'The Lumps of Clay' | Ep. 160

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

The famous playwright and poet William Shakespeare once wrote: "The truth will out."

What he meant was, in most cases, in one way or another, the truth gets uncovered. And in today’s story we’ll catch up with a favorite Circle Round character who finds an ingenious way to bring the truth to light.

Our story is called “The Lumps of Clay.” This Indian tale features a wise and witty character we’ve met in several other Circle Round episodes: Birbal!

Voices in this episode include Ryan Dalusung, Erika Rose, David Swanson, Alexia Trainor, Dawn Ursula, and Maulik Pancholy.

Kids, you may recognize film, TV and Broadway actor Maulik Pancholy from animated favorites like Phineas and Ferb and Sanjay and Craig. Grown-ups, you may know Maulik from 30 Rock and Only Murders in the Building. Maulik is currently starring in To My Girls at 2nd Stage Theater in New York. He's also the Chair and Co-founder of the anti-bullying nonprofit His second young-adult novel, Nikhil Out Loud, is out this October.

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

Coloring Page

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

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

It can be hard to solve problems. So next time you encounter a problem, try putting yourself in someone else’s shoes — someone you admire. It could be a teacher, a friend, a really cool character from a book or movie (or podcast)!

Whoever it is, pretend you’re them! Think about how they would approach this problem. What options might they consider? How might they handle it?

Looking at problems from someone else’s point of view can help you find solutions you never dreamed of. So next time you’re struggling with a problem, step into someone else’s shoes and give it a try.

Eric Shimelonis playing the sitar. (Rebecca Sheir for WBUR)
Eric Shimelonis playing the sitar. (Rebecca Sheir for WBUR)

Musical Spotlight: The Sitar 

The sitar is a member of the lute family. The sitar has strings, a pear-shaped gourd body, and, like a guitar or lute, a long hollow neck with frets: i.e. raised strips you put your fingers on to play different notes. The sitar can have up to 21 strings. The player plucks six or seven of these strings; the rest are there just to vibrate. All of these features give the sitar a notable vibration-rich sound popular in music from northern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.


NARRATOR: Long ago, there lived a mighty emperor. The emperor’s sprawling palace held treasures beyond compare: diamonds and pearls, sapphires and rubies, emeralds and amethysts.

But the emperor’s greatest treasure was his chief adviser: a clever, cunning man named Birbal.

Birbal was legendary for the sly and skillful ways he solved problems. And not just the emperor’s problems! When everyday citizens faced a dilemma or dispute, they often journeyed to the palace to seek Birbal’s wisdom and judgment.

One day, Birbal was visited by two women from the capital city: a Jeweler…

JEWELER: Greetings, Birbal!

NARRATOR: …and a Merchant.

MERCHANT: Salutations, Birbal!

NARRATOR: And as the Jeweler explained, the two women were business associates.

JEWELER: The Merchant and I have been working together for some years now. You see, I go about collecting all sorts of jewels, then the Merchant buys them, so she can travel the land and sell them at market. And she’s always been a trustworthy colleague and friend! (beat) Until now.

MERCHANT: Oh, no no no!

NARRATOR: The Merchant shot the Jeweler a withering look.

MERCHANT: It’s you who’s always been a trustworthy colleague and friend! Until now!

JEWELER: That’s not true!

MERCHANT: Yes, it is!

JEWELER: Is not!


BIRBAL: Ladies! Ladies! Please!

NARRATOR: Birbal held up his hand. The Jeweler and the Merchant fell silent.

BIRBAL: Jeweler. Since you started to explain your case, I’ll allow you to finish. What happened between you and the Merchant?

JEWELER: Well, to be brief: the Merchant stole from me!

MERCHANT: I most certainly did not!

JEWELER: Did too!

BIRBAL: (dramatic throat-clearing to silence them) A-hem!!!!! (beat) Now, Jeweler. Please. Tell me your story.

JEWELER: Well, Your Honor… Yesterday was my birthday. So last night I hosted a dinner party for a handful of friends – including the Merchant. (beat) As it happens, before my guests arrived, I received a new shipment of jewels. And included in this shipment… was a golden elephant.

BIRBAL: A “golden elephant”...?

