Talking Thrush, The: And Other Tales from India | Annotated Tale

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Swan and the Paddy-Bird, The

A WILD Swan was flying once to his home, when he paused to rest on a tree. This was a kind of tree you have most likely never seen. It was very tall, and had no branches upon it until you came to the top, but at the top was a large clump of green leaves, and bunches of cocoa-nuts hanging down.

               It so happened that on this tree was the nest of a Paddy-bird. A Paddy-bird is a bird something like a heron, which feeds on fish and frogs. At the moment when the Swan perched upon the tree, this Paddy-bird was sitting demurely on the edge of a pond that was below the tree, watching the water for a rise. She had no fishing-rod, but when she saw a little fish or a frog swim past, out went her beak like a flash, and the fish was pierced. Then she ate the fish, or carried it off to her little ones in the nest.

               When the Paddy-bird chanced to look round, she saw the Swan sitting upon her tree. She was frightened at this, thinking that perhaps it was some bird of prey, come to devour her chicks. So she left her fishing, and at once flew up to the top of the cocoa-nut tree. The Swan looked harmless enough when she came closer, so plucking up courage, the Paddy-bird thus addressed him--

               "Good-day, sir. May I ask who you are?"

               "I am a Swan," said the other, "and I am on my way home; but as it is a hot day, I thought I would rest awhile on your tree. I hope you have no objection?"

               "Welcome, my lord Swan, welcome!" said the Paddy-bird. "I only wish I could offer you entertainment. But I am ashamed to say that I have no food worth your taking. I am a poor bird, and you know we Paddy-birds eat only small fish and frogs, which your highness would hardly touch."

               "Oh, never mind for that," answered the Swan; "thank you all the same, but I can find my own food on this tree of yours."

               This set our Paddy-bird's heart all a-flutter, for what could he mean but her brood? However, all was well in a minute; when she saw the Swan go to one of the green cocoa-nuts hanging to the tree. You have seen, I suppose, three little soft places at the top of a cocoa-nut, which are holes in the shell filled up with pulp. The Swan pierced his bill through one of these holes, and drank the milk inside the cocoa-nut. Then he gave some of the milk to the Paddy-bird, and flew away.

               This milk tasted very nice, and the Paddy-bird began to say to herself, "What a fool I have been all these years! Here am I, watching and waiting all day long for a frog, and nasty things they are too, and all this while there was plenty of delicious milk within a yard of my nest! Well, good-bye fish, and good-bye frogs; I have done with you now for ever."

               The next time the Paddy-bird felt hungry, she flew to a cocoa-nut and began to peck at it. But she did not know the secret of the three little holes at the top of the cocoa-nut; so she pecked, and pecked, and got no further. At last she gathered all her strength, and gave a tremendous peck at the cocoa-nut. Snap! her bill broke off, and the blood ran out, and very soon the poor Paddy-bird had bled to death.

Next day, the Swan happened to fly by that way           
again; and coming to the tree, he found his friend the           
Paddy-bird lying dead on the ground, with her bill           
snapt off clean. He understood at once what had           
happened, and said to himself, "This is what           
comes of trying to do what one is not           
fit for. Let the cobbler stick to           
his last, or misfortune           
follows fast."           


Told by Devi Dín, student, and recorded by Badari Prasád, of the school at Musanagar, Cawnpur district.

No change. The lake in the original is the famous Mana Sarovar lake in Tibet. The Swan at the end repeats this couplet:—

Bit chhoto, chit saugun, bit men chit na samáe:
So murak binsat sadan, jirni bakuli nariyar kháe.

("Desire is one thing, capacity is another. The desire exceeds the power. Thus die the foolish, as did the Paddy-bird when she tried to eat the cocoa-nut.")

The Paddy-bird is the Bagla, or Bagula, a sort of small heron (Ardea torra), which frequents the banks of ponds and catches little fish and frogs. In folk-lore, from its quaint appearance, it is the type of demure cunning, and a sanctimonious rogue ascetic is often compared to it.

Compare a similar tale of a crane: Jātaka, No. 236 (Cambridge translation, ii. 161).

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Swan and the Paddy-Bird, The
Tale Author/Editor: Crooke, W. & Rouse, W. H. D.
Book Title: Talking Thrush, The: And Other Tales from India
Book Author/Editor: Crooke, W. & Rouse, W. H. D.
Publisher: E. P. Dutton & Co.
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1922
Country of Origin: India
Classification: unclassified

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