A South Asian tale
A long time ago a travelling merchant from Kabul came to India to peddle his wares. He had a talking parrot named Badshah that kept him happy and entertained during his long travels. What was more delightful was that this bird never lied. However, it was the bird’s honesty that got him into trouble.
One night while the merchant slept under a banyan tree, Badshah kept vigil over his goods. In the wee hours of the morning, a band of thieves passed by. When they saw the big bags of goods, they asked the parrot what was in them.
“Gems from Persia, gold and silver, curios and china! Hurry to take home a wonderful bargain!” repeated the parrot the lines he had been taught to say.
The bandits laughed heartily as they carried off the loot. The next morning, when the merchant woke up he was heart broken at the loss. He was quite naturally furious with his parrot.
“Did you tell them what were in the bags?” he asked Badshah. “Yes, I did! You know I never lie!” replied the parrot.
“Miserable creature, off you go! You have ruined my business!” cried the man as he left for his home, leaving behind his pet in the foreign land.
Days passed before a grocer in a nearby village found the talking parrot. He was so proud of it that he put it in a cage which he hung at the door of his shop. Little did he know what trouble this bird was to bring on him!
The grocer had, in some misguided way, learnt that it was okay to cheat his customers in small ways. He would mix sand in brown sugar, tiny stones in rice and lard in butter just to raise his profit by a wee bit. Now, his new companion watched him with interest while he adulterated the grocery items. One morning, a woman came into the shop to buy sugar.
“Is the sugar good?” asked the woman. “Why, of course, it is ma’am!” assured the grocer in a loud false tone.
But Badshah screeched from his cage, “Sand in sugar, ma’am, sand in sugar!”
The woman, quite annoyed with the shopkeeper, walked away in a huff. “How dare you tell the truth!” shouted the man in rage. He shook the cage till feathers fell of the parrot’s body.
Sadly for the dishonest man, the bird always spoke the truth and warned off his customers. In a fit of anger, he pulled the bird out of the cage and wrung its neck before throwing it out.
The parrot though did not die. An old man found him in a pitiable state. He nursed it back to health and presented it to the king of the land, who was quite astonished by the tales that the bird told him.
“I am an honest man myself. I shall reward you for not telling a lie. You may live as a free bird along with other birds in my fruit orchard!”
The dishonest grocer was of course, punished. “It pays to be truthful,” said the king to all his subjects.
Published as part of a series titled ‘Folktales of the World (Retold) ’ in Deccan Herald, Student Edition, dt. February 15, 2013