Emperor Akbar heard the charges of theft against a poor old man. He decided to punish him by making him stand in a pond for a whole night. It was a cold night and the water was icy cold. But the man had to undergo the punishment. Two watchmen stood on guard, lest he run away.
The next day when the old man was brought to the King’s court, one of the ministers asked him, “Old man, how did you pass the cold winter night in the water?” The man said, “Sir, there was a lamp shining at a distance. I kept staring at it. I didn’t think of the cold water, so I was able to go through the night.” The Minister said, “Oh King! This man has been receiving the warmth from a lamp all night. His punishment is not yet complete. I ask you to give him another punishment, he is too cunning.” The king said, “Alright, we shall give him another punishment tomorrow. Let him come to court in the morning.” The poor man was dismayed. He sought Birbal’s help. Birbal said, “Don’t worry; just come to court tomorrow. I will do something for you.”
The next morning, Birbal himself did not come to court. Akbar asked, “Where is Birbal? Why hasn’t he come today?” One of the courtiers said, “Badshah, Birbal sent a message that he wouldn’t be coming to court today, because he is busy cooking Khichdi for his guests.” The king raised his eyebrows and said, “Cooking Khichdi for his guests? But, surely, that shouldn’t take him all day! I would like to go and see what he is up to.”
The Emperor went to Birbal’s house. Birbal was sitting on his haunches in the courtyard in front of a tall tripod that had been made using three bamboo sticks. A pot was tied at the top. In the centre of it was a small fire. Birbal was using a bunch of dried leaves to fan the fire. The emperor asked “Birbal, what are you doing?” Birbal, looked up and said, “I’m making Khichdi, my Lord!”
Akbar said, “What a fool you are Birbal, do you think the warmth of that measly fire can be enough to heat a pot that is hanging way above it.”
Birbal smiled and said, “My Lord, surely if a small distant lamp can provide warmth to a poor old man standing in a freezing pond on a cold winter night, this fire should be enough to cook the Khichdi in the pot!”