Gula is a young fish who lives in the Verinag spring, also known as the Neel-nag (Blue Spring) in Kashmir. He lives there with his Mother, Sheer, and his other fish friends, Nika, Nitch, and Kaakh.
The Neel-nag spring is significant since the river Jehlum flows from here into the valley. Neel-nag is surrounded by gardens laid out during the Mughal era and used for leisure in the following centuries.
Gula loves people who love him in return. He is very popular and a great entertainer.
The stories (set of 10) revolve around various problems that arise and the ensuing conundrums, which Gula solves with wit and patience, often helped by his sagely mother and friends.
Some important encounters of his are with Aarath, a snake who is envious of Gula’s popularity, a little girl, an elephant, a bird and some other creatures.
Each story has an implicit moral value, teaching children the importance of knowledge, love, patience, humor, compassion, family, friendship, diversity, resolve, and sharing.
Gula Faces Aarath’s Big Plan
Gula was a big beautiful fish. Sleek, slate grey in color, with huge black eyes and soft whiskers! Shining in his nose was a glimmering golden ring.
He lived in the Neel-nag, a blue spring at Verinag, a small hamlet in Kashmir from where the river Jhelum flowed into the heart of the emerald valley. Gula lived a merry life with his friends and his wise old Mother Sheer. He would splish and splash, flip and flop; entertaining the crowd. They cheered at him. He blew bubbles anytime a friendly hand stroked him.
Gula was like a miniature version of a playful dolphin. People came from all parts of Kashmir to see him. What can I say? Some came from outside as well!
Gula was fed the choicest bits of rice, meats, bread, and sweets that he was quick to share with his other fish friends. This made his mother happy. He was gentle with kids, nibbling softly at their fingers. Little girls would drop flowers into the water, which he eagerly pecked at and the girls would burst into peals of laughter. Young boys threw pretend-bait, which he tugged. Of course, there was no hook, he knew!
Happy to see Gula’s antics people would throw coins into the spring. When a big pile got collected, a diver would haul it up. The money went towards the upkeep of the spring and the hamlet as well. The people were happy since they had neater sidewalks, a new building for their school, a bigger library and yes, a fountain shaped like a fish—in honor of Gula!
Gula’s fame grew. Everyone was happy except for a nasty old python Aarath who lived in a tree-hole nearby. He liked to boast he was a Shahmar, a snake who has lived for 100 years. Although in reality he was just 60 or so years old. Aarath was jealous of Gula.
“He is just a miserable fish, who likes to waste his time prancing, he is nothing but a show-off with a golden nose ring that humans like, it’s the ring, the gold they like to see him wear!”, he carped.
If anything, Aarath was always plotting to become popular. And one morning he set his wicked heart on doing just that with what he thought was a perfect plan.
After breakfasting on an unwary dove that was picking worms for its fledglings, and some milk-porridge left by picnickers, Aarath purposefully lunged towards the spring.
Opening his hood menacingly he cast a dark and wide shadow. Gula looked up, wide-eyed while other fishes slid into crevices. His mother Sheer continued with her prayers.
Aarath’s visits were never favorable. Soon enough he bellowed his displeasure. “You all be warned, it is my reign from this moment on. From today I will hold the court in this spring. And you, you wide-eyed show-off, take that ring off and hand it over to me, it’s that little wire of gold that humans like to see you wear…from this moment on, they will come to see me, they love gold!”, he thundered, inching menacingly close towards the water’s surface.
Gula hunkered down behind a stone where his mother was sitting in silence. “Little worm, don’t back off, give me that ring. I plan to hold the show from now on”, Aarath declared arrogantly.
Gula looked towards his mother. She opened her eyes, “do what you must, I am sure you know what the right thing to do is”, she said calmly.
Gula bobbed up a little, unsure. His friends came up as well and protectively swam close.
“No time to think, hand it over”, Aarath grew insistent, his tongue flickering fast. “One strangle from me and you will be history, don’t waste my time”, he threatened, with his beady red eyes dictating with anger.
Without another thought, Gula handed the ring over on a steady fin. He did not want Aarath doing anything bad in a fit of temper.
What do you think my reader friends, was Gula giving up or being wise? So Aarath, wearing the ring, sat coiled on the embankment expecting people to show up.
