A well-to-do merchant planned a long business trip to India. He was a good man and looked after all the people in his household both conscientiously and courteously. Therefore, before his departure, he assembled all his servants and asked them, one by one, what they would like him to bring for them from India. Each of his servants named some particular thing, such as fine cloth or spices or ornaments or the like, and each time the merchant duly promised to bring that particular thing for that individual. Then, the merchant turned to his parrot, a pet bird he loved most dearly. The parrot was not only exceptionally beautiful but also intelligent and capable of fluent speech. The merchant loved him and regarded him as an intimate friend, holding long conversations with him, and confiding his secrets to him. Nevertheless, the parrot was kept in a cage, a very pretty one, hung near an open window looking out on the merchant’s lovely garden.
The merchant asked: ‘What gift may I purchase for you, my pretty pet, and carry back for your pleasure and delight, all the way from India?’
The parrot spoke straightaway, as though he knew he would be asked and so had prepared an answer: ‘I will not ask that you bring me back any gift, but I would ask a favour of you, a task to perform for me in India.’
‘Ask, my pretty pet,’ said the merchant, very curious, ‘and if it is in my power to do what you ask, I will do it, God willing.’
‘Well, then,’ said the bird, ‘when you reach India and you see there many parrots like myself, address to them this speech. Say:
“So-and-So Parrot sends you his greetings. He longs to be with you, but he cannot be. He is, by the decree of Heaven, a prisoner of the good merchant who brings you this message, a slave in a cage, locked up.,,
Then convey to those parrots from me. “So-and-So Parrot begs you to remember him. Remember him, imprisoned in his cage, when you fly about freely in gardens of fragrant roses. Remember him, alone and without the company of his fellows, while you go about with one another, cheerful and jolly.”
Add also this plea to your speech, since the one who will understand it may be listening. Say: “What! Have you forgotten your friend so soon, that you can fly about happily in the company of others? It may be that I was at fault in my service of you, and you are punishing me by forgetting me in this way. Is that as it should be? Is it right to answer a wrong with a wrong? Would it not be better to answer a wrong with a right?
“And yet, because it is you, still you, who have turned away from me, your turning away is dear to me. It arouses my love the more. Even your anger, your revenge on me, is dearer to me than my own life. Your anger is fire, and it burns me with love. If that is the affect of your fire, how must your light be? If I ever escape this cage, I swear I shall make straight for your rose-garden. There, I shall sing songs of desire like the nightingale. The nightingale’s songs gather the thorns as well as the roses, the bitter as well as the sweet, in the same joyful embrace. In the songs of the nightingale, love surpasses the pleasures and pains of love, and is entirely and purely itself.”
The merchant listened to every word and promised to deliver his pet’s complaint as best he could.
Towards the end of his journeying in India, he came across a rose-garden in which were a company of parrots like his own pet bird. To them, according to his promise, he faithfully recounted the parrot’s words. One of the parrots who had been listening began to tremble and shake, then fell from its perch in the rose-tree, and lay on the ground, dead. The merchant was deeply upset. He said: ‘I have been the cause of that poor creature’s death!’ and he regretted that he had kept his promise.
On returning home, the good merchant gave to all the servants in his household the gifts that they had asked for. To the parrot, he said nothing. But the parrot demanded of him: ‘What of me? Did you not do what I asked? If you did, tell me what you saw and heard.’
‘I did do it,’ said the merchant, ‘and how deeply I regret that I did. I wish I had kept silent and not conveyed your words.’
‘Why do you repent of keeping a promise and fulfilling a trust?’ asked the parrot. ‘What has caused you to be so remorseful and upset?’
‘I conveyed your complaints to the parrots where I found them, and one was so touched by your pain that she trembled and dropped down dead.’
As soon as he heard this, the merchant’s parrot also began to tremble, then he seemed to lose balance, and fell onto the floor of his cage, cold and senseless.
The merchant was now so struck with grief and despair, he began to tear his hair and clothes. ‘My dear, sweet companion!’ he cried, ‘My singer of sweet songs! Keeper of my secrets! Ah, what shall I do without you? How shall I live without you?’ Then, in his great sadness, not knowing what else to do, the merchant took the corpse (as he thought) of his beloved pet out of the cage and laid it gently on the palm of his hand.
Suddenly, the parrot awoke and flew, through the open window, to the safety of the high branch of a tree in the garden. The merchant was relieved to see his pet well. He looked up into the tree at the bird and said:
‘Dear friend, explain to me the meaning of what that Indian parrot did, which enabled you to devise this trick to escape from your cage.’
‘She gave me excellent advice’, answered the parrot from the tree. ‘By her dying, she conveyed this advice to me: ‘Your own fine voice is the cause of your being in a cage. You are held in that way so that you may entertain people with your singing and your speech. Their praise and the flattering love of your master are the walls of your cage. Renounce your cage-renounce your voice and your master’s affection. Become dead as I am dead, and find freedom.’
‘Go in peace under the protection of God!’ said the merchant. ‘You have shown me the way to a far country to which we must all go, sooner or later. That is the great journey and I must prepare for it.