Akbar and Birbal

Informant KM is a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is of Indian descent and moved to America at a very young age; however, she is very proud of her Indian heritage and considers herself to be very knowledgeable in regards to Indian mythology and religion. She is also fluent in two Indian languages, Hindi and Marathi. This piece of folklore is her recitation of a very common Indian folktale to me (AK).

KM: Akbar is known to be this angry king who has this little friend named birbal who is known to be very cunning and sharp. They have thousands of tales about the two of them. Akbar usually gets mad about something and birbal fixes it by being cunning and smart.

One such story:

There was a thousand people that came into the kingdom and they wanted to kill birbal because birbal was screwed up. So they told him that he needs to drink a bottle full of lime juice straight down. That’s supposed to tear apart your entire digestive system. So Birbal is like “okay I’ll do it.” and Akbar says, “Birbal, what the hell, you’re going to die” and Birbal just winked. And later, he went home and took a bottle of ghee, and drank the entire bottle of ghee which covered his entire digestive system. Now he came back and he downed the lemon juice and survived because the ghee was a coating.

AK: Why do you know or like this piece?

KM: I didn’t know as a child that lemon could kill you. I think it’s funny because in this story they depict everyone to look like idiots and Birbul looks funny because he’s this low-key middle-class guy, but it represents the underdog winning.

AK: Where did you hear this story?

KM: I learned of this story at home from this book called the Punchit Tandra. I also heard many stories from my parents including this one. I remember this story in particular because it is short and is a representation of the power of wit and intellect.

This story was very interesting to hear because I am also of Indian heritage, yet I had never heard this story before. I belief this is because I grew up in a very western society and these stories were never passed down by my parents. Another interesting thing to note is the manner in which this story was told by my informant. It is obvious that her recollection is devoid of many details and likely not performed as it was by her parents. I attribute this to a generational difference as well as the fact that my informant retold this story from memory. Therefore, it makes sense that she was only able to remember the most crucial plot details.