Hello, This is Jana. You may not know this, because this is an audio podcast, but my parents were born in India where this story comes from. I like this story in particular because there are some delicious and fragrant foods involved.
It’s all about a tiger who marries an Indian girl - but he doesn’t love her, he just wants her to cook for him! The description of the food reminds me of home, with both my parents being excellent cooks! My mother was vegetarian for many years and she loved cooking all sorts of wonderful sabji’s and dals. Her mint sauce was super delicious and made fresh from her garden. And if we ever had a tummy ache or felt unwell, she’d know exactly which ingredients to cook up as a natural medicine. Our nostrils were always filled with inviting aroma’s. As the saying goes, ‘Mothers food is the best’, and it sure is! (Mostly because it’s made with love) and of course skill. My father also cooks the most amazing tandoori chicken and lamb curry, among other dishes, too many to mention. But I can tell you, it’s hard to turn down. I feel very blessed to have a whole family circle of exceptional cooks! But I have to say, the best feel-good aroma has to be the tantalising scent of chai, or tea - boiled up with a whole library of comforting, aromatic mixes of eastern spices and herbs, including cardamom, ginger, fennel seeds, star anise, and cloves. So, that’s a little background. I hope it gets you in the mood for our story.
Our version is quite funny, and we hope you enjoy this lively tale.
And I would just like to thank our sponsor , Storyworth, because everyone has a story worth sharing. We’ll have more details later.
There was once a tiger who had reached middle-age. His tummy was spreading and he developed various aches and pains. These annoyances made him even more bad-tempered and grumpy than he was naturally. He roared so much that he scared away his food before he could pounce on it and eat it up. Then emptiness made his tummy groan with hunger.
The tiger felt so out of sorts that even his wide knowledge of magical herbs could not help him. He needed advice from a true guru. So he visited the tree of the wise old monkey to consult him about his pains.
The wise old monkey asked the tiger to open his mouth and say..
So that he could look into his throat.
And then he tapped the tiger on the back and asked him to cough.
And finally he pressed the tiger’s tummy and asked him to say where it hurt.
After much scratching and thinking, the wise old monkey gave his best medical opinion.
“In my view, you eat far too much red meat and this is the cause of your discomfort. You should consider becoming vegan.”
“You don’t expect me to eat dal, do you?” asked the astonished tiger.
“Why not? Eating dal is very healthy and I tell you, where I come from, it is among one of the most important staple foods.”
By the way, dal is a kind of thick soup made from pulses like lentils.
“I am the most noble animal in the forest. Why should I eat such low food? And how will my tiger instinct be able to give up a juicy fat deer?” he said, licking his lips at the mere thought of his favourite meat.
“Lentils are simple, but they are also very holy. I recommend the ayurvedic diet."”
“The ayurvedic diet you say? It’s not some sort of foodie fad, is it? What’s in it?”
Now the wise old monkey scratched himself with his back leg for a while before saying:
“There is no simple answer. The correct balance of food and lifestyle for your dosha or body type supports good health, stable energy, and mindfulness. In addition, you should practice yoga. But for all the tip top tricks, you must go and ask the human pundits."
The tiger trusted the word of the wise old monkey. Perhaps a change of diet and a touch of yoga would make him feel young again. There’s no gain without pain, as they say. He resolved to give the ayurvedic diet a try. For that, he needed the help of the humans.
Normally, it's not easy for a tiger to stroll up to a human and ask a question. But fortunately, this tiger had the ability to change his identity. He ate the bark of a certain tree in the forest, nibbled on some secret grass, and made some magic moves, like turning in a circle a certain number of times. Bit by bit his stripy coat turned into fine robes and his strong limbs became human ones. In this form, as a strong, noble looking man, he left the forest and visited the human village. His hair flashed silver at the sides to reflect his years, his back still gave him trouble, and his stomach was growling with hunger. But in most other ways, he would not have recognised his own reflection in the water. He appeared totally human.
As it turned out, the tiger, who looked like a man, was in luck. The first village he came to was celebrating a wedding. The son of a Brahmin, was marrying a girl from the next village. It was a noisy affair with cymbals and trumpets, laughing, and dancing, but most of all, he could smell food… yummmm!
The villagers welcomed the noble looking visitor and invited him to join their celebration.
The cooking smelt so good that it made the tiger-man's mouth water and he almost meowed. As it was a special occasion, there were mountains of fluffy fragrant rice flavoured with jeera, which are cumin seeds. It wasn’t the tiger’s usual kind of food, but he found it pleasantly filling. The Brahmin family were astonished to see their guest gobble down four large plate fulls - when really just one would have been enough to feed a family. Naturally, there were various dishes of dal, all flavoured differently with zesty herbs. He picked up an aromatic bowl of kaddu and chana dal, which is pumpkin and chickpeas. He licked it clean, but a couple of fiery chilli peppers found their way into his mouth. Ouch! They burned like hot flames! Tears flooded out of the tiger-man’s eyes. As he was sitting near a bucket of water, he wasted no time guzzling down the whole lot. But the water didn't put the fire out in his mouth. Fortunately the mother of the bride noticed his distress, so she handed him a large bowl of cucumber and mint which cooled him down and relieved his burning throat.