JEWELER: Yes! A statue of an elephant, made entirely of gold! Not a life-sized statue, of course. More like something you could place on a table, for display. (beat) But oh, it was beautiful! So beautiful that I decided I wouldn't sell it! Instead, I would keep it in my personal collection. (beat) But when I woke up this morning… the golden elephant was missing! I couldn't find it anywhere!

BIRBAL: And you believe the Merchant stole it…?

JEWELER: I sure do! Last night, at my birthday party, I proudly showed the elephant to my guests. And I made it very clear that the statue wasn't for sale. But the Merchant asked if she could hold it to get a better look. And as she handled the twinkling treasure, I swear I saw a glint in her eye. Little did I know, it was a glint of pure greed… Because now the elephant is gone!

NARRATOR: The Jeweler jabbed a finger at the Merchant.

JEWELER: And this woman has it!

MERCHANT: But that’s impossible!

JEWELER: No it isn’t!

BIRBAL: Ladies! I implore you to behave yourselves, or I’ll have this case dismissed.

NARRATOR: Birbal turned to the Jeweler.

BIRBAL: Jeweler. You say you invited a “handful” of guests to your dinner party. How many guests were there?

JEWELER: Well… including the Merchant, there were four guests.

BIRBAL: So given that the Merchant was joined by three other people, how do you know one of the other three didn’t steal the golden elephant?

JEWELER: Well that’s easy, Your Honor! Whereas the Merchant and I didn’t meet until we were all grown up, I’ve known the other three guests since I was a girl! They’ve always been my closest friends! They’ve always had my back.

NARRATOR: Birbal nodded.

BIRBAL: I see… And I thank you for sharing your side of the story, Jeweler. (beat) So now…

NARRATOR: His eyes rested on the Merchant.

BIRBAL: …let’s hear your side, Merchant. After all, the Jeweler is accusing you of theft! That’s a serious crime! Yet you insist you did not steal the elephant…?

MERCHANT: There’s no way I could have, Your Honor! (beat) Because there wasn’t an elephant to steal!

NARRATOR: Birbal cocked his head.

BIRBAL: What do you mean ‘there wasn’t an elephant to steal’??

MERCHANT: Well, the Jeweler did invite me and three other guests to her party last night. (beat) But she never showed us an elephant! We ate dinner, we had birthday cake, then all the guests went home!

BIRBAL: (taking this new information in) Alright…

NARRATOR: Birbal folded his arms.

BIRBAL: So if there was “no elephant,” as you say, then why would the Jeweler accuse you of stealing one?

MERCHANT: Maybe because she’s jealous of me! I’ve been selling her jewels for some time now, and I’ve made a nice profit! That’s how it works when you’re a merchant. You buy goods for one price, then you mark them up: you charge more than you paid for them. That’s good business!

JEWELER: I’m sorry! “Jealous” of you?!? Puh-leeeeze! I’m not jealous of you! You’re jealous of me! Because I wouldn’t sell you that golden elephant! And you couldn’t make a profit off of it! So you stole it!

MERCHANT: But like I said, there’s no way I could have possibly stolen –

BIRBAL: Ladies! (beat) I appreciate you sharing both sides of your story. But before I can make a judgment on this case, I’m going to need a few things. (beat) Guards?

NARRATOR: Birbal snapped his fingers, and a pair of uniformed men snapped to attention.

BIRBAL: Listen, men. I want you to go out and find the other three guests from the Jeweler’s birthday party. Bring them to the palace along with three large pieces of cloth, and three big lumps… of clay. (beat) (a bit more slowly, to help listeners get the pun) Once we have the guests, the cloth, and the clay, then maybe… just maybe… the truth will start to take shape.


NARRATOR: Cloth? Clay? What is Birbal up to? And whose story do you believe: the Jeweler’s? Or the Merchant’s?

“The truth will out” – or so we hope – after a quick break.




NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “The Lumps of Clay.”


NARRATOR: When we left off, wise, witty Birbal was presented with a curious case.
A Jeweler had hosted a birthday party for four guests – including her business associate, a Merchant. The Jeweler claimed she had shown her guests her newest acquisition – a golden elephant statue – and the Merchant had stolen it.

The Merchant, on the other hand, claimed there was no golden elephant, and that the Jeweler was just jealous of her success.

