“This is an old Parsi fable about an Indian woodcutter named Mishkin. He was very poor but his neighbors were wealthy. One wealthy neighbor cooked the most enticing meals. Roasted lamb with rosemary, hummus with olives and pita, and dal so rich with onion and garlic it made you weep.” Kingsley loved listening to Bapsi. He loved her accent and her deep, soothing voice.
“Mishkin’s daughter was a silly teenager. Each day she smelled the delicious aromas coming from her neighbor’s kitchen. Finally, overwhelmed with hunger, she left her sick, bedridden mother and visited the neighbors. But Mishkin’s daughter was too proud to ask for food. So she asked for wood instead. She told her neighbors she needed kindling for the sacred fire, but secretly hoped the neighbors would invite her to dinner. Alas, no dinner invitation. The neighbors gave her exactly what she asked. Wood kindling. No more. No less. They thought it odd that the daughter of a woodcutter would need kindling.
“The next day, aromas from the neighbor’s kitchen enticed Mishkin’s daughter again so she went to their house and asked for more kindling. What? More kindling? She told her neighbors that she’d burned all the kindling and needed more or the sacred fire would go out. They chastised her. ‘You must be more prudent. Keep the fire small so it will never go out.’ Once again, they gave her just what she asked. Kindling. No more. No less. Mishkin’s daughter went home hungry. This happened two more times until the neighbors began to wonder what the girl was doing. Was she extinguishing the sacred fire with water from the river? They gave her more kindling but this time they also gave her a warning. ‘It’s a sin to deliberately extinguish a sacred fire! We can no longer support your wastefulness. This is the last time we will give you kindling.’
Mishkin’s daughter sobbed all the way home. She was frightfully ashamed. Great piles of kindling filled every corner but she had no food. Moreover, her neighbors thought she was a naughty girl. When Mishkin came home and saw his daughter’s tears, he felt her sorrow upon his heart. He held his daughter in his arms as she wept. He promised to cross the river in the morning, to go deep into the forest, and chop enough wood to purchase food for a banquet. Mishkin’s daughter was overjoyed and even her ill mother rose from her sick bed. But nothing went as planned for poor Mishkin.
When Mishkin woke the next morning, he smelled smoke. He rushed outside and was horrified at what he saw. A raging fire had swept through the forest, destroying every tree, every bush. Mishkin ran to the river. He kneeled beside the riverbank and cried. Mishkin’s poor family was doomed. They had no meat. They had no milk. And, now, the beloved forest was gone, his livelihood destroyed.
His hardship attracted the attention of Behram Yazad, the Angel for solving problems. ‘Why are you weeping?’ the Angel asked. Mishkin had heard stories about the powerful and mysterious Angel. Behram Yazad, could take many forms: Beautiful animals, handsome youths, even the tempestuous wind. Mishkin trembled as he told the Angel about his family’s hunger, his daughter’s humiliation, and the tragic fire that had destroyed the forest.
The Angel said, ‘Remember the words from the sacred Book of Arda Viraf: Those are the righteous souls who exercised no sovereignty, nor rulership, nor chieftainship, but through their good works they have become pious.’ The Angel made a sweeping gesture and a handful of mud rose from the riverbank. It fell miraculously into Mishkin’s hands. The Angel told Mishkin to form the mud into a ball and to listen very carefully. ‘Protect the earth and your troubles will come to an end.’ The Angel instructed Mishkin to tell everyone about their encounter and to honor God with offerings of flowers and fruit. The next instant, the Angel disappeared and Mishkin was alone on the riverbank.
Mishkin thought it was a dream until he looked at the dirt in his hand. He wondered if he should throw the dirt away when he heard a whisper in the wind: ‘Mishkin, care for the earth as you would care for your own life.’
Mishkin left the riverbank and carefully placed the ball of soil in the corner. He told his family of his encounter. His wife gave a wretched cry and covered her head with her thin blanket. She was sure Mishkin had gone mad. Mishkin’s daughter looked at the ball of mud on the floor in the corner and thought her poor father had lost his wits.
At midnight, Mishkin’s daughter was woken by a bright light. She called to her father and mother. They cried out in amazement as the ball of dirt transformed into a mound of dazzling gems. Mishkin told his daughter to wake her mother, and they all praised God for the splendid gifts.
The next morning, Mishkin took one of the precious gems to the village to sell at the market. The jeweler had never seen such a treasure. He told Mishkin he would pay any price. Mishkin thought the jeweler was mocking him until the jeweler placed before Mishkin three piles of gold coins. Mishkin returned to his family with bags of food. His daughter’s heart was full of joy.
News of Mishkin’s wealth reached the King and his advisers. ‘Mishkin is a simple woodcutter,’ they told the King. The King asked his advisers how such a man came by such a fortune. They told him it was a gift from Behram Yazad, the Angel. The king was amazed. He sent a platter of fruit and nuts to celebrate Mishkin’s good fortune. Mishkin and his family were humbled by the King’s gesture. He returned the King’s platter with the finest diamond from his collection. The King gave the diamond to his daughter, the Princess, who set it into a necklace.
Mishkin’s daughter enjoyed life as the child of a wealthy man, but she was as foolish with her wealth as she had been for her good fortune. Perhaps, even more foolish. She wore the finest gowns and rode in luxurious carriages. She engaged tiger hunts just so the tailor could fashion a beautiful fur coat. She engaged elephant hunts just so sculptors could shape their tusks into buttons for her tiger fur coat. She cared nothing for the earth. One day, when she she went swimming in the river, she spied a magnificent calf with yellow ears and golden horns on opposite bank. Mishkin’s daughter tried to swim to the other side of the river, not realizing the calf was Behram Yazad, the Angel, in disguise. Not realizing the Angel was watching her. The moment she touched the riverbank, the splendid calf disappeared.
The Princess came to the river to swim and Mishkin’s daughter agreed to look after the Princess’s precious necklace, the one with the magnificent diamond. Mishkin’s daughter slumbered as the Princess swam. When the Princess returned from the river, the diamond was missing. The Princess called for her servants to search the riverbank but they could not find it. She accused Mishkin’s daughter of stealing the diamond and the King was furious. He sent his guards to Mishkin’s mansion but Mishkin was not there. So the guards confiscated all of Mishkin’s possessions and imprisoned his wife and daughter.
When Mishkin returned, he begged the King for an audience. ‘Your Highness’, pleaded Mishkin, ‘a man cannot watch his wife and daughter suffer and do nothing. Please release them from prison and let me take their place.’ The king agreed. Mishkin was imprisoned and his family released.
That night, as Mishkin slept in his prison cell, the Angel appeared to him again. ‘You were granted so much wealth and happiness. You had meat and milk. Your daughter wore the finest dresses. And yet she was foolish with all she’d been given.’ Mishkin pleaded for mercy. ‘Very well,’ said the Angel. ‘In the morning the King will grant your freedom.’ And that is what happened. Mishkin was released from prison.
Not long after, the Princess was strolling in her garden when a white bird flew overhead and dropped the missing diamond at her feet. The Princess exclaimed her astonishment. She did not realize the bird was also Behram Yazad, the Angel, in disguise. Both the King and Mishkin rejoiced. And what of Mishkin’s foolish daughter? She learned her lesson to care for the earth and the kingdom prospered.”