Saturday, June 16, 2012

Storytime: Bleat when in the goat's stable, moo when in the bull's stable

There is a Malay proverb that says "Masuk ke kandang kambing mengembek, masuk ke kandang kerbau menguak". Translated to English, it runs "Bleat when in the goat's stable, moo when in the bull's stable". What it means is, you should follow the customs of any place you visit. As the English proverb goes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do". However, while the early Malays were well-versed in the behaviour and calls of domestic animals, evidently they did not know much about Rome.

Several Malay proverbs are based on animals. One wonders how such proverbs came into existence. As it is with most old sayings in any language, this one is probably traceable back to some old Malay folk tale. Don't take my word for it, but it probably went something like this:

There was once a time when the parrot was an incredibly good speaker. He spoke smoothly and eloquently, and was a very sociable animal. He would chat with any animal that happened to pass underneath the tree he was perched on, and made a lot of friends with his outgoing manner and his highly-entertaining jokes and anecdotes.

However, he was also quite a bit of a jokester. More than once, he played tricks on the other animals in the forest by imitating their voices and confusing them. The parrot possessed this incredible talent for voice mimicry, and it was so amazing that he could mimic the noises made by every creature in the forest, including the birds of the air, the beasts of the land, and the little fishies in the river.

On one particular day, the parrot woke up feeling rather jolly, and thought he would play a trick on someone. He took off from his usual perch in his tree and glided through the woods, looking for a friend to talk to. However, for some unusual reason, there was no one to be found. The forest was completely silent. No critters passed by on the ground below, not a single bird decked the branches of the many trees, and even the river seemed devoid of any sort of life.

"Pooh!" Said the parrot to himself, landing in a tree. "The lion must have called another meeting today. Who does he think he is, to call away every single animal of the forest to a single place like that? Pooh again, I say! The lion is just a big kitten with a lot of hair! I marvel at the way all the other animals bow down to him like blades of grass!"

With this, and other various exclamations of "Pooh!", the parrot flew off. It was evident that he wouldn't be able to meet anyone in the forest today, as everyone had gone to the lion's den for the meeting of the animals. But the parrot wasn't ready to have a boring day. His gleeful spirit wouldn't let him sit still, and he desperately wanted to play a trick on someone.

He continued flying as he mused over these things, and eventually found himself at the edge of the woods. Perching himself on a branch, he looked out over the vast plains outside the woods as he turned his thoughts over in his head. Then something caught his eye. On the other side of the field, he saw a little house at the foot of a hill. Outside the house, he saw some very strange animals, which he had never seen before. There were big ones and small ones. The big animals had long horns and long tails, while the small ones had considerably shorter horns, and had beards. These animals were, in fact, bulls and goats, and they belonged to the farmer who lived in the house.

The parrot becamer very curious, and excited, as he realised that here were some potential victims for his pranks. Silently, he glided across the field and over the farm animals unnoticed, and perched himself on a tree, where he observed these strange creatures.

While he was sitting there, a couple of goats came quite near to the tree to graze the grass there. As they talked to each other, they bleated at intervals between their speech. "Mek-ek-ek!" The parrot noticed this, and was fascinated. Here was an animal that made a noise he had never learned before! Instantly, a plan formulated in the parrot's mind, and he knew what kind of prank he could play on the goats.

Very soon, the farmer came out with his dog, and the animals were herded back into their stables: the goats into the first stable, and the bulls into the second stable. The parrot watched all this closely, and when the farmer and the dog went back into the house, the parrot left his hiding place and glided over to the goat's stable. There, he flew in through a window and landed on a beam. The noise made by his landing attracted the goat's attention, and they all turned up to look at him.

The parrot beamed down at them all from his perch. "Good evening," he said. "Mek-ek-ek!"
The goats stared up at him in wonder. One of them asked him, "What are you, and why do you soumd like us?"
The parrot replied "Why, I'm one of you, of course! Mek-ek-ek!"
"But you certainly don't look anything like us."
"Oh, pooh! What does that matter? Mek-ek-ek! Its obvious that I'm one of you! Mek-ek-ek!"

The goats looked at each other in amazement and whispered to each other. This strange creature that flew their window looked nothing like them, and yet it sounded just like them and claimed to be one of them. What did this strange creature mean to do?

Meanwhile, the parrot on his perch burst into a fit of laughter, and fell down on the beam, clutching his stomach and laughing at their confusion.

