Cutting Open the Golden Goose

6 minute read

This story was originally submitted to the TOI Write India Season 2 contest for Sudha Murthy.

“Paati! You won’t believe what happened in class today!”

Anu’s grandmother looked up to see her precious granddaughter burst into the house in a whirlwind of uniform, school bag and righteous indignation. Smiling, she put away her book in preparation for the rant that was to come.

“I told you about Ananya, no?” she demanded.

“The class topper?” replied Paati thoughtfully.

“Yes, her. Though how she became the topper, we all saw today,” she giggled mischievously.

“Why, what happened?” inquired Paati.

“So, I told you we were getting our History papers today, no? So, Ananya got the highest as usual, but she had some problem in the way Mansi miss had corrected one answer. So she went and argued with her for so long! Mansi miss was getting so frustrated you know! Ananya said that “No, this is correct,” because she had read it somewhere, and Mansi miss said “No, this is wrong, check the textbook.”

“What happened then?” asked Paati.

“Mansi miss got so angry that she simply marked the answer as wrong and gave her a zero on it!” gushed the little girl excitedly. “And you know what the means?” she asked.

“What?” asked Paati slowly, already suspecting the truth.

“It means I came first!” she exclaimed triumphantly.

Paati smiled at her granddaughter’s success.

“I’m proud of you for doing so well, Anu.”

“Thank you Paati,” Anu replied humbly. “Silly Ananya,” she added. “What was the point of fighting so hard over that answer? She had anyway come first.”

Paati sensed the opportunity for a lesson.

“So you think she was being greedy?” she asked.

“Of course!” replied Anu. “She should have just kept quiet and she would have come first like always. Just because she wanted full marks, she went and lost her first position,” admonished Anu.

“I see. Well, why don’t you go have a bath and get ready to play? We’ll discuss this in the evening,” said Paati.

“Okay Paati!” said Anu, as she gave her beloved grandmother a kiss and skipped away into her room.

“Paati! Time for my story!” pleaded the little girl.

“Coming dear!” Paati replied, as she hurriedly cleared the kitchen and turned off the lights in the hall.

“Alright dear,” said Paati, settling into her favourite chair in her granddaughter’s room.

“Let’s see, today I shall tell you a wonderful little story from Aesop’s fables. I shall tell you the story of the Golden Goose,” said Paati dramatically.

“Okay Paati.” said Anu, wrapped up in her blanket.

“There was once a goose farmer with a magical goose. Every month, this goose laid golden eggs. The farmer would sell these eggs at a handsome price, and earn a lot of money. The farmer and his family became very rich. One day, a thought entered our farmer’s head. If the goose lays golden eggs every month, surely it must have the next month’s eggs also stored up. If I cut it open, I can get the entire year’s worth of eggs right away! And so thinking, the farmed took a knife to the poor goose’s belly and sliced it open, to find…” Paati paused dramatically.

“Yes?” Anu asked eagerly.

“…nothing. There were no golden eggs. And the goose was no more. The farmer wept terribly at his folly,” concluded Paati.

“What a silly farmer! Why did he have to go and kill that goose? He was getting his golden egg every month. Why did he get so greedy?” ranted Anu.

“Can you think of any reason?” asked Paati.

“What? What do you mean, Paati?” asked Anu.

“Can you think of any reason why he would have wanted more money?” clarified Paati.

“Ummmm, he was greedy, that’s why?” ventured Anu.

Paati chuckled. “Well, let this be your homework for tonight. Think on it and tell me if you have another answer tomorrow,” she said.

“Okay Paati,” replied Anu, still deep in thought.

“Don’t let it worry you now, go to sleep,” whispered Paati, as she gave Anu a kiss on the cheek.

Anu yawned loudly. “Okay Paati. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight dear.”

Anu found herself in a dense jungle. She walked towards a clearing and found a large house, surrounded by geese. She opened up the front door and found her family clustered around a bed. In that bed was her beloved grandmother.

“Paati!” she exclaimed, distraught.

Her father held Paati’s hand and whispered, “Amma, we will do whatever we can to ensure you get better.”

Her mother was weeping silently. She led Appa into another room. Anu followed them inside.

“There is only one doctor who can cure her. And he is charging far too steep a price,” she sobbed.

