A Rumour Takes Wing

A Folktale from Bengal

A pandit while crossing a field felt that there was something in his mouth and spat it out. It turned out to be a heron's feather. He could not understand how it had got into his mouth and it perplexed him to a great extent. When he reached home he told his wife about it but asked her not to tell anyone lest somebody may put a bad interpretation on it.

His wife was even more intrigued by the strange occurrence and felt the need to confide in someone. So she swore her neighbour to secrecy and told her what had happened.

Perhaps it was the way she told it, but her neighbour got the impression that several feathers had come out of the pandit's mouth. She was shocked. However, she assured the woman that such things could happen and advised her not to worry about it.

How the Rumour takes Wing?

"Please don't tell anyone," said the pandit's wife.

"My lips are sealed," said the woman. But she was longing to tell someone and when she saw the dhobi's wife going past, called her in and told her the whole story. Only, she made it sound as if a whole heron had come out of the pandit's mouth.

"Never have I heard of such a thing," said the dhobi's wife, her eyes popping with excitement, "and he being a vegetarian and all that, but one can never tell..."

She went away promising not to tell anyone but on the way she met her friend and the whole story sort of tumbled out of her mouth. Perhaps in her excitement she said 'herons' instead of 'heron' or perhaps her friend just imagined she had said herons but when she told her husband the story sometime later, she was emphatic that a whole flock of herons had come out of the pandit's mouth.

And as the story spread "herons" became "herons and other birds" and then "hundreds of birds of all shapes and sizes".

By evening the whole village and several other neighbouring villages had heard the story and people began to arrive in droves at the pandit's house to witness the miraculous happenings there.

The pandit strongly denied that any bird had come out of his mouth but nobody would believe him and everybody begged him to demonstrate his wonderful power of producing birds from his mouth.

Finally in exasperation, he asked them all to sit in front of his house and when they had done so ran out of the back and hid in the jungle where he remained several days till the excitement had died down and the people had realized that the news was false.."