Saturday, November 9, 2013

Modern Times

This story is taken from the Chandamama magazine, a treasure trove of stories and values. They just don’t make books like these nowadays. Of all the wonderful stories I have read there, this one just stayed in my mind. I won’t say anymore. Read this story and judge for yourselves.

A long time back in ancient India, the kingdom of Kushalgadh was ruled by a Maharaja named Vikram Singh. Vikram Singh was an able and just ruler, always keeping the interests of the kingdom and his subjects above his own. Needless to say, Kushalgadh saw great peace and prosperity during his reign and his subjects always remained happy and contended. But despite all his achievements, deep down inside the King always had the nagging doubt whether he was really the ruler the people made him out to be. He was curious to know the conditions of the kingdom before his rule, at the time of his father and his grandfather.

So to satisfy himself, one day he organized a huge gathering of all aged scholars and wise nobles, people who were part of the kingdom before he ascended the throne. He organized a presentation ceremony and rewarded the scholars with lavish presents. In turn, the scholars heaped praises upon the king and blessed him with long life and prosperity. At the end of the ceremony, the King addressed the gathering and put forth the question which was bothering him.

“Esteemed Scholars and Wise men,” he started “I am well and truly honored by your presence and I thank you profusely for taking the trouble of meeting me. I have called this gathering to ask you a question which has been nagging me for quite some time. I am sure that most of you have the answer to it.” He said.

The entire crowd became silent and curiously waited for the King to elaborate further.

“I know that most of you have been in this Kingdom much before my time and have also been witness to the rule of my esteemed father, Maharaja Gopal Singh and his father, my grandfather Maharaja Dushyant Singh before him. I want to know honestly from all of you, since most of you have been witness to both eras: How does my current rule compare to that of my father’s and grandfather's rule? Are my subjects truly happy? Are the conditions in the kingdom during my rule better or worse during that of the previous rule?”

The entire crowd was stunned into silence. Many were wondering how to put the answer as diplomatically as possible. They know that if they praised the rule of one King, it would be like denouncing the rule of the other, tantamount to insulting the ruler himself. The King, for all his virtues was also a man of quick temper. There was no telling what he might do if enraged.

Sensing the uneasiness of the people around him, the King said, “Pray do not hesitate in giving an honest answer. I am asking this question for the good of the Kingdom and all its’s subjects. If there is any shortcoming on my part, anything which I have overlooked, I will be most happy to rectify it to make Kushalgadh a better place.”

Still no one dared reply. There was a palpable tension in the air. Finally the King, exasperated by the long silence shouted in frustration, “IS THERE NO ONE WHO CAN GIVE ME AN HONEST ANSWER?”.

“Excuse me your highness!”, a voice same from the crowd. The one who had spoken was an old man near about ninety years of age. His skin was wrinkled and rough and his back hunched a little. But there was a slight twinkle in his eyes and a smile on his face suggesting that he had seen a lot in life and yet had the zest and enthusiasm to keep going.

Immediately, the King’s eyes lit up with hope. Here was someone who perhaps had the answer to his question.

“Dear Sir”, the King asked the old man, “It seems you have an answer to my doubt. Please speak without fear or hesitation. I assure you your answer will be well received.”

The old man replied in a slow but steady tone “Your Highness, I was born about ninety years back and I have witnessed the rule of three generations, that of your esteemed grandfather and father and now your illustrious self. I might not have the direct answer to your question. But let me narrate my life experiences which might help you to gain some insight.”

The King replied with brimming curiosity, “Please proceed by all means, wise sir.”

The entire hall was wrapped in silence as the old man began.

