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A.Word.A.Day--Parthian shot

Pronunciation Sound Clip RealAudio

My eight-year-old daughter Ananya was about to do her homework, but her mind was elsewhere. She sharpened her pencils. She arranged the eraser, sharpener and ruler in a row. Then she collected the pencil shavings in a pile.

"Let's read the first problem," I suggested, but she began doodling. "Well, have you heard the story of the bird's eye?" I asked. Her ears perked up. I began...

Long ago in India, there lived a martial arts teacher named Drona. He ran an academy in the middle of the forest where he taught the art of archery. Students traveled for miles and miles to learn from him. A boy named Arjuna wanted to be the best archer in the world. So he decided to study at Drona's academy. He lived in the cottages for students.

Drona showed his students how to hold a bow and arrow. He told them to focus, "Look at where you want your arrow to go. Nowhere else." He told them to concentrate, "Think only of what you want your arrow to do. Nothing else."

Arjuna listened intently. He practiced and practiced and practiced. One night while Arjuna was eating his dinner, a gust of wind blew out the oil lamp. Arjuna continued eating.

"I can eat in the dark because I know where my mouth is," he said to himself, "I don't need to look at anything else."

He decided to practice archery in the dark. He relighted the lamp and used it as a target. He thought, "I know where my target is and I don't need to look at anything else."

He picked up his bow and arrows and began shooting. TWANG! TWANG! The sound of bow strings filled the air. When Drona heard the sound, he came out of his cottage. The sight of Arjuna practicing archery delighted him. He blessed Arjuna, saying "May your arrows never miss their targets."

Soon other students grew envious of all the attention Arjuna was getting. "Why do you think Arjuna is the best among us all?" they asked the teacher. That evening Drona made an announcement.

"Tomorrow, there will be an archery competition to find out the best archer," Drona said. "When the sun climbs over the horizon, be ready with your bows and arrows."

The students polished their bows. They sharpened their arrows. Next morning they gathered in the yard. Glossy bows and pointed arrows gleamed in the sun. The wind was still but the students' hearts fluttered with excitement. Drona stepped out. In his hands was a bird made of clay. He laid it on a tree far from them.

"See that clay bird perched on the tree ahead of us? Aim at its eye," he said. Then he called the first student. The student plucked an arrow from the quiver, placed it on the bow, and pulled the string. "What do you see ahead of you?" Drona asked. "I see the sun, the clouds, the trees," the student replied as he released the string. The arrow shot forward and landed yards away from the tree.

The second student took his position. He plucked an arrow from his quiver, placed it on the bow, and pulled the string. "What do you see ahead of you?" Drona asked. "I see the tree, the branches, the leaves," the student replied as he released the string. The arrow shot forward and landed near the roots of the tree.

The next student came forward, plucked an arrow from his quiver, placed it on the bow, and pulled the string. "What do you see ahead of you?" Drona asked. "I see the bird, its legs, its wings," the student replied as he let the string go. The arrow shot forward and grazed the wings of the bird.

Finally it was Arjuna's turn. He plucked an arrow from his quiver, placed it on the bow, and pulled the string. "What do you see ahead of you?" Drona asked. "I see the eye of the bird," Arjuna replied. "What else do you see, Arjuna?" Drona asked. "Nothing. I see only the round black eye of the bird," Arjuna replied as he released the string. The arrow shot forward with a swoosh. It pierced the center of the eye of the clay bird.

"And that's the end of the story," I announced. Ananya thought for a few moments. "Hmmm.. I see. So I'm Arjuna, my pencil is the arrow, and the homework problem is the bird's eye?" she asked. "Yes," I replied. "It's a story from Indian mythology."

She didn't even hear me. She was busy with her homework.

* * *

This week we'll see words related to archery many of which could be used metaphorically in unrelated contexts as well.

Parthian shot (PAR-thee-uhn shot) noun

A hostile remark made in departing.

[After the natives of Parthia, an ancient country in southwest Asia.]

Parthians were expert archers. Their specialty was shooting arrows while in (or pretending to be in) retreat which disrupted the enemy forces. The more descriptive term "parting shot" is a synonym.

-Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)

"'One other thing, Lestrade,' [Sherlock Holmes] added, turning round at the door: 'Rache,' is the German for 'revenge'; so don't lose your time looking for Miss Rachel.' With which Parthian shot he walked away, leaving the two rivals open-mouthed behind him."
Arthur Conan Doyle; A Study In Scarlet; 1886.

X-Bonus

Woodman, spare that tree! / Touch not a single bough! / In youth it sheltered me, / And I'll protect it now. -George Pope Morris. journalist and poet (1802-1864)

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