Long, long ago, there lived a poor barber named “Him”. He had twelve kids – seven girls and five boys. Unfortunately, his income just wasn’t enough to provide three square meals a day to his family.

Depressed, Him decided to find out how we could get enough food for his children. Walking aimlessly until it got dark, Him found himself in a jungle infested with ferocious tigers. In fact, such was the notoriety of the jungle that it was said to be inhabited by just tigers – four hundred, to be precise. No other species of animals, birds or insects were to be found in that forest.

As the barber walked on, he spotted a huge tiger walking here and there. He was sure the tiger would devour him the moment it spotted him. He started to sharpen his razor to prepare himself for the inevitable. Him kept sharpening his razor as he inched closer to the tiger. The sharpening sound frightened the tiger, who was afraid the barber would slash his guts out with the razor.

The barber told the tiger that the king, Maharaja Kans, had ordered him to catch twenty tigers. He added that now that he had found one, he needed another nineteen. The alarmed tiger promised to give Him as many jewels as he could carry. The tiger took the barber to his place, where they had dinner. The tiger then handed Him a lot of gold and jewels.

With his newfound riches, the barber could now support his family. He got them delicious food items, clothes, and a spacious house. Whenever he needed some money, he would walk into the woods, threaten the tiger, and bring home a large amount of gold and cash.

A poor beggar who lived nearby grew curious about Him’s overnight riches. When the beggar asked the barber about this, Him told him about his visits to the tiger forest and how he had used his brains to change his fortunes. He also warned the beggar to not go into the woods that night. He told the beggar to observe Him deal with the tiger first. Lastly, he cautioned the beggar of the tigers’ roar if he accompanied Him to the jungle. The beggar assured him that he wouldn’t be afraid.

Around eight o’clock at night, the two men walked into the tiger forest. They climbed up a tall tree that was thickly covered with leaves and hid inside. A few minutes later, the tigers assembled there with their king, a huge, one-eyed tiger. The tiger from whom the barber had been extorting money and gold narrated what he had been going through. It told its fellow tigers that a man had dropped by twice to take twenty tigers to the king’s palace. The animal also recollected how he had been giving the barber money and whatnot to safeguard its community. The tiger wasn’t sure what it was supposed to do should the barber come by again. The tiger king announced another meeting the following day in order to take a decision.

Even though the barber told the beggar that they would drop by again to eavesdrop on the tigers’ conversation, the barber walked into the woods alone. He ran into the tiger and told the poor animal that he had come to cut off the ears of all four hundred tigers to make a magic potion for the king. The frightened tiger let the barber carry as much gold as he could carry.

The next day, the two men went back to the jungle and perched on the tree to see what was going on. When all the tigers assembled, the tiger king announced that they would kill the two men if they were ever to step into the woods. Hearing this, the frightened beggar tumbled down among the assembly of tigers. Exhibiting great presence of mind, the barber started screaming “cut off their ears” repeatedly. The startled tigers started running helter-skelter, stampeding the beggar, who died due to his wounds.

The barber lived happily with his family, but could never summon the courage to go back to the tiger forest.

…now that you’re here

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Kalai Selvi, Folk Tale writer at Ameya

Kalai is passionate about reading and reinterpreting folk tales from all over the country. Write to her at kalai.muse@gmail.com to know more about her.

Folk tale adopted and abridged from The Project Gutenberg.