Business News/ Mint-lounge / Features/  The horoscope of imagination

Entire metaphysical worlds lie secreted away in the simple, linear narratives of myths and folk tales. In the same manner that the influence of planetary bodies is said to guide our lives, these stories could well be the horoscope of an imagination in which life and death are not fixed states but subject to other, more powerful forces.

The haunting folk tale, The Stork and The She-Stork, from Sindhi scholar and philologist Nabi Bakhsh Baloch’s folklore collection is terribly sad but ends happily, and suggests hidden narratives to which the story itself makes no direct reference.

A stork and a she-stork have nested in a tamarisk tree and to feed their young they fly out every morning in search of food. The stork sees a crop of millet and tells the she-stork to wait for him while he goes and feeds himself. The she-stork warns him that it is late and they must depart.

The stork ignores her advice and alights in the field. He has hardly pecked on a few grains when the farmer arrives on the scene and catches him in a net. As the farmer heads for his house carrying the stork, the she-stork follows him singing reproachfully of how she had entreated him and he had not listened to her.

The stork sends her back to attend to their young, telling her that he was soon to die. After feeding their young the she-stork returns to the farmer’s house and sees that the farmer has killed the stork and is preparing to cook him.

When she remonstrates with the farmer, he tells her that he killed the stork because he had eaten his millet. She entreats the farmer to give her the stork’s bones after eating him. The farmer and his wife eat the stork’s flesh and gather the bones in a place for the she-stork. The she-stork then sings the same song she had sung to the stork after he was captured whereupon the bones rustle and the stork becomes whole again. Together the birds fly back to their nest and their chicks and the stork vows never again to eat another’s crop.

On the surface it could be read as a cautionary tale about theft. The farmer had not laid down a trap to catch birds. He states that he killed and ate the stork in retribution for stealing from his crop. And in the end the stork vows never to steal food again. Yet, for the tale to justify such severe retribution for food theft in the face of need, the land which gave birth to it must have known terrible privations and famines.

A cautionary tale should have spent its whole plot where retribution is exacted and the cause of a severe justice is served. But in the course of the story the laws of retribution have interfered with the higher laws of another world. And it is through an appeal to these higher laws that the she-stork is reunited with the one she loves.

At first it seems strange why the she-stork would recite on the bones the words of reproach that she first sang when the stork was caught. But in her recital the she-stork is not appealing to some common passion. She is appealing to the laws of a powerful love which is conscious and all-knowing—one whose powers of premonition first made the she-stork warn her mate. No sooner is this law invoked than the laws of the phenomenal world are counteracted, causing death to lose its hold.

This folktale reveals a world where love may not have the power to repeal death, but where it wields a greater power: the power to resurrect, by making death void.

The possibilities of the story do not quite end there either.

When the laws of the world are revoked by recourse to higher laws, the known world itself undergoes a change.

There is something a little odd in this happy reunion of the two birds. They are together in this world but living two separate lives. While the she-stork continues with her life, the stork has found another. Raised from dead, it is his afterlife.

Musharraf Ali Farooqi is an author, novelist and translator. He can be reached at

This monthly column will explore the curious world of the myths and folk tales of South Asia.

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Updated: 22 Jul 2014, 10:12 PM IST
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