The Parakeet’s Promise | Ep. 191

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

Think about a time you did something generous for someone. Maybe you gave them some help, or some kindness.

When we give to others, they’re not the only ones who benefit! Showing generosity can strengthen our relationships, and make us feel more happy and positive.

We’re about to meet a character who believes that being generous is for the birds – until she meets an actual bird who helps her see things in a whole new light!

Our story is called “The Parakeet’s Promise.” Versions of this folktale come from the southeast Asian country of India.

Voices in this episode include Broadway stars Lorna Courtney and Shoba Narayan. Lorna Courtney plays the title role in the brand new Broadway musical & Juliet at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. And Shoba Narayan is currently starring in the Broadway production of Aladdin at the New Amsterdam Theatre.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Nora Saks. 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

What are three promises you can make to help benefit others?

Maybe you can promise to donate clothing or toys to a shelter, or books to a library. Perhaps you can promise to be more patient with a younger sibling … or to help a grown-up with some chores. Maybe you can promise to take turns with a friend when you’re playing your favorite game.

Think about your three promises, then share them with a grown-up in your life. Then ask them to share three promises of their own. After that, make a pact that you’ll both go out there and make your promises come true!

Musical Spotlight: Bansuri

Eric Shimelonis plays the bansuri, an important part of Indian folk music. (Courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)
Eric Shimelonis plays the bansuri, an important part of Indian folk music. (Courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)

The ancient flute known as the bansuri comes from the Indian subcontinent. Originally made from bamboo, the six- or seven-hole instrument covers 2 ½ octaves of music and features no mechanical keys. To play it, you create the notes you want by covering and uncovering the various finger holes. In India, the bansuri is often revered as the divine instrument of the god Krishna.


NARRATOR: There once was a farmer who spent her days herding her sheep, milking her goats, and tending her field of millet: small seed-like grains that grow on tall, grassy plants.

The farmer’s field was so lush and fertile that it produced far more millet than she actually needed. Yet instead of giving her extra millet to hungry families in the village, say … or sharing it with weary travelers who came wandering past her big, roomy farmhouse … the farmer kept it all to herself.

FARMER: This is my millet, and I may do with it as I choose! And what I choose is to keep it! All for me!

NARRATOR: Well, early one morning, hours before the farmer usually got out of bed ...

[SOT: birds]

NARRATOR: ... she was startled awake by an unusual sound outside her window.

FARMER: What’s all that commotion? It sounds like it’s coming from the millet field!

NARRATOR: The farmer threw on her work clothes and hurried outside. When she reached the millet field, she discovered it was swarming with hundreds upon hundreds of …

FARMER: … Birds!??!?

[SOT: birds]

NARRATOR: Parakeets, to be exact! Flittering, twittering parakeets with sleek feathers as green as an unripe banana, and curved beaks as red as the setting sun.

FARMER: My goodness! Where did all of these parakeets come from? And look at them! They’re gobbling up my millet! I have to stop them!

NARRATOR: The farmer yanked off her hat and waved it around as she zigged and zagged up and down the field.

FARMER: Hey! You pesky birds! That’s my millet you’re devouring! Get out of here! Go! Go!

[SOT: birds]

NARRATOR: The air erupted with a great flapping and fluttering as hundreds of alarmed parakeets scrambled to take wing.

FARMER: There you go! Shoo! Shoo! Find someone else’s field to plunder!

NARRATOR: Once it seemed like all the parakeets were gone, the farmer gazed at her millet field – or what was left of it, anyway! Many of the plants were trampled – and the ground was littered with millet grains that the birds had either spit out or dropped in their haste to leave.

FARMER: Well, those pesky parakeets left a mess, but at least they’re gone. Now I can finally get on with the rest of the things I need to ... Oh no!

NARRATOR: Out of the corner of her eye, the farmer saw something that made her heart drop. It was as green as an unripe banana, with a curved beak as red as the setting sun – and it was filling that curved beak with grain after grain of millet!

FARMER: Ugh. Looks like I spoke too soon! One of those pesky parakeets is still here! And it’s loading up on even more millet! (beat) Hey! Bird! That’s my millet! Not yours! Now spit it out and scram!

NARRATOR: But the parakeet did not “scram.” It just stood there, cramming its scarlet beak with millet. Around its neck was a ring of red and black feathers.

FARMER: Um, bird?!?? Did you hear me?? I said, beat it!

NARRATOR: This time, the parakeet did “beat it” — but not before giving the farmer a long, thoughtful look… and stuffing a few more grains of millet into its curved, red beak.

Then the parakeet flapped its wings, lifted into the air, and disappeared into the clouds.

FARMER: Oh, that bird! Not only did it stick around after all of its friends left, but it flew away with a beak full of millet! My millet! If I see that greedy creature again, I’ll make sure it never comes back!

NARRATOR: The farmer spent the rest of the day tending her millet field, herding her sheep, and milking her goats. She came back to her farmhouse for a hearty dinner, before drifting off to sleep.

But can you guess what woke her with a jolt early the next morning?

[SOT: birds]

NARRATOR: That’s right!

FARMER: The birds???!!! They’re back!??

NARRATOR: They sure were! Just like yesterday, the farmer’s field was teeming with parakeets, all of them nibbling away on millet. And so, once more, the farmer darted outside.

FARMER: Get out of here, birds! Scoot!

NARRATOR: Much to the farmer’s relief, the birds did indeed scoot, spreading their wings and taking to the sky.

