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A TEST OF NUMBERS

Did you ever hear of the terrible war once fought between the creatures of the sea and the birds, which threatened to destroy the whole world? You may not have, because it all happened so long ago- ages before you or I were born. What is remarkable about this Great War is that it all began as a silly dispute between a whale and a little sandpiper. But then, as small disputes have a tendency of doing, it snowballed into a battle of epic proportions that posed a danger to the earth itself. Wouldn't you like to know how it all turned out? Here is the story, then.

Many years ago, it was a normal day, like any other, on the faraway island in the South Seas. The scene was a quiet lagoon. Along the beach, a sandpiper was running in and out of the water, picking up little minnows for breakfast.

All of a sudden, a whale swam into the lagoon. Irritated at the sight of the sandpiper, it called out, "Hey, you! How dare you come into my water and take my fish? Don't you know that I'm the master of the sea? Better stay out of the sea- it belongs to us whales!"

Now, the sandpiper may have been small in size, but she was a spirited bird, who would not take such high-handedness lying down. Moreover, she was angry because the whale's sudden rising had swept away the minnow she was about to eat. Furiously she demanded, "Who says the sea belongs to you? If anything, it belongs to the sandpipers. We have a far greater claim over the sea than you fellows, because there are many more sandpipers in this world than there are whales. So leave me alone and get lost!"

The whale could not believe his ears. "What! Are you crazy?" he shouted. "You silly creature, the numbers of whales is much more than that of sandpipers. You can't even begin to count them!"

"Oh, really?" asked the sandpiper in a challenging tone. "Are you ready to put it to the test?"

"Of course!" replied the whale promptly.

"Well, in that case I'll call all my relatives here, and you call yours. Let's count each side. We'll see who has more!"

"Good idea! We'll do just that!" said the whale. Turning back towards the boundless ocean, he sounded a booming call.

The response was swift. From the east, the west, the north, and the south, whales began swimming towards the island. Soon the bay was so crowded with whales that the ocean surface was completely hidden by their bodies!

Meanwhile, the little sandpiper was not idle. She, too, was making her call in all the four directions. There was a great whir of wings as sandpipers from all over the world came flying in to the faraway island in the South Seas. They came and landed on the beach and the trees. Soon, there were so many that they covered the entire land!

So far, both the sides seemed evenly matched. So now, the whale sounded another call to summon his sea cousins-the dolphins, the seals, the walruses, and the porpoises. They began swimming into the lagoon in response to the call. When they all had arrived, there were so many sea creatures that they surrounded the island from all sides. Everywhere there were new sea creatures spouting and diving.

Not to be outdone, the sandpiper sent out a call to her cousins-the gulls, the terns, the kingfishers, and the cormorants. When all the seabirds arrived, they covered not only the beaches, but also all the land right up to the mountains. There was not an inch of land on that island that was not covered by birds.

So, which side had more? It was still hard to say. Then, the whale thought, "If we whales eat up the beach, the birds will all drown. That will settle the issue once and for all, as then surely there will be more whales than sandpipers!"

He conveyed this to his relatives. The whales started to take large bites of shore and sand; in big gobbles, the beach started vanishing into the mouths of the whales.

Meanwhile the sandpiper thought, "Whales can survive only in the water. If we birds drink up all the sea, the whales will die. Then surely there would be more sandpipers than whales!"

The sandpiper instructed her relatives to dry up the sea. Accordingly, swarms of birds flew down to the ocean and drank and drank. The water level began to come down sharply.

However, the sandpiper soon noticed something alarming. Below her lay hundreds of whales, gasping for breath on the dry shore as she had planned, but they were not the only ones! All the other creatures of the sea, including the minnows and crabs, also were dying without water!

"Oh, no!" cried the sandpiper. "What are we doing? The minnows and other smaller creatures are our food, and they're all dying. If they're gone, we'll all starve to death! Quick, spit out all the water back into the ocean and revive them! Drying the ocean will not solve our problem; it'll only spell our doom!"

All the birds obliged. The water flowed back into the ocean and slowly, the whales started to move. The tiny sea creatures burrowed into the sand or scurried away.

It was only now, as he revived, that the whale realized the full extent of his own folly.

"How foolishly self-destructive we were!" he thought. "What were we fighting about, anyway? The ocean is big enough for all of us- the sea creatures and the birds alike."

He called a truce to the sandpiper, who was ready to accept as she too was regretting the quarrel. The sea creatures and the sea birds dispersed on cordial terms, and the earth and the ocean were saved.

Since then, no one's ever found out whether there are more sandpipers in this world or more whales. And the whales and the sandpipers have managed to get on fine without ever resorting to such a test of numbers again!

Moral:   Fighting over small issues can lead to big problems.

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