Feeling somewhat better, and still hungry, he tried a plate of aloo gobi, a potato and cauliflower curry that was flavoured with chaat masala. And that was even spicier! This time he had to gulp down two whole buckets of iced mango juice and a whole cart of kulfi ice cream made with pistachios and coconut cream to help calm the heat.
The mother of the young man who was getting married was very impressed by their guest. She said to her husband :
“A gentleman who is used to eating such quantities of food must come from an extremely wealthy family. And it seems that he appreciates my cooking. I say he would be a fine husband for our daughter. If we can marry her to such a man, I can die happily knowing that all our children are married well.”
Her husband, the Brahmin, agreed that the strong, well-dressed visitor would indeed make a splendid match for their daughter. He sat down by the guest, enquired about his family, and encouraged him to stay as their honoured guest for as long as he wished.
The guest of course did not give the brahmin true answers to his questions. It would not do to admit that he was actually a tiger disguised by magic. Instead he claimed to be the son of a powerful and noble raj who lived on the other side of the forest. This increased the desire of the brahmin parents to marry their daughter to him.
The days passed, and the tiger guest spent the time sleeping and eating like a prince. Sometimes he practiced a few yoga stretches and poses, but apart from that, there was very little that he did all day. The brahmin parents were more and more impressed. Only a spectacularly wealthy lord could be so idle and greedy!
The tiger had few words, but one day he asked the mother of the family if she knew what his dosha type was. Doshas are the energy patterns that flow around our bodies. He asked how he should adjust his diet accordingly. She replied:
“I would say that your dosha is big and hungry and what you require is lots of food.”
And the tiger thought how wise she was.
At the end of the month, the brahmin father asked the tiger if he would like to marry his daughter. The tiger had not been expecting such a question, but he immediately saw the advantage. He had begun to enjoy spicy food, and could manage medium hot dishes without discomfort. Perhaps his greatest discovery of all was ayurvedic chai, a specially made tea with stomach settling ingredients. And after every large meal, the sweet fragrant chai was what he looked forward to the most. His middle aged spread had gone, and along with it, all his aches and pains! He felt ten years younger! In fact, he had never felt better in his entire life.
He was still a tiger in his heart, and he longed to return to his home deep in the forest. But when he went back, there would be nobody to make dal, or pakora and tamarind or imli chutney, or aloo-saag sabji, a potato and spinach dish. He would slip back into his meat-eating ways. No doubt his aches and pains would return.
Now here was the solution! He would marry a noble girl who knew how to cook! This plan appealed to him greatly. He readily agreed. It was not long before the couple were wed - and the tiger ate whole platefuls of aloo tikki, (which are tasty, herb filled morsels of potato croquettes) dipped in his now favourite fresh mint sauce. He wolfed down large quantities of bhindi masala, also known as lady fingers or okra, and crispy dal dosa’s, which are crepes made with fermented rice and lentil batter.
The tiger-man washed it all down with mugfuls of sweet elaychi chai, also known as cardamom pod tea at their celebration.
After the partying had died down, and after sleeping for the best part of a week, the tiger said to his bride:
“Make yourself ready. It is time to come and live with me in my palace.”
But of course he didn’t really have a palace - only a den in the middle of the forest. He wasn’t going to say that to her, because she wouldn’t want to come with him if she knew the truth - that she had married a tiger in disguise.
So, amid many tears and blessings from her parents, the tiger-man and his bride left along the trail through the forest. He led the way, still in the form of a man.
Towards the middle of the day, the girl begged her husband to stop so that she could rest her weary feet and eat some food that her mother had prepared for the journey.
“Have I married a weakling?” growled her new husband. “It is far too early to stop. Keep going.”
So the girl trudged wearily on.
Soon she was hot and uncomfortable and her feet were terribly sore.
“Please dear husband, may we stop now?” she pleaded.
“Not until I say so!” he roared. And his face and his voice were so fierce that she did not dare argue.
But eventually, she was so exhausted that she sat down on a rock unable to go on any longer.
“I don’t care what you do,” she said. “I can’t take another step.”
“Get up, or I shall show you my true self!” threatened her husband.
“Go ahead!” replied his new wife. “I do believe you’ve shown your true self to me already. You are not the noble soul you pretended to be to my parents. You are a cruel and hard hearted brute!”
“You are more right than you know!” proclaimed her husband, who immediately turned back into a tiger - his true self!
So terrified was the girl, that she could not even let out a scream. She froze on the spot - and the tiger dragged her to his den.
