Friday, October 3, 2008

A Bird's Tale Or How the Female Bird Stopped Singing (Tagore's Totakahini)

Once upon a time, in a Kingdom beyond the seven seas, there lived a bird. She was ill-read. She sang spontaneously, hopped from leaf to leaf; but never cared to read scriptures. She flew from tree to tree, pecked at all mellow fruits in joy of heart; but never showed a discipline in behavior.

So, the King said, "Such a bird is good for nothing. It only damages the fruit market and State revenues by pecking at fruits."

He ordered the Minister, "Educate that bird!"


King's nephews took on the duty of educating the bird.

Pundits were appointed for that. They discussed a lot on education. The most important question was, what could be the reason for such ignorance in the bird.

Finally they came to a decision. A nest made with mere grass and junks could not hold much wisdom. So, they decided, first there should be a proper cage for the bird.

Everyone became happy with the decisions. And the pundits got very high payments for that.


This world lacks in everything but cynics. They said, "The cage is getting improved. But none cares for the bird."

Their whispers flew on air to King's ears. He called for the Nephew. When he came, the King asked, "Nephew! What's this I hear?!"

Nephew said, "My King Sire! If you want to know the truth, call the goldsmith, the pundits, the copiers. Call the dusters, the cleaners, the polishers. Those cynics eat nothing, so they malign."

The King got it very clearly from the nephew's answer. Immediately he gifted the nephew with a big golden chain.


One day, the King thought of visiting the cage to see how the education was going on. So, he came there with his sidekicks, banters, guards and sycophants.

On the gate, started a big ovation for the King. All conchs, bells, drums, brasses, trumpets raised a hullabaloo like anything. Pundits stood hands clasped and started chanting in full voice. Dusters, cleaners, goldsmith, copiers, supervisers and nephews filled the air with "Long live the King".

Nephew said, "My King Sire! Don't you feel wonder?!"

The King replied, "Real wonder! What big sounds!!"

Nephew said, "Only sound? Billions already spent behind all these!"

The King became so happy that he turned back to get on his elephant . But, the cynic was there somewhere hiding in the bush. He whispered from there, "My King Sire! Have you seen the bird?"

The King now remembered. He said, " Aha! I forgot that  in all these things. Let's see the bird."

He returned to the bird's education house, and asked the pundit, "Show me your method of educating the bird"

And he saw. He became extremely happy by what he saw. The method was so bigger than the bird that she was not seen at all. It seemed that there was no need to see her.

The King understood everything was going correctly. Nothing was lacking. He saw no fruit, no water near the bird, only heaps of pages torn from the scrolls and scriptures and books were stuffed by the pen nibs through the bird's mouth into her body.

The King became happy to see that she could no longer sing, there was even no place in her mouth to chirp or shout.

"What a sight!", he felt. In happiness and joy, the King's body shivered.

This time, before getting on his elephant for home, King asked the head-boxer of his court to box up the cynic well.


The bird, as usual, withered away as days passed. Her self-imposed guardians felt hope for her. But, out of her natural instinct, on some mornings, she looked in the way of light and very badly fluttered his wings. Even, once in a while, she was seen to be trying to cut the rods of her cage with her thin beak.

The head sentry saw that and said, "What an audacity!"

Then, iron smith was called with his bellows and fire and hammer to the education house. And what a hammering he did! Iron chain was made and the bird's wings were cut.

The Kings' brother-in-laws frowned and said, "In this Kingdom, birds not only lack wisdom, but gratefulness too!"

Then, pundits resumed with renewed spirit, pen in one hand, and sword in the other. People had to say, "Yes! This is called education!"

The ironsmith got such a reputation and practice that his wife built a toilet studded with diamonds. And the head sentry was promoted over many people by the King.


The bird died. When, nobody knew. The bad cynic spread the rumor, "The bird has died!"

The nephew was summoned. King asked him, "Nephew! What is this I hear?!"

Nephew replied, "My King Sire! Her education is complete."

King asked, "Does she hop and leap anymore? "

Nephew relied, "By jove! Nooooooooo."

-- "Does she fly?"

-- "No."

-- "Does she shout for fruits?"

-- "No."

Then, the King said, "Bring the bird. Let me see how she is."

The bird was brought. With her, the head-sentry came along with guards and horsemen. King pressed the tummy of the bird.   For the first time, she did not respond. Only in her tummy, the dry pages of the scrolls moved and ruffled.

Outside, the southern wind of new spring passed sighing among the new leaves under the Sun.

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