The Boulder and the Mango Tree,
Weeper for Birds,
Partridge and the Wellspring,
Keeper of Words
This is the story of a boulder named Sighāsaṇa. At this particular moment, we find Sighāsaṇa resting (as boulders mostly do) at his usual place, atop the dusty sands of a homely clearing at the far end of a marketplace, centered amidst a wide and level desert valley. He has resided at this spot for quite some time, though he still verily remembers the way of things from before he arrived at this home. That was an era of pilgrimage; a long and laboring journey through almost endless layers of earth and rock, commencing deep in the smoldering womb of the world and progressing steadily outward. He was not alone on this journey. On the contrary, the road was crowded with pilgrims, some minute, others colossal, all bustling and jostling about, and he often witnessed the violent clashing of two or even three titans, each too headstrong to make room for the others. Sighāsaṇa even has a vague notion that he, himself, had once been one of these leviathans. He retains some distant and opaque recollection of a great collision, intuiting that his current form was cleaved from its massive predecessor by one such savage impact. Immediately, this rent segment acquired an aspect unique to itself and, as he drifted asunder from his slab of origin, he rapidly lost connection with those thoughts and ideas of that prior perspective. And so, Sighāsaṇa continued on, shepherded ever outward by the turbulent forces of heat and tectonic upheaval. A naturally observant boulder, Sighāsaṇa was fascinated by the boundless variety of travelers that he encountered. Sometimes he was thrust aside by the wake of an immense plate of basalt, and he felt quite small and insignificant. Other times, he pushed his way through impressible deposits of sandy mineral, each granule shrieking as it dove out of his way, and at these times he felt rather large and impregnable. He soon understood that both were true. Or, perhaps the more eloquent deduction was that neither were true; for size was so varied that no singular perspective was absolute. Even more diverse were the compositions of the pilgrims, each boasting some unique amalgamation of minerals and metals; some dense, others brittle; some fiery and fluid, others cold and stony. Contemplating the operations manifesting about himself, Sighāsaṇa found that there was only one factor that was common to everyone.
“We are all on this journey together,” he postulated. “Many will careen themselves into another with stubborn brutality in order to purchase an expedited passage, yet this is in vain, for we are all heading in the same direction. Therefore, whether we show barbary or benevolence, we will all arrive at our destination. This is inevitable.”
From then on, he was mindful to choose a path of compassion, for when he arrived at his destination, he wanted to look back and be proud of his journey.
Despite his insightfulness, the pilgrimage had been a harrowing and seemingly interminable trial, and Sighāsaṇa sometimes lost sight of his faith, feeling he would journey forever, being always escorted onward by the deific forces beneath. Then one day he broke through the surface. Catching his first glimpse of the sky, Sighāsaṇa experienced the revelation of a new-found world which engendered a rhythm all its own. Still mostly buried at the threshold of his former realm, only a piece of himself peered out from the earth and marveled at the frenzied and chaotic events he found in this world of mighty stars. One of these marvelous harbingers of light was quite nearby, and the rhythm of its continual climb above, and inevitable descent below this world’s horizon held a profound leverage over the inhabitants of the place. In hindsight, Sighāsaṇa understood that his former existence had been ordered by the harmony of gradients and transitions. But here, underneath the rapid on-off flickering of the sun, he witnessed a rate of change which staggered him. During what he perceived as a mere moment, he saw creatures take on life, grow to fruition, then wither and perish, all in one desperate gasp. He understood that time flowed differently here, and that the world from which he came would be considered by those of this land, a place of slowness and stagnation. As the sand which hid his body eroded and settled beneath him, Sighāsaṇa watched the celestial orchestra overhead and came to better understand the passions of the bewildering variety of flora and fauna whose home he now shared. He saw the creature, man. He saw them couple, create children, create dwellings, create civilizations. Always, man died. His children grew into men and died. His dwellings tumbled to the earth. His civilizations, too, fell and died, reclaimed by a jealous desert. These things caused Sighāsaṇa to contemplate his own death.
“When I am dissolved into a billion grains of sand,” he pondered, “will I have a billion perspectives, each with their own thoughts and ideas?”
From then on, he was mindful to count his blessings. When nature brought him a foe, he knew this would pass, so he bore the weight as best he could until peace returned. And when nature brought him a friend, he knew this too would pass, so he opened his soul to the friend, so that they might enjoy every fleeting moment.
