'Mangoes In The Middle' | Circle Round 127

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("Mangoes in the Middle" by Sabina Hahn)
("Mangoes in the Middle" by Sabina Hahn)

Think about something that you would consider priceless.

Maybe it’s a big, warm hug from a grown-up you love. Or a super-fun playdate with a friend.

In today’s tale, we’ll hear about a priceless mango tree whose worth can't be measured in money… or even in mangoes!

Our story is called “Mangoes in the Middle.” It originally comes from India and features a beloved character you may remember from our season-three story, “The Nine Sticks”: Birbal!

Voices in this episode include Feodor Chin, Ryan Shrime, and actor, rapper, singer and songwriter Utkarsh Ambudkar, whom you kids might recognize from Mira, Royal Detective on Disney Junior, Godmothered on Disney+, Tom and Jerry on HBO Max, and Unleashed on Nickelodeon. You grown-ups might know Utkarsh from such films as Brittany Runs a Marathon and We Are Freestyle Love Supreme.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Amory Sivertson. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Coloring Page

("Mangoes in the Middle" by Sabina Hahn)
("Mangoes in the Middle" by Sabina Hahn)

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

Can you think of a time when you practiced honesty?

A time when you acted or spoke truthfully?

Find a grown-up, and tell them the story of what happened. Share what was going on at the moment, what you decided to do, and whether or not it was easy to be honest. Because sometimes, let’s face it, being truthful can be a challenge!

When you’re done sharing, ask your grown-up to tell you about a time they practiced honesty. Then, if you’d like, you both can draw pictures to go with your stories, and share them with us on Instagram! Grown-ups, our handle is @circleroundpodcast.

Eric Shimelonis playing the bulbul tarang, which was generously loaned to Circle Round by luthier Jay Pawar. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)
Eric Shimelonis playing the bulbul tarang, which was generously loaned to Circle Round by luthier Jay Pawar. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)

Musical spotlight: The Bulbul Tarang

The name of this instrument from the northern India state of Punjab translates to “waves of nightingales.” It’s thought to have evolved from the Japanese harp known as the taishōgoto. To play the bulbul tarang, you press down on keys; as you’ll see from the photo, they look a lot like typewriter keys! The keys press down onto a set of strings — all of which are tuned to the same note, except for the “drone” string. This action of the keys hitting the strings pushes the strings down on the fretboard. This pushing-down action shortens the strings, thereby changing the pitch — much like what happens when one’s fingers “fret” a guitar or banjo. In fact, many people refer to the bulbul tarang as the Indian or Punjabi Banjo!


NARRATOR: Birbal was the advisor to a powerful emperor long ago. With a mind as quick as a falcon’s flight — and a wit as sharp as a porcupine’s quill — Birbal advised the emperor on all matters, big and small.

But when Birbal wasn’t at the emperor’s side, he was holding court as a judge. Citizens journeyed from across the empire to argue their cases before Birbal, and the keen, cunning fellow always found a clever way to settle the dispute.

One spring morning, Birbal was approached by two neighbors: a carpenter and a weaver. The men lived next-door to each other in a village not far from the palace. And between their houses stood a mango tree, which the carpenter claimed was his...

CARPENTER: The tree is mine, Your Honor!

NARRATOR: … and the weaver claimed was his!

WEAVER: No, no, no, Your Honor! The tree belongs to me!

NARRATOR: As Birbal leaned forward in his chair, with his elbow on his knee and his chin in his hand, the men explained that the mango tree had recently borne fruit — far more fruit than usual. And now that its branches were bursting with hundreds of ripe, succulent mangoes, the carpenter insisted he should harvest them.

CARPENTER: You see, Your Honor... I’ve been watering that tree ever since it was a sapling! All those juicy, delicious mangoes are mine!

NARRATOR: But the weaver disagreed.

WEAVER: My neighbor is telling you a falsehood, Your Honor! I planted that tree the day my daughter was born! I have nurtured it for more than twenty years now. That fruit belongs to me!

NARRATOR: Birbal leaned back in his chair and stroked his chin. He closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, he fixed the men with a stern gaze.

