Panchatantra: The Shrewd Old Gander

In this story you will meet one of the great characters of Indian mythology: the mighty bird-like Garuda, on whom the god Indra likes to ride. You can read about Garuda at Wikipedia, and there is a gallery of Garuda images at the Indian Resources blog.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Panchatantra unit. Story source: The Panchatantra of Vishnu Sharma, translated by Arthur W. Ryder (1925).

The Shrewd Old Gander
(inside the story of The Plover)

In a part of a forest was a fig tree with massive branches. In it lived a flock of wild geese. At the root of this tree appeared a creeping vine of the species called koshambi.

Thereupon the old gander said: "This vine that is climbing our fig tree bodes ill to us. By means of it, someone might perhaps climb up here some day and kill us. Take it away while it is still slender and readily cut." But the geese despised his counsel and did not cut the vine, so that in course of time it wound its way up the tree.

Now one day when the geese were out foraging, a hunter climbed the fig tree by following the spiral vine, laid a snare among the nests, and went home. When the geese, after food and recreation, returned at nightfall, they were caught to the last one.

Whereupon the old gander said: "Well, the disaster has taken place. You are caught, having brought it on yourselves by not heeding my advice. We are all lost now."

Then the geese said to him: "Sir, the thing having come to pass, what ought we to do now?"

And the old fellow replied: "If you will take my advice, play dead when that hateful hunter comes. And when the hunter, inferring that we are dead, throws the last one to the ground, we then must all rise simultaneously, flying over his head."

At early dawn the hunter arrived, and when he looked them over, everyone seemed as good as dead. He therefore freed them from the snare with perfect assurance, and threw them all to the ground, one after the other. But when they saw him preparing to descend, they all followed the shrewd plan of the old gander and flew up simultaneously.

"And that is why I say:

Take old folks' counsel (those are old
Who have experience)
The captive wild-goose flock was freed
By one old gander's sense."

When the story had been told, all the birds visited the old gander and related their grief at the rape of the chicks by the ocean.

Then the old gander said: "The king of us all is Garuda. Therefore, the timely course of action is this. You must all stir the feelings of Garuda by a chorus of wailing lamentation. In consequence, he will remove our sorrow."

(Garuda, mount of the god Vishnu)

With this purpose they sought Garuda.

Now Garuda had just been summoned by blessed Vishnu to take part in an impending battle between gods and demons. At just this moment the birds reported to their master, the king of the birds, what sorrow in the separation of loved ones had been wrought by the ocean when he seized the chicks.

"O bird divine," they said, "while you gleam in royal radiance, we must live on what little is won by the labour of our bills. Because of our weak necessity of eating, the ocean has, in overbearing manner, carried away our young. Now there is a saying:

The poor are in peculiar need
Of being secret when they feed:
The lion killed the ram who could
Not check his appetite for food."

"How was that?" asked Garuda.

And an old bird told the story of . . . The Lion and the Ram.

(500 words)

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