There was a large banyan tree in the midst of a vast forest. A wise mouse named Palita lived at the foot of the tree. Here also lived a cat named Lomasa on the branches of the tree. One day the cat was caught in a snare spread by a hunter named Parigha. When the cat, the enemy of the mouse, was caught in the net, the mouse, Palita, came out of the hole and moved about joyfully without any fear. It began to eat the flesh which the hunter had spread about there as a lure. While he was eating the meat, he saw a mongoose named Harita.The mongoose was getting ready to devour the mouse. The mouse saw also an owl named Chandrak sitting on a branch of the banyan tree. The mouse was greatly alarmed at the sight of his two enemies, the mongoose and the owl.
Now the mouse reflected within himself thus; “There is danger for me on all sides. There is fear in every direction. Death itself is staring me in the face. At such a perilous moment how should one act? One should certainly save one’s life by warding off the dangers by all means. I have got three enemies now who are ready to pounce upon me. If the cat frees himself from the net, he is sure to devour me. An intelligent and wise man who has knowledge of the ‘science of diplomacy’, never sinks in despair however great and formidable may be the danger that threatens him. Three enemies are surrounding me now. How should I now act to save my life? At this juncture, I ought to make friendship with the cat, though he is my enemy. He is in great distress now. If I help him now, he may make peace with me. The wise declare that a person should make peace with even an enemy when he is attacked by another common enemy and his own life is in danger. I should make the cat understand his own interests. By making friendship with the cat I can escape from all the three. It is better to have a learned and wise man for an enemy than a fool for a friend. My life now rests entirely in the hands of my enemy, the cat. I shall suggest to the cat my plans for his liberation.”
The intelligent mouse was well versed in diplomacy. He knew quite well when war should be declared and when peace should be made. He said to the cat: “O cat! How do you do? Thou art my friend. I am thy comrade. Do not be afraid. I shall rescue you if you do not kill me. I have hit upon a plan. This will save both our lives. You cannot come out of the net without my help. I shall cut the net with my teeth in no time if you solemnly promise that you will not kill me. Let us love each other. Let us be united now. You should trust me and I should trust you. He who never trusts another and is not trusted is seldom praised by men of wisdom. Such a person is unhappy and miserable. There is no use attempting to escape when the opportunity has slipped away. Now is the proper time for a right understanding between us. I earnestly wish you should live and I am sure you also wish that I live. Our mutual agreement will surely bring happiness and joy to both of us. I shall rescue you and you in turn must rescue me.” Palit spoke these convincing words of wisdom to Lomasa and waited anxiously for a favourable reply.
Lomasa replied: “O my dear Palita! I am immensely pleased with thee. Thou art my amiable friend indeed. I am all the more delighted with thee as thou now evincest an interest in my welfare. I am really in great distress and so art thou. Let us be united now. If you set me free I shall rescue you from your dangers. I am at thy service.”
Palita said: “Your reply is really very encouraging. Save me now from the mongoose and the owl. They are intent on killing me. I will lie beneath your body. Do not kill me. I shall cut the noose that entangles you with my sharp teeth in the twinkling of an eye. Believe me, my beloved friend; I swear by Truth, my dear Lomasa.”
Lomasa replied: “O Palita! Thou art very dear to me. Come, come, quick! Through thy assurance I have almost got back my life. Let there be peace between us now. I shall really serve thee. I am thy obedient servant and friend. I shall worship and honour thee always in return for thy services. He who does good to others is eulogised by the wise, the man who does abundant services in return for good done to him can never equal the person who does him good in the first instance. The former repays for the services he has received, while the latter serves voluntarily. I assure you solemnly, my beloved Palita, that I shall, with all my friends and relatives, do all that will be agreeable and beneficial to thee.”
The mouse hid itself under the body of the cat. The mongoose and the owl realised that the mouse and the cat were closely united with each other and so they would not be able to devour the mouse. They both left the place quickly and repaired to their respective abodes.
Palita came out and began to cut the strings of the net slowly. The cat became impatient and said: “How is it, my friend, that you are cutting the strings very very slowly? You are saved now. Since your object has been accomplished, your avowed interest in me has slackened. Cut these strings quickly. The hunter may come at any moment.”
