The magical story of Kanka, Lila and the blue feathered little bird

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Monica Nannini

Antonio Tabanelli

The magical story of Kanka, Lila and the blue feathered little bird


From an idea of Stefania Guerra e Daniele Zaghi, GeZ Design 1st edition printed by Grafiche dell’Artiere curated by Franca Scagliarini – CTA management, 1992 © Monica Nannini, Antonio Tabanelli


The magical story of Kanka, Lila and the blue feathered little bird

text by Monica Nannini

drawings by Antonio Tabanelli


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nce upon a time two children, Kanka and Lila, lived in a village. Kanka, two years younger than his sister Lila, was a quick and brilliant kid; Lila was loved by everyone for her gentle and generous heart. They were living with their old grandmother Mahua, who often in the evening, before going to sleep, used to tell them imaginary stories of gypsies, kings and princesses, in the dim light of the hut. Kanka and Lila used to weave with the loom once used by the mother to make their living. They also had good fun playing in the courtyard where all the village’s children met. So that, among games and the usual simple nice things, their life flew quietly.


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ne day though something strange happened. Kanka started to feel weak. He didn’t want to talk and play, and also his appetite, which he was not lacking before, went down. As time passed, his condition worsened relentlessy. You can imagine Lila and grandma Mahua’s despair! They consulted the elders and all the educated people of the village, but nobody could understand the reason of that unexpected sickness. Even the barber, considered the keenest and the cleverest by everyone, didn’t know what to do. Meanwhile Kanka was getting worse. Now he wasn’t smiling anymore; it was time to take a decision. Grandma Mahua said to Lila: “There is only one thing to do. In the middle of the forest, two days walk from here an old sage lives in a cave. He will certainly give us the best advice. I’m too tired, Lila you go. I will take care of Kanka and together we will await your return.”


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he next morning Lila left quite early. Just passed the stream bordering the village, the forest started, huge and rich in trees, flowers and animals of varied types. Big magnolias, rhododendrons in bloom, scented neem and peepal, not to mention the thousand butterflies and birds of every colour. Quite often Lila had gone to the forest with her grandma, to collect healing herbs, but this was the first time that she was going alone! She gazed around a little frightened, but full of curiosity. The sky was just a little spot among the leafy branches of the trees, but at times bright rays of sun seeped through the plants, brightening up the green leaves and the gaudy colours of the flowers.



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he forest was inhabited by sounds and noises of every kind, from the singing of the birds to the squeaking of the insects, and sometimes a rustle, closer than the others, made little Lila start. Luckily the trail was well clear, and Lila was going through without troubles. Moreover the rainy season had just ended, and it was easy to cross the streams. Lila had not met anyone for a few hours. She was in the heart of the forest, a place where men seldom used to go. It was getting dark; Lila, tired of the long walk, stopped exhausted under a big banyan. The winding roots shaped a comfortable corner, looking exactly ready for her. Lila then crouched inside. A big leaf was her nice pillow. She didn’t take long to fall asleep.


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ut quite soon a noise, very, very close, woke her up. A bright big snake was carefully staring at her. Lila stood with a jump, but the snake said to her: “Don’t fear. The wise old man has sent me to take you to him. Follow me.” They needed another day of walking to reach the cave of the sage. Without the help of the snake, Lila would have had a hard time finding it, as it was so well hidden in the forest.


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he wise man welcomed the little girl with goodwill. He gave her a bowl of rice and some tea, and when Lila was refreshed and rested, he told her: “Lila, I know you’ve been looking for me for a long time and this is why I sent you my snake. Now tell me which reason brought you here.” Lila then told the wise man what happened to little Kanka.


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e listened to her silently, and after a long thought, he said to her: “Your brother has lost his smile. There is only one remedy. In the forest, not too far from here, in a magic wood of mangoes there is a little bird whose magic singing has the power to give back the smile to a child. You will recognize him because he lives among the branches of the biggest mango tree, and his blue feathers are different from those of any other bird. He is a little strange, but if you know how to talk to his heart he will follow you, and he will heal Kanka.” The sage went on: “In the magic wood lives a witch. She is very jealous of what she has got, and she will do her best not to lose the blue feathered little bird, her most precious treasure. Be very careful not to be seen by her, but in case this happens eat this magic root: it has the power to turn you into what you wish.”


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ila listened carefully, took the root, thanked and said goodbye to the sage and his kind snake. She picked up some fruit and left. She walked without stopping for one and a half days, and eventually the mango wood appeared in all its beauty.


