Our parents always tell us to associate with good people, and stay away from those who are bad. We should especially be careful of evil friends, who do us more harm than good. Choosing our friends wisely is one of the most important things we should learn, and there are many stories illustrating this. Here is one story which occurs in both, the Panchatantra as well as the Hitopadesha. This is the story of a lion and his selfish friends.
There once lived a lion in a thick forest. He was a brave and good animal who hunted only for food, and never for pleasure. Among his followers were three crafty animals – a jackal, a crow and a wolf – who tagged along with the lion for selfish reasons. They were lazy, and depended on the lion for food, preferring to eat his leftovers rather than hunting their own prey. The lion did not mind this, since he anyway had his fill of food. Moreover, they knew that they were safe from the other animals as long as they were known to be the lion’s friends.
The lion was ignorant of the truth, and continued to regard the three as his friends, and continued to help them. Thus, the three animals lived a happy and contented life along with the lion.
One day, a camel wandered into the jungle by mistake, and could not find his way out. The three friends happened to see the camel trying in vain to find his way, and realized that he was a stranger. The jackal suggested to his friends, “Let us kill and eat him. He will provide us with food for many days.”
The crow was a bit wary. “He is a large animal, and it might be difficult for us to kill him. Moreover, he might injure one of us. Let us go and ask the lion to kill him. Then we can have the pleasure of tasting him without making any effort” he said.
The other two agreed with his suggestion, and went to the lion. “My lord” they said, “An animal has entered our forest. Please kill him for trespassing on our area, so that we can feast on his flesh!”
The lion was enraged, and roared “How dare you say that? If the animal has indeed entered our forest, it might be by mistake. We must give him refuge, not kill him. Go and bring him to me, so that we can learn more about him. If he is a danger to me, then we shall see what is to be done.”
The crow flew off and soon came back with the camel. The camel bowed before the lion and said, “O king of the jungle, I am a camel. I was travelling to the city with my master, passing through this jungle, when I got separated and lost my way. Please help me and allow me to stay on here. The grass is lush and green and will provide me sustenance. That is all I ask for.”
The lion was happy and agreed to let the camel stay on. Moreover, he enjoyed talking to the camel, who was unselfish and helpful. Soon, they became good friends. This angered the jackal, the crow and the wolf, who could not bear to see the camel’s influence on the lion.
Then one day, the lion entered into a fight with an elephant, and was badly hurt. He was not able to hunt for himself. A lion never eats what another animal has killed, so he soon grew weak due to hunger.
The three friends were in trouble, for they had forgotten the skills of hunting. They were so used to eating what the lion had killed, that they were unable to hunt for themselves now. They were hungry and wondered how they could secure a meal for themselves.
Meanwhile, the camel was concerned about the health of his friend the lion, but he had plenty of lush green grass to eat, and was growing fatter day by day.
The three friends’ mouths watered as they saw the fat and healthy camel. They wanted to eat him, but were too scared of the lion to kill him by themselves. They went to the lion with a plea. “My lord,” they said, “We cannot bear to see you so thin and weak while your friend the camel grows fatter by the day. Why don’t you kill and eat him? After all, you are a lion and he is a camel. You are justified in eating him, as he is your natural prey.”
The lion roared with anger “How dare you make such a suggestion? First of all, I have granted him protection and refuge. Second, he is my friend. How can I kill him now, even though he is my natural prey?”
The jackal was a cunning one, who immediately had a plan. He said, “My lord, under normal circumstances, we would never suggest something like this. You are right. You have given him refuge and assured him protection. But now you are hurt and wounded. You are weak and incapable of hunting. In such a situation, it would not be wrong to eat someone who offers himself to you as food. If the camel himself comes to you and offers himself as food to build up your health, there is nothing wrong in killing him.”
The lion was struck by this argument, and thought for a while. He could not think of anything to counter it, and finally replied, “What you say is right. If the camel himself offers to be my food, there can be no harm in my killing him. But why will he do that?”
This was the answer the jackal was waiting for. He said, “My lord, please do not worry. We shall talk to the camel and explain matters to him. I am sure he will come forward and offer himself as your food!”
As the three walked away, the wolf and the crow were sceptical. They asked the jackal, “Friend, indeed, it would be great if the camel offered himself, but won’t he refuse? Why will he agree to be slaughtered?” The jackal laughed and replied, “I have a plan. Just follow my lead, and see how the camel becomes our food!”
The three of them went to the camel, and sat down with mournful faces. The camel wondered what had happened, and asked, “My friends, why are you looking so sad? What is the matter?”
The jackal replied, “My friend, our friend the lion is wounded and incapable of hunting. He asked us to go and find a prey for him, but we have not been able to catch a single animal. If he goes hungry any longer, he will be too weak and will die soon. We do not want him to die, and have decided to sacrifice ourselves for him. We are going to offer ourselves to him and ask him to kill one of us to keep up his strength. This is why we are sad.”
The camel was perturbed on hearing this, but he too was worried about his friend’s health, and could not dissociate himself from the plan. He agreed to go along with his three friends, hoping that his friendship with the lion would keep him safe.
As soon as the four friends appeared in front of the lion, the crow said, “My lord, we have searched for a suitable prey for you all over the jungle, but have been unsuccessful. I cannot bear to see you growing weak day by day. Please kill me and satisfy your hunger, at least for a while!”
Hearing the crow speak thus, the jackal came forward and said, “Friend crow, you are indeed a true friend, but I cannot allow you to die while I am alive. Moreover, you are too small to satisfy our friend’s hunger.” He then turned to the lion and said, “My lord, please kill and eat me. I shall be blessed if my flesh will help satiate you!”
It was now the turn of the wolf, who played up to the plan and said, “No my lord, my friend the jackal is too good to be sacrificed. We shall be lost without his intelligence. Instead, please kill and eat me. I am the largest of all and shall satisfy you for the longest period.”
Hearing the animals speak thus, the camel was confused. He did not want to appear selfish by not offering himself for his friend’s health, but was afraid of being killed. However, he took heart from the fact that the lion had not killed anyone yet, and thought that the others would stand up for him. Hence, he too stood up and said, “My lord, my friends have all offered themselves to you, but none of them can fill your stomach. I am larger than all of them, and have grown healthy thanks to the lush vegetation here. Please eat me and fill your stomach.”
This was just what the others were waiting for. As soon as he said these words, the lion leaped on him and killed him with a blow. He saw nothing wrong in it since the camel had offered himself.
Once the lion had eaten his fill, the others ate the remnants as usual. The three selfish friends were happy that the situation was back to normal. The lion sometimes regretted his action, for he missed his only unselfish friend, but it was too late.
The camel and the lion, both suffered due to their bad friends. The camel lost his life, while the lion lost his only good friend. This is why we must be extremely careful while choosing friends, and must stay away from bad people. We must make friendship with those who are good at heart and help us, not with those who only want help from us. Such friends are dangerous in the long run.