And here, returning to the present, where Sighāsaṇa rests contentedly, completely unearthed and resting atop the sand of his home, we find a vivid example of a well acknowledged blessing. For, at this particular moment, Sighāsaṇa is enjoying the company of a very dear friend. This companion is also a close neighbor (a scenario which is certainly not self-implicit), living only feet away. The boulder’s compatriot, going by the name, Rāja Nū, is quite taller then her squat peer, yet she can not compete in competitions of rotundness. Even for a mango tree, Rāja Nū is rather scrawny, her barren and spindly branches boasting not a leaf with which to shade her setting friend below. In fairness, though, this description is common to all trees of this region, a valley renown for its relentless aridity. However, Rāja Nū was not always such a stark example of wither and heatstroke. Incredible as it may seem when beholding her now, there was a time, not so very long passed, when Rāja Nū was the most lush and bountiful mango tree in the valley. And this is just what Sighāsaṇa is attempting to explain at this very moment, although the intended recipients of this information do not appear to be paying him any mind. Here he is, deigning to impart an inkling of his wisdom to the peanut gallery, while hopping, pecking, scratching, preening and fluttering all about the boulder is an altogether impressive audience of a notably feathered persuasion. Among attendees are sparrows, doves, quail, peafowl and even partridges, and they each titter to and fro, enjoying a lavish banquet. For, raining from above is no middling assortment of seeds, grains, berries and even figs. Also figgish in shape is the contented bottom who sits on Sighāsaṇa’s top. Both the falling edibles and the fruitish posterior are explained by the inclusion into the list of those present of one, lady Pachī, who, as usual, is sitting atop Sighāsaṇa, underneath the twisting branches of Rāja Nū, feeding her fowlish coterie. Pachī is happy here, contented to while away the afternoon engaged in her favorite (and, more or less, only) hobby of lavishing delicacies over her dearest friends. She finds a sustaining satisfaction in the ticklish delight that her scrupulously selected groceries bring to these winged peers. At times, she feels she might weep, if she allowed herself, just for the poignant union of solitude and companionship that the birds offer her. Besides perhaps a scratchy throat amidst this afternoon swelter, she is free of woe. From the sack of specially blended ingredients upon her lap, Pachī daintily selects a specific morsel, having an intimate knowledge of each fellow or lady’s preferred meal, and tosses it out to its intended recipient. She is calling them each by name, addressing them by such monikers as Mōtī or Mōtīji or Roti Mōtī. Pachī is not the possessor of a most prolific imagination. She is, however, most opulent in the means of compassion, and Sighāsaṇa feels just fine about the company of her fig upon where his head would presumedly belong, presuming he were to affect one. But, produce is not his concern at the moment. The boulder’s current primary interest lies in gaining the attention of these flitting bird-brains who are dancing all about himself, and each who appear wholly ignorant of his existence. This aloofness he cannot allow, for one most vociferous example among the constituency of partridges has very recently chosen to make an unflattering observation in the direction of Rāja Nū. Not only did this uncouth remark warrant severe indignation, but it also served as a perfect and fortuitous segue for one of Sighāsaṇa’s grand and famous tales. (It may be worth mentioning here that those who are acquainted with Sighāsaṇa find he is prone to making seamless transitions into long-winded story-spinning from just about any thread of conversation or idle comment.) Such as that may be, the boulder is as adamant as ever to unroll this imperative tale, not the less so owing to a duty to defend his friend’s honor. But his bellowing of “Now see here…” and “Shows how much you know…” are in vain, for the feasting fowl pay him no heed. In an eruption of no longer suppressed consternation, Sighāsaṇa offers forth a ferocious roar. An adolescent quail, who has been ineffectively posturing to win a seed by repeatedly hopping over to where one has recently landed and been instantly nabbed by some older and much quicker fellow, is blindsided and suffers the full impact of the boulder’s outcry, jumping backward and flapping wildly in alarm. The youngster, finding his composure, seems to notice Sighāsaṇa for the first time, and the two stare at one another in silence for some moments. Then, the juvenile, dismissing the grumpy old rock, resumes his futile mealtime dance.
“It is true, I tell you!” Sighāsaṇa presses on, to no one in particular. “Just this summer passed, our Rāja Nū produced at least… one thousand of the choicest mangos in the valley!”
Undeterred, the rhythmic pecking of beak against sand continues. With a resigned sigh, the boulder turns his mind to more fruitful matters.
“He’s right, you know.”
Sighāsaṇa returns his attention to the group and searches out the issuer of this comment. A partridge is conversing with a peacock, both having eaten their fill and meandered to the perimeter of the crowd.
“I saw it myself,” the partridge continues. “The plumpest, most luxuriant fruits I’ve ever witnessed. Hued a startling sunburst, more vibrant than the desert sunset. And near to bursting with juiciness.”
“See, what did I tell you?!” concurs the boulder.
Nobody seems to notice. A snuggling couple of doves inches closer to hear more of the conversation.
The peacock, after a brief hesitation, decides upon incredulity and argues, “Impossible! This valley is far too arid to allow such nonsense. That is just the way things are.”
He reiterates his point with a slight opening of his plumage, revealing a glimmer of the particolor spectacle within.
