In a lake lived three fish, Anagatvidhata (forethought), Pratyutpannamati (one who thinks on his feet), and Yadabhavishya (whatever happens, happens). Their personalities were suited to their names. One day, fisherman passing by that lake saw that it was brimming with fish. “Why have we never fished in this lake?” one of them said. “It looks like we will have a very good catch. We should cast our nets here.”

“How about tomorrow morning?” another one suggested. “We have enough of a catch for today, and the sun is also about to set. So, let’s come here tomorrow morning.”

The creatures of the lake heard the fishermen and were struck dumb with fear. Then, chaos erupted as they all tried to find a way to escape the impending doom. Finally, Anagatvidhata called a meeting. “You heard what these killers of fish intend to do tomorrow,” he said. “I suggest that we all leave this lake tonight. The wise say

In the face of a powerful enemy,
the weak should flee to save their lives,
or hide in some secret hidden place.
For the weak, there is no other choice. 

Before those fishermen come tomorrow morning with their nets, we should find a new place to live. It is also said,

If you can find livelihood and be happy
in a new place where you can go,
wisdom is in leaving your land
rather than seeing your kin destroyed.”  

Pratyutpannamati found Anagatvidhata’s words to be very wise. “I agree with you whole-heartedly,” he said.

“We all must leave this place as soon possible. People say,

Those who fear leaving their land,
such as the prideful, domesticated
impotent, cowards, crows, and deer
end up suffering and dying in that land.  

In my opinion, a talented man can live successfully anywhere, in any country.” Hearing what Anagatvidhata and Pratyutpannamati had to say, Yadabhavishya burst into laughter. “How is it acceptable to leave the land of your fathers and grandfathers?” he asked. “And only because you happened to hear some fishermen discuss a vague plan. For all we know, it could’ve been idle talk. Besides, if our end has arrived, then no matter where we go, death is inevitable. And if it is our fate to live longer, then even if we stay here, no one can touch us. It is said

One who is unprotected
is made secure by the gods.
But if the gods are inimical,
all means of protection are futile
and destruction is inevitable.
An orphan abandoned in the forest
will survive if fated to do so.
And even if someone is at home,
protected by a lakh efforts,
if death has come knocking, he’ll die.  

Hence, I will not leave this place. You all do what is best for you.”

That night, all those who agreed with Anagatvidhata and Pratyutpannamati gathered their families and left the lake and found other water bodies. Whereas, all those who sided with Yadabhavishya stayed in the lake. The following morning, when the fisherman came and spread their nests, they were all caught and killed.

“So, I’m telling you, husband,” the female titihari said, “he who recognises a calamity about to happen and finds a way to protect against it, even before it happens, lives a life of peace and happiness. And he who looks towards fate to make his decision for him is destroyed.”

The male titihara was hurt by his wife’s taunt. “Do you think of me as a slave to fate like that Yadabhavishya? You have not seen my mettle and the power of my intellect. I can dry up this ocean just by using my beak.”

“What are you saying?” the female titihari scoffed. “How can you compare yourself to the mighty ocean? A battle between you and the ocean is unthinkable, so stop puffing yourself up with indignation. It is said,

Those who have unrealistic notions about themselves
end up getting hurt with their own rising anger,
just as an iron vessel sitting on a burning fire
gets hot and hotter, making its own backside burn.  


One who mounts an attack on an enemy
in a rush of impatience and ignorance,
lacking sense of his own and the enemy’s ability,
burns to ashes, like a moth caught in flames.”

“Don’t speak like that, wife,” the male titihara said. “One whose spirit is indomitable, even if he is diminutive in size, can tackle anyone, of any size.
That is why people cite this example:

Even though the moon is full
Rahu does not hesitate to attack it.
We see this during every lunar eclipse    

Also this:

The mountainous elephant is bigger than a lion,
and his forehead becomes darkened with madness.
For that very reason, the lion strikes him and fells him. 

And more:

Those born radiant and courageous –
what meaning does age have for them?
Dawn’s rays touch the heads of mountains and kings
even though at that time the sun is only newly born.

And consider:

An elephant is strong and enormous,
yet it is controlled by the goad.
Does that mean the goad equals the elephant?
No, it does not mean that at all.
The dark is dispelled by a small diya.
Is the light only as little as its flame?
No, it eliminates a roomful of darkness.
Great mountains are shattered
by the strike of Indra’s lightning.
Is a lightning bolt as big as a mountain?
No, it is nowhere close to that size    

That is why, one who is brilliant and courageous is always bigger; size doesn’t matter in the least. You want me to show you what I can do? I’ll empty the ocean and make it as dry as this sandy bank.”

“My dear husband,” said the female titihari, “the ocean in which Ganga ji and Sindhu rivers assimilate, each with their nine hundred tributaries, making it swell everyday with water from eighteen hundred sources, how can you, a tiny bird with a beak that can pick up no more than a drop of water at a time, empty it of water and make it dry?”

“Dearest,” said the male titihara to his wife, “not declaring a loss right at the outset is the first principle of gaining wealth. Don’t underestimate my beak; it is like a beak of iron that never wears out. Also, know that the quantity of time is relative. Sometimes, even the time that stretches between a day and night can be immense. Everyone knows,

Unless one puts in the effort
and does not shy from taking risks,
success and progress do not happen.
Even Suryadeva must climb the scales of Libra
to win victory over rain clouds.”

Seeing her husband so adamant, the titihari gave in. “Dear, if you are bent on battling the ocean, then go ahead. But please heed my advice and take the help of other birds and our friends and relatives, because it is said,

When weak individuals gather as one,
they form a group strong and invincible,
just as a strand of hay, though insignificant,
when woven with other strands, becomes
a rope that can bind powerful elephants.  

It is also said,

Together, the sparrow, woodpecker, bee, and frog
took on the maddened elephant and killed him.”   

“Tell me this story,” the male titihara asked, and his wife related the tale.

The Panchatantra of Vishnusharma

Excerpted with permission from The Tale of the Fish Who Learned It is Better to Act Than to Depend on Faith in The Panchatantra of Vishnusharma, Meena Arora Nayak, Aleph Book Company.