The Man Who Wouldn’t be King!

Vikram and Betaal Podcast

A long and eerie howl broke through the cold night air. King Vikram did not look around. His attention was centered on the corpse hanging on the peepal tree. The Vampire peeking out of the skull watched him reach for it with a sardonic grin. Vikram managed to ignore it altogether and put the corpse on his shoulder. Once again, he started his long march to where his soldiers waited for him with the hermit.

“OOOOOH KING, you do work very hard! But I wonder! Aren’t you bored, dejected? Let’s say that you take me to the hermit, and he gives you whatever it is that he has promised you. But..but, what if you don’t really like the reward after all this hard work? Hmmm? Let me tell you the story of the man who really wanted something. But, when he got it, he didn’t like it after all — the man who wouldn’t be king!

The Man Who Wouldn’t be King!

Along the banks of the river Ragmathi was the beautiful kingdom of Kanchanpur. Kanchanpur was ruled by King Virendra. He was not always a kind or thoughtful leader, but he was powerful. Virendra was known for his anger and his cruelty. No one challenged Virendra because they were afraid of him. “No one can defeat me,” Virendra thought to himself.

Virendra’s chief advisor, Dinanath, supported him and helped him keep the people of Kanchanpur under his control. Dinanath’s wife, Sumana, was Virendra’s sister.

Dinanath knew that if he kept Virendra happy, then he could enjoy the benefits of power. “My King, you are such an awe-inspiring leader! You must take greater care of yourself. Without you, our kingdom would be nothing! As the leader, you must set yourself apart from the others. Let me and our group of trusted ministers handle the people who come to your palace. That way, we can make sure nothing and no one endangers you. We must set out some guidelines to keep you safe.” Virendra was pleased with Dinanath’s thoughtfulness. He didn’t dwell too much on why he was being so thoughtful, but understanding people and their motives wasn’t Virendra’s strong point.  

From then on, anyone who wanted to bring their concerns to the King or his ministers had to see Dinanath and his wife, Sumana. Even though they were not rulers, Dinanath and Sumana enjoyed all the benefits of being part of the ruling family. They knew everything that happened In the kingdom and got the best of all the services. If anyone said anything against them, they threatened to tell Virendra.

Over time, Virendra came to believe that he was the best leader and that he never made mistakes! That’s just one of the traits common to all tyrants, I’m afraid. They do not have good advisors because they can’t accept any kind of criticism. That’s why tyrants are surrounded by unscrupulous people who tell them what they want to hear, not what they should hear. When things went wrong, as they sometimes did, Virendra got furious at the others. It was always someone else’s fault, never his own!

As you can imagine, the people of Kanchanpur were not happy! “Is there no one to challenge this cruel and greedy ruling family?” murmured many folks. They were very careful not to let the guards or Dinanath’s family catch them criticizing Virendra.

But all this wasn’t enough for Dinanath. “We have to make sure that Virendra will never look to anyone else for advice. What can we do?” Sumana was not one to “The trick is to keep him thinking that he is the best. As long as he doesn’t question what we do or develop a conscience himself, we have nothing to worry. Why don’t we find a way to bring others to praise Virendra.”

“Yes, but who will praise him freely? So far, the people do as he orders because they are afraid of him,” Dinanath wondered.

“Is that all? If we announce that we will give rewards, people will come like moths to the flame!” Sumana replied with assurance.

You know something? There is some truth to what Sumana says. Some people don’t really care too much about whether someone is honestly nice. If they benefit from it, they will be ready to flatter anyone.

So the husband and wife cooked up a plan to hold a celebration and fete the King. Many notable writers, poets, singers, and other artists came to the gathering. Virbhadra was delighted! “I’m such a great man. At last, these scholars have recognized my greatness.” He gave generous gifts to the people. The scholars were smart! They knew which side of their bread was buttered. If they had any doubts, they set those aside and praised King Virendra.

As smooth as things were for him, there was a thorn in Virbhadra’s hide. Jayadhar was a dacoit who lived along the border of Kanchanpur. He had a team to assist him in robbing the rich and sharing the loot with the poor along the border. Jayadhar was popular with the common folk. Dinannath tried his best to keep news of Jayadhar away from Virendra. It didn’t bode well for him to know that there was someone who was becoming popular with the people of the kingdom.

One evening, Jayadhar was resting under a tree, lost in a pleasant daydream. The humming of a song somewhere to his right brought him back to reality. He turned towards the sound.

A man in silk robes wearing a gem necklace was making his way to the nearby village. He held a heavy bag in one hand. So, you interrupted my wandering memories! Wonder what you have in that bag?” Jayadhar’s eyes crinkled in good humour.

He stepped out into the middle of the road, his arms at his hips. The traveller stopped and stared. Jayadhar’s scruffy beard, the knife at his waist, and his cheeky grin told the man who he was.

 Jayadhar held out his open hand. The traveller stepped back, but his face was curiously free of fear. 

“Young man, thank you! Thank you for lending your hand for me to hold. You are very polite, but I can manage on my own.” He said.

Jayadhar’s eyebrow went up sardonically. “Oh no, Grandpa, You have walked such a long distance carrying that heavy bag. I can’t let you carry it any further. Here, let me lighten your burden,” he replied in the same tone.

