Once upon a time, there was a beautiful village on a hill. The simple villagers worked hard on their terrace farms. Everything was perfect, apart from one problem. There wasn't enough water through the year.
The rainy season was fine, but at other times, the villagers relied on a lake on top of the hill. In rainy season, the hard-working villagers collected water in buckets and filled the lake. Once full, the village enjoyed the lake water rest of the year.
It was a good system and the village was set to prosper. The lake also became a wonderful picnic spot. It housed some beautiful ducks. The children from the village liked to come watch them.
The ducks often invited the children for a swim. The villagers felt they owed their life to the lake. The ducks became like deities. In particular, there was a family of ducks with gold-tipped feathers.
Villagers saw these golden ducks as a divine life source. When the villagers toiled to collect buckets of water to refill the lake, they chanted praise for the golden ducks.
Other ducks also followed the golden ducks. The golden ducks had appointed a wise duck - an old, intellectual looking duck - to stand at the centre of the lake. The wise duck barely moved, and the stillness added to his mystique.
Villagers prayed to the wise duck as well. Everything was wonderful. Sometimes, the golden ducks smiled at the villagers and everyone would go into an ecstatic frenzy. The wise duck always had the same expression so it was difficult to tell if he was smiling or not.
One day, however, things went horribly wrong. Three children who had come to the lake for a swim went missing. People looked everywhere, but the children could not be found. The next week, two more children went missing. The villagers went to the only person they knew could have an answer - the golden and the wise ducks.
However, the golden ducks didn't speak. The wise duck said something like this could not happen in this village.
The next week, four more children went missing. One villager found some bits of children's fingers by the lake. It looked like someone had eaten the kids. The villager heard a rustle in the water. He could recognise the creature.
"Crocodiles in the holy lake!" the villager screamed as he ran across the village square.
The villagers went into a panic. However, they could not believe it. They confronted the holy ducks again, although apologetically, as they didn't like to disturb them so often. "What are you talking about?" the wise duck said, "We have no crocodiles. Other jealous villages have stolen our babies."
The wise duck, having said enough, limped away to swim to the other side of the lake. The golden ducks remained in their private cave.
Over six months, 50 children went missing. Some villagers pointed fingers at the lake, but the villagers called such people attention-seeking hacks and ignored them. The villagers felt that if the wise duck had said there were no crocodiles, there were no crocodiles.
One night, however, almost all the villagers heard a noise from the lake. Scared, they woke up and tiptoed there. They were stunned at what they saw.
There was a grand party of crocodiles by the lake. They had all come out to feast, dance and lay new eggs. Some ducks danced with the crocodiles too. The golden duck family remained in their private cave and the wise duck sat still at the corner of the lake.
"Oh wise duck," villagers rushed to him, "what is this? You said there are no crocodiles." The wise duck seemed in pain as he spoke.
"You have to compromise sometimes," he said.
"With people who eat our babies?" the villagers said.
"If you had told us early, we could have killed the few initial crocodiles. Now there are hundreds of them. Why, wise duck, why?"
Dawn broke even as the wise duck remained silent. After many months, it promised to be a sunny day. The sunrays came out, enabling one to see under the water clearly. The villager saw the wise duck's feet in the water. A strong set of teeth grabbed it. Aghast, the villagers saw the set of crocodile eyes under the water. It swam away. The wise duck, leg stuck to the reptile's jaw, went along with him.
The villagers realised what was going on. Even the golden duck family had crocodiles outside their cave.
"Enough's enough, we have to do something ourselves," the villagers said.
Over the next few months, they started to dig a new lake. They also made several mini-lakes at various levels of the terrace farm. They put strong iron meshes, so the crocodiles could not enter. The villagers collected buckets of water and filled it in the new lakes. One smart villager put an underground pipe to empty out the old lake and fill the new one. Soon, the old lake had no water. As it dried up, the crocodiles and ducks struggled to live. They begged the villagers for some water but the villagers paid no attention.
The new lakes opened, and the villagers loved them. They also realised that they made the lake, and not the other way around. Children came back to swim in the new lakes, crops had enough water and the village prospered like never before.
Everyone in the old lake died. And then, the villagers lived happily ever after.
A story By Chetan Bhagat
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