Once upon a time, the people of Benares were fond of setting up bird houses. This was an act of generosity and kindness, done for the comfort of birds. It also made the people happy to hear the friendly birds singing.
The richest man in the city had a cook. He kept such a bird house near the kitchen. In it lived a gentle and careful pigeon. He was so gentle that he did not care to eat meat. And he was careful to keep his distance from the cook. For he knew the cook was in the habit of roasting and boiling dead animals, even including birds!
So the pigeon always left the bird house early in the morning. After spending the day finding and eating his food, he returned each night to sleep in the bird house. He was quite contented with his calm and harmless life.
Nearby there was a crow who was quite a different sort of character. For one thing, he would eat anything! And he was not known for being gentle and careful. Instead, he often became overly excited, and acted without considering the danger. And far from being contented, he often got himself into trouble.
One day the crow smelled the delicious food being cooked in the rich man’s kitchen. He was so attracted by the odour that he could not take his mind off it. He decided that he must have the rich man’s meat at any cost. So he began spying on the kitchen, trying to figure out a way to get some of the meat and fish.
As usual, that evening the pigeon returned with his little belly satisfied, and contentedly entered his little home for the night. Seeing this, the hungry crow thought, “Ah, wonderful! I can make use of this dull pigeon to grab a delicious feast from the kitchen.”
The next morning, the crow followed the pigeon when he left for the day. The pigeon asked him, “Oh my friend, why are you following me?” The crow replied, “Sir, I like you very much, and I admire your calm and regular way of life. From now on, I would like to assist you and learn from you.”
The pigeon said, “Friend crow, your life style is much more exciting than mine. You would get bored following me around. And you don’t even eat the same food I do. So how can you assist me?”
The crow said, “When you go each day to find your food, we will separate and I will find my food. In the evening, we will come back together. Being together, we will be able to help and protect each other.” The pigeon said. “That sounds all right to me. Now go your own way and work hard finding food.”
The pigeon spent his usual day eating grass seeds. It took some time patiently searching for a few little grass seeds, but he was satisfied and contented.
The crow spent the day turning over cow dung patties, so he could gobble up the worms and insects he found there. This was fairly easy work, but he kept thinking it would be even easier to steal from the rich man’s kitchen. And no doubt the food would be better too!
When he was full, he went to the pigeon and said, “Sir pigeon, you spend too much time searching for and eating food. It is no good wasting the whole day that way. Let us go home.” But the pigeon kept on steadily eating grass seeds, one by one. He was quite happy that way.
At the end of the day, the impatient crow followed the pigeon back to his bird house. They slept in it together peacefully. They spent several days and nights in this way.
Then one day there was a delivery of many kinds of fresh meat and fish. The cook hung them on hooks in the kitchen for storage.
The crow saw this and was overwhelmed by the sight of so much food. His desire became greed, and he began plotting a way to get it all for himself. He decided to pretend to be sick. So he spent the entire night groaning and moaning.
The next morning, the pigeon was ready to go look for food as usual. The crow said, “Go without me, sir pigeon, I have been sick to my stomach all night long.”
The pigeon replied, “My dear crow, that sounds so strange. I’ve never heard of a crow getting an upset stomach. But I have heard they sometimes faint from hunger. I suspect you want to gobble up as much as you can of the meat and fish in the kitchen. But it’s for people, not crows. People don’t eat pigeon food. Pigeons don’t eat crow food. And it would not be wise for you to eat people food. It might even be dangerous! So come with me as usual, and be satisfied with crow food, sir crow!”
The crow said, “I’m too sick, friend pigeon, I’m too sick. Go ahead without me.”
“Very well,” said the pigeon, “but your actions will speak louder than your words. I warn you, don’t risk safety for the sake of greed. Be patient until I return.” Then the pigeon left for the day.
But the crow paid no attention. He thought only about grabbing a big piece of fish, and was glad to be rid of the pigeon. “Let him eat grass seeds!” he thought.
Meanwhile, the cook prepared the meat and fish in a big stew pot. While it was cooking, he kept the lid slightly off, to allow the steam to escape. The crow smelled the delicious fragrance in the rising steam. Watching from the bird house, he saw the cook go outside to rest from the heat.
The crow saw that this was the chance he’d been waiting for. So he flew into the kitchen and sat on the edge of the stew pot. First he looked for the biggest piece of fish he could find. Then he stuck his head inside and reached for it. But in so doing, he knocked the lid off! The clattering sound brought the cook into the kitchen at once.
He saw the crow standing on the edge of the pot with a fish bigger than he was, hanging from his beak! Immediately, he closed the door and window of the kitchen. He thought, “This food is for the rich man. I work for him, not for some mangy crow! I will teach him a lesson he’ll never forget!”
The poor crow could not have picked a worse enemy. This cook just happened to be rather ignorant, so he did not mind being cruel when he had the upper hand. He took no pity at all on the clever crow.
He grabbed him, and plucked out all his feathers. The poor crow looked ridiculous without his shining black feathers. Then the vengeful cook made a spicy paste from ginger, salt and chilli peppers. He rubbed it all over the crow’s pink sore skin. Then he put him on the floor of the bird house, and laughed.
The crow sweated and suffered from the terrible burning pain. He cried in agony all day long.
In the evening, the pigeon returned from a quiet day searching for and eating grass seeds. He was shocked to see the terrible state of his friend the crow. He said, “Obviously, you didn’t listen to me at all. Your greed has done you in. I’m so sad there’s nothing I can do to save you. And I’m afraid to stay in this bird house so close to that cruel cook. I must leave at once!”
So the careful pigeon flew away in search of a safer bird house. And the plucked and pasted crow died a painful death.