
“Ah, my friend, that’s very gracious.”
“Well, my wife’s not so voracious-
And I’m certain that today
She won’t eat fruit. By the way.
Tell me what your breast contains.
Mango nectar fills your veins.
Does it also fill your heart?”
Said the monkey with the start:
“What a very curious question.”
“Well, she might get indigestion
If it’s too rich, I suspect.”
“What?” “Your heart.” “My heart?” “Correct.”
“Now,” Kuroop said with a frown,
“Which would you prefer- to drown
In the Ganga or to be
Gutted by my wife and me?
I will let you choose your end.
After all, you are my friend.”
Then he slowly started sinking.
“Wait,” the monkey said, “I’m thinking.
Death by drowning, death by slaughter
Deat by land or death by water
I’d face either with a smile
For your sake, O crocodile!
But your wife felicity
That’s what means the most to me.
Noble lady! How she’ll freeze,
Dumb with sorrow, when she sees,
Having prised my ribs apart,
That my breast contains no heart.
If you had not rushed me so,
I’d have found the time to go
To the hollow where I keep
Heart and liver when I sleep,
Half my brain, and fingernail,
Cufflinks, chutney, and spare tail.
I had scarcely woken up
When you asked me here to sup.
Why did you not speak before?
I’d have fetched them from the shore.”
The monkey took to Kuroop’s invitation and clambered down upon his back. Halfway through their journey, Kuroop tells the money to toss all the mangoes that he has brought for his wife into the water. The monkey is surprised by this curious request and Kuroop clarifies by saying that the monkey himself is gift enough for his wife. He says that the monkey himself will be enough to satisfy his wife’s appetite and asks the monkey if his heart really is richly sweetened by the mango nectar, as this might lead to his wife suffering from indigestion. This conversation confuses the monkey and he finally is able to decipher Kuroop’s implication when Kuroop asks him whether he would prefer to drown in the Ganga or be slaughtered by his wife. The monkey appears to be deep in thought and replies finally by saying that he is ready to sacrifice his life for his friend. But, the main problem lies in the fact that the monkey contains his heart, not in his breast, but stores his heart, liver, half brain, fingernail, chutney and cufflinks in a hollow while he is sleeping. When the crocodile extended to him the invitation, the monkey has barely woken up, and hence he did not get the time to retrieve his heart from the hollow.
Now Kuroop the crocodile
Lost, then quickly found, his smile.
“How my sweetheart will upbraid me!
Monkey, the monkey you must aid me.”
“Well ” the monkey placed his paw
Thoughtfully upon his jaw
“Well, although the day is hot
And I’d really rather not
We could go back, fetch my heart,
Check its sweetness, and depart.”
So the crocodile once more
Swam the monkey back to shore,
And, with tears of thankfulness
Mingled with concern and stress,
Worried what his wife would say
With regard to his delay,
Begged his friend: “Come back at once.”
“I’m not such a double-dunce,”
Yelled the monkey from the high;
“Tell your scaly wife to try
Eating her own wicked heart
If she has one for a start
Mine’s been beating in my breast
Night and day without rest.
Tell her that and for you,
Here’s my parting gift” He threw
Mangoes squishy, rotten, dead
Down upon the reptile’s head,
Who, with a regretful smile,
Sat and eyed him for a while.
First a little apprehensive about deciding his course of action, Kuroop finally decided to take the monkey back to his tree so that he could fetch his heart for Kuroop’s wife. Despite being worried about his wife’s reaction to this unforeseen delay, the crocodile was immensely thankful for the monkey’s cooperation. But, when he told the monkey to make haste and come back down on his back, the monkey retaliated by saying that he was once bitten and twice shy. He wouldn’t be stupid enough to aid the crocodile, who had taken undue advantage of his friendship and tried to use him as a scapegoat. Throwing down rotten mangoes upon Kuroop’s head, the monkey told him that the excuse of his heart is kept in a hollow was just a trick that he used to manipulate Kuroop and save his own life. Cursing Kuroop’s wife, he told him that his heart was intact inside his body all throughout. And on this note, he bade him goodbye, while Kuroop kept gazing at him with mournful eyes.
On the surface a children’s poem, But at its heart, The Crocodile and the Monkey by Vikram Seth is a well-spun tale of friendship, kindness, betrayal, and subsequent estrangement. Rewriting the moralistic tale of not trusting those who are untrustworthy, from the Panchatantra, Seth presents this story in a poetic form with a nursery rhyme-like tune with humanized animals conversing and imparting values. Kuroop the crocodile is a character whose major objective is to impress his wife and cater to all her needs. For this purpose, he brings her carcass of his prey and also agrees to sacrifice his own friend, the monkey to satisfy her appetite. His wife, Felicity is shown to be greedy, manipulative, and selfish as she wants to devour the same monkey’s heart, who had been providing her with sweet mangoes through so many years. Her concern lies only with her own well being as she put her husband, Kuroop’s friendship with the monkey on the back burner, and demanded that he betray his friend and satiate her greed. The monkey’s presence of mind and shrewdness was identified when he outsmarted Kuroop after knowing about his evil intentions and managed to save his life. Written in a humorous, witty manner, poem. A ballad, it not only narrates a story but also gives a very honest picture of human interactions. Narrated in a racy, yet bantering manner, one notices the difference between the crocodile’s attitude of a predator towards his prey and his docile nature towards his wife. .
Written by Vikram Seth in a simple, yet impactful language, the crocodile and the monkey are a poem which is for children on the surface but has a deep-rooted meaning. Through animals, it has portrayed some of the most popular, yet intricate human relationships. From unlikely friendships to betrayals, a monkey and a crocodile express it in their own way. Even the wicked, greedy wife of the crocodile expresses traits of greed, lust for more, and manipulation. To the young readers, the easy melody of the poem because of its AABB rhyme scheme will leave an impression, and to the more mature reader, the themes of the complexities of human interactions will appeal to. Overall, the poem is a light read with an underlying deep meaning to it.