When the lion...
a multicultural fable by Suniti Namjoshi
In her extreme old age when the one-eyed monkey had become a citizen of many countries and had won wealth, fame and even international stature, a cub reporter – yes, literally a cub, this was the age of genetic intermingling and the very notion of tolerance had at its centre the idealism based on ecological balance – Where was I? Yes, this cub reporter said to her: ‘O Thinker, your life is a testimony to the efforts and achievements of the first 25 years of this nascent century.’ The one-eyed monkey smiled. She thought he was done. Then she realized that that was only the greeting: his way of dealing with whatever he thought was her generation. She dropped the smile and did her best to look profound. Why, he was asking her, why in the course of her journey through life had she become a citizen of so many nations? ‘Because it was useful.’ The words popped into her head, but she couldn’t say them. He was counting off the countries one by one, and that gave her a respite. What should she say? Should she say: ‘It was because I believed in multiculturalism’? The one-eyed monkey smiled. She remembered an old trick of hers. A question sometimes deserved a question. ‘Tell me’, she said reaching out to him. ‘What do you understand by multiculturalism?’.
‘Live and let live?’ he asked anxiously.
The one-eyed monkey smiled: ‘Live where?’
‘Here? On earth?’ He was anxious to prove he had the right answers.
‘And what if things get overcrowded?’
‘Grow more? Eat less? Try hard, if at all possible, not to eat each other?’
This time the one-eyed monkey smiled a genuine smile. ‘Not bad,’ she murmured, ‘not bad. And tell me,’ she asked the young cub, ‘is that progress?’
But the videonet link was acting up, and the translation application wasn’t working properly. He was saying something. The grunts and squeaks were turning into words. But he was speaking a version of American III, which she was finding extremely hard to follow. Still (here she crunched a handful of scientifically prepared monkey pellets) with a little goodwill and a little technology, they had managed a conversation. Come the millennium, the lion had learned to get on with the lamb, to chat with monkeys... It was – she searched for the word – exhilarating, probably even multicultural. In cyberspace much was possible.
Suniti Namjoshi is an Indian-born poet and fable writer who has lived in Canada and now lives in England. She has published a number of books including The Conversations of Cow, Feminist Fables, The Blue Donkey Fables and Saint Suniti and the Dragon.
©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995
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