14 Feb How to read it right
Birbal Stories are very famous and popular in India among all ages of people. They are also called by another name Akbar-Birbal Stories.
There was a Mogul Emperor in India, Akbar The Great (1542-1605). His full name was Jalaludden Mohammed Akbar Padshah Ghazi and he ruled India from 1560 to 1605. He himself was illiterate, but he invited several learned people in his court. Among these people, nine were very famous and were called Nav Ratna (nine jewels of the Mogul Crown) of his court. Among these nine jewels, five people were more famous – Tansen, Todarmal, Abul Fazal, Maan Singh and Birbal.
1. Tansen … A Great Singer
2. Dasvant … A Great Painter
3. King Todarmal … A Financial Wizard
4. Abdu us-Samad … A Brilliant Calligrapher and Designer of Imperil Coins
5. Abul Fazal … A Great Historian ( whose brother was Faizi )
6. Faizi … A Great Poet
7. Mir Fareh-ullah Shirazi … Financier,Philosopher,Physician & Astronomer
8. King Maan Singh … A Great Man known for His Chivalry
9. Birbal … A Great Man known for His Valuable Advice
Akbar’s son Prince Sultan Salim, later known as Jehangir wrote that nobody could make out that Akbar was an illiterate. Akbar was a very hard-working King. It is also said about him that he slept only three hours a night.
Birbal (1528-1583) is surely one of the most popular figures in Indian history equally regarded by adults and children. Birbal’s duties in Akbar’s court were mostly administrative and military but he was a very close friend of Akbar too, because Akbar loved his wisdom, wit and subtle humor. He was a minister in the administration of Mogul Emperor Akbar and one of the members of inner council of nine advisors. He was a poet and an author too.
It is believed that he was a son of poor Braahman of Trivikrampur on the banks of River Yamuna. According to a popular legend, he died on an expedition to Afghanistan at the head of a large military force due to treachery. It is also said that when Birbal died, Akbar mourned him for several months.
The exchanges between Akbar and Birbal have been recorded in many volumes. Many of these have become folk stories in Indian tradition. Birbal’s collection of poetry published under the pen name Brahm are preserved in Bharatpur Museum, Rajasthan, India.
Many courtiers were jealous with Birbal and often plotted for his downfall. There are many stories found on this issue too. There are a couple of other stories too which are of the same time and type and are as interesting as Birbal’s ones.
Birbal was missing. He and the emperor had a quarrel and Birbal had stormed out of the palace vowing never to return.
Now Akbar missed him and wanted him back but no one knew where he was.
Then the emperor had a brainwave. He offered a reward of 1000 gold coins to any man who could come to the palace observing the following condition. The man had to walk in the sun without an umbrella but he had to be in the shade at the same time.
“Impossible,” said the people.
Then a villager came carrying a string cot over his head and claimed the prize.
“I’ve walked in the sun but at the same time I was in the shade of the strings of the cot,” he said.
It was a brilliant solution. On interrogation the villager confessed that the idea had been suggested to him by a man living with him.
“It could only be Birbal!” said the emperor, delighted.
Sure enough it was Birbal and he and the emperor had a joyous reunion
One day a man stopped Birbal in the street and began narrating his woes to him.
“I’ve walked twenty miles to see you,” he told Birbal finally, “and all along the way people kept saying you were the most generous man in the country.”
Birbal knew the man was going to ask him for money.
“Are you going back the same way?” he asked.
“Yes,” said the man.
“Will you do me a favor?”
“Certainly,” said the man. “What do you want me to do?”
“Please deny the rumor of my generosity,” said Birbal, walking away.
One fine morning, a minister from Emperor Akbar’s court had gathered in the assembly hall.
He informed the Emperor that all his valuables had been stolen by a thief the previous night.
Akbar was shocked to hear this because the place where that minister lived was the safest place in the kingdom.
He invited Birbal to solve the mystery. Akbar said “It is definitely not possible for an outsider to enter into the minister’s house and steal the valuables. This blunder is definitely committed only by another minister of that court.” Saying so, he arranged for a donkey to be tied to a pillar. He ordered all the courtiers to lift the donkey’s tail and say “I have not stolen.”
