Sunday, June 10, 2012

Storytime: Like the owl who misses the moon

There is a Malay proverb: "Bagai pungguk rindukan bulan". Roughly translated, it says "Like the owl who misses the moon". The meaning of this proverb is, "wishing for something that cannot be gotten".

One wonders how a proverb like this came into existence. However, it being a traditional Malay saying, it probably originated from an old folktale that went something like this:

He heaved a heavy sigh, and turned
his eyes skyward.
 Once upon a time, the owl was not a nocturnal animal. He slept during the night and looked for food during the day. He was often revered as a highly intelligent animal by all the other creatures of the forest, large and small, and the animals often asked him for help in solving their problems. He lived for many years, and indeed outlived many generations of the animals he assisted with his wisdom.

However, the owl, being a bird of extraordinary mentality, was one day struck by what is called "existential angst". He started wondering what the point of life was. He wondered what his mission was in this world. He wondered what would happen to him after his life came to and end. He pondered over these things for a very long time, and as he did, he observed many things. He saw how the changing of the seasons caused brightly-colored flowers to droop and wilt, and die as winter approached. He remembered all of his old friends, who had died of old age, a long time ago. In light of all these reflections, he took a turn for the worse, and resolved that there was no real point in his existence.

The owl's spirit was broken. He no longer had the energy to do anything. He did not look for food in the day, and he did not bother about sleeping in the night. He refused to lend his intelligence to the creatures of the woods, and by and by, he fell very ill.

One night, the owl was slumped against the trunk of his tree, high up among its branches, as he lamented upon his utterly meaningless existence. "What is my life to me?" He said to himself. "Every morning I wake up, and in the afternoons I look for fruits to fill my appetite, and at night I go to sleep, only to awaken the next day and repeat the same process. But to what end, ah, to what end? Is my life merely a meaningless cycle? Is it my sole and desolate purpose in this world to give my wordly wise advice to my friends, only to watch them fall victim to death, knowing that one day I shall be claimed by the same?"

With a cry of "Alas, alack!" He heaved a heavy sigh, and turned his eyes skyward. All of a sudden, he started. He was taken by shock. He leapt to his feet and his heart started beating rapidly.

There, in the night sky, was the round moon, shining in its full glory against the darkness of space, surrounded by glittering stars. Never before had the owl seen the moon like this before! He was fascinated by the beauty of the full moon, which appeared to be much more beautiful than anything he had ever seen before.

"What is this?" He cried. "What is this amazing luminescent form that I behold yonder in the reaches of space? Why, it is the moon! Why, the moon looks absolutely beautiful tonight! How could I have never noticed it before? I daresay the moon's beauty even surpasses that of the butterflies in migration, or the pink-tinged sunsets against the snowy alps! Why, I do believe I've found my purpose to live! Yes, it is the moon! I must make it my mission in this world to acquire that moon for myself!"

And with that, he ruffled his feathers, spread his wings, and took off into the night sky. He glided above the trees, and began flapping his wings tirelessly to gain height. For a very long time, the owl strove to achieve a higher altitude. For many hours, he flapped and flapped and flapped his wings, hoping to eventually reach the beauty of the moon and claim it as his own.

However, he flew for so many hours, that before he knew it, the sun was rising on the horizon. And the very moment the sun's rays penetrated the darkness of night, the moon suddenly disappeared!

The owl, realising that day had come, and that his hopes of reaching the moon were destroyed, was heartbroken. He was suddenly overcome by fatigue, as he had been trying all night to fly to the moon. He returned to the forest and landed on his tree. He was tired and hungry, and had just received the devastating blow of watching the moon disappear in front of his eyes. However, his spirit had regained its fire.

He thought to himself, "Alas! The sun has arrived, and with it comes the day! I cannot continue my mission for the moon, if the moon is nowhere to be seen! Nevertheless, I now know what I must do. I must rest and regain my strength, so that tonight I shall have the energy to try again!"

Before he could look for food, the owl was so tired that he slept in his tree. At dusk he awoke, before the moon had made its appearance, and he scavenged for food in the forest. Not long after that, the moon appeared again, in its full glory! At once, the owl began flying upwards towards the heavens. But once again, before he had come anywhere close to the moon's surface, the sun rose again, and the moon vanished.

The owl tried again the next night, and the night after, and the night after that. But each time, the sun rose and wiped out all his hopes and dreams before he could reach the moon. The distance between the owl and the moon was simply too great to be covered in one night!

Very soon, the owl gave up his quest of reaching the moon. However, his love for the moon still burned ever brightly in his once-broken soul. Even though he knew he would never be able to reach the moon, he would stay up at night and admire its beauty from afar.

That is why, to this very day, the owl sleeps during the day, so that he can be awake when the moon appears at night. And when we hear the owl going "Hoo, hoo, hoo," that is actually the sound of the owl's lamentations and love poems to the moon!

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