After Birbal heard both sides of the story, he asked his guards to bring him the three other party guests, plus three pieces of cloth, and three lumps of clay.

BIRBAL: Thank you, guards! And welcome, guests! If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask the three of you some questions. (beat) First. Is it true that last night you attended the Jeweler’s birthday party?

NARRATOR: The guests’ faces lit up with smiles.

GUEST 1: It’s true, Your Honor!

GUEST 2: We attended the Jeweler’s birthday party!

GUEST 3: And what a party it was!

BIRBAL: Okay… (beat) And is it true that at this birthday party the Jeweler showed you… a golden elephant?

NARRATOR: The guests’ smiles grew wider.

GUEST 1: She did show us a golden elephant, Your Honor!

GUEST 2: We got a nice long look at it!

GUEST 3: And what a beauty it was!

BIRBAL: Alright... (beat) And the Merchant here… did you see her hold the golden elephant in her hands?

NARRATOR: The guests’ smiles faded.

GUEST 1: (no longer smiling) Oh, she was holding the golden elephant alright!

GUEST 2: (no longer smiling) She was practically drooling over it!

GUEST 3: (no longer smiling) She said it was the finest statue she’d ever seen, and she knew it would fetch a fortune at the marketplace!

BIRBAL: I see… (beat) And I appreciate your testimony. But we still have a bit more work to do. … Guards?

NARRATOR: Again, Birbal snapped his fingers. Again, the uniformed men snapped to attention.

BIRBAL: Guards, please take our three party guests here and escort them to three separate rooms in the palace.

NARRATOR: The guards did as they were told and ushered the three guests out of Birbal’s chamber, down the palace corridor, and into three separate rooms.
When the guards returned, Birbal gave them a nod.

BIRBAL: Thank you, men. Now I want you to bring each guest a piece of cloth, and a lump of clay. Tell each guest to use the clay to sculpt an exact replica of the golden elephant they saw at the Jeweler’s house. Tell them to capture as many details as possible. Then tell them to cover their sculpture with cloth, and wait for you to come back and get them. Tell them they have exactly one hour to complete their task.

NARRATOR: The guards bustled out of the room and delivered each guest the cloth, the clay, and Birbal’s instructions.

Ten minutes went by… then thirty… and finally, after one hour had passed, the guards led the three party guests back to Birbal’s chamber. Each guest was holding their cloth-covered clay in their hands.

BIRBAL: Welcome back, friends! Now let's take a look at those clay elephants of yours! At the count of three, I want you to remove your cloths. Ready? One… two… three!

NARRATOR: As the guests pulled their cloths away from their sculptures, the Jeweler’s face fell.


NARRATOR: But the Merchant’s face broke into a grin.


NARRATOR: And do you know why?

Well, the clay sculptures the party guests held in their hands… they were all very different!

Oh, sure, each one looked more or less like an elephant. But the first elephant was small, about the size of an orange, with its trunk hanging down toward the ground.

The second elephant was bigger, the size of a grapefruit, with its trunk sticking straight out from its body.

And the third elephant was even bigger – the size of a cantaloupe, say – with its trunk twisting and curving up to the sky!

Not only that, but the first sculpture had tusks… the second sculpture was missing a tail… and the third sculpture showed the elephant rearing up on its hind legs!

There was a gleam in Birbal’s eye as he looked at the Jeweler.

BIRBAL: Well, Jeweler… You did say your three friends have ‘always had your back.’ (beat) But in this case, they backed you up on an out-and-out lie!

NARRATOR: Birbal gestured toward the clay elephants.

BIRBAL: It’s clear from these three very different sculptures that there was no golden elephant! You made the whole story up, just to ruin the Merchant’s good name! But now, because of your dishonesty, I’m afraid you’ve ruined nobody’s name but your own! (beat) This case is dismissed!

NARRATOR: The Jeweler threw up her hands and stomped out of Birbal’s chamber in a huff.

JEWELER: (ad-lib leaving in a huff)

NARRATOR: The Merchant, on the other hand, stayed behind and thanked Birbal for proving her innocence.

Because, once again, the brilliant advisor had used his legendary wit and wisdom, cunning and cleverness to help the truth take shape.

Headshot of Rebecca Sheir

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



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