'The Drum' | Circle Round 23

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Do you remember that last time you were... surprised?

You expected one thing to happen, but then something else happened entirely!

Life is full of surprises, and while some can throw us for a loop, others can bring about some really great things.

Unexpectedly great things.

And that’s exactly what happens to the young woman we’ll meet in this story--a tale called “The Drum.” People have been sharing versions of this folktale for many years, in India.  Voices in this episode include:  Jacob Yeh, Sarah Storm, Eric Messner, Hana Kenny, Mitch Hebert, Phoebe Lloyd, Anu Yadav, and Shankar Vedantam. Grown-ups: you can hear Shankar on “Hidden Brain:" the brilliant show and podcast from NPR.  This story was adapted for Circle Round by Jessica Alpert and Rebecca Sheir.  Original composition and sound design by Eric Shimelonis.

ADULTS! Print out this picture so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it!

Things To Think About After Listening
When’s the last time you gave someone… a gift? Perhaps it was a birthday present for a friend. Or a get-well gift for a relative. Or maybe you gave someone something... just because!

Well, whatever the gift and whatever the occasion, you no doubt brought some joy to someone else’s life. So think about the gift you gave and who you gave it to and then get some paper, and draw a picture of both of you with the gift! And if you’d like, you can share your drawing with us! Have a grown-up take a picture of your artwork and email it to

Story Transcript

NARRATOR: In a small village, a man named Kairav lived with his daughter, Mrinali. Kairav worked for the wealthier families in the village: cleaning their houses and grinding their grain. They gave him some of their grain in return: just enough to feed himself and his daughter.

One hot afternoon, after a long day of work, Kairav came home with a bit more grain than usual.

KAIRAV: Mrinali!  I earned a little bit of extra grain today, and am going to market to sell it. Is there anything I can bring back for you?

NARRATOR: Mrinali was quiet for a moment. For as long as she could remember, there was one thing she wanted more than anything in the world. She’d never told her father, but from the time she was little, she had dreamed of being... a musician. A very particular kind of musician.

MRINALI: Well, Father, since you asked… All I would really like... is… a drum.

NARRATOR: Kairav was surprised.

KAIRAV: A drum?!

MRINALI: Yes. I know it’s an extravagant thing to ask for, and far more than we can afford, but a drum is the one thing I want. Nothing more.

NARRATOR: Kairav felt his heart drop. Mrinali was right: he could never afford a drum. He and Mrinali had just enough money to buy the few things they couldn’t make or grow themselves. But he nodded and smiled at his daughter. Then he trudged off to market.

By selling the extra grain, he was able to buy flour and salt to make bread for dinner. As he walked back toward the one-room house he shared with Mrinali, he began to feel sad that he couldn’t buy his daughter the one thing she wanted.

KAIRAV: Oh, if only I had enough money to buy my daughter a drum! There must be something I can bring her, just so she knows I’m thinking of her! Hmmmm… What could it be?

NARRATOR: Kairav scanned the tall grass beside the road. Suddenly, he spotted something amongst the wildflowers and weeds. It was a long, crooked stick.

KAIRAV: Well, it’s not a drum… but with this stick, Mrinali can tap out rhythms on the ground! That’s something! For now, this will have to do.

NARRATOR: Kairav picked up the stick and placed it in his bag, with the flour and salt. When he got home, he set the stick down on the rickety old table.

KAIRAV: Mrinali! My child! I know what you really want is a drum. But until we can afford such things, I’ve brought you something else!

NARRATOR: Mrinali looked at the long, crooked stick on the table. Then she looked at her father. She reached out and gave him a hug.

MRINALI: Thank you, Papa! I know we can’t afford a drum. But this stick? It’s the next best thing!

NARRATOR: Kairav tousled Mrinali’s hair.

KAIRAV: You’ve always been one to show such appreciation, my daughter. Who knows? This stick could wind up coming in very handy!

NARRATOR: After giving her father a kiss on the cheek, Mrinali grabbed the stick and ran outside. She plopped down on the dirt road in front of the house, and used the stick to tap out rhythms on the ground.

Soon, she noticed the sun was about to set.

MRINALI: It’s such a beautiful evening. Before the sun goes down, I think I’ll take my new stick for a walk.

NARRATOR: As Mrinali strolled along the road, she kept time with her stick, by tapping it in rhythm against her leg.

