REMEMBERING THE MONKEYS' FAST AND THE MARSHMALLOW EXPERIMENT















“It's through delayed gratification that patience comes.”
― Sunday Adelaja

One of the stories on ‘Patience’ had come to me when I was a little boy, and it came in the form of a funny lesson in our early school-text. The story was titled – “Mangagala Upavasa’. Translated from Kannada, it meant ‘Monkeys’ Fast’.

Near a village temple, lived a family of monkeys. The devotees gave these monkeys lots of eatables. Monkeys were growing fatter and fatter every day. The male head of the family was concerned about this problem. One day, he heard the priest of the temple explaining to the devotees the advantage of fasting on the Ekadasi (the eleventh day of the waxing moon). Impressed, the chief called an urgent meeting of his family members. “Look, we need to do something to shed our weight,” he said, “So, we all shall be observing a day-long fast tomorrow, the Ekadasi day. We will not eat anything, particularly our most favourite food, the bananas.”

All agreed.

The following day, all monkeys sat quietly closing their eyes.

A little later, the youngest of all opened his eyes slightly… Delicious bananas hung from a nearby banana tree. So, he calmly said, “As soon as the fast gets over, in the evening, we need to have food ready. So, why can’t we keep a banana in our hand? I mean to say only hold the banana in hand and not eat.”

The suggestion was accepted. Each monkey held a banana in his hand, closed his eyes and waited…

After a while, the little monkey came out with another proposal… “To save time, why can’t we peel off the banana and hold it in our hand… I mean, only peel off and not eat.”

“Excellent idea!” Each monkey peeled the banana and held it in his hand… The fast continued, this way.

A while later, the little monkey said, “It’s unhealthy to let flies sit on the peeled banana… Why can’t we place it inside the mouth? Mind you, only placing inside the mouth and not eating…”

“That’s really safe,” agreed all and placed the banana in the mouth…

The little one had a final proposal and so, he opened his mouth…. Meanwhile, the banana slipped into his tummy… “Banana went into my tummy!” he managed to say…

By then, all the bananas had slipped into the tummies and they were all rolling their hands over their tummies…

The head of the family had the final word: “My dear ones, we need to shed our excess weights. But, we have just discovered that we cannot keep the bananas in our mouths for too long!”


As our teacher was enchanting us with this delightful fable in our native village, in the far away Stanford University, Prof. Walter Mischel was putting together an experiment, which came to be known as ‘The Marshmallow Experiment’. In this experiment, little monkeys were replaced by little kids… Banana was replaced by a marshmallow. A marshmallow was placed in front of each kid in separate rooms. Kids were told, that if they waited for ten/twenty minutes, resisting their temptation to eat the marshmallow, they would get an additional marshmallow as an incentive. The experiment was a heartwarming experience… Just the way the monkeys had fasted on the Ekadasi, long, long ago!





Patience pays. If we have patience, we have a lot many things with us…

But then, but then… You see, our monkey-DNA wouldn’t easily allow us to sit at rest for a long time… nor resist the temptation of instant gratification…

Just remembered these tales as I was losing my own patience today… and getting restless!


GERALD D’CUNHA

Pic.: Katha Kids

Video: YouTube


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