“Ahh, but things are different now than they were then,” retorts the partridge.
“Indeed!” Sighāsaṇa exclaims to no one’s interest.
More birds are joining the rank of debate moderators.
“Bah,” scoffs the peacock, his plumage opening slightly further, “did the sweltering sun not scorch the sands this summer passed?”
“It did,” admits the partridge.
(More plumage emerges.)
Seeing an advantage, the peacock presses onward. “Did the fickle rains fail to fall, but for a few fetid forays?”
“Like the season before,” concedes the partridge, “and the seven before that, they did.”
(Red and green and iridescent eyelets.)
Now, all the birds have abandoned the feast and are gathered around their debating peers.
“Well then,” concludes the peacock, plumage now on full display, “obviously your magical mango mirage is merely mythical.”
Satisfied, if vaguely disappointed, the gatherers begin to disperse.
A bit franticly, Sighāsaṇa exclaims, “But, you do not know of Basata!”
This solicits no comment.
“Ahh…” the partridge says levelly, “But you are only demonstrating the patterns which have remained consistent.”
This ignites a curiousness and the audience reassembles.
“You have enunciated the sameness. But have neglected to identify,” the partridge announces with a flourish of his wings, “what was different about this summer passed.”
“Pray tell,” sneers the peacock, not without a garnish of derision, “of this veiled variable, which has so verily vanished from our vantage…”
(“Basataji!” bellows the boulder.)
“It is simple,” shrugs the partridge. “The difference was… His Excellency, the Maharaja Basata dā Pāṇī.”
(Sighāsaṇa “humphs” in defeated assent.)
After a brief hesitation, the peacock rebuts with, “Bah!” (which is what he tends to follow brief hesitations with).
A peahen, presumably the loyal, if embarrassed companion of the peacock, steps forward and silences the naysayer.
“Let him continue.”
“Thank you!” agrees the boulder. Taking a deep breath, he begins, “Once upon this summer passed…”
“The Maharaja Basata dā Pāṇī,” commences the partridge (nobody remarks that another oration is being over-spoken), “was a juicewala by trade and a storywala by practice.”
(The boulder exhales a sigh of resignation and settles in for the tale.)
“By way of this dis-lucrative combination,” continues the partridge, “he was a penniless man, a trait which was all the more aggravated by the irony of his title. To be sure, nobody knew why his mātā bestowed upon him the given name of His Excellency, the Maharaja, complete with punctuation. Perhaps she hoped this appellation would lead him like a divining rod to the well of affluence. Or, perhaps she simply lacked temperance in regards to which herbs she burned in her censer. Either way, His Excellency’s peers found the designation exhausting as much as incongruous, and an inevitable truncation began. The grandiose bits were the first to be discarded, leaving him with only his surname, Basata dā Pāṇī. Even this, though, caught like a wrench in the gears of the rapid-fire linguistic eccentricity of his lightning-tonged community. In general, Pāṇī was a stigmatized expression, well positioned to draw resentfulness from the barren wells within the parched townsfolk. Through attrition, then, he became simply, Basata, or, in the exceptional event of intimacy, Basataji.
It was Basataji, before the time of shelved fruit, who occupied this regal throne, whom we know as Sighāsaṇa. (Surprised to be acknowledged, the boulder betrays a hint of lithic smugness.) Each day, Basataji came here and made himself a perch underneath our colleague, Rāja Nū. (Is there a prideful rustling of wilted boughs?) Along with himself, Basataji never failed to bring his accouterments of beverage alchemy, as well as a good book with which to pass the slower hours. Now, the juices, teas, lassis, draughts, aperitifs and libations of Basata were held among the world’s most refreshing, invigorating, luxurious, intoxicating and all-around delicious; that is, if one was to take Basata’s word for fact. The truth was, however, that nobody was in a position to affirm or contest this claim, because no one had sampled a Basata concoction within living memory. You see, Basata, who brought along a good book just in case there were no customers to serve, was always too much engrossed in his stories to set the book down and prepare a drink for somebody. That the stories which he read were among the world’s most refreshing, invigorating, luxurious, intoxicating and all-around delicious, on the other hand, was indeed an assertion which could be readily tested. For, as Basata sat atop his boulder under his mango tree, he read each story aloud. Many were the passersby who came for lassi, but stayed (unserved and parched) for an epic or saga. His were the outlandish flavor of stories, full of absurd notions such as insightful stones, and sparrows who converse amongst each other. In other words, stories which only the foolish waste their time on. Nonetheless, the fools came, drawn in by the allure of heavily sagging mango branches, and sat for a while to be have their thirst quenched, instead, by an adventurous discourse. Why though, you may ask, was Rāja Nū at this time the bearer of such sweet and prolific bounty? Believe whatever you will, for I am merely a humble partridge and I will not attempt to persuade or dissuade on esoteric matters, but it was said that the health of the mango tree was encouraged by the passionate orations of Basataji. Indeed, the market patrons of this waterless valley held that Rāja Nū was nourished by the magical tales and the elegant cadence with which they were delivered. Therefore, many among Basataji’s contemporaries considered him to be the possessor of a green tongue; but I cannot personally verify any discoloration within the orator’s maw. For my part, I will admit that when one laid eyes upon the plump and juicy mangos of Rāja Nū, especially against the backdrop of sand, dust and bones, the mystical explanation was not difficult to credit.