But much to the farmer’s dismay…

FARMER: Oh no!!!

NARRATOR: … one of the birds stayed behind. The one with the red and black ring around its neck!

FARMER: You again! Look at you! All your friends have moved on, yet you’re still cramming your beak with millet?!? Don’t you know when enough is enough? Get out of here, you selfish bird! Go!

NARRATOR: The parakeet loaded several more grains of millet into its beak. Then it gave the farmer a long, thoughtful stare, and flew away … its bright green body growing smaller and smaller as it soared into the sky.

The farmer hoped that was the last she had seen of the parakeets – especially the one who always stayed behind, and pecked around until its beak was overflowing.

And yet … early the next morning …

[SOT: birds]

FARMER: Oh no! Not again!

NARRATOR: Once again, the farmer dashed outside and chased the birds away. And once again, one of them stayed behind: the one with the red and black neck feathers. As usual, it was loading its beak with even more millet.

Anger flared across the farmer's face. But then suddenly, she got an idea. She took a breath, put on her sweetest smile, then knelt down on the ground, right near the parakeet.

FARMER: Why, hello there, bird! You must love this millet, huh? Always taking so much with you when you go? Who knew my farm could do such a brisk
"take-out business"?

NARRATOR: The parakeet paid the farmer no mind. It just kept gathering millet in its beak.

FARMER: You know what, bird? Go ahead. Take all the millet you want. Because even though you’re loading up … you’re not flying away!!!

NARRATOR: Quick as a wink, the farmer stretched out her hand, seized the parakeet, and held it tight.

FARMER: You’re going right into my house, bird, where you’ll spend the rest of your life trapped in a cage! So that you’ll never steal from me again!

NARRATOR: The farmer leaped to her feet and began speeding toward her farmhouse.

But she didn’t get far before something happened that made her freeze right in her tracks!

[Theme music in]

NARRATOR: What do you think happened to the farmer?

And what will become of the parakeet?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.

[Theme music out]


[Theme music in]

NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to Circle Round. Today our story is called “The Parakeet’s Promise.”

[Theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, a well-to-do farmer seized a green parakeet who had been flying off with her millet. But as the farmer clutched the bird in her hand, she was shocked to see that the creature didn’t struggle! It stayed perfectly still.

FARMER: My, you’re an odd one! You don’t seem the least bit scared. Or the least bit sorry about stealing my millet! I mean, what do you do with all those grains you carry away each day? Are you hoarding them in your own little storehouse?

PARAKEET: Actually… no!

NARRATOR: The farmer gasped. The last thing she expected was for the parakeet to actually answer her question!

FARMER: Wait, what?

PARAKEET: I said ... "Actually, no!" I don’t have my own little storehouse. All I have … is my promise.

NARRATOR: Now the farmer was both surprised … and confused.

FARMER: “Your promise”...?

PARAKEET: Yes! My pledge! My word! My guarantee!

FARMER: I know what a ‘promise’ is, bird! But what does making promises have to do with making off with my millet?

PARAKEET: Well, it isn’t just about making promises. It’s about keeping them! And thanks to your millet, I’m not just keeping one promise; I’m keeping three!

FARMER: Three promises?!? What on earth are you talking about!?

PARAKEET: Allow me to explain. The first promise is to pay back a debt. The second promise is to grant a loan. And the third promise … is to give a gift.

FARMER: Okay, bird, now you’ve lost me.

NARRATOR: The parakeet blinked its bright round eyes.

PARAKEET: Let’s begin with the first promise: paying back a debt. You see, I live with my parents … selfless, loving birds who spent years caring for me before they grew so frail and feeble that they could hardly care for themselves! So every day I gather millet in my beak and bring it home for them, to pay them back for all the times they gave me food ... and shelter ... and love.

NARRATOR: The farmer felt her heart give a little ping. To her surprise, she found she was a little bit moved by the bird’s devotion.

FARMER: Soooo … you’re paying a debt back to your parents. That’s very sweet. But what about the second promise? The one about “granting a loan”? How do you explain that?

PARAKEET: Well, I don’t just live with my parents. I live with my children, too! Ten young chicks who can’t yet fly and leave the nest. So I gather millet to feed my little ones... as a loan! After all, just like I do with my parents, my children will take care of me when I am frail and feeble!

NARRATOR: The farmer couldn’t help but smile.

FARMER: Okay. So I understand the “debt” and the “loan.” But that third promise you mentioned — the “gift”? What’s that about?

NARRATOR: The parakeet cocked its feathery green head.

PARAKEET: Well, I may share a nest with my parents and children … but I share a forest with hundreds of other birds. Thousands, even! And many of those birds are unable to get out and gather their own food; they’re going through their own struggles and hardships. So I always promise to save some grains of millet for them. As an act of kindness… of generosity… of charity. And really – what greater gift is there than that?

NARRATOR: The farmer didn’t answer the parakeet’s question. Instead, she was quiet for a moment. Then she held out her hands … uncurled her fingers … and let the tiny, big-hearted bird fly away.

[SOT: bird fly]

FARMER: Goodbye, my parakeet friend! Go keep your three promises! And come back anytime!

NARRATOR: Well … from that day forward, the farmer no longer kept all of the millet she grew. Instead, she divided her field into three parts.

She set aside a small section for herself.

She set aside a larger section for the parakeets.

And she set aside the largest section of all for the community … anyone in the village, town, or countryside who was struggling to get by and could use the gift of a full belly, and an even fuller heart.

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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