BIRBAL: (wheels already turning) Gentlemen. Now that I have heard your arguments, I will need some time to think this case through. Please return to the palace first thing tomorrow, and I will deliver my verdict.

NARRATOR: That night, while the rest of the palace slumbered, Birbal snuck out of his room and into the hallway. A full moon shone through the windows, casting long shadows as Birbal crept along corridors and tiptoed down stairways. When he reached the servants’ quarters, he slipped inside and quietly rummaged through a drawer of clothing.

He pulled on some pants, put on a shirt and cap, then hurried to the stables, where he mounted one of the emperor’s horses. He tugged at the horse’s reins, then galloped off to the village where the carpenter and weaver lived.

Birbal halted his horse in front of the two men’s houses. Indeed, smack dab in the middle was the mango tree, its thick green leaves and plump red fruit shimmering in the moonlight.

BIRBAL: (to the tree) My, my, my! You are quite a specimen, aren’t you? Now I see why the carpenter and weaver are fighting so hard! (beat) But trust me - they won’t be fighting for long.

NARRATOR: Birbal hopped off the horse, then crossed the carpenter’s yard. When he reached the house, he banged on the door and called out in a disguised voice.

[SOT: banging on door]

BIRBAL: (disguising his voice) Carpenter! Carpenter! Come quick! Thieves are stealing your mangoes! They’re picking them right off your tree! Soon there won’t be any left

NARRATOR: At first, no one answered; it was well past midnight, after all. But then Birbal heard the carpenter’s gruff voice growling through the closed door.

CARPENTER: (gruff, growling) Look, whoever you are, you can go away! It’s the middle of the night and I am not about to bandy with some rascals over a silly tree! (beat) Now get out of here and leave me be! Let a man sleep in peace!

NARRATOR: Birbal smiled to himself. Then he retraced his steps across the carpenter’s yard and hurried to the weaver’s house… where, again, he banged on the door and called out.

BIRBAL: (disguising his voice) Weaver! Weaver! Come quick! Thieves are stealing your mangoes! They’re picking them right off your tree! Soon there won’t — (gets cut off)

NARRATOR: But before Birbal could utter another word, the door of the house burst open…

[SOT: door bursts open]

NARRATOR: … and the weaver came rushing out, his hair tousled and his eyes wide. He blinked at the man standing before him; clearly he had no idea this stranger dressed in servant’s clothing was Birbal.

WEAVER: Oh, kind sir, thank you for waking me up! Would you believe I planted that mango tree when my daughter was born? And nurtured it ever since? Now it’s like a second child to me! Come! Help me defend it!

NARRATOR: Birbal joined the weaver as he raced to the mango tree and sprinted around its hearty trunk, craning his head this way and that, looking for the roustabouts who were pilfering his mangoes. Eventually, he stopped dashing about and scratched his head.

WEAVER: Huh! I guess we frightened the thieves away! (beat) But who knows if they’ll return!? I’m going to climb up and hide in the branches. If those plunderers come back, I’ll be ready! (beat) Thanks for your assistance, friend!

NARRATOR: Then the weaver scrambled up the trunk and perched on a long limb, prepared to guard the tree all night.

Birbal tipped his cap at the weaver, then hopped onto his horse and returned to the palace. He crept back to his room, where he changed out of his servants’ garb and into his pajamas. Then he plopped down on his bed and stretched out beneath the covers, his ankles crossed, his hands folded, his face beaming.

BIRBAL: The carpenter and the weaver have no idea how helpful they were tonight! (beat) There’s just one more test I want to put them through… (slowly, relishing what’s coming) And only one of them can possibly pass.

[theme music in]

NARRATOR: What do you think Birbal is cooking up?

And who do you think is the true owner of the mango tree?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.

[theme music out]


[theme music in]

NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “Mangoes in the Middle.”

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, two neighbors — a carpenter and a weaver — were arguing about who owned the mango tree that grew between their houses.

They brought their case to wise, witty Birbal. And that night, disguised as a common citizen, Birbal visited both men, and told them someone was stealing mangoes from the tree!

