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Ajamil and the Tigers
The poem Ajamil And the Tigers by Arun Kolatkar is the longest poem in Jejuri. The poem is a poetic rendering of folk tale. The story of Ajamil and His Dogs appears in Jayadri Mahaturya. The first chapter of the seventh Book of ‘Bhagavata Puran’ too contains the same story.
In this poem, Arun Kolatkar presents the mythical story of Ajamil in a new setting. According to folklore, Ajamil was a bad man who drank too much and mistreated his family. He also gambled and sold his wife’s jewellery. He became a thief and robbed travellers. His bad methods caused his wife to suffer and made it tough for her to care for her children. According to the tale, God saved him from the messenger of death. He was a different man after that. He repented of his immoral and sinful ways. He resolved to devote the rest of his life to assisting people.
Summary of Ajamil and the Tigers
This poem is a fable. It tells a story in which animals too are characters. A fable is a fictitious story that includes both animal and mythical characters. The animals are given human characteristics such as verbal communication. The story concludes with a moral lesson. A fable differs from a parable in that there are no animal characters or inanimate objects treated as characters in the latter.
‘Ajamil and the Tigers’ tells the story of how Ajamil and the king of the tigers came to an agreement. Ajamil is portrayed in this story as a shepherd whose sheep are guarded by a strong and trustworthy sheep dog. Tigers are unable to hunt sheep, so they are starving. They protest to their king that the ‘new sheep dog’ does not allow them to hunt sheep. The tiger king goes to confront the sheep dog but is defeated. Then he assaults the sheep dog again, bringing every tiger with him, but is vanquished once more. The king of tigers then employs diplomacy and deception to inform the simple Ajamil that there has been some confusion. He asserts that the tigers could have killed all the sheep in “one clean sweep,” but he believes that “means are more important than ends.” So, he has come to him as a friend.
The sheep dog tries to warn Ajamil by making ‘frantic signs’ that the tiger king is lying, but Ajamil pretends not to understand. Ajamil extends an invitation to the king and his tigers to a grand dinner. Following that, Ajamil and the tiger king strike an agreement in which Ajamil offers the tigers sheep in exchange for peace. There is no longer any conflict between the sheep dog and the tigers, and both the sheep and the tigers are content to drink from the same pond. Ajamil is unconcerned and can ‘play a flute all day.’
You might have probably noticed that the plot is told in the style of a gangster film. The sentence ‘I’m going to give that sheep dog a lesson he’ll never forget’ has an American slant to it. Then you realise that the sheep might represent common people who are at the hands of mafia dons. The only way they can save themselves is to provide the criminals some form of protection money in exchange for their freedom. As a result, the story becomes a cynical commentary on the current reality, in which a settlement must be reached with criminals since leaders (represented by Ajamil in the poem) lack the resolve to punish them. This poem has been interpreted in a number of different ways. According to M.K. Naik, the story emphasises the necessity for peace in a life full of strife. However, you may argue that the poem has a philosophical depth and uses a tale to demonstrate how evil can corrupt the good. Again, the poem might be interpreted as a political satire on the current scenario in India, in which criminal gangs can create alliances with corrupt government figures. The sheep dog in the system may represent good and honest individuals, but they are overruled by those in power who have surrendered their beliefs for the sake of expediency. Ajamil, as the defender of his sheep, should have paid attention to what the sheep dog was trying to tell him.
The poem, like a story, contains dialogue and narration. You’ll see how the poem’s characters have developed. The tigers are presented to be self-assured, whereas Ajamil appears to be a frail individual. You can also observe that the major fight in the poem is between good and evil, and that, unlike in a fable, the good comes to an agreement with evil.
Analysis of Ajamil and the Tigers
‘Ajamil and the Tigers,’ in its most basic form, is a satire. Marjorie Boulton defines satire as “intended to arouse laughter by its witty and sharp criticism of abuses” in her book The Anatomy of Poetry. Can you identify the poem’s parts that make you laugh? If you look closely, you could find it. We find it amusing, for example, when the poet describes the tiger king coming from battle with a black patch over his eye and his “tail in a sling.” We did not expect to see the beautiful tiger dressed as a patient in a hospital orthopaedic ward. This abrupt shift in description generates humour. The poem can alternatively be classified as a fable. Specific numbers are employed in the poem, as you can see. For example, the tigers were hungry for ’15 days and 16 nights,’ and the dog was in ’51 places at once.’ Specific numbers are frequently employed in fables and fairy tales. In a fable, for example, you may encounter phrases like “the prince rode through the wilderness for seven days and seven nights,” “the ascetic meditated for twelve years,” and so on.
This poem contains dialogue, although it is only uttered by the tigers. The tiger king says the majority of the conversation in the poem. The purported speech includes what Ajamil says. Why is this the case? One of the explanations could be that the poet wishes to focus solely on the tigers and thus reports what they say straight. Another reason that goes deeper than this is that in the kind of world that the poet has painted symbolically, only the evil has a voice, and hence only the tigers speak.
The poem’s language is practically stark, with few figures of speech used. ‘Quick as lightning’ contains a simile, and ‘a daisy chain’ contains a metaphor, but the poet mostly utilises concrete, graphic words in their literal sense.