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t didn’t take much to understand that it was a magic wood, as the leaves of the trees shined like ever, and the fruits sparkled as if they were made of gold. Under those mango leaves everything seemed different: Lila suddenly felt calmer. Slowly she went to the middle of the wood, where there was the biggest and oldest mango tree. Its’ branches spread all around, and an incredible number of little birds of every shape and colour were flying among its fronds. Lila then sat under the tree with her nose up, trying to see the blue feathered bird. There were birds yellow, red, green, blue, some with the sharpened beak, some with the curved beak; some were keeping warm in the nest, waiting for the food to come, some others were happily chirping and jumping among the branches.


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t a certain moment Lila heard a gentle and unmistakable singing: it was exactly him, the blue feathered little bird! Lila saw on the highest branch the golden mirror of his feathers. She spoke to him: “Hello, little blue feathered bird, my name is Lila. I’m here because my brother Kanka has lost his smile, and he needs your singing to recover. Can you help us?” The little bird went closer to Lila, fluttering, he made rings around her, then he settled first on her hair, then on her knees, and last Lila stretched her hand and stroked him. When he huddled chirping in her hand, Lila understood that the little bird had decided to help her. Slowly, slowly, she got up and started to walk with the little bird in her hand.


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ut as she reached the edge of the wood, something terrible happened: the sky suddenly darkened, the ground started to tremble, a very strong wind raged.


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ll the animals, big and small, stood still where they were: the joyful music of the wood suddenly turned into an icy silence, almost unbearable. All of a sudden a loud rumble: the witch! Wrapped in a large black cloak, she was staring at Lila with hypnotic, investigative eyes, incredibly deep. Her long hands, thin and wrinkled, were hanging out towards the little girl. Her mouth distorted in a damp smile, seemed to nearly swallow her. Lila barely managed to look away from the eyes of the witch; instant moment more would have been fatal! She gathered all her strength, took the magic root and gulped it while thinking “I want to become a strong and brave tiger, able to beat the witch.”


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ll of a sudden she changed: Lila had turned into a beautiful tiger! The witch was so impressed by the quick change that she couldn’t react in time.


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he tiger Lila attacked her with a jump and killed her. The witch disappeared; at last, her control on the wood was over. Slowly the little birds started singing again, the sun peeped through the clouds, and the wind stopped blowing. The blue feathered little bird, which had become smaller with fright, started again to fly while chirping; this was the goodbye to his friends of the wood.


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hen he settled on the back of tiger Lila and together they started their walk again. It was time to go back. The sun was shining, and everything was beautiful, more than ever. It wasn’t difficult to go back home; moreover, Lila now had a new friend! Meanwhile in the village, Kanka was getting more ill. Exhausted, he was lying on his bed without speaking. Grandma Mahua was beside him day and night, taking care of him with love. She was praying in her heart for Lila to return soon, bringing the right medicine with her. On the seventh night Kanka had a dream: he saw a little girl walking through the trees whistling, together with a funny bird. He understood his sister was coming back.


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he next morning Kanka was woken up by a gentle singing. He half-closed his eyes, and slowly turned his head. He saw the sun rays passing through the hut, and he felt the fresh morning air on his skin. Slowly, slowly, he rediscovered all those feelings which he had lost for sometime.


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sweet and joyful music spread out all around: it was the magic singing of the blue feathered little bird. Kanka gave a vague smile and understood he was recovering. The blue feathered little bird and a beautiful tiger were staring at him with tenderness. Kanka spoke: “Hello sister, it was time for you to be back. Now we’ll always stay together.” Lila licked his cheeks in answer. Kanka tried to move: his arms were strong and powerful again, his legs could not wait to jump again. He got up and went outside the hut. “Hey, look, I’ve recovered! And Lila is here with me!” All the people of the village came closer to the courtyard. When they saw a beautiful tiger playing with Kanka, they understood what had happened: the tiger had the same smiling eyes of Lila.


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ince then and for a long time, Kanka, Mahua and the tiger Lila lived together happily. Also the blue feathered little bird didn’t leave, because he had found happiness there.


This fairy tale was published in 1992 within a non-profit project to finance UCEP (Underpriviliged Children’s Educational Program), aimed at primary and professional schools located in the districts of Dhaka, Chittagong and Khulna, Bangladesh’s main cities. The project, conceived by Stefania Guerra and Daniele Zaghi - GeZ Design, has been realized thanks to the support of the group CTA - Food Cooperative Transport (Bologna), and Enfants du Monde, an NGO based in Geneva, warrantor of the entire operation. The book has been used in several primary schools in the Emilia-Romagna region.


SPA! visual design, 2013 www.spavisualdesign.it ISBN n°978-88-908725-5-6


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