And so it was: boulder, mango tree, story-telling-but-not-mango-squeezing juicewala, rapt (if dehydrated) listeners and a trillion grains of sand; in short, a day like any other, when Pachī first strolled into the far end of the market. She had come to acquire oats, for after strenuous experimenting, she found them to be the favorite treat of the local sparrows, for whom she had recently developed a special infatuation. She found the squat and stout little fellows absolutely charming, and was quite reduced to giggles by how they bounced about with their full amber chests puffed out ahead of them like some misguided bullies. As soon as she had discovered their preferred delicacy, she resolved to procure a not meager store of the stuff so that she might be always prepared to spoil the little fatsos. Of course, a sack of oats was not long sought at the market, so, having easily secured her purchase, she milled about the stalls at her leisure, examining the sellers and their patrons as much as the available wares. Eventually, Pachī’s wanderings brought her to the farthest end of the market, and here she beheld the odd visage of His Excellency, the Maharaja Basata dā Pāṇī. At first, any specific source of peculiarity evaded her. It was not so much the man’s geological throne, for she, herself, was often prone to making seats of various configurations of nature. It was not that he read aloud from a rather wide and yellowing storybook to a modest gathering of market goers, for many an illiterate (and there were plenty among the dwellers of this scorched valley, where the importation of water was made the chief priority of infrastructure, a policy which quickly dried out the budget for education) would gladly soak up any incidental overflow of bookishness. Then, Pachī understood what it was that cast an idiosyncratic light over the scene: Despite the undivided attention which the reader received from his entourage, he appeared to be directing his performance toward an adjacent mango tree. And what a tree it was, she now noticed! Never had she seen such lush, swelling fruit outside of an oiled canvass. It was flora fit for Eden. And yet, possessing as this loveliness was, she found her gaze drawn back to the queer, gaunt man on the rock. She found his humble countenance disarming. He wore simple robes, a tasteful turban and the cheeky waxed mustache of a bygone era. The passion with which he read was inescapable, and it poured from his dark eyes as much as from his throat. Then, those ferocious eyes, surely drawn by the intensity of Pachī’s scrutiny, shifted and met her own. This, in hindsight, was when she first met Basataji. Not some days later, when Pachī returned to the place, weighed down by her latest satchel of grain; nor the following meeting, where they made formal introduction; nor even when they sat together, hands bereft of chilled beverage glasses, and shared together in the whetting refreshment of one another’s confidence. No, it was this moment, at this joining of gazes, this ineffable exchange of secrets, shortly before Pachī turned heel and retreated to the sanctuary of her doves and sparrows, when their souls truly met.
It was the doves (perhaps among other, less conscious fascinations) that brought Pachī back to the market so soon. Their gentle grace, coaxing soft chivalry, their cooing laughter like ribbons of honey, their rosy hues which matched the earthen clay underfoot, but only when at rest, for when they took to flight, shimmering garnets and emeralds were revealed; all of these features found Pachī wholly enraptured. And if her beaus demanded barley, which verily they did, then she would cease at no length, pale from no obstacle to retrieve the hearty treasure. Fortunately, she was situated thus that the market offered to her quite a convenient locale. Moreover, she was pleasantly surprised at immediately meeting an overstocked grain seller who was offering cut-rate prices. So, in the end, no legendary trials were necessary in winning the loot. All the same, her heroic willingness was in earnest. This day, when her shopping was complete and she followed her curiosity to the far end of the market, she took the liberty of sauntering near enough to enjoy Basata’s tall-telling, but without venturing near enough the flame to risk consumption. Careful to not breach the invisible boundary which separated casual passerby from bona fide audience member, Pachī leaned up against the beam of a disused stall, affecting nonchalance, and studied the speaker while he issued his botanically-restorative incantations.
Occasionally, some new-on-the-scene shopper would materialize and interrupt the story with some non sequitur to the extent of, “Heya, juice fellow! Show us a spot less of jaw-flapping, and quite a measure more of mango maceration, for never have I beheld in the likes of this market such succulent produce!”
Other, less bombastic seekers of refreshment merely called out a hopeful, “One, please…”
The particular approach to these disturbances mattered little, for each was met by a prompt and curt shushing, issued by a few ardent ambassadors of silence within the audience. Seemingly oblivious to all of this, Basataji never missed a beat.
