Know, O Reader:
It is written that the Great Mughal Jāhāngīr, Emperor of Hindustān, was once on campaign against one of the peoples of the frontier of his far-flung kingdom. In the course of his advance, of course, his cannon bombarded towns and villages, his war elephants trampled down people and crops alike, and his troops fed themselves on the grain of the conquered, and divided their women among themselves, just as it is in war, and has always been.
Then, one day, the Emperor saw, perched on the branch of a tree, a bird of such surpassing loveliness that he could not draw his eyes away from it.
“Catch for me that bird,” he told his men, “for I wish to send it back to my palace, where it will grace my harīm and with its beauty complement that of my Queen Nūr Jāhān and of all my concubines.”
So the soldiers went to get hold of the bird, but it easily evaded them, flying away from their clumsy attempts to capture it. For days they followed it, but they could not touch so much as a tail feather.
Then Jāhāngīr called from among the camp followers who accompanied his army the cleverest and most talented bird-catchers, those who knew the secrets of all the snares which could hold the creatures of the air. But though they set traps of surpassing cleverness, so that the eye marvelled at their skill, the bird would not be caught.
Then Jāhāngīr caused a cage of gold to be placed near the tree in which the bird sat; and in the cage he placed fruit and other comestibles of wondrous variety, of which the mind reels to think, and of which the tongue would grow hairy in description. But the bird would not enter, and with a mocking cry, flapped away to a distant tree.
Then was the Emperor’s heart filled with wonder at the bird, and he rode out alone, but for his trusted wazīr, to seek out the bird for himself. And at length he grew close to the tree on which the bird sat, and the bird watched him come.
“I command you,” then spoke Jāhāngīr to the bird, “as your rightful monarch and appointed lord, to submit yourself to my whim.”
But the bird hopped from branch to branch, its head on one side, and chattered in reply.
Then the wazīr, who knew how to interpret the tongues of bird and beast, said to the king: “O great and august monarch, the bird said that you have dominion over the human subjects of your realm; but it is not your vassal, and cannot rightfully obey your orders.”
Then the Emperor thought a moment, and resumed. “O prince of the air,” he said, “I wish merely to provide you a life of luxury and ease. No longer will you have to bear the dangers of life in the wild, with the fear of the eagle’s beak or the jackal’s fang, the cruel drought or the chill of winter. And your glorious colours, instead of being wasted in this wilderness, will grace the quarters of queens whose beauty is second only to your own.”
The bird chattered, and flapped to another branch.
And so spoke the wazīr, in translation: “Sire, the bird says that it prefers the wind and the storm, the dangers of tooth and talon, to the golden cage of your royal harīm; for there it will only be a possession among others, no more at liberty to do as it desires.”
Then rage entered Great Jāhāngīr’s heart, and, snatching his musket from where it hung by his saddle, he fired at the bird, with a flash flame and a cloud of smoke. But anger made his aim wild, and the ball flew wide of the mark.
With a final burst of chatter, the great bird flew into the air and away, and was seen no more
“Great Emperor,” the wazīr said then, “the bird said that if you had only been content to watch it from a distance, you could have exulted in its beauty for as long as your heart desired. But because you were intent on taming it, to make it yours, you will not find it again, no matter how hard you seek.”
Jāhāngīr was silent a long time, and then he asked one more question. “Is that all it said?”
“No, Sire, it said one thing more. As it flew away, it asked why you felt the need to destroy what you could not possess. Why, it asked you to ponder, could you simply not let it be?”
The Emperor was silent, and did not speak.
“I wonder, Sire,” the wazīr asked, “if it is worthwhile to fight these wars against people who have done us no harm, and to destroy them if they will not submit?”
The Emperor said nothing; but on returning to the army, he ordered it turned around, and headed back to his distant capital.
And no more did he go to war, ever again, after that day.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2014
(Actually, of course, I made this up)