Birbal added “Only then we can judge the culprit.” After everyone had finished, he asked the courtiers to show their palm to him. All the courtiers except Alim Khan had a black patch of paint on their palm. Birbal had actually painted the donkey’s tail with a black coat of paint. In the fright, the guilty minister did not touch the donkey’s tail at all. Thus Birbal once again proved his intelligence and was rewarded by the king with 1000 gold coins.
One day Akbar asked his courtiers if they could tell him the difference between truth and falsehood in three words or less.
The courtiers looked at one another in bewilderment.
“What about you, Birbal?” asked the emperor. “I’m surprised that you too are silent.”
“I’m silent because I want to give others a chance to speak,” said Birbal.
“Nobody else has the answer,” said the emperor. “So go ahead and tell me what the difference between truth and falsehood is — in three words or less.”
“Four fingers” said Birbal
“Four fingers?” asked the emperor, perplexed.
“That’s the difference between truth and falsehood, your Majesty,” said Birbal. “That which you see with your own eyes is the truth. That which you have only heard about might not be true. More often than not, it’s likely to be false.”
“That is right,” said Akbar. “But what did you mean by saying the difference is four fingers?’
“The distance between one’s eyes and one’s ears is the width of four fingers, Your Majesty,” said Birbal, grinning.
A farmer and his neighbor once went to Emperor Akbar’s court with a complaint.
“Your Majesty, I bought a well from him,” said the farmer pointing to his neighbor,” and now he wants me to pay for the water.”
“That’s right, your Majesty,” said the neighbor. “I sold him the well but not the water!”
The Emperor asked Birbal to settle the dispute.
“Didn’t you say that you sold your well to this farmer?” Birbal asked the neighbor. “So, the well belongs to him now, but you have kept your water in his well. Is that right? Well, in that case you will have to pay him a rent or take your water out at once.”
The neighbor realized that he was outwitted. He quickly apologized and gave up his claim
Birbal was in Persia at the invitation of the king of that country.
Parties were given in his honor and rich presents were heaped on him.
On the eve of his departure for home, a nobleman asked him how he would compare the king of Persia to his own king.
“Your king is a full moon,” said Birbal. “Whereas mine could be likened to the quarter moon.”
The Persians were very happy. But when Birbal got home he found that Emperor Akbar was furious with him.
“How could you belittle your own king!” demanded Akbar. “You are a traitor!”
“No, Your Majesty,” said Birbal. “I did not belittle you. The full moon diminishes and disappears whereas the quarter moon grows from strength to strength. What I, in fact, proclaimed to the world is that your power is growing from day to day whereas that of the king of Persia is about to go into decline.”
Akbar grunted in satisfaction and welcomed Birbal back with a warm embrace.
About the story
This story was written by the famous Charles Dickens and is over 1000 words long. Use the story to practise your reading and understanding of the English language. At the end of the story us a few questions for you to answer.
A Tale of Two Cities
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever.
It was the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Spiritual revelations were conceded to England at that favoured period, as at this. Mrs. Southcott had recently attained her five-and-twentieth blessed birthday, of whom a prophetic private in the Life Guards had heralded the sublime appearance by announcing that arrangements were made for the swallowing up of London and Westminster. Even the Cock-lane ghost had been laid only a round dozen of years, after rapping out its messages, as the spirits of this very year last past (supernaturally deficient in originality) rapped out theirs. Mere messages in the earthly order of events had lately come to the English Crown and People, from a congress of British subjects in America: which, strange to relate, have proved more important to the human race than any communications yet received through any of the chickens of the Cock-lane brood.
