Nograpo was a fox. He was the wisest and the strongest among the foxes in the island. His world was the island- almost. There were nearby islands. It was an archipelago. He knew that other foxes existed in other islands. During very low tides connections form between the islands. The gulls flew between them, transferring gossip. But it was dangerous to venture to other enclaves. Most of the foxes there were enemies.
Nograpo was young and vigorous. But he was not feeling so good. It was two days since he had eaten. The times were hard in the island. A disease had wiped out most of the hares. Hares were the foxes’ main prey. It was very difficult to catch the hares now. The ones left were the healthiest, and all were good runners.
“Why was the great forest spirit upset with us?” Nograpo wondered. He looked up to pray to the great forest spirit. That was when he saw that. Hanging on a tree branch above him, and sprouting on the vine, was a bunch of grapes. Red and swollen, the bunch beckoned like a chubby red young female fox. His mouth watered. His parched lips ached, and his empty stomach growled in anticipation. They looked unusually large and bulbous.
He jumped up with open mouth. Foxes very rarely ate grapes. Meat was the main thing. But when one is dying of hunger….many foxes had already died.
They were just out of reach. He jumped again…. and again. Soon he was tired.
“Grapes are sore. They are horrible.” And he walked on.
But…he had to try once more. He walked back. He started jumping like a man possessed. Muscles stung like needles. Chest heaved with painful pants. Heart ached as if it would break.
The desire for the grapes caused his neurons to produce massive amounts of the neurotransmitter Dopamine. The severe exertion in addition to the tiredness and hunger made them secrete copious quantities of Endorphins that tweaked thousands of neuronal endings nearby.
Suddenly his vision blurred. He felt at once at one with the universe. He was united with the Great Forest Spirit. The Spirit was in everything and every living being. He had united with it. It was bliss. A voice spoke to him:
“Have patience. Do whatever you were doing. Don’t lose heart.”
Nogrape woke up a new man. I mean a new fox. His eyes glittered like glossy green berries. The moment he opened his eyes, he saw a new world. It seemed as if all has been transformed. Suddenly he saw a hare from the corner of his eye. It was running, but rather slowly. It had injured itself falling from a height. Nogrape was on to him before he could say ‘Dopamine’. He dined on fresh meat after a long gap that day.
The next day, when it dawned, woke up to a strange sight. The sun rose misty from the sea, smearing the horizon with red grape juice. The entire foxes of the island were jumping up and down under the bunch of grapes. Nogrape exhorted them on:
“Jump, jump, jump, by jove
Jump at the bunch above
Have faith , dear mates
In our hands, is our fate.
Jumping makes us strong
Eating grapes is wrong.
Hares we shall catch
The Spirit- he will watch.”
The foxes sang with him as they jumped. Some of the foxes could jump and almost reached the grapes. But Nogrape insisted that no one should touch them. That was not part of the plan. They were also dangerously sour.
After the ritual of an hour of jumping, many foxes felt enthusiastic enough to hunt, and some succeeded. Some foxes became exhausted and later died. But so many of them were dying anyway. Hope dominated the forest of foxes.
Soon, the island was festooned with this new variety of grapes. It was strange. In the past, grape was a rare type of plant there. Now it sprouted out of every nook and cranny. Grapes hung seductively from the peepal trees. Heavy bunches hung everywhere, like chandeliers giving out red and purple light. Nogrape’s girlfriend, Agrapia was, as most of the foxes, thin and starving. But she supported Nogrape. The support of Agrapia was crucial for the new grape jumping religion. She was very influential among the female foxes.
Many months passed. Many more foxes died of starvation. Nogrape was already a leader among the foxes. He had convinced the old chief, Sansgrape, about the new jumping ritual and the plan of the great forest spirit. Nogrape noted that the foxes were able to catch more hares now. At least they were happier, and many had mystic experiences similar to Nogrape’s.
A young fox, named Grapehog, remained sceptical. He tasted the grapes and found them to be very tasty. He told all the others that Grapes can be eaten. That is the only way to keep them fed, he claimed. Nogrape was furious. He reminded everyone that early in their new religious journey, a fox had actually died after consuming a few grapes. That was true.
Grapehog refused to back down. Two foxes sided with him. Through the gossiping sea birds, everyone knew that the hare epidemic had killed off hares in neighbouring islands also. Foxes were dying everywhere. But in none of these islands, grapes had appeared. Greenhog argued that not only should all the foxes in the island munch on grapes, but word should be sent to the other islands that this bounty was available here. We had to help others’ he said. He even suggested harvesting them and distributing them to other islands by crude boats that the foxes knew how to build.
This was too much.
“He wants to help our enemies!” Nogrape shouted. Now he was convinced that Grapehog was a spy for the enemy island of Hare-istan. He lunged at Grapehog. Everyone jumped on Grapehog and his two friends and killed them.
Slowly, the foxes started dying one by one. Agrapia, died, a bag of skin and bones, and lying on Nogrape’s lap. Nogrape became ill. He was the last to die. As he lay down under the original tree, a bunch of over-ripe grapes fell on his face. Juice splattered and a few drops trickled into his mouth. It was sweet, like honey. He spat it out.
“This is so sour”. He said.
He looked up and started to sing:
“Jumping makes us strong
Eating grapes is wrong.
Hares we shall catch
The Spirit- he will watch.” Then he closed his eyes. He was dead.
Slowly, the population of the hares soared. The epidemic was gone. The grapes bloomed everywhere, and they hung, like bright red Christmas decorations. The forest had a festive look. But the foxes were all gone.
The Great Forest Spirit hung above. He soared silently over the trees, vines and frolicking hares. He waited for the next batch of foxes that might come from other islands in the fullness of time, who could understand him better, with improved belief systems.