Translated: from the Nepali original, 'Aamaako Maya' by Mary Des Chene;
Illustrated: from the Nepali edition by Yuvak Shrestha;
Published: in Sangraula, Khagendra. 2059v.s.. An Uphill Tale. Kathmandu: Vivek Srijanashil Prakashan; the English translation of Sangraula, Khagendra. 2058v.s.. Ukaaliko Katha. Kathmandu: Srijanashil Prakashan.
HTML Markup: For marxists.org in August, 2002.
Spring rolled round again. Just like last year the Koili bird sang its teary-voiced song.
'Whuyu? whuyu?' it asked somebody.
Sarita cocked her head and looked up. It was hiding in a banyan tree. The Koili couldn't be seen anywhere. Sarita shaded her eyes with her hand and looked. Looked this way a moment, that way a moment. But no, the Koili bird was nowhere to be seen. Only its question could be heard — 'whuyu? whuyu? whuyu?'
"Me, hey, it's me!" said Sarita, tilting her head up toward the tree.
"Me, our Ma's daughter. Me, Sarita!"
Sarita's wish to see the singer grew all the stronger. When she couldn't see it no matter what she did, she shouted out: "Then you say, who're you? Why're you hidin' up there?"
Carrying a big brass jug in the crook of her hip, Sarita's mother came to fetch water. She'd seen that her daughter had been hanging around the base of the banyan tree for a good while already. Craning her neck she was looking and looking up into the tree. Her mother was surprised — 'I never, what's that one lookin' at up there?'
Sarita was all absorbed in her own thoughts.
She snuck up close to her daughter and stood silently.
From up above the Koila bird asked again in that same teary voice—'whuyu? whuyu? whuyu?'
A bit put out Sarita said, "First you say, who're you?"
Sarita's mother found the conversation between the Koili bird and her little daughter delightful. Thinking to play a prank she covered her daughter's eyes from behind with her two hands.
One by one Sarita felt her mother's hands, fingers, arms and clothes. Then she said, "Tell now. Who are you?"
Laughter bubbled up in her mother. But sealing her lips she held it in.
Trying to pry off the hands covering her eyes, Sarita said in an endearing voice, "Oh, you naughty thing. So you've come down from up there? Tell! Who's that coverin' my eyes?"
It was too much. Ma couldn't hold back her laughter. Chuckling, she took her hands away from her daughter's eyes. And then craning her daughter's head back so she could look into her face, she asked, "Squirt, who're you talkin' with? Who of yours is up in that tree, hmm?"
Sarita was very very surprised. She gazed wide-eyed at her mother, not blinking once. She looked and looked. From up in the tree the bird asked in just the same way, "whuyu? whuyu? whuyu?"
Sarita lifted her eyes upward again. She thought to herself, 'What the... Nothin' to be seen. It just keeps on askin' an' askin'. Ask it an' it don't speak. Funny! Did the tree's leaves do the talkin'? Is the breeze up in the sky talkin'?'
"Ma!" In an eager voice bursting with curiosity Sarita asked, "Who's the one askin' me 'whuyu' 'whuyu'?"
"Oh, that one?" answered Ma. "That's a Koili bird, dear".
"Ma, why's it keep on askin' me 'whuyu' 'whuyu'? Don't it know me?"
"That must be it".
"But ever-body knows me Ma, why don't it know me?"
"Never mind you, dear, it don't even know itself."
"Don't know itself?" asked Sarita in amazement. "I sure know myself. I know me, don't I Ma?"
"Who d'ya know?" asked Ma. fondling her daughter's soft hair with gentle fingers. "Well then, tell. Who are you?"
"Who, me?!" said Sarita brightly. "I'm little Sarita. I'm Ma's girl, I'm our little Sarita."
"Ain't you Pa's daughter then?"
"Yes, yes! I'm Ma an' Pa's girl Sarita. I'm our little Sarita."
Right then the Koili bird appeared on a dead branch of the banyan tree. Then stretching its neck and raising its tail, it asked — 'whuyu? whuyu? whuyu?'
Sarita stared up. When she saw the Koili bird she jumped for joy. 'Ooooh, that one askin' me 'whuyu', it's sure pretty!'
"Ma, look, look, it's come out. It's come. Look, it's come searchin' for me."
"That's the work of that lazy fool, dear" said Ma in a hush, looking at the Koili bird. "That fool flies here, flies there. Sometimes shakes its head, sometimes makes its tail dance. That idiot bird that don't know itself struts around askin' others, 'whuyu? whuyu? Such a shameless one, that black bird!"
Just then in such a sweet voice that black bird asked Sarita — 'whuyu? whuyu?'
"It asked me, didn't it Ma?" Delighted Sarita said, "It speaks so sweet, don't it Ma?"