For all of these reasons, and more, Pachī was quite caught off guard when, after she had leaned and listened dreamily for the lengthier part of a while, Basata called over to her, “Hello! Care for a frosty refreshment?”
Rapt in the cadence of the story, Pachī had not noticed that all the other market goers had drifted away as morning drifted into afternoon. Not recovering promptly, she managed to stutter some fumbled syllables in reply.
As if her nonsensical babble conveyed no less than the most eloquent of meaning to him, Basata continued, “Yes, touché, the mangos are not yet at their prime…” (Though, to her they appeared perfectly ripe.) “That is precisely why they are just exquisitely suited for my world famous Aam Panha!”
“But,” Pachī stammered, “I did not think you were preparing anything…”
Basata winced. “I say, my tough customer, did you perhaps believe I was not expert enough to have on hand ample ice supplies?” He motioned to a basket at his feet, then pushed onward, “Do you not think my ingredients are of the finest quality…”
Finding her voice, Pachī interjected, “I must say, sir, I know nothing of your ingredients…”
At this, Basata grinned broadly and boomed, “Oooh, slyest of tricksters! I am sorry, but Aam Panha recipe is tip-top secret, and secret it will remain!”
“But…” tried an exasperated Pachī.
“No figs about it,” Basata pronounced. “My proprietary blend of new mango, jeeri, chili, coriander leaves and mint is hush-hush classified. I am afraid I cannot reveal this information.”
A smile patiently developed across Pachī’s pale lips. “I understand, sir.”
“Never to worry, though,” replied Basataji, unfurling a mat across his lap with a magician’s flourish. “Two ice cold Aam Panha coming up, pronto!”
Pachī’s breath momentarily caught in her chest.
Gathering her groceries, she turned on her heel, declaring over her shoulder, “Sir, I thank you, but I am afraid I must depart.”
Basata called after her, “But, that is also what I was afraid of…”
However, his concurrence was in vain, for, quick as a quail, Pachī had fled.
It was rather soon after this that Pachī became quite taken by a family of quail who, hearing tell of the bountiful offerings available, had made a home in her garden. She found these birds absolutely hilarious, their clumsy, high speed antics reducing her to peals of laughter. After laborious trial-and-error research, she found the clan to favor, of all things, gooseberries. Unquestionably, and for absolutely no ulterior reasons (Pachī would have you know), a trip to market was in order. It was a day of noteworthy heat, even for this inferno of a valley, and Pachī found that there were fewer sellers at market than usual. She did chance upon some gooseberries offered by a vendor near the market entrance, but they were somewhat paltry specimens, mediocre in size and a bit too wrinkled for the likes of her special tenants. As the temperature spiked, she browsed her way deeper into the marketplace, seeking out a quality of produce which was adequately matched to the superb caliber of her garden friends. However, she found various faults among each offering that she encountered. She was near the market’s end before she located a crop which befitted the quail family. Now, purchase in hand, she peered across the way, through abandoned stands and past the occasional shopper, and spotted Basata, seated, as usual, on his faithful boulder. She had, admittedly, put just a little though into whether or not she would encounter him today. Should she inadvertently come across the tale-teller during the course of her shopping, surely there was no harm in setting for a while to partake in just a bit of story enjoyment. She would not, however, accept a beverage from the would-be-juicer. She was not sure why this innocent gesture represented a boundary to her. Wasn’t a cool refreshment on such an intemperate day but a simple pleasure? And yet, Basata clearly considered his craft as something less mundane. He spoke of his beverages as if they contained, among the secret ingredients, something magical. She felt he must pour a bit of his soul into each glass, although this was only speculation, for she was yet to see the man actually produce a beverage. She had looked on as customer after potential customer had been denied of their request. Why, then, had he offered a taste of his soul to her? She did not understand, or perhaps she preferred to affect ignorance, but she was sure that she felt unready to accept his offer. Pachī was not accustomed to receiving gifts. She did not know how it felt to be the focus of another’s amiability. The only happiness she knew was that which she derived from taking care of her birds. It was a simple, but profound joy, and she did not see how Basata’s beverages fit into this scheme. It was with this resolve that she again approached Basata’s unlikely juice stand. Market patrons were few and far between today, and it was not long before Pachī and Basata found themselves, once again, unobstructed by the company of others. As a generous defense against the startling climate, Basata’s inevitable offer this day consisted of his “globally celebrated Mango Lassi, the secret preparative method of which is, frankly, none of your beeswax; beginning with the splendid tartness derived from the inclusion of our local hillside sheep’s milk, right down to the garnish of sea-salted and hand-crushed pistachio, I’ll have you know, I will reveal none of it!” As planned, Pachī politely declined the offer. Though visibly crestfallen, Basata quickly regained his composure and their conversation continued on in a polite and genial manner. Though Pachī did not sample Basata’s mango craftwork, they did enjoy a lengthy and unreserved conversation that afternoon, discussing one another’s hopes, joys and dreams. Pachī was formally introduced to Sighāsaṇa and Rāja Nū, and by day’s end had become part of this motley family. After that, Pachīji made a point of visiting Basataji regularly, the two becoming fast chums and greatly enjoying each other’s companionship. Yet, despite the ever strengthening bond between them, although their mannerisms among one another had become rather intimate, Pachīji always declined Basataji’s offers of drink. It was quietly understood that Pachī’s stubbornness had a constricting effect on Basata’s emotions, as if her delicate hands were wrapping around his heart and wringing from it all of his soul, which spilled to the dust like so much ripe mango juice. Yet, as determined as she was to not brave the uncharted waters of his affection, he was equally determined to avoid any conduct which might threaten their friendship. And so, visit after visit, somewhere during the course of their mutual pleasure, Basataji, bashfully displaying his particolored plumage, politely offered his soul to Pachīji, who politely declined.