“We can sell more golden eggs! We’ll pay him whatever he wants!” exclaimed Appa.

“That’s the problem. He knows how rich we are, and how desperate. His price is the equivalent of an entire year’s worth of golden eggs,” she said.

“Then we must give him what he want,” replied Appa sadly.

Anu’s father walked out of the house into a small wooden shed in the surrounding garden. Anu followed him inside. There was a single goose sitting on a fluffy white pillow, with a bucket of water and feed placed beside it.

Appa drew out a long knife from his pocket. He whispered, “I’m sorry.”

The goose split apart like a watermelon. Anu peered into its hollow insides. It was empty.

Appa fell to his knees and wailed.

Suddenly, Anu woke up. Her alarm still hadn’t rung. She sat up and was still for a while, deep in thought. With sudden energy, she threw off her blankets and crept into Appa’s room. She turned on his computer and started to look for something.

“Anu, where are you?” shouted Paati. It was getting a little late, and her granddaughter was not in bed, nor in the bathroom brushing her teeth.

She finally found her dozing off in her father’s chair, head slumped on his desk.

“Anu! Haven’t I told you that you mustn’t use the computer after bed!” admonished Paati.

“I’m sorry Paati,” she said sheepishly. “But it was for something important!”

“And what might that be?” asked Paati sternly.

“Well, I found out that Ananya’s answer was right. Maybe she was fighting so much because she was marked wrong for a correct answer,” replied Anu, still staring at the floor.

Paati was taken aback. “And what prompted you to go looking to see if she had the right answer?” asked Paati, impressed.

“Long story Paati,” she replied hastily. “And by the way, I have an answer to last night’s question. But see no Paati. Mansi miss was so unfair to Ananya. She is such a horrible teacher!” she exclaimed.

Paati sat down next to her granddaughter, more than a little confused. “Wait,” she said. “What is your answer to yesterday’s question?” she asked.

“Ummm. it’s a little sad,” she said in a small voice.

“You know you can tell me anything, Anu,” said Paati soothingly.

“Maybe that man had a Paati who was sick, and maybe he needed that money for her treatment,” she quavered.

“And how did think of this answer?” inquired Paati.

“I had a dream,” she replied quietly.

Realization dawned on Paati slowly. “That’s a good answer Anu. If you understand that, surely you might be able to come up with a reason for Mansi miss to get so angry?” asked Paati.

“She was just upset at being caught wrong. She must have done it out of spite,” rued Anu.

Paati sighed. “Listen Anu, you’re jumping to conclusions again. I’ll admit, your reason might be possibly why Mansi miss shouted at poor Ananya. But see dear, life is not as predictable as a story from a story book. In fact, life is an exam where the syllabus is unknown and question papers are not set. Do you think Mansi miss gets precocious young girls arguing so fiercely for themselves? She would have been caught unawares there. And knowing Mansi miss, do you think she would get so angry at being proven wrong? You remember when she gave you that chocolate for correcting her?”

“Yes, I do,” said Anu, embarrassed. All her friends had envied her that day.

“Now, what else do you think might be the reason for Mansi miss to get angry?”

“Ummmm…. maybe she was angry that Ananya was fighting so aggressively? She was being really rude, and that’s why Mansi miss mentioned she was giving her a zero,” suggested Anu.

Paati kissed Anu’s forehead. “Good girl,” she praised.

“But Paati, Ananya should still get those marks. She was correct after all. Maybe Mansi miss can tell her not to be rude next time,” she despaired.

“You are quite right Anu. I’ll drop a line to Mansi miss today. You should start getting ready, the bus will be here soon,” said Paati.

“Thank you Paati!” said Anu and ran to brush her teeth.

Paati glowed with pride as she watched her granddaughter skip past. Not only had she learnt a valuable lesson by herself, she had not once mentioned that if Ananya got her marks, Anu would lose her first place. She was sure Anu was quite aware of the fact, something which made her chest expand further.

“Paati!” mumbled Anu through a mouthful of foam. “Isn’t it also possible that the farmer was just being greedy?” she asked.

Paati smiled sadly. “Yes, it is quite possible.”

“Okay Paati,” she nodded, and went back to brushing her teeth.