Wrinkling her brow Ma thought a bit. And then, stroking her daughter's hair she said, "What the good of just sweet talk, dear? If how ya be an' do are good, others'll speak well of ya."
"Huh. Ma, is that one naughty?"
"Yes dear", said Ma, "That one's naughty an' lazy besides."
"Oooh, it calls me in such a fond way! It says 'whuyu? whuyu?' to me in such a sweet way!" As if she couldn't really accept her mother's words, Sarita asked, "How can such a wise bird be naughty Ma?"
"That's a long story daughter."
As soon as she heard the word "story" Sarita's mind became greedy to hear it. "Ma" she pleaded, "Oh, tell me its story! Come on, Ma. Will ya tell?"
"When I've got some free time, dear"
"No no!" Flopping down at her mother's feet Sarita started to kick up a fuss. "I wanna hear the story so much!" Oh, and now Sarita started to sniffle like she was going to start crying.
Ma had no time to spare. She was on her way to work in the fields. Yesterday she'd dug up the potato plot, today she had to break up the clods to make the soil ready for planting. So she told her daughter, "When the work's finished, dear!"
Children are cryers. Tossing about on the ground, without a word Sarita started to cry.
Squatting in the field breaking up clods of dirt with her spade, Ma began to tell the story: "Listen dear. In some country there was a Koili. As for her looks, she was ordinary. As for her voice, it was ever so sweet. But she had two bad habits."
"Two bad habits?"
"Yes indeed. She was lazy, and naughty too."
"Oh Ma! She talks an' talks like that, so then how can she be lazy?"
"Listen dear. When it was time to lay eggs all the other birds would make nests. An' then they'd lay their eggs in the nest. An' then sittin' ever so carefully on top of the eggs they'd hatch the babies. An' then searchin' an' huntin' they'd feed the babies worms. But that lazy Koili bird...."
Playing with fistfuls of dirt Sarita piped up with her wondering: "Didn't the Koili bird have any sons an' daughters, Ma? And Ma, why didn't she make a nest?"
Seeing the pleasure her daughter took in the story, her mother was also pleased. She went on with gusto, "See, it's this way dear! Askin' ever-body an' anybody 'whuyu? whuyu?' the Koili bird's day passed just like that. How's the one who don't get crackin' at the right time ever to have sons an' daughters?"
"Ma!" Not pleased at all Sarita asked, "Who stole the Koili's sons an' daughters Ma?"
"They weren't stolen dear. On account of its own lack of sense that unlucky Koili's lap was empty."
"An' then?" Impatient to hear the rest of the story Sarita said, "An' then what happened to her Ma?"
"An' then what happened was this, dear. A pair of crows lived in the same tree as the Koili." Breaking up clods of earth without a pause, Ma went on, "Winter ended an' spring came round. An' then it was time to lay eggs. Carryin' little twigs and bits of straw in their beaks the crow couple started to make a nest. Seeing that the Koili thought maybe she'd make a nest too. An' then...."
Craning her neck toward the 'whuyu? whuyu?' Koili sitting on the tree branch Sarita asked, "An' then that lazy one made a nest Ma?"
"No nest. When would she ever make a nest? She thought to herself — 'Singing is so much fun, why go to all the trouble of making a nest? So much for today, maybe tomorrow.' In the end dear, singin' an' singin' the day just passed right by. The next day too, she thought the same thing — 'Oh, what's the hurry, maybe tomorrow.' An' the next day, an' the next — 'Oh, what's the hurry?'"
Absorbed in the story, tossing a handful of dirt toward the Koili Sarita asked, "An' then the day after that?"
"An' then the day after that the Koili looked over at the crow's nest. Oho! The crow's nest was already very big. An' here her own wasn't even started. She was startled. Slowly she poked at her tummy with her beak. The eggs in her tummy were already big as marbles. 'Well! Now it won't do not to make a nest.' said the Koili to herself. Thinkin' an' thinkin' she started right back in singin'. After she started singin' she plum forgot about making a nest. The next morning she rubbed her eyes an' looked: 'Oh boy!'. The crow's nest was really grand. 'Well, now it really won't do not to make a nest.' Thinkin' an' thinkin' about a nest she started feelin' lazy. An' then stretchin' her beak wide in a yawn she said to herself—'Oh, what's the hurry today? Tomorrow's another day.' Thinkin' like this to herself she started singin' that teary song— 'whuyu? whuyu? whuyu?' Rubbin' her eyes again next mornin' she looked over at the crows' nest. Well, the crows' nest had really become wonderful ! 'Oh! Well now. Today I've really got to get work.' Sayin' this, she went off lookin' for twigs. But before she'd brought even two twigs she lost all her gumption. The crow couple were absorbed in their work. Lookin' over at their nest she thought — 'Oh, it's so much fun to sit around and sing. What's this working yourself to death to build a nest? Oh, let it go. Today I'll sing. Tomorrow without stopping for a breath, I'll build a nest.' Tommorow came an' tomorrow went. Another tomorrow came. That tomorrow passed right by too. An' then another tomorrow, an' then another, an' then yet another. Many tomorrows came an' went. But that tomorrow for Koili to build her nest never came. An' then...."