The peafowl who invited themselves into her garden were not the most polite guests that Pachī had entertained, but she was a gracious host, and they were a rather impressive sight to behold. So, with the expertize of a veteran, she set about a vigorous battery of testing, trying all her grains and seeds against the appetites of these regal come-latelys. She dispensed samples of everything in her stores, but, although the beasts did make a point of throwing their weight around amongst the other birds, they did not appear particularly thrilled about any of the breakfast options. She watched, dismayed, as the brutes shoved aside the smaller competitors, snatching the morsel away which the victim had intended to savor, only to spit the item back to the ground after giving it a beaky once over. It wasn’t until Pachī had given up for the morning (surely to revisit the quandary at the next available opportunity), that she stumbled upon the eureka. Stumped, fatigued and peckish, she had retired to her squishy porch chair, where she sat with a bowl of squishy figs at her lap. She had not the opportunity to even lift a bite to her lips before the entire royal procession of peafowl marched up to her and began fighting each other for a position from which they might help themselves to the contents of the fruit bowl. When the disorder abated, the assailants lumbering from the porch without a hint of gratitude, Pachī was left with an empty bowl, having not one single fig for herself. Fortunately, she was not left wanting from the incident, for, when the feathers had settled, she had gained, however singular in content, a shopping list. Within moments, she was attired in her market finest (a humble ensemble, who’s finery was only noteworthy relative to the remaining of her wardrobe) and blithely sauntering on her merry way. When she reached Basataji that day, Pachī immediately intuited a nuance in his composure. Nonetheless, he greeted her warmly as ever as she gingerly lowered her satchel of figs to the ground and seated herself among a few other patrons. The story which he read was already well underway toward a pitched climax, and there was a palpable tension among the audience. Yet, despite the exciting twists and turns of the tale, Basataji’s listeners began one by one to rise and offer their salutations before setting off to chase the remainders of their respective afternoons. It was as if the excitement of Basataji’s story was inspiring each of the congregation to go off in pursuit of their own adventure, and soon only Pachī remained. Perhaps, she considered, her own adventure was here before her.
“Pachīji.” the story teller nearly whispered, turning to his sole remaining customer. “We have arrived at a very special occasion.”
Was there a discreet tremble underneath his words?
“Why, Basataji,” she replied, “every occasion which finds the words of your stories drifting on the breeze is a very special one.”
He answered, “I am jubilant that you feel so.”
“Surely, I am not alone in this opinion,” Pachī said with matter-of-factness. “Take Rāja Nū, here. How bereaved she would be to miss even a moment of your tales!”
“Indeed,” responded Basata. “It is to herself which I mean to refer.”
Pachīji offered a nonplussed expression in reply.
“You see,” Basataji continued, “The mangos have reached optimum ripeness. They have achieved perfection.”
She looked to Rāja Nū and found to her astonishment that the fruit which heavily hung from the boughs did in fact appear, against all likelihood, even more opulent and blushing than ever.
Basataji pressed on. “Now is the time to share her nectar; to enjoy the fruits of what we have together cultivated. Today, I ask you to join me for a glass of pure, unadulterated mango juice.”
A war ensued within Pachīji, as rationale wrestled with passion, a struggle of fear and hope.
Finally, her head spoke before her heart could sing. “Basataji, I cannot accept this.”
A smile crept upon his face. “Alright, shrewd customer, I admit. I do sugar the rim of the glass.”
Pachīji merely gazed.
“Okay, okay,” he confessed, “I also mint the ice. But that information is not to be repeated!”
“No, Basataji, you misinterpret me.”
