The Story Of The Grocer And His Parrot


A certain grocer, Jahangir, found a beautiful parrot for sale in the market. He was very excited about his purchase and quickly installed a hook in the ceiling of his little shop, from which he hung the parrot's cage. He had found the perfect location, right in the doorway, where the magnificent bird would be easily visible from the outside. Jahangir was sure that the parrot, with its colorful plumage and its gift of speech, would attract many customers. The bird would be a good investment, boosting business for the shop, which had not been doing so well lately.

Sure enough, just as Jahangir had hoped, as soon as the parrot opened its mouth, curious passersby who heard him from outside would enter into the store to listen to the bird's interesting chatter, and would end up buying something out of courtesy. Jahangir named the parrot "Sweet Tongue" and was very pleased with him.

Sweet Tongue was not an ordinary parrot. He not only mimicked words, but appeared to understand their meaning. He could hold conversations with Jahangir and in no time the two became friends.

Jahangir's grocery business flourished, enabling him to move into a bigger store and expand his inventory. Business was improving so greatly that he added a few displays of herbal medicine to the store. Eventually, after Jahangir had invested a large sum of money in the shop, he decided to make a large part of it a complete pharmacy. Hundreds of bottles, large and small, containing all sorts of oils and ointments, potions and syrups, went on display.

The appreciative grocer became very fond of his feathered companion and rewarded the bird by letting him fly freely about the store. One morning, Jahangir unlocked the door to his shop and saw Sweet Tongue flying around, but all the bottles had been broken and were scattered on the floor. The parrot had hit the bottles while flying and had knocked them over. A great investment seemed to have been lost!

Driven by anger, Jahangir seized Sweet Tongue by the throat and hit him on the head so many times that the poor bird almost died. Then he threw the bird into his cage and sat down and cried over the misfortune. Hours later, Jahangir realized that because he had struck the parrot's head, Sweet Tongue had lost his head feathers. The poor parrot, now totally bald was confined to his cage again.

In time, Jahangir was able to recover the losses to his business. However, there was one piece of irreparable damage. Sweet Tongue, who now looked rather strange, had fallen silent after the incident. The customers who came merely to enjoy Sweet Tongue's chatter and bright appearance stopped shopping at the store. Jahangir's grocery business, which had flourished before, began to decline.

Jahangir planned various schemes to make the parrot talk again. He tried tempting him with delicious nuts, but the bird showed no interest. Then he brought a musician to the store to revive Sweet Tongue's spirit, so that he would forgive Jahangir and speak again, but still he remained mute. In a last attempt, the Jahangir brought a female parrot and put her cage in front of Sweet Tongue's. Jahangir told Sweet Tongue that he would set both of them free to fly about the store if only he would talk. However, the bird ignored both the grocer and the female parrot.

Finally, Jahangir gave up trying. He concluded that the parrot had gone dumb after the shock to his body, so he left him in peace. Yet, not totally without hope, Jahangir gave alms to the poor and prayed. He hoped that perhaps through his piety the parrot would eventually talk again.

One day, a wandering dervish (mystic) with a patched cloak and a wooden bowl was passing by the store. He was totally bald. Suddenly, a nasal voice from inside the store called out, "Hey, you! How did you end up bald? Did you break some bottles too?"

The bald dervish turned around to see who had addressed him, and to his surprise he saw that it was a parrot speaking to him. Jahangir, elated by this sudden stroke of fortune, invited the dervish in and explained the story of the medicine bottles and how the parrot had become bald and speechless. The dervish approached the cage and said to Sweet Tongue, "So, you think the reason I am bald is because of a situation similar to yours?"

"What else could it be?" asked Sweet Tongue.

The dervish smiled and said, "My friend, let me give you a word of advice: no two leaves on a tree are the same! Neither are two people with similar appearances alike, for one person may reflect on his life's experiences while the other remains ignorant. There are many, though, who think that the two are alike. How oblivious they are, for there is no disparity greater than that between the wise and the ignorant. It is like the difference between Moses' staff and Aaron's - one has the power of God, the other that of man; one makes miracles, the other magic. Nothing causes more trouble than the human habit of judging things by their appearance, because what might look the same on the surface may not be the same in essence. Take the example of the honeybee and the bumblebee: they look alike, but from one comes honey, while from the other comes pain!"

The dervish stopped talking and gave Jahangir, the grocer an insightful look, as if reading his soul. Sweet Tongue now sat quietly in his cage, and Jahangir seemed stunned. The dervish then smiled and walked out. Moments later, when Jahangir came to his senses, he realized that such a lesson as he had been given was not to be taken lightly. He ran outside to thank the dervish, but the man had disappeared, and no one could recall having seen a bald dervish in the bazaar that day!

Note: A similar story was narrated by Jalaluddin Rumi, a famous Persian poet, and can be found in many of his translations.