This is an excerpt from upcoming book TIMELESS TALES OF A WISE SAGE by U. Mahesh Prabhu with Illustrations by Shantheri Bhat.
In a city, there lived a merchant named Dantil who directed the whole administration. So long as he handled the city business and royal business, all the inhabitants were satisfied. Why spin it out? Nobody ever saw or heard of his like for cleverness. For there is much of wisdom in the Neeti:
Suppose he minds the king’s affairs,
The common people hate him;
And if he plays the democrat,
The prince will execrate him:
So, since the struggling interests
Are wholly contradictory,
A manager is hard to find
Who gives them both the victory.
While he had occupied his position, he had his daughter married. To the wedding, he invited all the townspeople and the king’s entourage, paid them much honour, feasted there, and regaled them with gifts of garments and the like. And when the wedding was over, he conducted the king home with his ladies and showed him reverence.
Now the king had a house-cleaning drudge named Gorambh who took a seat that did not belong to him –in the very palace, and in the presence of the king’s professor. So Dantil cuffed him and drove him out. From that moment, the humiliation so rankled Gorambh’s inner soul that he had no rest even at night. Yet, he thought, “After all, why should I grow thin? It does me no good. For, I cannot possibly hurt him. And there is sense in the saying:
Indulge no angry, shameless wish
To hurt, unless you can.
The chick-pea, hopping up and down,
Will crack no frying pan.”
Now one morning, as he was sweeping near the bed where the king lay half awake, he said “What impudence! Dantil kisses the queen.” When the king heard this, he jumped up in a hurry, crying “Come, come Gorambh! Is that thing true that you were muttering? Has the queen been kissed by Dantil?”
“O, King,” replied Gorambh, “I was awake all night because I am passionately fond of gambling. So sleep overpowered me even when I was busy with my sweeping. So sleep overpowered me even when I was busy with my sweeping. I do not know what I said.”
But the jealous king thought, “Yes, he has free entrance to my palace. So has Dantil. Perhaps he actually saw the fellow kissing the queen. For the Neeti says:
Whatever a man desires, sees, does,
In broad daylight,
Still mindful, he will say or do
Asleep at night.
Whatever secrets, good or ill,
Men in their bosoms keep,
Are soon betrayed when they are drunk
Or talking in their sleep.
After a great deal of lamentation, he withdrew his favor forthwith from Dantil. Not to make a long story of it, he forbade his entrance at court.
When Dantil saw that the monarch’s favor was suddenly withdrawn, he thought: “Ah me! There is wisdom in the stanza:
Whom does not fortune render proud?
Whom does not death lay low?
To what route do passions not
Bring never ceasing woe?
What beggar can be dignified?
Whose heart no lover stings?
Who trapped by scamps, comes safely off?
Who is beloved of kings?
Who ever saw or heard
A gambler’s truthful word,
A neat and cleanly crow,
In love, a kindly snake,
A eunuch’s pluck awake,
A drunkard’s love of science,
A king in friends’ alliance?
And yet I never committed an unfriendly act against the king – or anyone else – not even in a dream, not even by mere words. So why does the king withdraw his favour from me?”
Now, one day, Gorambh, the sweeper, saw Dantil stopped at the palace gate, and he laughed aloud, saying to the doorkeepers: “Be careful, doorkeepers! This fellow Dantil’s temper has been spoiled by the king’s favor and he dispenses arrests and releases. If you stop him, you will get a cuffing just like me.”
And Dantil reflected on hearing this, “I see. It was Gorambh’s doing. Well, there is sense in the Neeti:
Though foolish, base, and lacking pride,
A servant at monarch’s side
Will have his honor satisfied.
Though fashioned on a cowardly plan
And mean, a royal servant can
Resent affronts from any man.”
After this lamentation, he went home, abashed and deeply stirred. Then he summoned Gorambh in the evening, gave him two garments as an honorable present and said, “My good fellow, I did not drive you out by order of the king. It was because I saw you, in chaplain’s presence, sitting where you did not belong, that I humiliated you.”
Now Gorambh received the two garments as if they were the kingdom of heaven and, feeling intense satisfaction, he said, “Friend merchant, I forgive you. You will soon see the reward of the honor shown me in the king’s favor and such things.” With this, he departed in high glee. For there is a wisdom in the saying:
A little thing will lift him high,
A little will make him fall:
Twixt balance-beam and scamp there is
No difference at all.
