At the palace of Akbar, the emperor, a robbery was discovered. One of the royal advisors was missing a valuable piece of jewelry – a thief must have broken into the palace.
Birbal, listening to the advisor’s story, spoke up. “It could not have been a thief from outside. This palace is too well guarded. No, the thief is someone who lives here. I can find who it is.”
The emperor looked at Birbal with surprise and amusement. “Are you so sure, Birbal?”
“Let a donkey be brought to the main courtyard, and have all who live within these walls come there,” Birbal said.
It took some time, but eventually everyone was assembled. Birbal stood at the head of a donkey who was tethered to a pillar. “Let each person, one by one, come take hold of the donkey’s tail and say the words, ‘I am not a thief.’ The donkey will tell us who lies.” He patted the donkey’s forehead, and the beast twitched its ears as if in agreement.
One at a time, the members of the court went to the donkey, took its tail in his hand, and said the words, “I a not a thief.” The donkey said nothing at all. At last, there was no-one left. The emperor had watched the whole thing. “Well, Birbal? Who is our thief?”
Birbal turned to the crowd. “Please raise your hands.”
It soon became obvious that each person had a smear of black paint on his hand – all except one, the one person whose guilt made him fear touching the donkey.
The emperor laughed and clapped Birbal on the back as the thief was taken away. “Only you, Birbal, could devise such a scheme.”