France, less favoured on the whole as to matters spiritual than her sister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeding smoothness down hill, making paper money and spending it. Under the guidance of her Christian pastors, she entertained herself, besides, with such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off, his tongue torn out with pincers, and his body burned alive, because he had not kneeled down in the rain to do honour to a dirty procession of monks which passed within his view, at a distance of some fifty or sixty yards. It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history. It is likely enough that in the rough outhouses of some tillers of the heavy lands adjacent to Paris, there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution. But that Woodman and that Farmer, though they work unceasingly, work silently, and no one heard them as they went about with muffled tread: the rather, forasmuch as to entertain any suspicion that they were awake, was to be atheistical and traitorous.
In England, there was scarcely an amount of order and protection to justify much national boasting. Daring burglaries by armed men, and highway robberies, took place in the capital itself every night; families were publicly cautioned not to go out of town without removing their furniture to upholsterers’ warehouses for security; the highwayman in the dark was a City tradesman in the light, and, being recognised and challenged by his fellow- tradesman whom he stopped in his character of ‘the Captain,’ gallantly shot him through the head and rode away; the mall was waylaid by seven robbers, and the guard shot three dead, and then got shot dead himself by the other four, ‘in consequence of the failure of his ammunition:’ after which the mall was robbed in peace; that magnificent potentate, the Lord Mayor of London, was made to stand and deliver on Turnham Green, by one highwayman, who despoiled the illustrious creature in sight of all his retinue; prisoners in London gaols fought battles with their turnkeys, and the majesty of the law fired blunderbusses in among them, loaded with rounds of shot and ball; thieves snipped off diamond crosses from the necks of noble lords at Court drawing-rooms; musketeers went into St. Giles’s, to search for contraband goods, and the mob fired on the musketeers, and the musketeers fired on the mob, and nobody thought any of these occurrences much out of the common way. In the midst of them, the hangman, ever busy and ever worse than useless, was in constant requisition; now, stringing up long rows of miscellaneous criminals; now, hanging a housebreaker on Saturday who had been taken on Tuesday; now, burning people in the hand at Newgate by the dozen, and now burning pamphlets at the door of Westminster Hall; to-day, taking the life of an atrocious murderer, and to-morrow of a wretched pilferer who had robbed a farmer’s boy of sixpence.
All these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in and close upon the dear old year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Environed by them, while the Woodman and the Farmer worked unheeded, those two of the large jaws, and those other two of the plain and the fair faces, trod with stir enough, and carried their divine rights with a high hand. Thus did the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five conduct their Greatnesses, and myriads of small creatures–the creatures of this chronicle among the rest–along the roads that lay before them.
The Kabuliwala is a classic story. Let us enjoy reading this one. The Cabuliwallah means fruit seller from Kabul.
My five years’ old daughter Mini cannot live without chattering. I really believe that in all her life she has not wasted a minute in silence. Her mother is often vexed at this, and would stop her prattle, but I would not. To see Mini quiet is unnatural, and I cannot bear it long. And so my own talk with her is always lively.
One morning, for instance, when I was in the midst of the seventeenth Chapter of my new novel, my little Mini stole into the room, and putting her hand into mine, said: “Father! Ramdayal the door-keeper calls a crow a kao! He doesn’t know anything, does he?”
Before I could explain to her the differences of language in this world, she was embarked on the full tide of another subject. “What do you think, Father? Bhola says there is an elephant in the clouds, blowing water out of his trunk, and that is why it rains!”
And then, darting off anew, while I sat still making ready some reply to this last saying, “Father! what relation is Mother to you?”
“My dear little sister in the law!” I murmured involuntarily to myself, but with a grave face contrived to answer: “Go and play with Bhola, Mini! I am busy!”
The window of my room overlooks the road. The child had seated herself at my feet near my table, and was playing softly, drumming on her knees.
I was hard at work on my seventeenth chapter, where Protrap Singh, the hero, had just caught Kanchanlata, the heroine, in his arms, and was about to escape with her by the third story window of the castle, when all of a sudden Mini left her play, and ran to the window, crying, “A Kabuliwala! a Kabuliwala!” Sure enough in the street below was a Kabuliwala, passing slowly along. He wore the loose soiled clothing of his people, with a tall turban; there was a bag on his back, and he carried boxes of grapes in his hand.
