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Explore the fascinating world of folk tales: a Burmese folk tale

The choice

During the good olden days, on a solitary vale of Pastoral Burma, there lived a widow with a charming daughter whose father had died long ago leaving little livelihood for them. The hapless woman and the girl had nothing to subsist on other than the rice from the paddy field which proved to be the sole means of survival for them. One sunny day, the woman had spread some grains of paddy on a mat to dry and instructed the girl to scare away birds who used to peck on the grains.

The poor girl carried out her duty and the rice was virtually getting dry towards midday when a strange crow with golden feather came flying towards the mat - a phenomenon which took the girl by surprise. The crow laughed insolently that girl’s attends to scare it away and in the twinkling of an eye, the crow gobbled ups the rice and remaining chaff too.

“O Mother!” My poor mother! This rice is my mother’s life. Why did you do that to us in abject poverty? Couldn’t you have gone somewhere and eaten rice instead of eating up our only food?” The crow cast a sympathetic look at the girl and her despondent out burst and remarked. “No dear, don’t worry. I’ll pay for your loss. Come to the big tamarind tree at the farthest corner of the valley and I’ll give you something”. With this strange promise, the crow took to flight.

At dusk girl made her way towards the tamarind tree. She was non-plussed to see a little house of gold I glistening among the branches at the top of the tree. Suddenly she caught sight of the crow’s head peeping out of one of the windows of the strange house. The crow said: “Ah there you are! Please come up. I’ll send you the ladder to come up., Which one do you want? The golden ladder, the silver ladder or the brass ladder?” The girl replied “I’m a poor girl.

So I can only ask for the brass ladder”. The girls was astonished to see the crow dropping the golden ladder. However, she climbed up on it and entered the golden house.” Would you like to have dinner with me? The crow invited the girl. The crow went on to say. “Let me see. Do you want the gold dish, the silver dish or the brass dish to eat your food from?” The girl’s response to crow’s offer was exactly as before and she finally asked for the brass dish setting off her utter humility, Paradoxically enough, the crow serves deliciously delectable food on the gold dish!

“You’re an innocent little girl”, said the crow after eating. I’am very pleased if you stay with me forever. But I must send you back because your mother needs you. You’re precious to her. I must send you back before dark.”

The crow then went in the bedroom and returned with three boxes a big box, medium sized box and a small box. The crow said to the girl “”Make an option out of the three boxes and give it to your mother once you’re back at home. This time too the girl made her humility and honesty more explicit and declared herself. “You didn’t eat too much rice to cause us a big damage, so, the small box is more than enough for me. She accepted little box with a lot of thanking, clambered down the ladder and made for her house as soon as possible.

On reaching home the mother and daughter opened the box and to their utmost amazement, they were lucky to see most priceless rubies in side the box. Henceforward, they made a big wealth out of the rubies and forced they way to a luxurious lifestyle. Coincidentally enough, on the other side of the same valley lived a rich, old widow and her greedy, bad tempered daughter. This widow and the daughter got the secret of good widow’s daughter and instantly got jealous of them. They were resolute on winning a bigger gift from the golden crow. Similarly, they put out a mat of rice on the compound and the greedy girl kept watch. She was too lazy to ward off the birds and ultimately there were few grain left when the crow appeared. The golden crow ate up the remuants and the girl rudely shouted”, Hey, crow, give us our prize for what you’ve eaten.”

The crow gave the girl a frowning look, but he decently said “Girl, I’ll pay you back. Come to the big tamarind tree at dusk and I’ll await you there with the gift.” The crow flew away. At dusk the greedy girl made her way to where the big tamarind tree was and shouted “Hey, crow, keep your word.”

The crow peeped out from the window and asked “Which ladder do you like to use to climb up here? The brass ladder, the silver ladder or the golden ladder?”

The golden ladder indeed” replied the greedy girl. Yet she was disappointed to see the crow lowering the brass ladder. On entrance to the golden house, the crow said “You’re my guest tonight and you must have dinner with me. Do you want to eat from the gold dish, silver dish or the brass dish?”

“I’d prefer the gold. Nothing else”, said the lass. She ruthlessly exploited the kindness and generosity of the crow and finally she was served food on the brass dish!

The food proved delectable but it was only a tiny morcel and the girl was dissatisfied with what she got. Thereafter the crow went into his bedroom and brought back a big, a medium sized and a small box. The crow simply asked the girl to make a choice out of the three and take it to her home. The villainous girl did not waver at all, but caught hold of the big box and without even thanking, clambered down the ladder with her burden, and ran away home.

At home both mother and daughter impulsively broke open the box. They were astonished and absolutely terrified to see a venomous snake which lay coiled inside the box. Suddenly with a hiss the snake poised its head to attack the wicked mother and daughter, but they managed to save their lives by taking to their heels.

This simple parable in Burmese folklore makes a point of illustrating the devastating impact of avarice on human behaviour.

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