“My name is Raghav. I was a trader by profession until I retired recently. I was born during your illustrious grandfather’s rule. Now there was another family living next to me who had a boy of the same age as mine. His name was Shyam and soon he and I became great friends. We would play together, go to school together, study and eat together. Our closeness grew and we became more like brothers. Soon, he and I got married one after the other. In time, my wife gave birth to a daughter and a few months later so did Shyam’s wife. Life still continued the same way until one fateful day Shyam called me over to his house. He had not been keeping well for some days. I was shocked to see him looking seriously ill and in poor condition. His eyes were blood red and his body was shivering violently. Concerned, I sat next to him. Slowly, with great effort he managed to speak.

‘Raghav’ he spoke at length, ‘The doctor has spoken. I know for sure now my days are numbered. It is only a matter of a few days before I depart this world.’, he said weakly.

‘Do not speak of such things my friend.’, I replied, distressed. Although I tried to give him hope, deep in my heart I knew he was telling the truth.

‘I have lived a full life and have no desires left. My only worry is for my daughter Nirmala. After I depart she will have no-one to care for her in this world. Raghav, you have been more like a brother to me. Consider this as a dying man’s request. Please take care of Nirmala after I have gone. I have set aside a pile of money for her marriage dowry. As soon as she is of suitable age get her married off to a respectable family. I have nothing more to ask of you. Please do not refuse me.’, he pleaded.

‘Do not worry Shyam. Nirmala is like a daughter to me also. I will make sure she is comfortably settled in life. I will look after her like my own daughter.’, I replied with conviction.

In a few days Shyam died from prolonged illness. His wife, unable to bear the pain of his death went into a coma and herself died a few days after Shyam’s death. True to my word, I adopted Nirmala and took care of her like my own daughter. After she came of age, I got her married off to a boy from a respectable family and gave the couple the money kept aside by Shyam as her dowry.

Some years back, during your illustrious father’s rule, Nirmala visited me. She was now happily married and settled. I was in a slight financial difficulty at that time. Seeing her a thought occured to me. What if I had kept the money given by Shyam for myself and got Nirmala married off to a boy from a poor family? Who would have known? I could have kept the money all for myself. I cursed myself for my honesty. Life went on as usual.

Sometime back, that is recently, under your rule, Nirmala came to visit me in one of her usual routine visits. Even though she had aged and was a now a mother to a daughter herself, she still looked as radiant and beautiful as ever. Seeing her a feeling of lust overtook me. I now cursed myself for letting her go. I felt that I should have kept her as my mistress and used her to satisfy my desires. I could have also used the money for my own personal benefit."

Err.... that is all I have to say your highness.” Raghav concluded a bit sheepishly.

There was pin-drop silence in the crowd as the people slowly gathered the intent of Raghav’s speech. The King himself was slow to react, his face turning into a mask of puzzled expressions. Then, slowly, the truth dawned on him. He rose from his throne and walked over to the old man. There were muted and excited whispers from the crowd.

“That’s done it. The King will surely have his head now”, one noble whispered to another.

“The old fool. He should have kept his mouth shut!”, the other noble whispered back in agreement.

 “I hope my little yarn has not offended you, your highness!”, asked the old man, a bit troubled seeing the King standing in front of him.

The King looked at him for sometime, wearing a serious expression on his face. Then slowly, a smile broke on his countenance. “No my dear Sir. I am not in the least bit offended.”, the King replied gracefully. “Far from it, I am truly grateful. You have really opened my eyes. I have grasped the meaning of what you intended to convey. At the time of my grandfather’s rule, people were hardworking and honest and also had a good sense of moral values and virtues and would live up to their commitments. During my father's rule, the decline had started. People started getting greedy and money-minded, even though their sense of moral values were still intact. And now during my rule, the decline has become absolute. Apart from being greedy, people have also lost their sense of moral values and are slowly getting characterless. I could not have put it in a better way myself. You have killed the snake but have kept the stick intact. Well done Sir!”

Hearing the King’s praise, the entire hall burst out into applause. The King embraced the old man and rewarded him handsomely. Heeding the old man's advice, the King took drastic steps and soon rooted out all moral vices and corruption, setting Kushalgadh on the path to peace and prosperity for the coming generations.

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