Come here, my child,” the kind voice of my Nani, entering my room, distracted me from my sad thoughts. I rushed to hug her and she asked as she gently stroked my hair, “Why is my beta so upset?”
It seemed that mom had told her that I was all sad since morning, but I was more than willing to share my sorrows with her, so I began, “Granny, did I asked for much? I just wanted a couple of white rabbits, the same as Hina’s parents bought her. But dad refused, saying that it was cruel to keep free animals confined in cages. I promised him I’d care and feed them in time, but dad was so adamant!”
I frowned and enquired, “Is it bad to love and keep pets?”
The old lady leaned to kiss my forehead, “Let me tell you an old tale that I was told my grandmother. You know there is nothing much dearer to a man’s heart than his freedom and his native land where he was born and the skies under which he grew up. Not only people, but birds and animals also love their homeland and miss it if they happen to get separated from it.
“Once a Chinese emperor was gifted an unusual bird. He was told that when she sang, the listener was captivated by the beautiful and melodious voice. Pleased, the emperor ordered that a golden cage be built for the bird, lined with soft swan feathers. The food for the wonder-singer was to be delivered from the royal kitchen and the bird was to be given the best care so that she should feel comfortable and happy, and so sing with pleasure for the emperor.
“Every morning, the emperor impatiently waited for the bird to sing. But the little creature was silent. ‘She is a free bird.
Perhaps, she is suffocating in the palace,’ thought the emperor and told a servant to take the cage into the garden.
“The royal garden was splendid, magnificent trees rustled their green leaves and rarest flowers spread refreshing fragrances. But the bird still remained silent.
“The emperor could not understand why the bird would not sing, what might she be missing? He called his advisers to discuss the problem, however, the wise men could not reach a consensus. Some of them were sure that the bird had fallen ill and lost her voice, others were of the opinion that the little fellow had sung her songs once and for ever, while the third group insisted that the bird could not sing at all.
“At last, the oldest and most respected of counsellors suggested that the air exhaled by people suffocated the bird and prevented her from singing. The emperor ordered that the cage be taken to the nearest jungle. Yet, even in a wild, the bird did not break the silence. Her wings dropped to the floor and the tears, like pearls, were rolling from her big eyes.
The emperor too became sad and now turned to a wisest sage pf his land to ask for advice. ‘Take the bird on a tour of the whole country. Maybe she will sing again,’ he suggested.
“The emperor and his entourage, along with the bird, soon started on a round of the whole kingdom and after they had been on the tour for three years, they arrived at a swamp. It was surrounded by pale bushes, almost withered, and dull grey earth. Foil vapour rose from its still waters, while the cloud of annoying gnats stretched all over its surface. It was a very depressing place.
As darkness was quickly approaching, the royal party had to camp in the vicinity of the swamp. The cage with the bird was hung on a dry branch of a tree, the guards were put on alert and everybody went to sleep.
“When the first rays of sun lit up the sky and purple dawn began to spill wider and wider, the bird suddenly startled, spread her wings and hurriedly started to clean her feathers.
”Noticing the unusual behaviour of the bird, the guard woke up the emperor. When the sun reached its full glory, the bird swiftly flew, but hit the golden bars of the cage and fell. She looked around sadly and softly began to sing.
She sang one hundred songs of sorrow, but when she started a song of joy, thousands of similar birds flew in from all over and took up her song. And the people, listening to them, felt that these were birds singing from their souls, longing for beauty.
“The emperor realised that this was the native land of the bird and it made him remember his own beloved home which he had not seen for three years now. ‘Open the door of the cage and release the bird!’ he commanded.
“Upon this, all the birds began to sing a thousand and one songs of praise in honour of their native land, a thousand and one song of praise to freedom. That is the significance of freedom; we can only be happy when we are free.”
With this, granny took out a packet of grains from her bag and said, “We can care for animals without keeping them captive.
Make it a daily duty to feed some grains to birds in your neighbourhood, or leave some food for stray animals, or help them in any other way. It is not necessary to own them to love them, right, beta?”
I smiled and took the packet from granny’s hands. “Let’s go, granny! There are pigeons near our house, who are waiting for us!”