(an Indian tale)
Once upon a time, on the banks of a river not far from the Bay of Bengal, there lived a poor Brahmin and his wife, who had no children. As they grew older, they grew lonely, and so they bought a parrot to live in their home. They bestowed all their love and kindness on the bird.
One day the parrot overheard a flock of wild parrots gossiping. They were whispering about a mango tree.
“What’s so special about this tree?” the parrot asked.
“This mango tree grows beyond seven oceans,” one of the wild parrots said, “but whoever eats the fruit of this tree will be granted youth forever.”
When the parrot heard this, he knew he must have one of these mangoes. He loved his parents, and he wished them to live forever.
And so he joined the other parrots in a long journey across seven seas. At long last they arrived at the mango tree, and as the others greedily ate the fruit, the parrot picked one and flew it all the way back home.
When he reached home, he offered the fruit to his father and mother, explaining the mango’s magic.
The Brahmin looked at the fruit and considered, but at last he decided he must not be greedy. “Our king has been a charitable king. If he were to eat this fruit, he would live forever, and thus humankind would reap the benefits. I will give this mango to our king.” His wife agreed.
And so the Brahmin traveled to the palace and presented the mango to the king. “My parrot brought this all the way from across seven seas,” the Brahmin said. “If you eat it, you will grow young again.”
The king generously rewarded the Brahmin for his gift, but then he began to think. Here, after all, was a fruit that bestowed youth on whoever ate it, but what if instead of eating it himself, he planted it in his garden? It would grow into a tree and bear more fruit, and then everyone would enjoy everlasting youth.
And so he instructed his gardener to plant the fruit.
Time passed, and that fruit grew into a beautiful tree.
In spring, the fruit blossomed, and soon it bore fruit. The king called everyone together — including the Brahmin, his wife and their parrot — to celebrate the grand occasion.
“We shall give the first fruit to our siddha,” the king announced.
This holy man had just turned 99.
The gardener picked the fruit and handed it to the siddha, who ate it and immediately fell down dead.
The king was furious at what he assumed was the parrot’s deception. “The parrot must be punished!” he announced, and though the Brahmin and his wife begged for mercy, the king would not listen.
The parrot bowed his head. He knew what had happened. A serpent was sleeping on a branch of the mango tree, and he hung his head over the fruit; poison had dripped from his mouth and fallen on the rind, and the gardener had mistakenly plucked that very fruit. The parrot wanted to explain that the tree was magic and the death was an accident.
But the king would not listen, and so the parrot accepted his fate. He said to his parents, “Do not grieve. Everyone in this life must be rewarded for their good deeds and punished for the evil deeds of their previous life. My intentions were good, but the sins of my former life have followed me. Please, I ask only this: Bury me in a pit with a little milk.”
The parrot was put to death, and his grieving parents buried him. They did not know, but he was soon reborn as a young, green parrot, and he chose to live in the branches of the mango tree, waiting for a day to prove the tree was not only harmless, but also that the fruit was magical.
One day a washerwoman, who was weary of her life and had decided to end it, sneaked into the king’s garden to eat one of the fruits, which she thought were poisonous.
When the parrot saw her, he plucked one of the fruits with his beak and dropped it into her arms.
The woman quickly ate the fruit, but to her astonishment, instead of dying, she became young again. She ran to tell the news to the king.
“The tree is magic, just as the parrot promised!” she cried.
But the king was not convinced. He ordered another fruit to be picked, and this he gave to his ancient blacksmith, an old man who had stolen from the king and was now in prison.
The moment the old man tasted the fruit he grew young again.
The king was convinced, and he called the Brahmin and his wife to the palace to beg their forgiveness for his haste in punishing their beloved parrot.
“Please, eat one of these mangoes,” he insisted, and the Brahmin and his wife did so. They rejoiced to see themselves become young again.
Still, they never stopped mourning their parrot, who had traveled across seven oceans to bring them this gift.
That is how the king learned a most important lesson: We must always examine all the evidence, and we must listen closely to everyone’s stories in order to determine guilt and innocence.