This is one story from the book “The Best Thirteen: A collection of the best stories from 13 languages of India”.

You know that a pearl can be so valuable that it is said to be without price. Pearls are formed inside oysters who live on the ocean-bed inside their shells. This is the story of one such oyster.

This oyster was very pleased with himself because he believed that he was the most important creature in the world. Of course, the silkworm was quite useful too, but silk did not fetch the same price as pearls, so the oyster felt that he had good reason to think well of himself.

One day, there was a great storm in the sea. The waves were high and rough, and the elements so frightening that our friend, the oyster, clamped down the lid of his frail shell, and stayed firmly on the sea floor. He thought it beneath his dignity to try and move towards the shore for safety. The waves were so strong though that, in spite of his resolve, he and his shell were picked up and flung on to the shore. Finding himself on an open beach, he cautiously lifted the lid of his shell and, through the slit, peeped out at the world. As he was peering about, another big wave picked him up, and threw him further up on to the sand. Now, this was really alarming! The waves washed over him and rolled him about, but none of them was powerful enough to pull him back into the sea; and the poor oyster stayed where he was. There was no way of getting back into the sea, and he became extremely angry.

There was a small tree near the shore. A crow sat on it for a long time, watching the plight of the oyster. Finally, he flew down and knocked on the shell with his beak. “Who’s inside? Open the door,” he asked sharply.

The Price of Pride
The Price of Pride [Illustration by Mickey Patel]
The oyster was displeased. “Some vulgar wretch is trying to disturb me,” he said to himself, then shouted, “Who is it?”

“I am not a wretch. I am a crow. And a clever crow at that. Open the door and come out.”

“Why should I come out?”

“Just to have a little chat, that’s all,” said the crow smoothly.

“I haven’t time to chat — and I’m not coming out.”

“Well, all right then. But what are you doing in there?”

“I’m busy making a pearl. And anyway, why should I bother to talk to a nasty, ugly thing like you,” said the oyster grandly.

“Oho — how superior,” laughed the crow. “My dear friend, all I wanted was to ask you a few questions about the shape and size of the sea and I wanted to tell you a few things about the wide world outside.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m very interested in Science. I live on the roof of a university and I hear all the lectures of the Science professor, so I’ve become fond of Science. That’s why I want to hear about the sea, and what happens there. Do you find doves’ and sparrows’ eggs there?”

“What rubbish!” said the oyster curtly. “As if you have doves and sparrows in the sea.”

“But that’s just what I wanted to know from you.”

“Don’t ask such silly questions,” the oyster said. “The sea has millions of shells — like mine. But I am the greatest of all, so I don’t talk to the other shells. There are thousands of varieties of coloured fish, and thousands of different plants, and that is all. And there are no silly, stupid animals like you down there.”

The crow laughed. “I don’t mind you calling me stupid, but actually I’m not stupid. I’m a crow — and a clever crow too. But, old pal, you are telling me all this from inside your little den. Why don’t you come out?”

“Haven’t you any manners? How dare you be so familiar. I’m no pal of yours.”

“Well, you do talk as if you were the king of the sea!”

“Of course — I’m the one who makes pearls which make the sea famous. It’s all because of me,” said the oyster.

“In that case,” said the crow with a chuckle, “I simply must have a look at you because I’ve never yet seen such a wonderful thing.”

“I’m not a thing — I am the oyster that makes pearls.”

“All right, all right. But please, Your Majesty, won’t you come out, and give me the opportunity to have a look at you?” the crow said good-humouredly.

“No. No. No. No. I can’t open the door. I’m very busy.”

“You can make your pearl later. Just open the door — I’m only a poor, ordinary crow who wants to look at someone as important as you — someone who can make a pearl. I want to see the pearl too. You see, I’ve never seen a pearl before in my life.”

“I’ve just told you that I won’t open the door. And if you think you’re so clever, why don’t you open it yourself.”

The oyster could taunt him like this because he was sure that the crow would never be able to open the lid of his shell.

But now the crow was angry.

“All right, if that’s what you want,” he said. “I’ll show you. And don’t blame me if you don’t like what happens.”

The crow picked up the shell in his beak and flew off with it — high, high up. He reached a ledge of rock; and from his great height he dropped the shell straight on the rock. The shell splintered into a million fragments. The crow swooped down after it. He grabbed the oyster in his beak, and in one gulp, swallowed it.

The crow then caught sight of the pearl as it was rolling away from him. He watched the priceless pearl as it fell into a blob of cowdung. Then he lifted himself once more into the air, and flew away, cawing happily.

Translated from Urdu by Laeeq Futehally; Published by National Book Trust, India