The carpenter just grumbled and went back to bed. But the weaver came rushing outside and guarded the tree for the rest of the night, by perching on one of its branches.

The next morning, as instructed, the neighbors returned to the palace. Birbal noticed that the carpenter looked especially cocky… and the weaver looked especially weary. Shadowy bags hung under his eyes, and his hair was sprinkled with twigs and leaves.

BIRBAL: Welcome back, gentlemen! I appreciate you giving me extra time to consider your case.

NARRATOR: The carpenter stuck out his chest and placed his hand on his heart.

CARPENTER: (totally full of it) Well, it wasn’t easy waiting all this time, of course — but it was the least we could do!

NARRATOR: The weaver bowed his head.

WEAVER: (humbly) Actually, it is we who should be thanking you, Your Honor! After all, you’re the one who took time to hear our case... and decide who is the tree’s rightful owner.

NARRATOR: Birbal nodded and scratched his chin.

BIRBAL: (hatching his plan) Yes, about that… you see, I’m afraid I wasn’t quite able to come to a decision about which one of you owns the tree.

NARRATOR: The carpenter looked confused. The weaver looked crestfallen.

BIRBAL: (continuing his plan) But I don’t want to disappoint you. So here is what I propose. I will send my servants to your village, where they will gather all the mangoes from the tree. They will count every last piece of fruit, then divide them equally between the two of you. After that, my woodsmen will cut down the tree and chop it into firewood. That wood will also be divided equally between the two of you. (beat) What do you say?

NARRATOR: The carpenter clapped his hands with delight.

CARPENTER: I say that would be wonderful, Your Honor! A most fair and just decision, sir.

NARRATOR: Birbal waited for the weaver to respond. But the man stayed silent.

BIRBAL: (knowing the answer) Well? How about you, Weaver? Do you agree to the deal? Half of the fruit, half of the wood? Your neighbor here says it would be “fair and just.” (beat) What do you think?

NARRATOR: At first, the weaver said nothing. Then, he took a deep breath and looked Birbal right in the eye.

WEAVER: With all due respect, Your Honor… I think the deal is anything but “fair and just.”

NARRATOR: Birbal cocked his head.

BIRBAL: (feigning surprise/playing dumb) Oh…? And why would you say such a thing, Weaver?

WEAVER: (full of emotion/sincerity) Well, Your Honor… it’s like I told you yesterday. I planted that tree twenty years ago, the day my daughter was born. And just as I’ve watched my daughter grow, I’ve watched that tree grow! I’ve watered its roots, I’ve trimmed its branches, I’ve given it my love and care. (beat) And in return, that tree has provided me and my family with cool shade on hot days… fresh fruit after a long winter… it’s even given us sweet music, thanks to the countless birds who’ve built their nests in the crooks of its sturdy limbs.

NARRATOR: The weaver paused, then shook his head and slumped his shoulders.

WEAVER: Your Honor, I can’t bear to see that tree chopped down and turned into firewood. (beat) So, please.... If you must… give the tree to the carpenter. He can have it. I’d rather let it go, than see it die.

NARRATOR: Birbal gazed at the weaver. The man’s eyes were misty with tears.

BIRBAL: Well, actually, Weaver… You won’t have to do either!

WEAVER: What...?!??

BIRBAL: You won’t have to let the tree go, and you won’t have to see it die. (beat) Because of your affection for that tree, because of the love you’ve shown, the care you’ve shown, the hard work, the effort… it is more than apparent to this court that the rightful owner… is you. (beat) (definitive) Case dismissed!

NARRATOR: The deceitful carpenter gritted his teeth and stomped out of the room. The honest weaver, meanwhile, breathed a sigh of relief.

The grateful man offered to give Birbal half of his mango harvest, as a token of his appreciation.

But Birbal said no.

Instead, he asked the weaver to donate half of his mango seeds… and plant a community orchard right there on the palace grounds. That way, everyone could enjoy cool shade on hot days… fresh fruit after a long winter… and the sweet music of birdsong… for generations to come.

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



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