Raghu the squirrel was old. He was older than most squirrels he knew, a fact that didn’t rest easy on his heart. On the brighter side, the gods had blessed him with the monkey’s friendship. The monkey crushed walnuts for him. Things worked out nicely.
There were parts of the day Raghu looked forward to. When the birds returned at sunset from their day’s foraging, they told him of all the things they had seen as they flew over Mount Himavat and beyond. One of the younger birds came to him every day and stayed for hours, chirping away without a pause about her day.
When she tired, the squirrel told her many stories from back when he had been young and had roamed the land. She listened with patience (she preferred talking to listening) until her mother sang to her from above that it was time to nest for the night.
Raghu listened to her chirpy song grow fainter and fainter until it remained not much more than a sound of the night. Then he slept and dreamt of far away lands and strange creatures, as he had done every night of his life.
It was on a day warmer than usual that it happened. Raghu had just eaten and was thinking of napping in his hollow in the tree for the afternoon when he saw the birds returning. The sun had still a long way to go before it set. He was wondering what it might be about when the little bird fluttered to a clumsy landing next to him.
“Something is coming! Something big! Really big!” she chirped breathlessly. “It is flying towards us from the south.” The earth shook and a rumble sounded all across the mountainside.
One of the elder birds sang shrilly from somewhere up and she winced. Then she said a silent bye to the squirrel and flew up towards her nest.
From a distance Raghu saw his friend the monkey returning. The monkey left the last vine in mid swing and landed in the clearing with an awkward thump. Then he ran the distance to the tree on all fours.
The earth shook again as the monkey got to him, harder this time.
“I saw it,” said the monkey. “It is one of those southern monkeys. Larger and hairier than us. But this one flies! And he is dressed as a human soldier.
“I saw him come flying in, borne aloft by the wind itself. He went running through the herb fields. I think he sought something particular there. Every once in a while, he screamed “SANJEEVANI!” and pulled out plants, chewed on them and spat them out. He even tried some of the intoxicating herbs and foul smelling shrubs that crowd that area. He spat it all out.”
The monkey giggled for a bit and said, “It was funny really. But I was soon disgusted. He spat half-chewed weeds all over the place and grew more infuriated as time passed. Then he yelled ‘HEAR ME HIMAVAT! I HAVE NO TIME FOR YOUR GAMES!’ and ran, bounding down the side of the mountainside like the wind.”
The monkey stopped for air. The earth shook again, harder than ever. Without warning, a fiery storm descended upon the clearing, threatening to blow away everything without roots. The monkey wrapped his tail around Raghu and held on to the tree.
The squirrel saw panic on the monkey’s face. Then the shadows shifted — the sun was behind them now.
Minutes passed like hours. Nests fell from trees. Some birds, including the little one, came and took shelter in the squirrel’s hollow. Clouds flew past them in a blur above them. The sky changed colour with every passing minute. After what seemed like eons, the storm grew calmer and then stopped. Raghu thought he felt weightless for a moment. The earth shook again one last time and all was calm.
They were all silent for a time. Raghu couldn’t breathe. He poked the monkey. “I am sorry,” said the monkey, and eased his tail around the squirrel, still not letting go entirely.
The birds flew out to seek their loved ones. From somewhere far away, they heard shouting. It was happy shouting. Jubilant and full of hope.
Then, without warning, scores of monkeys swarmed upon the clearing. They all had baskets and bags with them. Some stopped and looked around, while most just bounded towards the fields. The monkey finally released Raghu.
One of the foraging monkeys saw the two panicked friends and came to them.
“Desperate times, these,” he shrugged and smiled. “We are sorry for the inconvenience our friend Hanuman caused you,” he said, a little embarrassed. Then he added, “I welcome you to the presence of Prince Rama.”
The monkey remained panic-stricken. The squirrel tried to smile.
“Come with us,” said the forager. “I will show you.”
And they went out of the clearing, into the fields. Perched on the monkey, Raghu heard more cheery yelling, this time from all around them.