By Kushan Mehta for KidSpirit's Storytelling and Narrative issue.
As a Jain Indian who was born in Los Angeles, California, and then moved to Ahmedabad, India, at the age of seven, I've had the privilege of listening to a variety of different stories, fables, and narratives.
I have always been told stories with moral lessons, not just by my parents but by teachers and friends. I enjoy these stories because they are entertaining and I learn something from each of them. After listening to countless stories, the two that are my favorite and have impacted me the most are the tale of the woodcutter, and the tale of Meruprabha, the king of elephants.
Once there was a hardworking and truthful woodcutter. Every day he would go to the forest and spend the whole day tirelessly chopping wood. In the evening he would wash himself in the brook nearby. Then he would return home and get up the next day to repeat the cycle. One day, the woodcutter woke up as usual, cut wood in the forest, and then went to the brook to wash himself. He put his beloved axe next to the stream. As he was bathing, he noticed that the currents of the water that day seemed faster than usual. In the blink of an eye, his axe was swept away.
Astonishment quickly turned into grief. His wails and screams were heard by an angel nearby. She offered the woodcutter three different axes, one of gold, one of silver, and one that looked like his own rusty old iron axe. She asked him to take whichever one was his. He took the iron one, and, delighted with his honesty, the angel gifted all three to him. Nearby, a jealous and cunning woodcutter was listening and watching the conversation of the angel and the woodcutter. The next day he threw his axe into the brook on purpose and started wailing and crying. The angel once again appeared. She offered him a gold axe first, and the greedy woodcutter happily accepted it. The angel was furious with him for lying so she left the river, and the greedy woodcutter was left with nothing.
I first heard this story during story time in kindergarten in Los Angeles. After listening to it, I finally realised the importance of honesty. If it hadn’t have been for this story, I might not have learned this imperative value. Even today, whenever I come across the two paths of speaking the truth and facing consequences, or lying and getting away with my wrongdoing, I always remember this story, and it helps me choose the right path.
For example, when I was in the fifth grade, I accidently kicked our football beyond the school fence. We had already lost a lot of balls this way in the past month and students were constantly reminded to be extra careful. Nevertheless, it happened. I did not think anyone had seen me, so it seemed no one would know about the incident if I were to lie. But instead of choosing that path, I came clean and told the teachers. It turned out one teacher had actually seen me, and he was glad that I had owned up to my mistake. If I had not told the truth I probably would have gotten into a lot of trouble and I would not have been trusted again.
A simple moral story like that of the woodcutter influences me every day to take the right path.
Now, whenever I come to a similar crossroads, I always have a nagging feeling in the back of my head to make sure I don’t lie. A simple moral story like that of the woodcutter influences me every day to take the right path. And that is what makes stories all the more important in our lives.
Another story more closely tied to my Indian heritage is about the king of elephants, Meruprabha. He lived peacefully in harmony with the rest of the animals in the jungle and was generous, kind-hearted, and thoughtful. Once there was a big forest fire, and he narrowly escaped. After that incident, he thought of creating a place where all the animals could rest and be safe if such an unfortunate event should occur again. He cleared out a long stretch of land, created a fence, weeded out all the grass, and cleared it of plants, trees, and bushes all by himself. After lots of hard work, the haven was finally complete. Not long after, another fire broke out in the jungle, but thanks to the shelter that Meruprabha had created, all the animals of the jungle were able to be safe from the fire.
As the animals came running in, Meruprabha raised his foot because of an itch. At that very moment, a rabbit hopped over and stood right underneath the elephant’s foot. When he tried to put his foot down, he felt the rabbit’s presence, and out of compassion, he kept his foot up so the poor creature wouldn’t be crushed to death. The fire lasted for two and a half days and Meruprabha relentlessly kept his foot up the entire time. As the fire died down, the animals slowly retreated back to their homes in the jungle. When Meruprabha tried to put his foot down, it was stiff and he couldn’t, so he lost his balance and fell to the ground with immense force.
He suffered in pain for three days and ultimately died. In his next life he was given the chance to attain liberation from the endless cycle of life and death, which is considered to be the ultimate goal of all living things present on earth but is usually only possible in the human form.
The stories I have been told during my childhood have made me into a better human being and helped me better understand the world.
This story about astounding compassion and selflessness really inspired me, and after hearing it I have always tried to be compassionate and kind towards others.This story gave me a deeper connection with my Indian heritage and my Jain religion. The story taught me about ahimsa, or nonviolence, which is Jainism’s main belief. It gave me a simple explanation of why my religion followed ahimsa, and inspired me to practice this value in my own life. For example, I stopped using leather because I wanted to make sure that my family and I would avoid products that harm animals. Just listening to this one story helped me make such an important decision that has impacted my life on so many levels.
In conclusion, I perceive stories and narratives as building blocks that help teach us different values that we use every day. Stories are not just a means of communication but so much more. They help us at every point and stage in life. They have changed the way I view the world. They have helped me see that honesty truly is the best policy and being kind and considerate is important. The stories I have been told during my childhood have made me into a better human being and helped me better understand the world.
When he wrote this piece, Kushan Mehta was an eighth grader at The Riverside School in India. He enjoys technology, language, design, and music. He has published numerous articles and short stories in online magazines, newspapers, and novels. Kushan tries to fade the lines between the two countries he has been tied to — the United States and India — and hopes to write his own novel one day, too.