Gula and his friends huddled in the corner down at the bottom of the spring. “Now just you watch, they will soon break that fish fountain. A new one will be built in my honor, watch that pile of coins grow as never before”, Aarath boasted.
Two days passed and no one turned up. Of course, people are scared of pythons. What do you think my reader friends, do you really think people came to see Gula’s golden ring?
In the time being, food became scarce, except for a little pile of soggy rice left overs, which Sheer distributed carefully so that it would last.
“If it goes on like this, we will all die”, said the tiniest and hungriest of the fishes. “Don’t fret tiny”, answered Gula.
“How? Do something Gula, we can’t sit quiet and pretend as if nothing is wrong”, said another one irritated. “Waiting for the right time is not doing nothing”, said Sheer from her corner.
“I would like to bonk Aarath’s old head with that mossy stone”, blurted the angriest fish.
“Ah! Show me, I wonder if you can even lift it”, said the skeptic.
“Anger is not the answer my children”, interjected Sheer.
“Yes Mother, you are right, my friends listen up, we have to think calmly and use our minds”, said Gula.
“I think I am dying”, feigned the most melodramatic of them all.
“He even took the golden ring”, quipped the flashiest one.
“Shallow fish”, said the one given to righteousness, “that’s not our worry.”
“Hiissh…you all, let us not argue, not right now, we must think right. Try to understand your enemy, and therein you will find the right solution”, said Gula calmly.
“What do you mean?”, queried the hungriest, “all I want now is to talk to Aarath and beg him for some food, I will leave this spring, I will not even turn back, I don’t need to be here.”
“Hiissh, there…there…young one, be patient and watch, this will not last even an hour now,” said Sheer sagely as Gula nodded.
The summer heat was getting unbearable for Aarath. He constantly wetted his body since his skin was drying up.
It did not help much since he needed to sit in the shade, which he could not do because the ring would not glisten there. How could people admire him then, he worried! He could not crawl under a boulder, as snakes often do in daytime, for he would go out of sight.
Ah, the quandary!
His skin was peeling and bleeding. The nights near the spring were chilly, which sent shivers down his sore body. He was hunting less so he felt hungrier. He had also grown used to tasty leftovers from the picnickers, which were no more to be found. Oh! How he wished them back. “Ah! The milk-porridge, my favorite”, he reminisced, with his tongue flickering fast at the thought of human cuisine.
He grew utterly miserable when he realized no one was turning up after all. What do you think, was he right to think people would turn up to see the ring in his nose?
When Aarath’s hood grew a shade smaller and began to droop a little, Sheer nudged Gula who jumped to the surface at once. Knowing Aarath would be loath to admit defeat, Gula played subtle.
“Please Aarath, let go…you are strong and can stay like that for another 100 years, but we all are hungry, no one is coming to the spring anymore. Can you please return to your tree?, I am sure we all miss our treats”, Gula said.
Aarath, whose eyes had fluttered shut with exhaustion was jarred awake.
“Hmm…what is going on here? Where am I?”, he said vaguely, his tongue limp and his scales scarred. He quickly regained his composure.
Gula signaled his friends to join him. Sheer nodded encouragingly. “Please Aarath, you strong Shahmar, return to your tree”, they chorused, bobbing up and down the water.
Hey reader friends, what do you think, did Aarath really need that much coaxing?
“Ok…ok…for your sake, you feeble creatures,” he said in a low voice trying to sound menacing, “I am taking pity on you and leaving, since you insist, I am going back, but the ring stays with me”, he said, readily slithering off without a look.
Seeing him speed away, Gula was overcome with joy. Sheer placed a loving fin on Gula’s head. His friends swarmed around him dancing and hugging.
Some were saddened by the loss of his ring. “Silly, losing the ring does not matter, the important thing is we got our peaceful spring back”, admonished Sheer lovingly, and Gula agreed.
“We stayed together to solve this problem. Hey! Aarath is gone”, Gula said.
When people saw Aarath gone, they began trickling back. They brought the choicest bits of food and sweets. The golden heart that Gula had, he requested for a bowl of milk porridge to be put near the tree hole. Gula gave his mother a knowing smile when he saw the bowl licked clean within minutes.
Not to mention, the townspeople gave Gula not one but two gold rings. One for his nose and the other, which he wore on his fin, was a gift for saving the day with such wisdom and grace!