Before long, she was finding it hard to see - not because the sun had gone down, but because the air was filled… with smoke!

MRINALI: (coughing) What is going on? Where are these clouds of smoke coming from?

NARRATOR: Peering through the dark, gray smoke, Mrinali saw a baker standing beside a stove. Puffs of smoke were streaming from the stove and making the baker’s eyes water.

MRINALI: Excuse me, sir. What happened here? Why so much smoke?

NARRATOR: The baker wiped his eyes and looked at Mrinali with a weak smile.

BAKER: Thank you for asking, child! Everyone else has run right past me, covering their mouths and fanning their hands! The trouble, you see, is this: I need to start my fire for baking, but all of my wood got drenched in the rain last night! Now it’s so wet, it won’t catch fire. Instead it just smokes and smokes and smokes.

NARRATOR: Mrinali looked down at the stick in her hands, then back up at the baker.

MRINALI: Here. Why don’t you use this stick for your fire? It’s very dry, and it won’t make any smoke!

NARRATOR: The baker could hardly believe his luck.

BAKER: Thank you, young lady! It’s worth a shot!

NARRATOR: Mrinali handed the baker the stick, and immediately the fire began to burn.

BAKER: The fire is so clear, so bright! Now I can bake my breads and sweets! As a token of my appreciation, please, let me bake you a piece of fresh bread.

NARRATOR: Mrinali watched as a pale hunk of dough on the stove turned a deep golden brown. The baker wrapped the bread in a kerchief and handed it to her.

MRINALI: This bread looks absolutely delicious! Thank you!

NARRATOR: Mrinali tucked the bread under her arm and continued down the road. As she rounded a bend, she heard a baby crying. There, in front of the local potter’s house, she saw the potter herself; she was cradling an infant. Even though the child lay snugly in its mother’s arms, it just kept sobbing and sobbing!

MRINALI: Excuse me, ma’am. Might I ask: why is your baby crying so much?

NARRATOR: The potter patted the baby gently on the head and gazed at Mrinali with exhaustion.

POTTER: Oh! Thank you for asking! Everyone else has dashed right past me, covering their ears with their hands! You see, this poor dear here is hungry. But I haven’t sold a pot in weeks, so there is no food left to feed him.

NARRATOR: Mrinali felt the warm bread tucked beneath her arm. Then she looked at the potter and her crying child.

MRINALI: Well — here. Why not give him this fresh bread?

NARRATOR: One taste of that golden-brown bread, and the baby immediately stopped crying. The potter beamed.

POTTER: Oh, thank you so much! I don’t have much to offer in return, but as a sign of my gratitude, please let me give you this pot. It’s the newest one I’ve made and I’m so very proud of it.

MRINALI: Wow! You sure are a wonderful artist; this pot is beautiful. Thank you!

NARRATOR: Mrinali picked up the pot, and continued down the road. As she reached the river that flowed through the village, she came across a man and woman... having an argument.

WIFE: How are we going to finish washing our clothes without our pot?! I can’t believe you broke it!

HUSBAND: I wouldn’t have fallen and broken the pot if you hadn’t spilled soap on the ground and made it so slippery!

WIFE: You’re impossible!

HUSBAND: I’m impossible? No, you’re impossible!

NARRATOR: Mrinali listened to the husband and wife as they quarreled and bickered. Suddenly, she had an idea for how to bring about some peace. So Mrinali ran over to the couple and held out her pot.

MRINALI: Hey! Listen! If you really want to wash your clothes, why not use this pot?

NARRATOR: The man and woman stopped fighting. They looked at Mrinali, their eyes wide.

WIFE: We — we can have it? This pot?

HUSBAND: Are you sure?

MRINALI: Very sure.

HUSBAND: Thank you so much! You have given us a great gift!

WIFE: Without you, we would have been bickering here all day! We must repay you.

NARRATOR: The woman rooted around one of the clean piles of laundry and picked out a beautiful, long coat.

WIFE: You’ve been so kind. Let us give you this coat as a sign of our thanks.

MRINALI: What a soft, lovely coat! Thank you! Thank you so much!

NARRATOR: Mrinali took the coat, and continued on her way. As she crossed the bridge over the river, she saw a strange sight on the opposite bank. It was a man, soaking wet and shivering with cold… in his underwear!

