Strength in Unity: Folk Tale of Kashmir

There are stories everywhere that tell us that there is strength in unity like the one that asks kids to break sticks one by one and then to break them tied together. We have our own story that is still popular in Kashmir’s villages. I have heard it from my father when I was a kid. It was some surprise to know that the story was in fact quite old after I saw its 1891 English translation by Knowles recently. The story has its own unique style of conveying, United we Stand: Divided we Fall”.

Here is the story as translated by Knowles:  

A TERRIBLE famine, like a great ogre, stalked the land of Kashmir, committing the most fearful depredation on every side. There was much distress and lamentation in many families whose dear one had been slain or wounded by his cruel hand.

At such a time a company of four brothers determined to fly from the country. On a certain day, having packed up whatever was necessary for the way, they started on their journey. They had proceeded some distance, when they came to a spring, whose crystal waters invited them to stop and rest a while. The place was abundantly shaded by a large tree, in the long spreading branches of which a little bird was singing most merrily and sweetly. It was a lovely spot wherein to rest.

Conversation as to their future prospects was indulged in freely, and various plans were suggested and talked over, till all were fast asleep. About midnight they were suddenly aroused by the shrill, insinuating cries of the little bird. The elder brother, in his rage, ordered one of the party to catch the bird, a second to take out his knife and kill it and the third to get some wood ready for a fire whereby to cook it. All immediately bestirred themselves, rise up, and went quickly to fulfil their elder brother’s commands.

Now the bird was an intelligent creature, and therefore had perfectly comprehended all that had been said. So, while the three brothers were going about to fulfil their several tasks, it said to the eldest of the party,” why do you wish to catch me? Why do you send for a knife and wood?

The young man replied, It is my intention to kill you, and afterwards to roast and eat you.

In a voice tremulous with terror the poor bird entreated for its life. Spare me, and I will show you a treasury of wealth.

Very well, said the man. I will spare your if you will fulfil your promise.”

Then my life is spared, said the bird. Dig, dig around the trunk of the tree, and you will find treasure untold.”

The fourth brothers did so, and found as the bird had said.

What reason have we now for continuing the journey? We have, said they, enough and to spare. Let us go back to our country.”

Four other brothers, of another family who were living in the neighbourhood of the grand building where in the four wealthy brothers had taken taken up their abode, chanced to hear of the extraordinary manner in which they had met with their wealth, and they too, being driven to great straits by the famine, determined to visit the spring, the scene of the late find, and try their luck.

They went, they saw the spring; they rested under the shadow of the big tree; they heard the pretty warblings of the bird; and sweated with curiosity and expectation. At length the elder brother ordered his brethren to do as the eldest brother of the other party had ordered his brothers; but they would not obey him.

One said, I cannot go.”

Another replied, Wherefore should I bring a knife?”

And the third pleaded, I am too tired to fetch any wood. Go and get it yourself.”

When the little bird saw the unwillingness and disobedience it said to the eldest brother, Go back. Your errand is in vain. You will never obtain anything till you have first obtained command over your brethren. The men who preceded you were successful because they were united. They had but one will, one mind, one eye, one body.”

POST SCRIPT: Unfortunately I have not narrated this story to any of my children. Have you? Perhaps this is the right time to tell them. Our own story. Our own heritage. Our own folk tale.

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Ali Malik

Author is an astute Kashmir observer with an interest in and stamina to correct the wrongs of the history.

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