Treasures of Crocodile Grandpa

[Note: This is a free translation of a Japanese story for second grade children. At the time I read it, it was part of their national language syllabus. The author is Kawasaki Hiroshi (川崎 洋) and the Japanese name of the story is “wani no ojiisan no takara mono” (鰐のおじいさんの宝もの). Translated, it means what the English title of the story tells at the top. Although this is a children’s story, it carries wisdom for adult readers too. The story refers to characters from Japanese folklore concerning Momotarō and the Oni-s he defeated. The word oni defies translation and the closest English word is “an ogre”. Fortunately for us, the ogre we’ll meet in the story is a child and a cute one at that.]

Snakes as well as frogs had holed up underground.

The crows cawed as they shivered in the cold.

The day being bright and sunny, a child Oni put on his hat and went out for a walk along the river bank where he came across a sleeping crocodile. This was the first time he had seen a crocodile. He sqatted next to it and studied it closely.

It was a very old crocodile and its skin was all wrinkled up from its head to the tip of the tail. By human standards, it was at least a hundred and thirty years old.

The crocodile lay absolutely still.

“Perhaps it is dead”, the child thought to himself.

“Grandpa!” he called out.

The crocodile lay still, eyes tightly closed.

“Could it be a grandma though?” the little Oni wondered.

“Grandma!” The crocodile still did not move at all.

Well, it must be dead, the Oni thought to himself.

Oni brings leaves

He walked around and collected large sized leaves from the trees in nearby fields and hills. Then he carried them back and piled them up around the crocodile.

He worked from morning through noon till evening and managed to cover the crocodile’s body completely.

And as soon as this task was completed, the crocodile opened his eyes and muttered, “Ah! That feels good.”

“Did you bring all these leaves and cover me up?”

“You were not moving at all. I thought you were dead.”

“I undertook a long, long journey from a far away place. By the time I reached here, I felt tired. And I fell asleep, seeing that this looked like a safe neighbourhood. Looks like I was sleeping for hours.” Saying so, the crocodile opened its mouth wide and yawned aloud.

“Are you a grandpa or a grandma?”

“Ah, I am a grandpa all right.”

“Grandpa! Why did you journey to a place so far away?”

“I found hordes of blighters waiting around the corner, planning to kill me and run away with my treasures. That’s why I came here.”

The Oni did not know what “treasures” meant. Long, long ago, Momotarō had plundered the Onis of all their treasures. So, he had no idea what treasures were.

“You don’t know what treasures are?” the crocodile asked in a voice full of surprise. He stared hard at the Oni for a while and then his wrinkled face stretched into a meaningful smile.

‘‘Ah! It’s best that I leave my treasures in your charge. Yes, that’s it. That’s the right way for me to leave for the other world without anxiety.”

The map on crocodile grandpa's back

The crocodile’s back was in reality a map showing the way to the hidden treasures. He instructed the Oni to copy the map on a smooth sheet of paper.

‘‘Now, go ahead,” said the crocodile. ‘‘In the meantime, I will take a nap on my leafy bed. You had better check for yourself what treasures look like.” With these words, the crocodile closed his eyes.

The oni followed the directions on the map, through mountain passes and valleys, across rivers and forests infested with wild beasts, along caves and rocky mountains. He lost his way and went around in circles, but finally he did reach the destination marked by a cross sign on the map.

He found himself standing atop a steeply rising cliff facing a magnificently beautiful evening sky. He stared round eyed at the scene. He was speechless and took off his hat quite unconsciously.

He kept on nodding his head, telling himself this then must be what was known as treasure, wasn’t it? Oni watching the prettiest evening skyWhy, it is theprettiest evening sky in the whole world!

He didn’t realize that right under his feet was hidden the treasure trove he had come in search of.

Instead, he kept staring at the evening sky for what seemed like an eternity.

[Note: As I said, this is a free translation. Some expressions sound strange when literally translated. So I avoided that route. However, the last line is truly fascinating to read in Japanese. For those of you who are familiar with the language, let me write down the original Japanese sentence. おに の 子 は、いつまでも 夕やけを 見て いました。 Pronouned: oni no ko wa itsumadē mo yuuyakē o mitē imashita.]

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Comments

  • Phil Neal  On June 3, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Love the illustrations.

    • dipankardasgupta  On June 3, 2010 at 5:09 pm

      Dear Phil:

      Yes, I too liked the pictures of the cute little oni and the wise crocodile.

      Best.

      Dipankar

  • kerman  On June 7, 2010 at 10:27 am

    Oj kaku…Simple message.. enjoyed reading
    Kerman

  • sarada  On July 1, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    What a wonderful tale ! It filled me with warmth and happiness . And a small rueful twinge of bitter sweet anguish at the thought of human foibles.

    The illustrations are lovely.

    I read this story out to my little niece who’s recovering from a nasty bout of flu ; she was immeasurably cheered by it.Thank you, Dipankar.

    • dipankardasgupta  On July 1, 2010 at 8:58 pm

      Thank you Sarada. This story moved me to no end. I knew I wanted to translate it when I read it for the first time. I don’t know why it took me so long.

      Best wishes.

      Dipankar

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