I cannot tell what were my daughter’s feelings at the sight of this man, but she began to call him loudly. “Ah!” I thought, “he will come in, and my seventeenth chapter will never be finished!” At which exact moment the Cabuliwallah turned, and looked up at the child. When she saw this, overcome by terror, she fled to her mother’s protection, and disappeared. She had a blind belief that inside the bag, which the big man carried, there were perhaps two or three other children like herself. The pedlar meanwhile entered my doorway, and greeted me with a smiling face.
So precarious was the position of my hero and my heroine, that my first impulse was to stop and buy something, since the man had been called. I made some small purchases, and a conversation began about Abdurrahman, the Russians, she English, and the Frontier Policy.
As he was about to leave, he asked: “And where is the little girl, sir?”
And I, thinking that Mini must get rid of her false fear, had her brought out.
She stood by my chair, and looked at the Kabuliwala and his bag. He offered her nuts and raisins, but she would not be tempted, and only clung the closer to me, with all her doubts increased.
This was their first meeting.
One morning, however, not many days later, as I was leaving the house, I was startled to find Mini, seated on a bench near the door, laughing and talking, with the great Kabuliwala at her feet. In all her life, it appeared; my small daughter had never found so patient a listener, save her father. And already the corner of her little sari was stuffed with almonds and raisins, the gift of her visitor, “Why did you give her those?” I said, and taking out an eighAlas, on my return an hour later, I found the unfortunate coin had made twice its own worth of trouble! For the Kabuliwala had given it to Mini, and her mother catching sight of the bright round object, had pounced on the child with: “Where did you get that eight-anna bit?”
“The Kabuliwala gave it me,” said Mini cheerfully.
“The Kabuliwala gave it you!” cried her mother much shocked. “Oh, Mini! how could you take it from him?” I, entering at the moment, saved her from impending disaster, and proceeded to make my own inquiries. It was not the first or second time, I found, that the two had met. The Kabuliwala had overcome the child’s first terror by a judicious bribery of nuts and almonds, and the two were now great friends.
They had many quaint jokes, which afforded them much amusement. Seated in front of him, looking down on his gigantic frame in all her tiny dignity, Mini would ripple her face with laughter, and begin: “O Kabuliwala, Kabuliwala, what have you got in your bag?”
And he would reply, in the nasal accents of the mountaineer: “An elephant!” Not much cause for merriment, perhaps; but how they both enjoyed the witticism! And for me, this child’s talk with a grown-up man had always in it something strangely fascinating.
Then the Kabuliwala, not to be behindhand, would take his turn: “Well, little one, and when are you going to the father-in-law’s house?”
Now most small Bengali maidens have heard long ago about the father-in-law’s house; but we, being a little new-fangled, had kept these things from our child, and Mini at this question must have been a trifle bewildered. But she would not show it, and with ready tact replied: “Are you going there?”
Amongst men of the Kabuliwala’s class, however, it is well known that the words father-in-law’s house have a double meaning. It is a euphemism for jail, the place where we are well cared for, at no expense to ourselves. In this sense would the sturdy pedlar take my daughter’s question. “Ah,” he would say, shaking his fist at an invisible policeman, “I will thrash my father-in-law!” Hearing this, and picturing the poor discomfited relative, Mini would go off into peals of laughter, in which her formidable friend would join.
These were autumn mornings, the very time of year when kings of old went forth to conquest; and I, never stirring from my little corner in Calcutta, would let my mind wander over the whole world. At the very name of another country, my heart would go out to it, and at the sight of a foreigner in the streets, I would fall to weaving a network of dreams, –the mountains, the glens, and the forests of his distant home, with his cottage in its setting, and the free and independent life of far-away wilds. Perhaps the scenes of travel conjure themselves up before me, and pass and repass in my imagination all the more vividly, because I lead such a vegetable existence, that a call to travel would fall upon me like a thunderbolt. In the presence of this Kabuliwala, I was immediately transported to the foot of arid mountain peaks, with narrow little defiles twisting in and out amongst their towering heights. I could see the string of camels bearing the merchandise, and the company of turbaned merchants, carrying some of their queer old firearms, and some of their spears, journeying downward towards the plains. I could see–but at some such point Mini’s mother would intervene, imploring me to “beware of that man.”