His smile faded. A mask of blush arose on Pachī’s troubled features, coloring her furled forehead and spilling down her fair cheeks before connecting as a necklace upon her supple throat, as if a rosy impersonation of the markings of a partridge.
She sighed. “I will not share this beverage with you. I do not seek this refreshment. I wish only to live quietly, caring for my birds. My needs do not need tending as theirs do.”
Pachī did not return to market right away. Her treat stores were ample and the well-fed beneficiaries were decently effective in keeping her mind occupied. When she did eventually resolve to return to the place, she lectured herself until she was amply convinced that the aim of her trip was the procurement of lovegrass seed, a delicacy in the opinion of the partridges whom had recently discovered her (ever more crowded) sanctuary; and certainly not to satisfy any other unanswered questions of an emotive nature. As she departed her garden, Pachī studied her gorgeous specimens, finding a temporary solace within the hypnotic shadow-and-apricot striping of their wings, their elegantly masked faces, whose chocolate banding descended to encompass the snowy whites of their throats. On the road to market, however, she met few distractions, and was mostly left to the torment of her thoughts.
“Since I am here,” she reasoned when her shopping was complete, “surely there is no harm in offering greetings to my old friend.”
Approaching the familiar clearing, she found Basataji engaged in something she had never known him capable of. He was standing. Occupying his place atop the wise and aged boulder was a large burlap sack. Basataji’s usual effects were nowhere to bee seen. It appeared that he was, for once, not prepared to craft the (eternally hypothetical) beverages for which he was (or wasn’t) known. Even more striking to her was the absence of a good and thick book. When she called out to him, Basataji was holding open the sack and reaching up toward a hanging mango.
“Oh, hello Pachīji.”
His spirits seemed a little more upbeat than she had subconsciously expected. He turned from her and resumed his task, mumbling the lyrics to some inaudible ballad within his mind. Pachī started as Basata plucked the first mango from Rāja Nū with a swift deliberateness that sent a snap of finality ricocheting across the clearing.
“What are you doing, Basataji?”
He plopped the mango into his sack. “I am harvesting the mangos, of course. They are becoming overripe, now. There is no sense in letting them rot on the vine.”
Pachī stepped closer to him. “You did not get a chance to taste any of them.”
Basata severed another fruit from the bough and turned, holding the fragrant treasure out to her. “It is not too late…”
Pachī hesitated. At the corner of her vision, she noticed a partridge cautiously approaching them, tempted no doubt, by the lovegrass seed which had tumbled from the tiny hole that she had not before noticed in her satchel.
“No,” she answered. “I did not come for mango.”
With an unsurprised shrug, Basata again turned to continue his task.
After a moment, Pachī replied, “It is just a bit sad, I suppose. That’s all.”
A second partridge materialized, and with solidarity stoking their nerve, the pair stealthily advanced on the gathering pile of seeds.
“Thankfully,” spoke Basata, “there is one surefire remedy for melancholy, and I just happen to know the secret recipe.”
“Once dried and powdered,” he continued, “these over-sugared mangos will serve as the final ingredient, along with cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon and cloves, but I’d rather not discuss the details, if you don’t mind, to my universally praised, woe-be-gone Mango Chai!”
“That sounds nice,” Pachī replied.
Having witnessed the success of the partridges, a few more birds of various breed joined the luncheon.
“Tell me,” Basata said. “If you did not come for a drink, then why are you here?”
Pachī looked thoughtful. “Perhaps I came to hear the end of your story.”
“I regret to inform you,” he answered, continuing his work, “that I have already reached the conclusion of that book.”
Pachī asked, “But, surely you will begin a new one?”
“I suppose there will be others.” His tone was doleful.
She watched him pull a few more mangos from the tree.
“Basataji,” she called imploringly.
“Yes, Pachīji?” He did not turn to face her.
“Will you tell me a story?”
“Very well,” he acquiesced. He set down his sack and leaned against Rāja Nū, shaded by the branches which handsomely embraced the sky.
Pachī took a seat upon Sighāsaṇa.
As Basata began his tale, a modest collection of friends enjoyed a meal in peace, with the exception of an adolescent quail, who made a sudden startled jump, then stared, bewildered, at the boulder.