In the morning, he told her what she must do. She must cook for him - only the finest ayurvedic food fit for brahmins - and tigers! And he needed plenty of it - because tigers have big appetites.
But what could the girl use for ingredients? She had to find leaves and herbs and berries and seeds. All day long she was gathering and cooking. Fortunately the tiger only felt hungry about twice a week - but when he ate, he needed a huge dinner that took several days of cooking to prepare.
His bride was as miserable as could be. She had been cheated into thinking she would lead a life of luxury and idleness, and here she was with a clump of grass for her pillow, and doing nothing all day but work, work, work.
Eventually a crow took pity on the poor girl and said:
“Caw! If you tell me where your family lives, I shall carry a message to them and let them know that your husband has shown his true self to be a tiger of the forest disguised by magic. ”
“Oh dear crow, thank you! Thank you!” replied the girl. She explained where her village was, and how to find her family’s house, and he flew off with the message.
The next day, he saw the girl’s brother going out of his door to the fields. The crow called down from a branch and said:
“Caw! Your sister has sent an important message. She is in peril. The prince she married wasn’t a prince at all, but his true self is a tiger of the forest disguised by magic. He has dragged her off to his den in the forest, and he forces her to cook pakoras and aloo-saag all day long.”
“Is that so?” said the brother angrily. “I never trusted him! I tried to warn my parents, but they would not listen. I shall rescue her if you will show me the way to the tiger’s den.”
“I shall be glad to,” said the crow. And off they set down the forest path, with the crow leading the way.
When they had been going for about an hour, they came across a donkey who had wandered into the forest and lost his way.
“What luck!” said the boy. “I know my sister will be exhausted . This donkey’s four feet will carry her.”
So he took the donkey by the mane and led him along.
It took them all day to reach the tiger’s lair, and it was almost dark when they arrived. Oh how overjoyed the girl was to see her brother who had come to the rescue!”
“You must be hungry!” she exclaimed. “Would you like some dal before we leave?” The boy was indeed hungry after the long journey, but there was no time to eat because they heard the tiger pacing down the path, his tummy rumbling because he was hungry.
The girl urged her brother and the donkey to hide themselves in the attic. It wasn’t easy for the donkey to climb the steps, but fear is a great motivator, and terror of the tiger made his hooves more nimble than they had ever been.
Soon they heard the tiger roar: “Wife, where’s my supper?”
“Just a moment dear!” she replied, understandably terrified of the tiger.
Unfortunately the donkey was so frightened that his four knees were knocking together, and he was trembling so much that the whole house shook and soon the ceiling collapsed. A huge container of roti atta, which is a special flour used to make chapattis fell down hard on top of the tiger’s head and knocked him out cold. While they had the chance, the girl, the boy and the donkey ran for their lives back to the village. Sometime later, the tiger woke up, dazed and confused and covered in flour. Eventually he realised what had happened and headed off down the path to the village.
The family of brahmins were delighted to see their beloved daughter - whom they had missed greatly. They soon prepared a welcoming feast.
Just as they were sitting down to eat, the tiger returned in his human form. His wife began to tremble. Her parents, however, remembered their noble lineage. It would be shameful to turn away their son-in-law. And so they invited him to sit down at the table, which he did. It did not take long for the tiger-man to gobble down most of the delicious food. After he had finished eating, he let out a few loud, satisfied burps, and then, as was his custom, lay down to sleep.
Now the girl's brother was not going to let the tiger-man take his sister back to the forest a second time. So in the night, when everyone else was asleep, he took a spade and dug a deep pit in the forest path. He finished digging at daybreak, and covered the pit with thin sticks and branches so that it looked just like the path. As he suspected, when the tiger-man awoke, he forced the girl to get up and head back to his den with him. Fortunately, the tiger-man led the way. He did not reach far before his foot stepped on a weak branch over the hole and fell, fell far down into the deep tiger trap, and was unable to climb out. He roared angrily and turned back into his tiger form. Soon the village hunters came running and that was the end of him.
The brahmin’s daughter was now a widow. After a suitable period of mourning for her husband had passed, she told her parents who she really wanted to marry. He wasn’t rich or noble, and he certainly wasn’t a tiger. He was a boy from the village. In earlier times, her parents would have declared him too low a match for a girl from a family of Brahmins. But now, after the experience with the tiger, all they wanted was for their daughter to be happy - which she was when she married her true love. She and her new husband cooked together and looked after each other with affection and kindness and delicious food for the rest of their lives.
And that was the tale of The Tiger who became Vegan. I do hope you enjoyed this flavoursome story, , and perhaps are keen to try some Indian food now. It’s not all vegetarian by the way! If you do try some Indian food for the first time , be careful - start with a mild dish. You don’t want to burn your mouth on any hot chillies !
Now Bertie’s off for an aubergine curry! - his favourite