MRINALI: Hey, sir! Are you okay? Why are you all wet?

NARRATOR: The man wrapped his arms around himself and answered Mrinali through chattering teeth.

MAN: Well, thank you for asking! Everyone else has run right past me, laughing their heads off! What happened was this: I was on my way to town to visit my family, when a band of robbers attacked me! They took all of my money, and all of my clothes! Then they pushed me into the river! All they left behind was my horse.

NARRATOR: Mrinali took the jacket in her hands and held it out toward the man.

MRINALI: Sir, why not take this jacket? You need to warm yourself up right away, or you’ll catch a cold.

NARRATOR: The man wrapped himself tightly in the soft, warm coat.

MAN: Oh, thank you!! Thank you! Now I must give you something to show my thanks… Here — let me give you my horse! She’s the smoothest ride around, and sweet as can be!

NARRATOR: Mrinali never had a horse before, but she’d always loved animals. Gently, she stroked the horse’s nose.

MRINALI: This is so generous of you! A horse! Thank you so much!

NARRATOR: Mrinali took the horse’s reins and continued to walk down the road. She looked at the sky and noticed the sun was finally about to set. She turned to her new companion and petted her mane.

MRINALI: Well, my friend, we really should be getting home. It must be near dinnertime, and my father will be wondering where I’ve been.

NARRATOR: Mrinali was about to turn around and head back home when all of a sudden, do you know what she saw? A wedding party! A big wedding party! But Mrinali noticed everyone’s faces were long and sad - including the bride’s and groom’s! Mrinali walked up to the bride.

MRINALI: Please, tell me, miss: why does everyone here look so unhappy? Aren’t weddings supposed to be full of joy?

NARRATOR: The bride looked at Mrinali with a furrowed brow.

BRIDE: Thank you for asking! You see, the wedding procession can’t begin until we have a horse for the groom to ride on. Somehow, the man we rented a horse from is nowhere to be found. If he doesn’t show up soon, it’ll be too dark to have the wedding!

NARRATOR: Mrinali furrowed her brow… then she felt the reins in her hands..

MRINALI: Well...if you promise to care for and love this horse, why not use her in the wedding procession?

NARRATOR: The entire wedding party burst into a cheer. The bride threw her arms around Mrinali in a warm embrace.

BRIDE: Thanks so much! You’ve saved our wedding day! Is there anything we can give you in exchange for such generosity?

NARRATOR: Mrinali looked around the wedding party. She spotted a buffet of delicious food laid out on a table… dishes and desserts she had heard about, but never tasted. She saw the smiling wedding guests, all dressed in their finest clothing. And then she noticed… a stage. It was strung with many-colored lights, and standing right in the middle of it... was a band: a singer… a flute player… and... a drummer!

Mrinali’s face lit up.

MRINALI: Well, if you feel you must give me something… there is one thing I can think of.

BRIDE: Anything! Name it, it’s yours!

NARRATOR: Mrinali felt her heart flutter.

MRINALI: Could - could I have one of the musician’s... drums?

NARRATOR: The bride smiled and walked over to the stage. The drummer had a whole set of drums, and was more than happy to give one to the kind girl who had saved the day.

He handed the bride one of his smaller drums. As the bride carried it over, Mrinali noticed the drum was beautifully decorated with bright blue beads.

BRIDE: Here. This is for you.

NARRATOR: Mrinali laughed with joy.

MRINALI: A drum! My very own drum! I can hardly believe it! Thank you! Thank you so much!

BRIDE: No - thank you! Now we have a beautiful, sweet horse, and now we can begin our wedding!

NARRATOR: As the musicians struck up the wedding music, Mrinali cradled the drum in her arms and sprinted home as fast as she could. She got back to the tiny, one-room house just as the sun was dipping below the horizon.

MRINALI: Papa! Papa! Look what I have!

NARRATOR: Mrinali burst into the house, and held up her brand new drum. When Kairav saw it, his eyes welled up with tears.

KAIRAV: A drum, Mrinali! But, but — but how?

NARRATOR: Mrinali sat her father down and told him the story from the very beginning, starting with the long, crooked stick he’d given her for tapping out rhythms. As she recounted every twist and turn of her adventure, she accompanied the tale with bright eyes… a big smile… and the steady beat… of her drum.

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Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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