One very cold winter night, this Arab was riding camel and he was feeling very cold, so he pitched a tent, lit a fire inside the tent, and he tied the camel outside the tent. And he was warming himself up inside the tent. And the camel peeked in and said, “Please can I just put my nose in the tent, because my nose is feeling very cold and it will warm up the air I’m breathing.” So Arab said, “Okay, just the nose.” And then the camel said, “You know my ears are buzzing because of the cold breeze, could I just put my ears in?” So Arab thought, “Yeah, why not, there’s plenty of space in the tent, you can put your ears in.” And then the camel said, “You know my neck is cramping because of the cold breeze, can I just put my neck in?” Arab said, “Yes, there’s space for your neck.” And slowly like that, camel kept requesting one leg, other leg, and slowly he threw the Arab out and sat in the tent warming himself. The moral of the story is that kindness is good but don’t be so kind that you are left in a lurch helping somebody.
My grandmother’s mother told her this story. She used to tell all eight of her children bedtime stories, and this was one of the stories she told my grandma specifically. My grandma says, “She had always told me to be kind to people, but that you first must look after yourself before you can look after other people.” I asked my grandma to recount this story, or any fable with a moral she’d heard growing up, and she shared this one that her mother told her. I asked her if she thought of the fable often, and she said yes. She was close with her mother, who passed away not long after I was born, long after my grandmother had brought her mother to California from Mumbai.