The Education of the Bird

This is a story written by Rabindranath Tagore, a Nobel Laureate from the eastern state of Bengal.

Once upon a time there was a bird.

It was ignorant.

It sang all right, but never recited scriptures.

It hopped pretty frequently, but lacked manners.

Said the Raja to himself: ‘Ignorance is costly in the long run. For fools consume as much food as their betters, and yet give nothing in return.’ He called his nephews to his presence and told them that the bird must have a sound schooling.

The pundits were summoned, and at once went to the root of the matter. They decided that the ignorance of birds was due to their natural habit of living in poor nests. Therefore, according to the pundits, the first thing necessary for this bird’s education was a suitable cage. The pundits had their rewards and went home happy.

A golden cage was built with gorgeous decorations. Crowds came to see it from all parts of the world. ‘Culture, captured and caged!’ exclaimed some, in a rapture of ecstasy, and burst into tears. Others remarked: ‘Even if culture were missed, the cage will remain, to the end, a substantial fact. How fortunate for the bird!’

The goldsmith filled his bag with money and lost no time in sailing homewards.

The pundit sat down to educate the bird. With proper deliberation he took his pinch of snuff: as he said: ‘Textbooks can never be too many for our purpose!’

The nephews brought together an enormous crowd of scribes. They copied from books, and copied from copies, till the manuscripts were piled up to an unreachable height. Men murmured in amazement. ‘Oh, the tower of culture, egregiously high! The end of it lost in the clouds!’ The scribes, with light hearts, hurried home, their pockets heavily laden.

The nephews were furiously busy keeping the cage in proper trim. As their constant scrubbing and polishing went on, the people said with satisfaction: ‘This is progress indeed!’ Men were employed in large numbers and supervisors were still more numerous. These, with their cousins of all different degrees of distance, built a palace for themselves and lived there happily ever after.They fed the bird with pages from the many books.

Whatever may be its other deficiencies, the world is never in want of faultfinders; and they went about saying that every creature remotely connected with the cage flourished beyond words, excepting only the bird.

When this remark reached the Raja’s ears, he summoned his nephews before him and said: ‘My dear nephews, what is this that we hear?’ The nephews said in answer: ‘Sire, let the testimony of the goldsmiths and the pundits, the scribes and the supervisors be taken, if the truth is to be known. Food is scarce with the fault-finders, and that is why their tongues have gained in sharpness.’ The explanation was so luminously satisfactory that the Raja decorated each one of his nephews with his own rare jewels.

The Raja at length, being desirous of seeing with his own eyes how his Education Department busied itself with the little bird, made his appearance one day at the great Hall of Learning.

From the gate rose the sounds of conch-shells and gongs, horns, bugles and trumpets, cymbals, drums and kettledrums, tom-toms, tambourines, flutes, fifes, barrel-organs and bagpipes. The pundits began chanting mantras with their topmost voices, while the goldsmiths, scribes, supervisors, and their numberless cousins of all different degrees of distance, loudly raised a round of cheers.

The nephews smiled and said: ‘Sire, what do you think of it all?’ The Raja said: ‘It does seem so fearfully like a sound principle of Education!’ Mightily pleased, the Raja was about to remount his elephant, when the faultfinder, from behind some bush, cried out: ‘Maharaja, have you seen the bird?’ ‘Indeed, I have not!’ exclaimed the Raja. ‘I completely forgot about the bird.’ Turning back, he asked the pundits about the method they followed in instructing the bird. It was shown to him. He was immensely impressed.

The method was so stupendous that the bird looked ridiculously unimportant in comparison.

The Raja was satisfied that there was no flaw in the arrangements. As for any complaint from the bird itself, that simply could not be expected. Its throat was so completely choked with the leaves from the books that it could neither whistle nor whisper. It sent a thrill through one’s body to watch the process. This time, while remounting his elephant, the Raja ordered his State ear-puller to give a thorough good pull at both the ears of the faultfinder.

The bird thus crawled on, duly and properly, to the safest verge of inanity. In fact, its progress was satisfactory in the extreme.

Nevertheless, Nature occasionally triumphed over training, and when the morning light peeped into the bird’s cage it sometimes fluttered its wings in a reprehensible manner. And, though it is hard to believe, it pitifully pecked at its bars with its feeble beak. ‘What impertinence!’ growled the kotwal. The blacksmith, with his forge and hammer, took his place in the Raja’s Department of Education. Oh, what resounding blows! The iron chain was soon completed, and the bird’s wings were clipped.

The Raja’s nephews looked black, and shook their heads, saying: ‘These birds not only lack good sense, but also gratitude!’ With textbook in one hand and baton in the other, the pundits gave the poor bird what may fitly be called lessons! The kotwal was honoured with a title for his watchfulness, and the blacksmith for his skill in forging chains.

The bird died.

Nobody had the least notion how long ago this had happened. The faultfinder was the first man to spread the rumour.

The Raja called his nephews and asked them, ‘My dear nephews, what is this that we hear?’ The nephews said: ‘Sire, the bird’s education has been completed.’ ‘Does it hop?’ the Raja enquired. ‘Never!’ said the nephews. ‘Does it fly?’ ‘No.’ ‘Bring me the bird,’ said the Raja. The bird was brought to him, guarded by the kotwal and the sepoys and the sowars. The Raja poked its body with his finger. Only its inner stuffing of book-leaves rustled. Outside the window, the murmur of the spring breeze amongst the newly budded asoka leaves made the April morning wistful.

Two Nobel Laureates: Einstein and Tagore

Two Nobel Laureates: Einstein and Tagore


10 Responses to “Education”

  1. Joi Says:

    Thanks a really good read. Lots of connections with lots of areas.

  2. Grannymar Says:

    That tale translates for me into ‘Children should be seen and not heard’, a very common phrase in my young days. Alas we were suppose to listen and accept whatever our elders TOLD us. Thinking for ourselves might be dangerous. 😦

    Thankfully I forgot those rules when Elly came along.

  3. rummuser Says:

    Magpie, C’est Magnifique

    Very timely.

  4. magpie11 Says:

    I find Tagore inspirational…..and there are things I can use with children I teach…. prior to the Millennium I found a poem addressing me directly…

    Wonderful person..I would love to have met him…along with Khalil Gibran .

  5. rummuser Says:

    Yes, two of my favourites too. Let us hope that the two of us meet someday and exchange views on books of verse, glasses of wine and a whole lot of thous besides us.

  6. magpie11 Says:

    You forgot music! Ranging from carnatic to North Indian, Afghan, across to the Middle East and northern Africa then North across The straits of Gibralter to Andalusia and then north to England and Europe to Finland and then across the Atlantic to Mississippi and the blues going via the Appalachians. At the same time calling in on Jamaica and Indonesia.

  7. rummuser Says:

    I also seem to have omitted loaves of bread, rotis, naans, buns, croissants, plain white, whole wheat, mixed grains, Parathas, Khulchas, puris, and so on and so forth. Yes, we shall have enough to discuss without getting into each other’s hair, not that I have a great deal left!

  8. magpie11 Says:

    I have another post on education forming in my head so watch this space….

  9. Nick Says:

    I think the point there is that you can force-feed someone with “education” till they’re bursting with famous texts and so-called knowledge, but if you don’t understand the real purpose of education you’ll simply kill their mind and their soul. There are plenty of well-educated idiots out there.

  10. magpie11 Says:

    Tagore died in 1941. Still things have not changed… at least in background ideas in the minds of the government. I fully recommend finding Tagore’s paper on his school from which the Facebook quotation came.

    I will ceas now because I could rant on for England on education.

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