Mini’s mother is unfortunately a very timid lady. Whenever she hears a noise in the street, or sees people coming towards the house, she always jumps to the conclusion that they are either thieves, or drunkards, or snakes, or tigers, or malaria or cockroaches, or caterpillars, or an English sailor. Even after all these years of experience, she is not able to overcome her terror. So she was full of doubts about the Kabuliwala, and used to beg me to keep a watchful eye on him.
I tried to laugh her fear gently away, but then she would turn round on me seriously, and ask me solemn questions.
Were children never kidnapped?
Was it, then, not true that there was slavery in Kabul?
Was it so very absurd that this big man should be able to carry off a tiny child?
I urged that, though not impossible, it was highly improbable. But this was not enough, and her dread persisted. As it was indefinite, however, it did not seem right to forbid the man the house, and the intimacy went on unchecked.
Once a year in the middle of January Rahmun, the Kabuliwala, was in the habit of returning to his country, and as the time approached he would be very busy, going from house to house collecting his debts.
This year, however, he could always find time to come and see Mini. It would have seemed to an outsider that there was some conspiracy between the two, for when he could not come in the morning, he would appear in the evening.
Even to me it was a little startling now and then, in the corner of a dark room, suddenly to surprise this tall, loose-garmented, much bebagged man; but when Mini would run in smiling, with her, “O! Kabuliwala! Kabuliwala!” and the two friends, so far apart in age, would subside into their old laughter and their old jokes, I felt reassured.
One morning, a few days before he had made up his mind to go, I was correcting my proof sheets in my study. It was chilly weather. Through the window the rays of the sun touched my feet, and the slight warmth was very welcome. It was almost eight o’clock, and the early pedestrians were returning home, with their heads covered. All at once, I heard an uproar in the street, and, looking out, saw Rahmun being led away bound between two policemen, and behind them a crowd of curious boys. There were blood-stains on the clothes of the Kabuliwala, and one of the policemen carried a knife. Hurrying out, I stopped them, and enquired what it all meant. Partly from one, partly from another, I gathered that a certain neighbour had owed the pedlar something for a Rampuri shawl, but had falsely denied having bought it, and that in the course of the quarrel, Rahmun had struck him. Now in the heat of his excitement, the prisoner began calling his enemy all sorts of names, when suddenly in a verandah of my house appeared my little Mini, with her usual exclamation: “O Kabuliwala! Kabuliwala!” Rahmun’s face lighted up as he turned to her. He had no bag under his arm today, so she could not discuss the elephant with him. She at once therefore proceeded to the next question: “Are you going to the father-in-law’s house?” Rahmun laughed and said: “Just where I am going, little one!”
Then seeing that the reply did not amuse the child, he held up his fettered hands. ” Ali,” he said, ” I would have thrashed that old father-in-law, but my hands are bound!”On a charge of murderous assault, Rahmun was sentenced to some years’ imprisonment. Time passed away, and he was not remembered. The accustomed work in the accustomed place was ours, and the thought of the once-free mountaineer spending his years in prison seldom or never occurred to us. Even my light-hearted Mini, I am ashamed to say, forgot her old friend. New companions filled her life. As she grew older, she spent more of her time with girls. So much time indeed did she spend with them that she came no more, as she used to do, to her father’s room. I was scarcely on speaking terms with her.
Years had passed away. It was once more autumn and we had made arrangements for our Mini’s marriage. It was to take place during the Puja Holidays. With Durga returning to Kailas, the light of our home also was to depart to her husband’s house, and leave her father’s in the shadow.
The morning was bright. After the rains, there was a sense of ablution in the air, and the sun-rays looked like pure gold. So bright were they that they gave a beautiful radiance even to the sordid brick walls of our Calcutta lanes. Since early dawn to-day the wedding-pipes had been sounding, and at each beat my own heart throbbed. The wail of the tune, Bhairavi, seemed to intensify my pain at the approaching separation. My Mini was to be married to-night.
