Once upon a time, there lived in a jungle far far away, a tiny squirrel named Katto. She was a beautiful squirrel – a silver coat of fur, a long graceful and bushy tail and to top it all, a charming toothy smile.
God had blessed Katto with a heart as lovely as her looks. It was large enough to shame even the heart of an African elephant. But like all really good things in this world, her beauty was not perfect. Katto was totally blind. But it made no difference to her. She was one happy squirrel, unaware of her own beauty and charm.
Katto lived in a comfy old crack, in the trunk of the tallest Oak in the forest. The crack had always been her home. There was a bed made of the softest moss and there was ample space for the winter nuts.
The days were wonderful and the nuts were abundant. Katto, being a good and kind soul, was always ready to help other creatures in tough times. She was always willing to lend a sympathetic ear. So naturally, she was very popular in the jungle.
Rabbits came jumping to ask her the whereabouts of the sweetest carrots.
Birds landed on the Oak’s branches to discuss their domestic troubles.
Bats visited her hole to get beauty tips.
Even the mighty lion sometimes stopped under the oak and roared a loud greeting:
‘Roaaaaaar!!!!! What’s up my little Katto?’
Katto always bowed courteously: ‘Everything is honky dory your majesty’.
But popularity is not a blessing. It is a curse. Seeing Katto, the other squirrels became madly jealous. ‘Who does she thinks she is? Queen of the jungle?’ they thought and the jealousy filled their little hearts with an evil green poison.
The squirrels started hating Katto. They despised her beauty and her kind and sweet nature. But their hatred did not stop them from taking advantage of Katto’s kindness. They drank her ginger beer and ate her nuts, but made faces at the poor blind squirrel. Katto was oblivious to this all. Her heart was too innocent to feel the jabs of sarcasm, dipped in hatred. For her, the world was the eternal playground and her friends, the perfect playmates.
Seeing no other way to harm Katto, the other squirrels started brainwashing her. In the beginning, it was just:
‘Katto, you are such a good soul. It’s a pity that you are not good looking.’ When this did not have any obvious effect, they started telling her:
‘Katto, you sure are ugly. How can you live with a face like this?’
‘Katto, we understand that you believe you are all kind and good. But you need to look deep inside yourself. Beneath all soft feathery kindness, you are a selfish squirrel. You do good things, only to cover your ugly bitter and selfish heart.’
At first, Katto did not pay any heed. But she always trusted her friends and therefore, chose to believe in their every word. It did not matter how cruel the words were. Those were the words of apparently well-meaning friends. Gradually, like constantly falling drops of water, the ugly comments wounded her heart. The poison worked its dark magic and corrupted her self-image.
Katto was no more happy. When alone, she wept tears of misery. ‘God! why have you made me so ugly and my heart so selfish?’ But God kept quiet. Apparently, He really did not give a damn for a tiny squirrel’s troubles.
When God did not reply, Katto got lonely….very lonely. A time came when her loneliness isolated her from her friends. Her delicate heart tried it’s very best to sustain. But finally it no longer could fight bitterness and cruelty; and turned to ice cold white marble.
Loneliness itself is quite terrible. But do you know what really kills the soul? It is self-pity that really butchers the soul. It slithers in slowly. It wraps itself around lonely hearts and starts feeding on all the misery. Slowly and gradually, you get addicted to her sweet but poisonous embrace. Then…..it smiles triumphantly and kills your soul.
Self-pity killed Kattos’s soul. Her beauty transformed into harsh lines of sadness. Her kindness turned into a wretched disregard for others’ miseries and troubles. The squirrels had already abandoned her. Her other friends tried to approach her. They begged her to see the truth. But she shunned everybody and slunk into a self-created carapace.
She thought her loneliness would give her solace but it embittered her more. As the time passed, her tears dried up into tracks of dried salt on her lovely cheeks and finally faded away.
But then one day something happened. A wild pigeon was shot by a hunter’s arrow. Wounded and howling in pain, he looked for refuge. He saw the Oak and fell amongst the thick blanket of leaves, spread around the old tree’s mighty roots.
Katto heard the tortured cries for help. At first she deliberately muffled her ears and tried to ignore. But, then she could no longer control herself. Carefully approaching the wounded pigeon, she felt the wound with her small hands.
Devoid of sight, Katto could still feel the pain of the wounded pigeon. So she dragged him into her home. She cleaned and dressed his wounds. She comforted him dark nights and sang her songs when it rained. Her dedicated attention worked miracles and gradually, the pigeon grew better. But still, he was too weak to fly away.
The pigeon was a loner himself. He was too intelligent and sensitive and he was wild. All these traits made him quite a charming bird. Though, Katto remained blind to his charms, the pigeon was not blind. He saw Katto’s beauty and charm and felt drawn to the sadness deep within her. As the days passed and the sun completed its countless journeys, the pigeon gradually fell in love with Katto.
Love can be a terrible thing if not reciprocated. And once it is reciprocated, love rarely blossoms into a flower. But that is another story altogether.
One day, when Katto was changing his dressings, the pigeon gathered courage. He placed his wing on Katto’s head and lovingly caressed her fur. But instead of smiling, which the pigeon quite expected, Katto got infuriated:
‘How dare you repay my kindness with such a vile gesture?’ she fumed.
‘Vile?’ the pigeon fumbled with the words, ‘No, it is not vile. I think I love you Katto’.
‘What? Love me?’ Katto laughed bitterly. ‘Can’t you see I am ugly? Can’t you feel the cold hardness of my marble heart? How can you love such a miserable and pathetic creature?’
The pigeon was both confused and shocked:
‘Katto, you are beautiful and you have a heart so soft and delicate. How can you say such dreadful things about yourself’? Come, let me tell you about your beauty and goodness of heart’, he pleaded.
But Katto was too convinced of her ugliness.
‘Liar!’ she shouted and brutally kicked the pigeon out of her home. The poor heartbroken pigeon tried to flap his wounded wings but fell down on the forest floor. His wings fluttered once, twice and then he died.
The jungle grew real quiet – shocked on the violent end of a beautiful and loving heart. But life goes on. In a few hours the scavengers ate up the pigeon’s carcass.
The other squirrels ran down the trunk in glee and approached the spot. Katto was lonely again and her loneliness made them happy. They looked closely and found that the pigeon’s eyes were somehow still intact.
‘Let’s take the dead pigeon’s eyes to Katto. She would sure get more miserable.’
‘Hey look Katto, what has your poor lover left you.’ The squirrels announced together.
Katto felt the small round objects: ‘What are these?’
‘These are the pigeon’s eyes. He left them for you’. And they left her alone with her misery.
‘For me?’ Katto thought and then hesitatingly, slipped the dead pigeon’s eyes into her own sockets. She looked into the mirror and saw a beautiful squirrel. Her charming image was peering back at her shyly.
‘Is it really me? I can’t believe it.’
Katto came out of her hole and looked around. She saw the deep green forest and the clear blue sky. She saw the silver clouds kissing the Oak’s branches and the bees circling the most colourful flowers.
‘Yes, I am beautiful and my world is beautiful.’
Then she looked down and saw the blood-stained grey white feathers of the dead bird.
‘The poor pigeon was right all along. He really loved me’.
Hearing this, two warm tears slipped out of the dead pigeon’s eyes. They fell on Katto’s heart and dissolved self-pity forever.