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Birbal Cooks Khichadi
by Minal Saran & G.F. Wear
A Birbal Story 

One day king Akbar was in the gardens of his palace with Birbal and other courtiers. They were talking of money and the troubles and evil it caused, when Birbal said, ‘A man will do anything, however hard, in order to become rich.’

Akbar did not agree. He put his hand into the water of the lake, and immediately pulled it out, for the water was very cold. It was the middle of winter.

‘No man,’ said Akbar, ‘would spend all night in the water of this lake to become rich. If he tried he would die of cold.’

‘My Lord, such a man can be found,’ said Birbal. ‘The thought of being rich will keep him warm even in the cold water.’

The other courtiers laughed. ‘It is easy to say so,’ said one of them, ‘but such a man is only to be found in Birbal’s mind.’

But Birbal asked the king’s permission to bring such a man to the palace. This was given, and Birbal went out into Delhi to look for the man.

It took him a few days to find a man poor enough for the test, but he succeeded. The man came to the palace.

‘Are you ready,’ asked the king, ‘to spend all night in the lake? You must not warm yourself at any fire or light.’

The man agreed. He was so poor that even dying from cold seemed now worse than his life was. To make sure that the conditions were carried out, Akbar made some of his courtiers stand round the lake.

All night the man stood in the cold water. In the morning he went with his watchers to the king, who was surprised to see him alive.

‘How did you do it?’ asked Akbar.

‘I never came out of the lake, Sire. Your watchers can say if that is true.’

The courtiers who had been watching agreed it was true.

‘Then how --- ?’ began the king.

‘My lord,’ went on the man, ‘far away, on the seventh floor of the palace, I saw a light burning. I kept my eyes on it all night.’

‘My lord,’ said a courtier, ‘he has broken the rules; he kept warm from the light.’

‘You are right,’ said Akbar, and turning to the poor man he added, ‘You have not kept to the conditions; I shall not give you any money.’

The poor man had to go away with nothing. Birbal saw him leaving the palace in tears. He comforted the man.

‘I shall try to help you,’ he said.

Next day Akbar held a full court. All the courtiers were there except Birbal. When the king asked about him, the courtiers looked at one another secretly.

‘What is the matter?’ asked the king. ‘Where is Birbal?’

He is beside the lake, Sire, and acting strangely.’

Do you mean he has gone mad?’

‘Not exactly, Sire, but he has set up three tall sticks on too of which is a cooking-pot. Far below the pot he is making a fire.’

‘Perhaps Birbal has been thinking too much,’ said another courtier. ‘His brain has become soft.’ The courtiers all laughed.

‘We will see what he is doing,’ said Akbar, and led the court down to the lake.

Birbal was there. He had his cooking-pot on some tall sticks a long way above his fire.

‘What are you doing?’ asked the king.

‘My lord, I am cooking some khichadi,’ was Birbal’s reply.

‘I think you have really gone mad,’ said Akbar. ‘Do you think you can cook khichadi like that?’

‘Look, Sire, on top of my sticks is a pot full of rice and dal. Down below is a fire. Why should it not be cooked?’

‘Your pot is too far above the fire.’ said Akbar.

‘The heat will never reach the pot.’

‘Last night,’ replied Birbal, ‘a light on the seventh floor of your palace gave warmth to a poor man in the lake. My fire is nearer to the pot than that light was to the man, so it will be cooked.’

Akbar then understood what Birbal was trying to say.

‘You had better come in,’ said the king.

‘But my khichadi. I want to cook it.’

‘Collect your things, and come in,’ said the king again, smiling. ‘Your khichadi is cooked already. Call that man who spent the night in the lake. He can share it with you.’ 

by Minal Saran and G.F. Wear

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