The White Quill
By Nandita Bose
I – The Ancient One
The ancient tortoise Buddha rolled in with the floodwaters gushing into the cremation ground – Battala Samsan. He was glad to be back on land to find his breath below the banyan tree in the temple courtyard. Kaga-crow with the broken beak was about to tuck in when this newcomer ambled in. Kaga leaned forward peering down – curious and inquisitive as the ancient one wiggled out his head taking in the new surroundings.
New? No – there was something familiar. Ah well! It required too much effort for the tortoise to remember – to go back all those years. The Sun was setting fast. Pechu-owl hopped down The monkeys set up a ruckus. Kaga -crow flew down onto the shell of Buddha.
Suddenly Pechu-owl recognized the newcomer.
“Why Buddha-tortoise? It’s you!”
Buddha-tortoise was surprised. “How do you know my name?”
“My great grandmother had told my grandmother.”
“But how do you know I am the same …”
“From the rings on your back! She had told me to how to …”
Buddha became bored with the owl. Owls boasted their knowledge. Meanwhile, Kaga-crow got off the shell and came in front of the huge tortoise. Suddenly Buddha got excited.
“Why it’s you? I salute thee oh One-eyed-crow”.
Kaga-crow was taken aback by the insult. He knew about his broken beak that was now hardly noticeable, but how dare this lumbering obese creature call him blind in one eye! He ruffled his feathers and took a belligerent step forward.
“I will peck out one of your eyes to prove my eyesight is …”
“Now! Now! Oh wise one – oh Kaga-crow with the third-eye be calm.”
Atop the trees, the gossipy monkeys chattered. Their leader Bandar made a flying leap landing on top of Buddha’s shell. Commanding a height Bandar soon began to lecture drawing the attention of those around.
“Good folks! Listen to …”
But night had fallen and none but Pechu commanded respect as she snapped
The crow was alert as he slept on and off the night marking the four prahars from sunset to sunrise with his cawing. He was now eager to hear more from the old tortoise. He charged at Bandar-monkey and cleared the venue of any chattering nuisance.
Buddha-tortoise began to speak. “Actually I have come to tell you oh Kaga-crow– rather to make you remember who you are. Today is the festival of lights – Deepavali. In Nepal, a country high in the mountains –they are observing Kaga Parav – Crow-festival. Search among the feathers of your forehead for the small white mark …”
Kaga -crow in exasperation cawed loudly “how on earth can I see the front of my own forehead?”
Buddha continued “It’s there – trust me. Let me finish and then I will show you …’
“You mean I will be able to see my own forehead?”
“If you talk so much I will forget all that is stored in my head. It’s a strain to remember. You are blind in one eye and yet you have the third eye – the third eye which you must open for the welfare of animals.”
So saying the tortoise dozed off. The animals fell silent. Pechu-owl hooted as the bats became busy in great numbers from the temple spire. The old priest inside the temple chanted and bells rang amidst the blowing of the conch shell. But there were no devotees. The fury of the waters had reached up to the hanging bamboo bridge.
II – Snake’s Tail
It took two nights for Buhhda-tortoise to complete his story about Kaga -crow. A drama prompted back his memory. Just before dawn, a great storm broke. It snatched from the extended awning of the temple a baby sparrow. The fledgling, in its cradle of twigs and leaves, landed on the back of the sleeping tortoise. Buddha, not understanding what was tickling his back, dived into the swirling waters. The agitated twittering of the mother sparrow alerted Buddha. He surfaced carefully with the drowning sparrow on his back and crawled back to land.
But the problem did not end there. The baby bird was there in the open with predators sharpening claws waiting for dawn to break. Mother Sparrow was hysterical. Gauging the situation Buddha lumbered towards a hole in the tree that was level with his back. The hole lined with dry leaves was luckily not too deep. The ancient one tilted the birdie into the hole giving a satisfied smirk.
But in another trunk of this banyan was another hole lower down, housing Ketua-snake! The rising waters had rushed into his hole. Ketua came out hissing angrily only to see the drama of little birdie unfold before his eyes. It was too good to be true for Ketua. Here was a hole, well above the water level, with a ready-to-eat meal tucked inside. He began to slither forward but two pairs of sharp eyes saw him – the worried mother sparrow and a silly bachelor peacock that had jumped down from the lower branches to dance and flirt with the gathering clouds. Mama Sparrow’s panicky tweeting drew the attention of the peacock to the snake and immediately with open talons and sharp beak he ripped off a part of the tail of the snake. Ketua writhed in agony forgetting all about the bird in the hole.
Buddha-tortoise had a kind heart. He wanted all to live peacefully. The blood oozing from the snake’s tail worried him. The majestic snake would soon die an ignoble death. It would have been better if he had died fighting the peacock.
“Oh one-eyed-crow come quickly.”
“My name is Kaga,” said the crow angrily.
“Okay! Okay! Mighty Kaga, touch the tail of the snake with the white quill on your forehead. The bleeding will stop.”