"An' then what happened Ma?"
"An' then this is what happened, dear. One day Koili got up at the crack of dawn. Glancing over she saw Mrs. Crow sittin' on her nest with her wings all spread out round her. 'Mother mine!' Black Koili jumped in surprise. 'Well! All that talk of making my own nest's just been a tall tale. Hurriedly she poked at her tummy. 'Oh boy! These eggs are as big as walnuts. Well! Now, where to lay these eggs? How about laying them in a hole in the tree... No, a snake might eat them... Could lay them on the ground someplace... No, grasshoppers might crack them right open with their kicks. How about not laying them at all...! No, growing and growing the eggs might burst my belly open ...!' Oooph. This is a real mess. Well!' Now, instead of singing 'whuyu? whuyu?' Koili started to cry, 'kwaa-kwaa'.
"Seein' lazy Koili cryin', over in her nest hard-workin' Mrs. Crow smiled to herself. Koili was eaten up with shame. A moment later, off to find worms, Mrs. Crow flapped away. An' then a real sneaky idea hatched in Koili's mind. Peering slyly this way an' that, she hopped down to the crows' nest. An' then, breakin' open the crows' eggs she slurped 'em down. After that in one breath she pecked up all the shells, an' in that empty crows' nest she laid her eggs. A little bit later Mrs. Crow came back to the nest. The nest was right where it should be. Eggs were right where they should be. She didn't find out Koili's trick. Over at the crows' nest Mr. an' Mrs. Crow took turns sittin' on the eggs to hatch 'em. As for Koili, watchin' the goings on she sang an' sang — 'whuyu? whuyu? whuyu?'"
"An' then Ma? An' then after that ...?"
"An' then after that dear, Mrs. Crow hatched the babies. Doin' without for herself, she fed worms to the tender little ones. Lovingly she helped 'em grow; raised 'em up. An' then..."
"Naughty Koili didn't feed 'em any worms, Ma?"
"Hah, feed 'em? That one dear, she didn't even bring a scrap."
Twisting up her mouth, Sarita scolded the Koili: "What a naughty bird!" And then, throwing a fistful of dirt at the Koili she asked, "So then what happened Ma?"
"The babies started flappin' their wings. They started singin' in the sweetest voices. An' then they got busy with learnin' to fly." Ma went on with the story, "Then one day the crow couple weren't in the nest. Takin' the chance Koili went over by the babies. An' then..."
"An' then what?!"
"An' then in a wheedlin' way she called out to 'em, 'My dears! My little ones!' At last, oh, what's to say, dears?"
"An' then what'd the babies say Ma?"
"The babies pecked at her with their tender little beaks—'twaakka-twaak, twaak-twaak-twaakka....'"
"Take that naughty bird, take that!". Sarita was jubilant. A few seconds later she asked, "An' then that naughty one ran away, Ma?"
"Run away? Hah! That one started talkin' in a slippery voice — 'Look now dears, little ones. You're my sons and daughters, from the eggs I laid.' Hearin' this sweet-talk the babies got hoppin' mad. One went to all the trouble of takin' care of 'em an' raisin' 'em up. And here's another big-talker sayin' 'You're my sons and daughters'. Sayin' 'You're a big liar, you're not our mother!', the babies started pluckin' out her feathers. Sly Koili, makin' up a plan as she went along said, 'Look dears. Little ones! If you're not my sons and daughters take a look at your own colour. You're just like me. Exactly.'
"Seein' that they were just the same colour as Koila the babies were real startled. But after thinkin' for a minute they said, 'Just cause colour and shape are the same, whoever laid our eggs is the mother? Whoever gave love, that's the mother. You who never loved, how are you a mother?' Sayin' that much the babies shoved Koili headfirst out of the nest. Knocked splat on the ground her brain got all shook up. In the end dear, forget about others, that Koili stopped knowin' even herself."
The story ended. Ma headed home to get food ready. Little Sarita got up, eyes fixed on the Koili sitting on the branch of the banyan tree. And stood standing right there.
From up above, turning round toward Sarita, the Koili asked in a teary voice—'whuyu? whuyu? whuyu?'
From down below Sarita burst out , "I won't talk. I won't talk with a naughty one like you!"