The wise mouse replied: “Be not worried. Do not be afraid, my friend, wait a bit. Be patient. Every action should be at its proper time. Then only it will produce good results. If you were freed at an improper time, my life would be in danger. I will be afraid of you. The moment I perceive the hunter, I shall cut the strings. At that particular moment you will ascend the tree and will not think of anything else except the safety of your life. I shall also enter my hole at the foot of the tree.”
The cat said: “O my amiable friend, mouse Palita! I saved your life with considerable promptness. In the same manner you should also do everything quickly for me. Delay is dangerous. You must be honest in your dealings. You must keep up your promise. If you think only of your former hostility and postpone your promised help, you will be doing immense harm to me. If I have done you wrong, you should forget and forgive.”
The mouse replied: “Listen to me, my friend! In this world people are united out of selfish motives. Persons become friends for achieving some object. There is no suspicion in the friendship of magnanimous souls. If there is fear in friendship and if the friendship cannot be kept up without fear, that friendship should be maintained with great caution like the hands of a snake-charmer from the poisonous fangs of the snake. If a weak man makes compact with a strong man, he should always be on the alert. Otherwise the compact will do him more harm than good. No one pays any heed to the person who helps in a difficult time after the occasion is over. Therefore some portion of the act should always be left undone. If I free you when the hunter is coming, then the moment I set you free, you will run away to save your life on account of the fear of the hunter and you will have no thought of devouring me. Just see this net. I have cut all the strings save one. I will cut this one string also as soon as I behold the hunter. Meanwhile rest in peace, my dear Lomasa!”
The hunter Parigha came to the spot in the early morning accompanied by a pack of dogs. The cat was extremely frightened. He said to the mouse: “What will you do now?” The intelligent mouse cut the string immediately. The cat was thus freed from the noose. He ran quickly and ascended the banyan tree. The mouse also immediately entered his hole. The hunter was disappointed and returned to his house.
The cat now addressed the mouse: “My amiable friend! How is it you have suddenly run away without talking to me further? I trust you do not suspect me of any evil intention. I am very grateful to you for the most valuable service you have rendered to me. You have saved my life. We are friends now. We should enjoy the sweetness of friendship. I shall honor and worship you, so also all my friends and relations. You are my friend, father, counselor and the lord of my body and home. Take possession of all my wealth. He who forgets his friend after receiving favors from him is a wicked person. He fails in enlisting the help of friends at times of danger and need. Do not be afraid of me in the least, I swear by my life, my amiable comrade Palita. Believe me. Believe me.”
The mouse gave a very intelligent reply.’He spoke very sweetly: “Look here, my dear Lomasa! This is a mysterious world. People become friends and enemies from consideration of gain and loss. Self-interest plays a very prominent part. Self-interest is very powerful. It can turn a friend into an enemy in no time and an enemy also into a friend. There is no such thing in existence as a friend or an enemy. Force of circumstances creates friends and enemies. One should carefully examine and study one’s friends and enemies; but it is the most difficult thing in this world. Even people of great intelligence fail in this respect. Friends put on the guise of enemies. Enemies also assume the guise of friends.
When friendship is formed between two parties, it is difficult to determine whether the other party has selfish motives or not. One takes another as friend so long as he helps one, so long as one’s interests are ensured. The moment the interests clash, the other man becomes an enemy. Such is the world. There is no such thing as a permanent friend or foe.
“One should not trust a person who is not deserving of trust. There is great danger in trusting a man blindly. The beings of this world are moved by the desire of gain in some form or other. People look to their own interests only. This is a world of self-interest.
“If a man who is saved from some danger, tries to seek the happiness of the helper, and if the latter is his natural enemy, he will be caught in the clutches of that enemy. His chances of escape are few. O Lomasa! You are a foolish person. That is the reason why you were caught in the net of the hunter. Such a man cannot protect himself. Then how can he protect others? He is bound to fail in all his attempts. He ruins himself.
“You told me that I am very dear to you. One becomes dear for an adequate cause. One also becomes an enemy for the same reason. One never becomes dear to another without a motive. Remember this point well. The friendship between persons depends upon interest. I do not know of any kind of friendship, love or affection between any two persons that does not depend upon some self-interest or gain.
