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A Kannada story by Deepa Nadig
He called the chameleon and said, “I have a gift that I want you to deliver to all men and women. Go straight to the people, and give them this parcel from me!” With that he gave a small package to the chameleon.
In those days chameleons were as fast as lightning so the chameleon immediately set off to do as he had been asked. He sped towards Earth, the parcel neatly tucked under his arm. When he reached a vast river on the way, he stopped to take a drink. And this proved to be his undoing!
A snake, who happened to be drinking water at the same place, asked the chameleon where he was going. The chameleon said he was going to deliver a gift package from God to mankind.
Now the snake disliked men and women as they were tall and often trod on snakes. Also he was bitterly jealous of the attention that God gave to them, and when he heard about the gift, the snake began to scheme. How could he make sure that people did not receive this special gift?
"O, dear cousin chameleon,” the snake hissed, “It is so good to see you again! My family has missed you a great deal. Why don’t you join us today for lunch?” The chameleon looked at the sun high in the sky and decided that he could have lunch with the snake family and still have plenty of time left to deliver the package. So he agreed to join the snake’s family for lunch and thanking the snake, he followed him into the burrow.
The snake’s wife had prepared a huge and sumptuous meal and was truly delighted to see that the chameleon had come to share it with them. She encouraged him to have more and more, and as it was so delicious, the chameleon helped himself until he was almost too full to move. Forgetting his task the chameleon fell asleep.
The snake hissed and gently lifted the package from under the sleeping chameleon’s arm. “What is that” his wife asked.
“A gift for us from God,” laughed the snake. And with that he tore open the parcel. “Look my good wife,” he exclaimed, lifting something from the box. It was new skin to replace old and worn out skin. “He has sent us new skins! Whenever our old ones wear out we can change into the new ones!” The snake laughed again, louder this time. The chameleon woke up and found out what had happened.
“Those are not for you! They are for people. Give them back!” The chameleon pleaded. But the snake just laughed, holding the skins beyond the chameleon’s reach and slithered away.
The chameleon was sick with sadness at the way in which he had been betrayed and at the way he had disobeyed God. He hid himself in the branches of a tree, clinging to the trunk, changed his colour to match the bark and moved very slowly so that he could not be noticed. He was too ashamed to face anyone.
And to this day snakes shed their old skin and don a new one whenever they feel they are aging. And chameleons hide away and change the colour of their skins to hide themselves.
A Kannada story by Deepa Nadig
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