Kaga was aghast! Go near the snake? Never! But Pechu soon remembered the old tale about how Sri Rama had blessed the crow. Pechu snapped.
“Do what you are told Kaga – explanations later.”
The snake was lying prone on the ground without a hiss of anger. Prodded on Kaga came near the reptile. He was disturbed – fear mixed with curiosity to know what secrets about him that the ancient tortoise knew.
Buddha spoke gently.“Oh Kaga -crow close your eyes and look for the healing quill on your forehead.’
“How can I?”
“Close your eyes and focus on the forehead. Do as I …”
“I can see! I can see! I can see the white quill in the middle of my forehead.”
“Now place your quill on the wound of the snake.”
Kaga obeyed. Immediately the bleeding stopped. All the birds and animals looked in wonder..
III – The Third Eye
Buddha-tortoise began to speak.
“Many, many years ago in your past life you – Kaga -crow – were restless and up to pranks. Once, the great prince Rama fell asleep on the lap of his wife, Sita. From the top of the branches, you saw this and decided to tease Sita-ma. You began to peck her but she neither moved nor made a sound so as not to disturb the sleep of her husband Rama. But when a drop of blood from her wound fell on the prince he awoke. Furious Rama took up his bow aiming the arrow at the crow who fearfully took flight. But the dart followed him.
This crow was actually Jayanto the son of Indra – the Lord of the Gods. Jayanto ran to his father but Indra warned him.
“I cannot help you.”
“But father, there must be some way out. I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!”
“Rama is famous for giving shelter to those who seek it. Rush back and fall at his feet asking for mercy.”
Jayanto, in the form of the crow, rushed back and fell at the feet of Rama and Sita. By that time Rama’s anger had subsided. He smiled at the bird.
“I cannot call back the arrow let loose. It will blind you in one eye but your life will be saved.”
Emboldened the crow turned now turned to Sita.
“Mother, how will I live without an eye? ”
Sita, the personification of mercy, touched his forehead.
“Oh Kaga, you will not know that you are blind in one eye for you will get used to seeing with one eye. I will now bless you with a secret third eye. And you will see with it only when you do a good deed.”
The crow was wily. Seeing the gracious mood of the divine couple he wanted to take further advantage.
“But – until my third eye opens – how will I survive? I will have to fly around with only one eye and might not catch the fast squirrel.”
Rama now came forward and touched his forehead.
“I am secretly marking you. All your family members will carry this secret mark. I ordain it that no puja for the ancestors will be complete without making offerings to you.”
“Yes – the very best of food! You will be the link between the living and the dead.”
Sita competed with Rama to shower another blessing on Kaga.
“You will pull my carriage when I take on the form of a widow – Goddess Dhumavati.”
Saved and honoured the crow spread his wings cawing in joy.
III – The White Quill
Kaga-crow now set up a signboard advertising his clinic and his deeds. Meanwhile, he had got a mate, Kalia. She was busy keeping the patients in queue seeing to it that none jumped the line. Life was a ball for the couple. But a year later they noticed that the line was dwindling – not as long as before.
The couple went to the bank of the water body to consult with the ancient tortoise. Buddha’s answer was simple.
“There are fewer patients because you are a good doctor. People are not getting ill as before. So why are you worried?’
The crow pair was very decent. They hesitated to say that their larder was not now well-stocked as of yore and there were on the other hand more mouths to feed. Buddha-tortoise was not the ancient one for nothing; looking at their downcast feathers he understood and sympathised.
“Don’t worry. Go back. Soon another malaise will take over the entire community – this time it will be the illness of not getting ill – of not dying.”
“Yes my son, science is so proud – such great improvements – illness and disease are taking a back seat.”
“Is it not good?”
“No! Oh Kaga – I don’t want to live any longer – life has become boring. You can save me!”
All those who were around looked askance at the ancient one. On one hand, he wants to die and on the other, he is seeking the help of the very doctor that saves lives!
After regaining his breath Buddha started to speak again.
“Pluck the White Quill from your forehead – open your Third Eye.”
“Then touch my head with it. Within an hour I will die a peaceful death! Yes, son – Rama has gifted you with this power also – saving many like me from unending life.”
“Euthanasia! Euthanasia! I know” – shrieked Pechu-owl once more eager to show off her knowledge.
Meanwhile, the crow touched the ancient one with the white quill on his forehead. Stretching his sagging flesh into a smile the tortoise gave the crow in a light vein a harsh dose of truth.
“Son, you too will need this quill one day to escape from the curse of a long meaningless life. Have you not noticed that few observe the funeral rites and rituals? Are you not already being deprived of the tidbits – the best gourmet food? There is more ahead – with trees vanishing, you will not even have a roof over your head in the Rational Age. The White Quill will save you from such a life. Keep it carefully – the White Quill.- Total nr. of readings: 398 Copyright © The author  All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.
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