“One becomes dear to another for his good nature, or for his spirit of service, or for his learning. Generally, a person becomes dear to another for the help he has received. The love between us arose from an adequate cause. That cause exists no longer and automatically that love between us has come to an end. I am very dear to you now because you wish to eat me. I am fully aware of this. You seek your own interest. The circumstances under which peace or war is declared are changed as quickly as the clouds change their form. You are my enemy by nature. You became my friend when your life was in danger. You are my enemy again. That interim friendship has now vanished. The old state of enmity has returned.
“Why should I fall into the net that is spread for me by you? You have served me. I have served you. I am weak. You are strong. I understand you fully well. I know that you are hungry. You want to make a meal of me. We cannot have any lasting friendship. You are praising me in order that you may succeed in your object of eating me. I cannot agree to your proposal. I do not wish to prolong our friendship. No sane rat will place himself under a cat who is unrighteous, who is hungry and who is in search of prey. O beloved Lomasa! Be happy! I will presently leave you. I am afraid to look at you even from a distance. When I wander about carelessly, you can protect me. This will also be an act of gratitude. A weak person should not dwell in the vicinity of another who is endowed with strength and power. Even if the danger has passed away, I should always entertain fear of one who is more powerful than myself.
“I shall certainly give you everything except my life. One should sacrifice one’s all—one’s dominion, property, etc.—for the sake of protecting one’s own self. If he survives, he may get back all the mundane things he has sacrificed.”
The cat replied: “O my dear friend Palita! Do not suspect me like this. I swear; I will not injure you. You are my beloved comrade as you have saved my life. I am prepared to lay down my very life in your service. I know my duty. It is not good for you to take me for what I am not.”
The mouse reflected a little and said: “O my friend, Lomasa! Thou art extremely good. Thank you very much indeed for all the kindness shown. However, I cannot place any confidence in you. You cannot tempt me to retain friendship with you either by praising me or by offering gifts. A wise man should not place himself under the power of his enemy. A weak man should not place himself under the power of a strong man. I have already told you that one should never trust a man who does not deserve to be trusted. One should never place trust in one’s enemies. The basic truth of all treaties is distrust. Distrust produces highest good. If weak people would only distrust strong people, the latter cannot get them in their power. O cat, one like myself should always be on the guard against persons like you. If you are wise, you also will protect your life from the hunter, Parigha.”
While the mouse spoke thus, the cat got frightened at the mention of the hunter. He left the branch of the tree and ran away in all haste. Wise Palita who was endowed with knowledge of the science of diplomacy entered his hole peacefully, after exhibiting his power of understanding and wisdom.
Bhishma said: “O Yudhishthira! The mouse Palita, though weak and alone, succeeded in combating against his powerful enemies by reason of his wisdom. The mouse and the cat saved their lives owing to their reliance upon each other’s services.
“If two persons who were once enemies make a compact with each other before a common danger, it is certain that each of them has in his heart the subjugation of the other. A man of wisdom and discretion succeeds in bringing the other in his power. A careless and thoughtless man is easily subdued by the wise and cautious.
“When one is in fear he should appear to be fearless. One should seem to be trustful while really mistrusting others. Such a man is never ruined. One should make peace with an enemy or wage war as occasion arises.
“You have listened to the story of the ‘Cat and the Mouse’. Now act wisely. Learn the difference between friend and foe and the proper time for war and peace. Thus you can save yourself when you are in danger. Make peace with one who is powerful in the face of common danger. You should be very careful in continuing it with your enemy after the common danger has passed away. You should not trust your enemy again after you have gained your object.
“O King Yudhishthira! Protect your subjects! Attain prosperity! Be guided by the Brahmanas and the Scriptures. Brahmanas are teachers of duty and morality. They are wise persons. Worship them. They will do you good. Thus, you will obtain kingdom, fame and great achievements. Remember always the story of the ‘Cat and the Mouse’ and conduct yourself in the midst of your foes accordingly.”
Mahabharat, Santi Parva, Section CXXXVIII