“Once upon a glade,” Basata commenced, “…that is a mythical place,” he explained, “where water exists and there is little sand and plants actually grow of their own accord. Anyhow, once in this place, there was a wellspring. He was a modest spring, but he enjoyed the glade and he felt blessed of his ability to draw water from below and help grasses and flowers to bloom upon the earth. One afternoon, a partridge wandered upon the wellspring. She was a kind and curious thing, and her travels had given her quite a thirst. Glad to be of service, and especially spellbound by the gentle nature of this creature, the wellspring began to draw water from the earth, from which the partridge could be refreshed. For her part, she was thrilled to have found a beautiful place to drink and bathe and frolic, and she was especially enthralled by the dancing bubbles which played upon the surface of the pool as the wellspring offered his gift. In fact, the partridge was so taken by this novelty that she spent the afternoon gazing at the rising bubbles and at her own reflection. When the glade began to grow shadows, the partridge awoke form her reverie and bade the wellspring goodnight. As she headed home, the partridge felt rather parched, and reflected that she had not once drank from the spring, let alone rinsed her feet or polished her beak or preened her feathers. Thus bereaved, she resolved to revisit to the glade on the following day. That she did, and the wellspring was elated to see his friend return. Again, he bubbled and rippled and drew the pureness of his gift for her. And, again, the partridge watched and reflected and stared in awe at the spectacle. Once more, she had not thought to receive the gift beyond a distant admiration. For several more days, she returned to the glade and the wellspring continued to draw water, which the partridge merely observed in fascination. On the afternoon of her final visit, the partridge found that the wellspring no longer bubbled. Looking about herself, she realized that the sitting waters had rather outgrown their clearing, drowning the beautiful flowers and lush grasses that had once surrounded the spring. What was once a glassy and serene pool, ideally suited for a partridge just such as herself to drink from and to frolic in and be merry, was now a bit of a swamp. She marveled at how something so pure and lovely could become dank and muddy and quite sad. Bidding fondness to the wellspring, she left for home, feeling a bit dusty under the feathers and not a little thirsty.”
That evening, Pachī was plagued by insightfulness and she found sleep difficult to tame. When she did eventually drift into a fitful slumber, she was met by odd dreams of swimming birds and flying mangos and kingdoms just beyond reach. She woke unrested and groggily prepared a cup of black coffee, which she abandoned on the counter and which grew cold before she thought to retrieve it. Laden with a cumbersome sack, she ambled outside to her garden and began filling her bird feeders with all that she had acquired at the market as of late. However, she had awaked earlier than usual and her companions had not yet descended from their lofty perches to meet her for breakfast. Moreover, as she peered into the opening of her bag at all the treasures within, despite the lovegrass seed, despite figs, the gooseberries, barley and oats, despite it all, she felt there was something missing. What is more, she thought she finally understood what that missing ingredient was. Tossing a handful of her world famous secret recipe bird feed to any early-starters she encountered along the way, Pachī marched briskly down the road that led to the marketplace. She did not pause to fawn over the birds she passed, but merely sprinkled treats toward them as she went, wishing them a pleasant morning over her shoulder. Her pace quickened as she grew closer, and she nearly sprinted the final leg of her journey, pelting a few unsuspecting quail with seeds as she flew past. Finally, she slowed to a canter, though her heart still sped as she neared the familiar clearing. When Pachī reached the boulder and the fig tree, Basata was no longer there.”
The silenced voice of the partridge is replaced by a reverent quiet amongst the congregation of birds.
“Shoot,” thinks Sighāsaṇa, “that little flapper is not a half bad storyteller…”
After a moment, a young sparrow asks, “But, what happened to Basataji?”
“Ah,” answers the partridge, “no one is sure as to the fate of Basataji. Some say that he left this valley for the big city, where he finally began to serve his beverages, and there he enjoys fame and wealth beyond measure.”
An audible murmur of awe can be heard issuing from the more impressionable among the group.
“Of course, there are others who say,” the partridge continues, “that he made a pilgrimage to the seashore, where he died of heartache among the corals and the briny surf. Moreover, there are some who maintain that this version is only a polite analogy for an even more macabre event.”
Another, more stifling silence descends upon the clearing.
“Of course,” offers the partridge, “faces come and go so often at this market, that most do not believe the tales of Basataji are true at all, despite how very recently they have unfolded. They say that the stories are only the queer rantings of the crazy bird lady.”
In unison, each fluffy little beaked head turns to gaze at their protecter on the rock.
This concludes the story of a boulder named Sighāsaṇa, though he is still here, and, given the stamina usually attributed to boulders, will be for quite some time. Yes, here he sits, patiently observing the flickers of light which constitute lifetimes, ages, aeons. His friend, Rāja Nū is here too. She is a happy tree, acknowledging the blessing implicit in every moment next to her dear friend; for Rāja Nū is quite perceptive, and has learned the lessons which days and nights, afternoons and evenings have offered her. Pachīji is also oft to be found at this place, her bulging bag of treasures always upon her lap, like some jolly Santa Clause for birds. She makes a Christmas of most days, for she draws great contentment from sitting on this boulder and raining her love upon these cherished feathered friends. At times, she feels she might weep, if she allowed herself, just for the poignant union of solitude and companionship that the birds offer her. She is happy here, though sometimes a few persistent rays of sunlight find their way beyond the shade of her mango tree and cause her a slight dryness and scratching of the throat. Yes, Pachī is happy here, if just a little bit thirsty.