The next day, Gorambh entered the palace, and did his sweeping. And while the king lay half awake, he said “What intelligence! When our king sits at stool, he eats cucumber.”
Now, the king hearing this, rose in amazement and said “Come, come, Gorambh! What twaddle is this? But I remember that you are a house-servant and do not kill you. Did you ever see me engaged in that occupation?”
“O King,” said Gorambh, “I was awake all night because I am passionately fond of gambling. So drowsiness overcame me in the very act of doing my sweeping. I do not know what I was muttering. Pardon me, master, I was really asleep.”
Then the king thought, “Why, from the day of my birth I never ate cucumber while engaged in that occupation. And since this blockhead has talked unimaginable nonsense about me, it must be the same with Dantil. This being so, I made a mistake in taking the poor man’s honors from him. Nothing of the sort is conceivable with such men. And in his absence, all the king’s business and city business is at loose ends.”
After thus considering the matter from every point of view, he summoned Dantil and reinstated him.
“And therefore, I say:
Whoever is too haughty to
Pay king’s retainers honors due…”
“My dear fellow, Damanak,” said Sanjeevak, “your argument is quiet convincing. Let it be as you say.”
After this, Damanak took him to Pingalak and said, “O King, here is Sanjeevak.” Then Sanjeevak bowed respectfully and stood before the king with modesty. Thereupon, Pingalak extended over him a right paw plump, firm, massive, adorned with claws as formidable as thunderbolts, and said with deference, “Do you enjoy health? Why do you dwell in this wild wood?”
When questioned, Sanjeevak accurately related his separation from merchant Vardhaman and the others. And Pingalak, after listening to the story, said “Have no fear, my friend. Protected by my paws, lead your own life in this forest. Furthermore, you must always take your amusements in my vicinity. For this forest has many drawbacks, since it swarms with numerous savage creatures.” And Sanjeevak answered, “Very well, O King.”
Then the king of beasts went down to the bank of the river, drank and bathed his fill, and plunged again into the forest wherever inclination led him.
Thus the time passed, the mutual affection of the two increasing daily. Now Sanjeevak had assimilated vast intelligence by mastering numerous authoritative works, so that in very few days he planted discernment in Pingalak, dull as was his mind. He weaned him from forest habits and taught him village manners. Why spin it out? Sanjeevak and Pingalak did nothing but hold secret confabulations every day.
This being so, all the other animals of the retinue were kept at distance. As for the two jackals, they did not even have the entrée. More than that, as soon as they lacked the lion’s prowess, the whole company of animals, not excluding the two jackals, suffered grievously from hunger and huddled together. As the Neeti puts it:
A king, though proud and pure of birth,
Will see his servants flee
A court where no rewards are won
As birds a withered tree.
They may be honored gentlemen,
They may devoted be,
Yet servants leave a monarch who
Forgets the salary.
While, on the other hand:
A king may scold
Yet servants hold,
If he but pay
Upon the day.
Indeed, all the creatures in this world, adopting cajolery or one of the older three devices, live by eating one another. For example:
Some eat the countries: these are kings;
The doctors, those whom sickness stings;
The merchants those who buy their things;
And learned men, the fools.
The married are the clergy’ meat;
The thieves devour the indiscreet;
The flirts their eager lovers eat;
And Labour eats us all.
They keep deceitful snares in play;
They lie in wait by night and day;
And when occasion offers, prey
Like fish on lesser fish.
Now Karkat and Damanak, robbed of their master’s favor, took counsel together – for their throats were pinched with hunger. And Damanak said, “Karkat, my noble friend, we two seem to have lost our job. For Pingalak takes such delight in Sanjeevak’s conversation that he neglects his business. And the whole court is scattered every which way. What is to be done?”
And Karkat replied, “Even if the master does not take your advice, still you should admonish him to correct his faults. For the Neeti says:
Good counselors should warn a king
Although he pays no heed
(As Vidur warned the monarch blind)
To cease from evil deed.
Good counselors or drivers may not duck
From kings or elephants that run amuck.
Besides, in introducing this grass-nibbler to the master you were handling live coals.” And Damanak answered, “You are right. The fault is mine, not the master’s. As saying goes:
The jackal at the ram-fight;
And we, when tricked by Jackal;
The meddling friend – were playing
A self-defeating tune.”
“How was that?” asked Karkat. And Damanak told three stories, starting with the story of The Foolish Sage and the Jackal.