Once upon a time, a long way away from here, a baboon troop lived in a valley in the middle of the desert, in the lee of a high and rocky mountain.
It was a lush and fertile valley, for all that it was surrounded by stony hills and sand stretching to the distant horizon, for in the valley there was a deep oasis filled with cool, fresh water, around which grew trees heavy with fruit. It was, in fact, a wonderful place for the baboon troop, because not only did it have plenty to eat and drink, but because no leopard could possibly reach it all the way across the desert. In consequence, they called themselves the Great Troop.
There were a few other small valleys nearby, mere scratches in the earth, with scraggly acacia growing around water holes which scarcely held anything more than liquid mud. A few tiny troops of baboons lived in these valleys, too, but they were few, disease ridden, stunted from chronic starvation, and looked down on by the baboons of the Great Troop as worthy of only contempt.
The Great Troop baboons looked around, then, and said to themselves: “We must be the favourite of the Great Baboon, for he has seen fit to give us – and to us alone – this bounty of plenitude. Therefore, as we are favoured above all other baboons, it seems clear that we are the best of all, and that what we think, or say, or do, matters more than what any other baboons say, or think, or do, in all the whole wide world.
“Furthermore,” they said, looking around, “the bounty given unto us is to be enjoyed, and it would be spurning the gifts of the Great Baboon if we did not enjoy it.” So they took the fruit that grew on the trees, and not only ate it, but also kept it in heaps till it fermented and produced wine. The females tore off the flowers when they were in season, and decorated themselves by wearing them in their fur, and saw that it made them beautiful, which made them even surer of the grace of the Great Baboon. They drank the water in the oasis, and also washed themselves in it, and carried it away to make mud enclosures in which to live, because staying in the trees no longer seemed attractive. And the males vied with each other in making larger and more high-walled enclosures, for they thought that such would attract more females. And so the time passed.
One day the leaders of the Great Troop looked around the valley, and what they saw filled them with a vague alarm. “The oasis is almost dry,” they said, “because all the water has gone into making the mud houses. And what little remains is foul with dirt, because the people wash themselves in it.
“Also,” they said, “the roots of the trees are dry, for the water is gone. And so they have put forth few flowers, and of those the women of the people have taken most to make themselves look beautiful. And of those which went to fruit, the majority went to make wine. So the fruit trees are bare, and there is not enough left to eat.”
“Should we then give up our lifestyle, break down the mud houses, and go back to living flowerless and wineless in the trees?” someone asked. “Is that the desire of the Great Baboon?”
“How can that be?” the elders of the troop argued. “The Great Baboon set us above all others, and He cannot possibly desire that we go back to the primitive existence of all the other baboons. Of course we must continue living as we did, but we shall have to find water, flowers, and fruit for ourselves.”
“Where can we find them?” one of the elders of the troop worried. “The only way we can find them is to invade and conquer the other valleys, which are full of inferior baboons, who make no use of the resources they have.”
“It will be easy to conquer them,” another countered, “for they are few, weak and scrawny. Clearly, the Great Baboon means us to overcome them, and clearly, too, we must teach them our ways, for we are so clearly superior to them. In fact, we have a duty to invade and conquer them.”
And so that is what they did. Some of the other baboon troops resisted, often fiercely, but they were weak and few, and they had only their teeth to defend themselves, while the Great Troop's army had sticks and stones. So, finally, there came a time when there was in that part of the desert not one valley which was not under the domination of the Great Troop.
“Now,” said the elders of the Great Troop happily, “we can live as the Great Baboon intended, and as we have always done.” And the troop continued to make their mud enclosures, and flowers from the trees, and fermented the fruit into wine.
But then one day the elders looked around, and in all the valleys there was not a single one which had fruit or flower, or even water, left; and they were badly shaken.
“Something will have to be done,” they said. But there was nothing to be done except give up their privileged lives, and clearly the Great Baboon could not have intended that.
“We are hungry and thirsty,” cried the baboons of the Great Troop to their elders. “Where has all our fruit and water gone? Even our women cannot find flowers to wear in their fur. Help us.”
“There must be a source for our misfortunes,” an elder declared. “It must be those evil baboons who live up on the mountain. They have seen our great riches and are envious, and they have conspired against us. They come in secret, steal our fruit and dirty our water, and stop us from living the way the Great Baboon intended. They are enemies of the Way of the Great Baboon.”
“Clearly,” the other elders agreed, “it is our duty to defeat their plans. We must at once prepare an army to march upon the mountain and destroy those baboons. It is a matter of our security.”
“You must all,” the first elder told the Troop, “help the army prepare, and give them all aid, for they are going to fight for your rights and freedom to live as the Great Baboon intended.”
“We will, we will,” the baboons of the troop said. And so they gave all the food, water and wine they could spare to the army, which marched upon the mountain.
But time passed, and the army did not come back from the mountain. The people continued to send food and water up its heights, and clamoured for news to the elders.
“The war is going well,” the elders proclaimed. “The army has conquered the mountain. However, it must continue to occupy it lest the evil baboons come back.”
And so more time passed.
Now among the baboons of the Great Troop there was one who had always been considered strange by the others, for he would not admit that Way of the Great Baboon was better than any other way of living – no, he had even been known to doubt that the Great Baboon existed, and had been accordingly chastised by the elders of the troop. He was, accordingly, called the Outsider.
Now the Outsider decided that he would go and see what was happening up on the mountain, where the army had been fighting for so long. One night he sneaked out of the valley, and after many adventures finally reached the mountain. And after several more days he arrived back in the valley.
“Come here,” he shouted, climbing on a high rock. “Come here, everybody.” When the baboons had gathered, he fluffed himself up and began:
“I have been up the mountain, and seen for myself the war our army is fighting up there for our freedom and the Way of the Great Baboon. And I shall tell you what I have seen:
“There are no evil baboons up on the mountain. There are only a few baboons there, who had lived their own lives as they pleased and wished to continue living their own lives as they pleased. They never had done us any harm, stolen our fruit or dirtied our oases. They were not our enemies. But our army went up to take their mountain from them, and they are fighting back, for they are wild and fierce, and it is a big mountain. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.”
The assembled baboons murmured to themselves, while the elders watched with consternation. Then one of them stepped forward. “If you say the baboons up on the mountain are not to blame for our misfortunes, who is? Can you answer that?”
And the Outsider said, calmly, “It is us who did it to ourselves, living as we never should have, far beyond the capacity of our valley to sustain. It is we, and only we, who are to blame.”
“A heretic!” the elders shrieked in triumph. “A heretic, who blasphemes against the Great Baboon Himself, and slanders His gifts and His purpose. He is certainly in league with the enemy on the mountain. Seize him!” And so it was done.
“We must at once,” said the elders, “search out more heretics, and root them out, before they destroy the Way of the Great Baboon from within, as the enemy is doing from without. We should at once launch an Inquisition, and destroy all the traitors – starting with the Outsider, and all like him, for there must be many.” And so it was done.
And time passed, and still the battle on the mountain was not won.
“There must be evil baboons in the desert on the other side of the mountain,” the elders said, “who are helping the enemy on the heights. We must raise an army to go forth and crush them, so that we preserve the sanctity of the Way.”
And so it was done.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2013