Monday, September 10, 2007


I think fables and stories with a moral are one of the worst products of the human story-telling tradition.

For one thing, they’re annoying…giving the person who tells it a rather superior air, even though he’s not doing much more than telling a tale about a dog who fell into a manhole.

For another, he will tell you the story about the dog that fell into a manhole like it is particularly applicable to whatever situation you’re in right now (which has prompted the whole fable telling in the first place). Of course it is not at all applicable, because I am not a dog, and though I might be in deep shit at the moment, it didn’t happen by falling into a manhole.

But still they’ll tell you the story to its predictable and usually gruesome finish “…so the dog drowned in the manhole, far away from the family that loved him.” -- and sit back with a satisfied smile like that tells me all I need to know. So then you have to ask them, so you’re advising me not to look down manholes? Or are you in some way insinuating I shouldn’t look into matters that don’t concern me?

It’s all very confusing and very rarely helpful.

Because you see, fables are crap. By themselves they are (no doubt hilarious) and educative stories about what bears, wolves, crows, and dogs do in their spare time. But I don’t see how they can be considered at all applicable to a particular problem: my situation might not have much to do with a crow that was thirsty and had nothing better to do than fool about with a pot of water and a lot of stones.

I think to prove my point conclusively, say to convince someone that it is wrong to steal, I should tell them a real story about another thief I knew. Maybe how he was lynched by a mob and then fed to vultures or such like (if you must have animals to illustrate every point), rather than an elaborate story set in ancient Greece where a bear is stung to death by honey-bees. You cannot blame the auditor for saying (after he has mulled over the story you have so patronizingly told him and wasted 10 minutes of the time he could’ve used to get on the next train out of town) “So what if the bear got stung? What the hell does that have to do with me? I asked you for an escape plan not a bedtime story!”

So for all compulsive fable-tellers remember this: There was a fox who was very fond of giving advice, but always imparted his wisdom through very improbable stories about how stupid other animals were. The advice-seekers (dogs, sheep, and cows who were the fox’s neighbours in the woods) finally decided he was really annoying and stopped coming to him for advice.

I hope that was helpful.



Nisho said...

hehehe... funny one :-)

I know of a particular person who keeps giving advices in the form of stories. Well, actually I've personally never heard any of his stories but I heard from another friend that he is really very very annoying when he does that.. ;-)

Haimanti said...

i totally agree. that's why people should read graphic novels, where the main point is that we are a screwed-up lot and we should die a terrible death, not look into a manhole to save our stupid selves

Haimanti said...

By the way you blogs always make me a happier person

rider of rohan said...

I on the other hand, prefer fables over urban legends. Especially when they are told by your grandpa, while you are wrapped up in warm rajai, sipping hot chocolate on wintery morning...

Ushasi said...

Nisho, you can say THAT again. SO annoying that, as Joey would say, you feel like ripping your arm off just so you have something to throw at him.
Haimanti, you have no idea how much your second comment means to me.:)
Rider, fables by themselves are charming...what I meant was moralising stories that are told to you as a solution to a particular problem. Maybe I'll change a line or two to make that clearer. Thanks!

Akshat Kaul said...

And then the other animals cut the fox's balls off and the dog threw him into the manhole.

Moralizing stories should have strong endings :)

Great Post.

Ushasi said...

Oh yeah, Akshat...I like your ending to the story much better!:)

Diya said...

in my days of youth, i was told a story of a crow who was eating a banana, and then while eating the banana, the crow flew away.

wonder if that was a fable.

er, never mind!