Suddenly, one of the older goats spoke up and said, "My brothers, I think it is very plausible that this fellow is indeed one of our kind, as he claims to be. I have seen a lot in my time, and I have known that high up in the mountains lives a kind of animal that is just like us and sounds like us, but lives completely differently! These goats who live in the mountains, called mountain-goats, can traverse the steepest of cliffs and survive in difficult conditions. Although they are quite different from us, they are still one of our kind. Now, it appears that this strange creature here has come from the forest, and as he sounds just like us and claims to be one of our kind, what reason do we have not to believe him? Perhaps goats live in the forest as well!" Then he turned up to the amazed parrot and said "Brother goat, I must welcome you warmly into our home! You will find that we are not inhospitable to our visitors!"

The parrot marvelled at the gullibility of the goats. Because of the words of one senile old animal, the whole herd of goats was greeting him and welcoming him like some long lost brother! The parrot hopped down from his perch and landed in the midst of the goats. At once, some food was brought out for him, and the goats treated him with the utmost kindness and respect.

"Well, this is certainly very nice!" Thought the parrot to himself, with his mouth full of food. "These funny animals which I have just discovered today are even more gullible than the forest animals! I never would have thought that possible! And now, I just had to play a simple voice-imitation trick on them, and they're lavishing me with treats and gifts! Absolutely amazing!"

Once he had finished eating, he decided to leave the stable as quickly as he could, before the goats found out about his trick. So he made up an excuse to leave, and flew out from the same window that he had entered. Once he was outside, he burst into laughter, and rolled around on the ground with tears streaming down his face. The way he had blindly led the goats into believing he was one od them was such jolly good fun in his mind.

Then he got another idea. He remembered that there were two stables, and that the other animals were in the second stable. He thought it would be a good idea to try to trick them too. He flew to the second stable, where found a low window, and he perched himself on the windowsill. Then, he greeted the animals inside with a loud voice. "Greetings, my brothers! Mek-ek-ek!"

When the bulls heard the bleating noises made by the parrot, they turned round to look at him, and all of them stared at him with intense ferocity. The parrot, however, did not notice this hostility, and actually had no idea that the bulls and goats were different animals.

The largest bull in the stable said to the parrot, "What are you, and what business do you think you have here?"
The parrot replied "Why, I'm one of you, of course! Mek-ek-ek! I have just arrived from the forest, and I have come for a visit! Mek-ek-ek!"
The bull stared at him. "But you certainly look nothing like us, and in fact, you sound just like a goat!"
The parrot grinned and burst out laughing. "Yes, exactly!" he said through laughter. "I'm a goat! Mek-ek-ek! I'm one of you! Mek-ek-ek!"

At this, all the bulls became very angry. They bellowed in an intimidating way that is unique to bulls, and stomped their hooves loudly on the ground. The parrot became very alarmed.

The large bull looked the angriest of all. He did not bellow, but pawed at the ground with his front hoof, and had his red bloodshot eyes fixed on the parrot.

"We have been enemies with the goats for years!" Yelled the bull. "And now you, you impertinent little scamp, you have the gall to flaunt your way over here and make fun of us? What sort of fools do you think we are? Be off with you!"

With that, the bull issued forth a horrendous roar, and charged full speed at the parrot. Before he could take flight, the parrot was hit full force in the chest by the bull, who was charging so fast he broke down the wall. The parrot was flung into the air, but managed to regain his balance and turned his freefall into flight. He flew off to the forest as fast as he could, while behind him the bulls were escaping from the stable and tearing up the ground in their madness.

Panting and wheezing, the parrot didn't stop flying until he was back at his own tree. He stopped there, and tried to catch his breath. Then, turning to the direction of the farm, he shouted "Yeesh, cool down, you hotheads! It was only a joke!"

Then he stopped. He noticed something strange about his voice. While he had always been silver-tongued, his voice was now distorted from the blow he had received from the bull, which must have damaged his throat, and he now sounded horrible! The parrot tried saying a few more words, but the sound of his own horrible voice rang loudly in his ears. Infuriated, he tried to scream at the clouds, but the only sound that came out was "SQUAAAWRK!!"

To this very day, the parrot's voice has a certain squawky quality to it, and even when he does speak, his words are indistinct and hard to make out. He can no longer speak as smoothly as he used to, and prefers to keep silent, to hide his own voice. However, he is still a friendly animal, and whenever someone wishes him "Hello," he feels compelled to return the greeting with a "HARROW!! SQUARK!!", and thus betray the sad story of how he lost his voice.

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