The Owl And The Cuckoo

When grandfather came into the room, his numerous grand- children were sitting on the carpet, excitedly turning over the pages of a large book.

“What book is that?” asked grandfather, making himself comfortable in his armchair. “You appear to find it very interesting.”

“It is all about birds,” said Madhu, the eldest of the children. “All the pictures are in colour, and it tells you all about each bird, where it lives and even what it eats.”

This started a host of questions, with all the children clamouring together. “Why does the owl stay in its nest during the day?” “Is it true that the cuckoo lays its eggs in the crow’s nest?”

“Children, children, you must not all talk at once, said grandfather with a broad smile. “If you are good, I will tell you the story of the owl and the cuckoo.”

The book was quickly for- gotten, and all the children gathered around grandfather’s chair, for no one could tell stories as well as grandfather.

Grandfather settled himself comfortably in his chair and began his story…

Many years ago, there was a great forest, and there lived a vast kingdom of every kind of bird.

One day, a wicked boy armed with a catapult went into the forest, intent on shooting at any bird he saw. Sitting in a nearby tree was an owl, so the boy fitted a mud pellet in the sling of his catapult and let it fly. The bullet hit the owl and lodged in its stomach. The poor owl gave such a fierce shriek that the boy dropped his catapult and ran as if the devil was chasing him.

The owl was in significant discomfort. It could neither eat nor sleep and its mournful hooting during the day and night disturbed the sleep of all the other birds.

At last, a crow flew across to where the owl was perched and asked what the matter was.

“I have such a pain,” moaned the owl.

“Well, that can soon be cured,” said the crow, “The cuckoo is a wonderful doctor, and I will fetch him.”

“Alright, crow,” said the cuckoo. “Take us to a shallow pond, and I will soon cure the owl.”

Off they flew, and when they reached a pond, the cuckoo made the owl stand in the water to submerge its stomach.

When the crow returned with the cuckoo, the cause of the trouble was soon discovered. But the cuckoo, who knew that the owl had a reputation for meanness, demanded payment before starting the treatment.

At this, the owl gave a terrible moan. “I am dying, and you merely talk of payment. Cure me first.”

The crow joined in. “Don’t worry, cuckoo; I will see you are paid.”

A few minutes later, the mud pellet began to soften and dissolve. After the shell had completely dissolved, the pain went, and the owl was his old self again.

When the owl had finished strutting around, happy to be better, the cuckoo suggested that now the owl should pay for the treatment.

“Pay for what?” queried the owl. “All I did was stand in the water. And you demand payment for that. I have never heard of such nonsense.”

The cuckoo was furious and turned on the crow. “You promised that the owl would pay my fees.”

The crow shook his head. “I was sure that the owl would pay you. If only I had any money, I would pay, but as you know, the crows are the poorest birds in the kingdom.”

Angry at the owl’s lack of gratitude, the cuckoo complained to the eagle, the king of the bird kingdom.

When the case was heard, the owl swore he never promised any payment. The crow agreed that he had stood surety for the owl but was too poor to pay anything.

The eagle pronounced that this was bad business, and he sentenced the owl to be banished from the kingdom and that henceforth, the crow would hatch the cuckoo’s eggs.

The owl, humiliated and shunned by all the other birds, stayed in his nest all day and only went out at night.

And the cuckoo was quite happy to know that it would not have to spend long hours sitting on a nest to hatch eggs in the future.

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