From early morning noise and bustle had pervaded the house. In the courtyard the canopy had to be slung on its bamboo poles; the chandeliers with their tinkling sound must be hung in each room and verandah. There was no end of hurry and excitement. I was sitting in my study, looking through the accounts, when someone entered, saluting respectfully, and stood before me. It was Rahmun the Kabuliwala. At first I did not recognise him. He had no bag, nor the long hair, nor the same vigour that he used to have. But he smiled, and I knew him again.
“When did you come, Rahmun?” I asked him.
“Last evening,” he said, “I was released from jail.”
The words struck harsh upon my ears. I had never before talked with one who had wounded his fellow, and my heart shrank within itself, when I realised this, for I felt that the day would have been better-omened had he not turned up.
“There are ceremonies going on,” I said, “and I am busy. Could you perhaps come another day?”
At once he turned to go; but as he reached the door he hesitated, and said: “May I not see the little one, sir, for a moment?” It was his belief that Mini was still the same. He had pictured her running to him as she used, calling “O Kabuliwala! Kabuliwala!” He had imagined too that they would laugh and talk together, just as of old. In fact, in memory of former days he had brought, carefully wrapped up in paper, a few almonds and raisins and grapes, obtained somehow from a countryman, for his own little fund was dispersed.
I said again: “There is a ceremony in the house, and you will not be able to see any one to-day.”
The man’s face fell. He looked wistfully at me for a moment, said “Good morning,” and went out. I felt a little sorry, and would have called him back, but I found he was returning of his own accord. He came close up to me holding out his offerings and said: “I brought these few things, sir, for the little one. Will you give them to her?” I took them and was going to pay him, but he caught my hand and said: “You are very kind, sir! Keep me in your recollection. Do not offer me money!–You have a little girl, I too have one like her in my own home. I think of her, and bring fruits to your child, not to make a profit for myself.”
Saying this, he put his hand inside his big loose robe, and brought out a small and dirty piece of paper. With great care he unfolded this, and smoothed it out with both hands on my table. It bore the impression of a little band. Not a photograph. Not a drawing. The impression of an ink-smeared hand laid flat on the paper. This touch of his own little daughter had been always on his heart, as he had come year after year to Calcutta, to sell his wares in the streets.
Tears came to my eyes. I forgot that he was a poor Kabuli fruit-seller, while I was–but no, what was I more than he? He also was a father. That impression of the hand of his little Parbati in her distant mountain home reminded me of my own little Mini. I sent for Mini immediately from the inner apartment. Many difficulties were raised, but I would not listen. Clad in the red silk of her wedding-day, with the sandal paste on her forehead, and adorned as a young bride, Mini came, and stood bashfully before me. The Kabuliwala looked a little staggered at the apparition. He could not revive their old friendship. At last he smiled and said: “Little one, are you going to your father-in-law’s house?”
But Mini now understood the meaning of the word “father-in-law,” and she could not reply to him as of old. She flushed up at the question, and stood before him with her bride-like face turned down. I remembered the day when the Kabuliwala and my Mini had first met, and I felt sad. When she had gone, Rahmun heaved a deep sigh, and sat down on the floor. The idea had suddenly come to him that his daughter too must have grown in this long time, and that he would have to make friends with her anew. Assuredly he would not find her, as he used to know her. And besides, what might not have happened to her in these eight years?
The marriage-pipes sounded, and the mild autumn sun streamed round us. But Rahmun sat in the little Calcutta lane, and saw before him the barren mountains of Afghanistan.
I took out a bank-note, and gave it to him, saying: “Go back to your own daughter, Rahmun, in your own country, and may the happiness of your meeting bring good fortune to my child!” Having made this present, I had to curtail some of the festivities. I could not have the electric lights I had intended, nor the military band, and the ladies of the house were despondent at it. But to me the wedding feast was all the brighter for the thought that in a distant land a long-lost father met again with his only child.t-anna bit, I handed it to him. The man accepted the money without demur, and slipped it into his pocket.