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The Parrot's Tale

Rabindranath Tagore

Translated from the Bengali by Palash Baran Pal

Once there was a bird. It was an utterly foolish bird. It sang songs, but did not read the scriptures. It flew, it jumped, but did not have the faintest sense of etiquette.

The King said, ``Such birds! They are of no use at all. They only eat the fruits in the orchards and the royal fruit-market runs a deficit.''

He called the minister, and commanded, ``Educate it.''

--- 2 ---

The King's nephew was given the responsibility of educating the bird.

The scholars held long discussions, the subject being -- ``What is the reason behind the foolishness of this creature?''

The conclusion was: much learning could not be stored in the tiny nest that the bird could make with just chips and twigs. So, first of all, it was necessary to build a good cage for it.

The scholars got amply rewarded and went home merrily.

--- 3 ---

The goldsmith started building the cage. The cage turned out to be so exquisite that everyone under the sun rushed to see it. Some said, ``Education indeed!'' Others said, ``Education or no education, at least the bird has got the cage! What a lucky bird!''

The goldsmith got a bagful of rewards. He set out for home cheerfully.

The pundit came to teach the bird. He took a pinch of snuff and said, ``A few books won't do.''

The nephew summoned the scribes. They copied from the books and copied from those copies and made an enormous mound of such things. Whoever saw it, said, ``Bravo! Learning is going to overflow!''

The scribes got cartfuls of rewards. At once they rushed home. None of their descendants faced any poverty ever since.

The nephew was always busy, doing endless number of things regarding the surveillance of the precious cage. Repairs were quite frequent. Apart from that, there was the washing and the cleaning and the polishing of the cage. Everyone admitted, ``Sure signs of improvement.''

Many people were employed and to supervise them, many more people were employed. Each of them got a handful of coins every month and filled their chests with them.

They, their brothers, sisters and cousins began to live in great luxury and happiness.

--- 4 ---

The world lacks many things; only fault-finders are there in plenty. They said, ``There are improvements of the cage all right, but nobody cares for the bird.''

The words reached the King's ears. He called the nephew and said, ``What's this I hear, dear nephew?''

The nephew said, ``Your Majesty! If you want to know the truth then call the goldsmith, send for the pundits and the scribes, summon the repairmen and their supervisors. The fault-finders cannot make both ends meet and talk nonsense.''

The situation became crystal-clear to the King, and a gold necklace adorned the nephew's neck.

--- 5 ---

The King wished to see for himself the lightening speed at which education was proceeding. So one day he came to the education center with his entire entourage of friends, companions and courtiers.

As soon as he reached the entrance, there arose a chorus of bells and drums and harps and flutes and lyres and lutes and cellos and violins and cymbals and mandolins and trombones and bassoons and harpsichords and clavichords. The pundits swung their pig-tails and started chanting hymns at the top of their voices. The repairmen and the laborers and the goldsmith and the scribes and the supervisors and the cousins greeted the King with a huge uproar.

The Nephew said, ``Your Majesty! What do you think?''

The King said, ``Amazing! This is a non-trivial amount of sound!''

The Nephew said, ``It's not just the sound Your Majesty, there is also a non-trivial amount of money behind it.''

The King was extremely pleased. He started back. He came out of the front door and was about to ride his elephant, when a fault-finder, who had been hiding in a bush, yelled, ``Your Majesty! Have you looked at the bird?''

The King was startled. He said, ``Oh! I forgot. I didn't see the bird after all.''

He went in once again and told the pundit, ``I want to see your method of educating the bird.''

And he saw it. Very pleasing indeed. The method was so overwhelming compared to the bird that one could hardly notice the bird. It seemed it was rather irrelevant to look at the bird. The King understood that the arrangements were faultless. There was no corn in the cage, no water either. Only heaps of pages had been torn out from heaps of books; and with the tip of a pen, those pages were being stuffed into the bird's mouth. There was no room in the mouth for the bird to squeeze out a cry, let alone a tune. It was really a terribly pleasing sight.

This time, before mounting the elephant, the King ordered the ear-pulling expert to pull the fault-finder's ears severely.

--- 6 ---

In a rather respectable and predictable way, the bird became half-dead as the days passed. The guardians understood that the situation was hopeful. But still -- as its bad habits were -- the bird looked at the morning sun and flapped its wings in a very objectionable manner. Some days it was even found to make an attempt to break the rods of the cage with its sickly beak.

The administrator said, ``What audacity!''

Immediately, the blacksmith came to the education department with bellows and fire and hammer and chisels. His hits were absolutely spectacular! An iron chain was manufactured and the wings of the bird were cut off.

The King's relatives shook their heads gravely and said, ``In this land, you see, the birds are not only stupid, but ungrateful as well.''

Then the pundits came with a pen in one hand and a spear in another and did something which one could really call education.

The blacksmith became very well-to-do. His wife got gold ornaments. The administrator gained a title from the King for his alertness.

--- 7 ---

The bird died --- no one knew when. The infamous fault-finder spread the news, ``The bird has died.''

The King called the nephew and asked, ``Dear nephew, what is this that I hear?''

The nephew said, ``Your Majesty, the bird's education is now complete.''

The King asked, ``Does it still jump?''

The nephew said, ``God forbid.''

``Does it still fly?''


``Does it sing any more?''


``Does it scream if it doesn't get food?''


The King said, ``Bring the bird in. I would like to see it.''

The bird was brought in. With it came the administrator, the guards, the horsemen. The King felt the bird. It didn't open its mouth and didn't utter a word. Only the pages of books, stuffed inside its stomach, raised a ruffling sound.

Outside, where the gentle south wind and the blossoming woods were heralding spring, the young green leaves filled the sky with a deep and heavy sigh.

Published in Parabaas, December 1, 2004.

The original, titled [totaakaahinI*] by Rabindranath Tagore was first published in the Bengali magazine Sabuj Patra in Magh, 1324 (January-February, 1918) and later collected in lipikaa (`Brief Writings') in August 1922.

Translated by Palash Baran Pal [palaash baran paal ]. (b. 1955) is a physicist by profession. He mainly writes research articles in his field of research, but ... (more)

Illustrated by Nilanjana Basu. Nilanjana has been regularly illustrating for Parabaas. She lives in New Hampshire.

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* To learn more about the ITRANS script for Bengali, click here .