The Parrot’s Tale (Translation of Tota Kahini by Rabindranath Tagore)

Once upon a time was this illiterate bird in the kingdom. It sang songs, but never read the scriptures. It jumped about and flew, but never cared for custom and convention. The king proclaimed, “Such a bird is of no use; it eats fruits in the orchard, and the fruit market runs at a loss!” He summoned his ministers and ordered, “Go educate the bird!”

If fell upon the king’s nephews to educate the bird.

The royal pundits spent endless hours discussing what may be the cause of this avian illiteracy. Then they arrived at the conclusion that the nest the bird builds with twigs & straws is too small to hold much learning. Therefore, first of all, the bird would be built a good cage.

Armed with fees and gifts for their deliberations rendered, the royal scholars went home merrily.

The goldsmith began building a golen cage. It turned out so novel that people from faraway lands rushed to take a look at it. Some said, “Fittest for education”, & others said, “Education or not, the bird got a great cage! What a lucky bird!”

The goldsmith went home laughing with glee, with a sack filled with rewards. He rushed home.

The scholar got down to educate the bird. He took a pinch of snuff, and declared, “A few books won’t do”.

The nephew called for the scribes. They copied heaps of manuscripts like mountains of copied books, and several more copies of copied books. Those who saw this, said, “What an overflow of Learning!”

The scribes loaded their bullock-carts with rewards. They went home, & didn’t have to worry about making their ends meet ever after!

The nephews were very watchful about the super-expensive gilded cage. It was regularly maintained, and seeing the pomp of its regular cleaning and polishing, all said, “Such progress!”

Hundreds were employed for the job, and to monitor all these employees, hundreds more were hired. Month after month, and filled their chests with fat salaries they drew . They and their in-laws and half brothers were very happy and set up luxurious bedspreads and lived in opulence.

Even if the world be insufficient in a lot of other things, there are enough critics around. They said, “The cage keeps getting better, but no one cares about the bird”.

When the king heard this, he called his nephew and said, “Nephew! What do I hear?”

The nephew said, “Royal Highness! If you really want to hear the truth, call the goldsmiths, the scholars, the scribes, the craftsmen who maintain the cage. These carpers don’t have enough, they carp at others. “

It all became clear to the King with this answer, and the nephew was rewarded with a gold necklace right away.

The King wanted to see for himself the furious pace at which education was being imparted. So, one day, he himself came to visit the cage with his courtesans and ministers.

As the King drew near the building, there was a loud clangor of bugles, royal drumbeats, and a huge cacophony of hundreds of musical instruments to announce the royal arrival. The scholarss shook their ponytails, cleared their voices and shouted their chants. The masons, the goldsmiths, the scribes, the clerks, and all their relatives raised their voices to hail the king’s arrival.

The nephew asked, “Your Royal Highness! Do you see the arrangement?”

The King replied, “Wonderful indeed! So much sound!”

The nephew said, “It’s just not the sound, Your Highness! A lot of money has gone behind this!”

Satisfied, the King crossed the threshold and was about to mount his elephant to return. Just then, the critic who was hiding in a bush, whispered, “Your Royal Highness, have you seen the bird?”

The King was startled, “Oh my! I totally forgot! The bird is not seen”

He turned around and asked the scholar, “I want to see how you teach the bird”

He was shown.

He was very satisfied to see the process of education.

The process was so much larger than the bird itself, that the bird was not seen, rather, it was fair enough not to see the bird. The king realized that there was no dearth of arrangements. The cage had no food or water. Reams of pages from hundreds of textbooks were thrust to the beak of the bird with tips of pens & quills. The bird not only could not sing, it could not even cry out. The process was very exciting.

This time, as the king mounted on his elephant to return, he ordered the leader of the royal ear-pullers to box the critic’s ear real hard.

In course of time, the bird gently became half-dead. The guardians realized the situation was very hopeful. Yet, due to its wild nature, the bird would occasionally look at the sun in the morning and would snap its wings. Sometimes, it would even be seen that the frail bird was trying to break out of the cage.

The policeman said, “What a show of indiscipline!”

Then and there, the ironsmith was called to the school with fire, and hammer. The cage was beaten, and the bird’s wings were clamped.

The royal relatives proclaimed, with their mouths agape, “In this country, the birds are not only undisciplined, they are ungrateful!”

And then, the scholars picked up a pencil in one hand and a spear on the other, and did something that was called true education!

The ironsmith made brisk business, his wife adorned gold ornaments, and pleased with the agility of the policeman, the king richly rewarded him.

The bird was dead. No one knew when. That son of a gun critic spread the rumour, “The bird is dead”

The king called his nephew, and asked again, “What do I hear?”

The nephew replied, “The education of the bird is complete, Your Highness!”

The King asked, “Does it jump anymore?”

The nephew said, “Heavens, no”

“Does it fly?”

“Nope”

“Does it sing?”

“No”

“Does it shout if it does not get its feed?”

“No”

The King said,” Bring on the bird, I want to see myself”

The bird was brought. Along with the bird came the Police chief, the sentry, the horseman. The king pressed on the bird, it did not open its mouth, it did not make any sound. Only, dry papers from the books rustled in its belly.

Outside the palace, the spring blossoms blew in the southerly wind and their sighs wafted & filled the sky over the glen.

Originally published at arinsights.blogspot.co.nz on May 28, 2016.

Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Also in: https://refind.com/arinbasu

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