“Okay, let’s stop pretending! I worked hard to earn this reward, and I need it for my family. If you take it away, what will I use to feed them?”

“Oh, so, you worked for the reward. What kind of work was that? That money was from the taxes that people paid to the King. Instead of using it to benefit the people, the fool gives it to other fools who praise him mindlessly! How can you say that you earned it?

Look, young man! If you have a problem with the way the King runs the country, go take it up with him. I’m doing the best I can to take care of my family in the circumstances. If you take this money from me, what will happen? Are you going to cause any monumental change in the system? No! My family will have to struggle. The King will not hear of it because his sister and brother-in-law will hide it from him. Instead, those two will come looking for you and torture some commoners to find your whereabouts. You’ll only spread more misery and cause the King’s family to be even more cruel.

If you really want to change the way this kingdom is run, why don’t you do something about the people at the top? Go challenge them rather than a lonely old scholar!”

“Me, a king! Ha!” laughed Jayadhar.

“Why not? You are brave, no doubt. You must have friends who will take up arms to support you. You have enough understanding of the troubles common people go through-who knows, and you might even do some good as the King! As you pointed out, Virendra rules through anger and falls for flattery. I am sure you are as intelligent as you are brave and good-looking. You will become a king if you put your mind to it.”

The old man’s words worked. An idea, you can even call it a dream, flourished in Jayadhar’s mind. He didn’t pay much attention to the man leaving his side.

The old man had read him right. Jayadhar was an intelligent man and a good planner. He sent a group of trusted men to learn about the ministers, the guards, and the King’s family. They brought back news of the King, his sister’s family, the number of guards, and much more.

Jayadhar went about placing his men in different jobs—some men joined the King’s army, others joined the palace guards, and a few others went to work within the palace. Every now and then, his men gave gifts to their superior officers and other important members of the kingdom. They were careful not to let even a whiff of their activities reach Virendra or Dinanath.

Having laid the groundwork, about three months later, Jayadhar went into action. He entered the palace gates with armed men on the night his men were on guard. His men in the army rounded up the officers and other important members. Virendra had no chance—he had been so swiftly cut off from his ministers and advisors, Dinanath included. His Virendra tried to escape but died in battle. His young son was thrown in prison.

The next morning, Jayadhar’s men brought all the ministers and officers to the palace. “I am the king now,” declared Jayadhar.

But who are you? Where did you come from?” a thin, reedy voice called out from the back of the crowd. Was the person brave or just foolish? No one will know because another loud voice answered back.

“What does it matter, who he is? Can’t you see he is a brave fellow?” It was Dinanath! Eyes widened, and heads nodded as the crowd took the lead that was thrown at them.

“He took us all by surprise. He must be a very clever chap to have planned and carried this challenge without anyone’s knowledge!”

“Yes, he is a smart fellow indeed!”

“He’s handsome too! Did you see his head of hair? Do you see the sparkle in his eyes?”

The murmuring of the crowd grew to a rumble.

Jayadhar got his wish. He was crowned King of Kanchanpur. Jayadhar had expected the transition to be difficult. After all, wouldn’t the King’s loyalists hesitate to let him lead? But Dinanath led the way for the courtiers to accept the new King. Jayadhar was suspicious at first but soon came to believe that Dinanath was advising him for the best.

“My lord king,” Dinanath approached Jayadhar after a few months. “It is a pity that not many in our kingdom know how you came to sit on the throne. Those of us in your court are still in awe of your clever and heroic actions that rescued us all from Virbhadra. We feel that we should celebrate your rise.”

What a tingling feeling praise gives us! A foolish smile spread on Jayadhar’s face. “How do you think we should celebrate?” he asked.

Kings and queens always have poetry and epics written in their honour to tell everyone about their bold deeds. We should invite the scholars of our kingdom to write about you.” Dinanath had his answer ready.

“If you think people will be interested to hear about me.…” Jayadhar trailed off hesitantly.

“Oh yes, my King! Yesterday, my wife was at the market. When the people found out that she was from the palace, they came over to her under some pretext or the other just to find out more about you. Let me invite some of our learned men and women. They will enshrine your glory in their songs.”

“In that case, do go ahead with your plans,” Jayadhar said shyly.

Dinanath had a lot of practice in organizing such events. By the end of the month, there was a large celebration at the palace. People vied with one another for their turn to read or recite their work. The break in the succession had robbed them of a few months’ worth of rewards.

Just as a young woman stood up to share her song, an old man pushed her out. “Let me go first,” he said. ‘That’s a familiar voice! Where have I heard it before?’ Jayadhar took a closer look.

“There is a new dacoit on the road to my village. I have to go home before it is too dark. Let me have my turn first so that I may leave sooner.”

“A new dacoit???” Just for one second, Jayadhar couldn’t breathe! This was the man who’d told him to overthrow the Virbhadra.

Jayadhar felt like he was on fire. He gave away the rewards affecting complete unconcern, and went to his rooms. When he came out, he was in his old clothes. He called for the ministers to assemble along with his men.

“Bring Virendra’s son,” he ordered one of the guards. When the child was brought over, Jayadhar handed him over to Dinanath.

“Here is your nephew. Crown him king.” He turned to his men, “I’m leaving now. It is your choice whether you want to stay here or you want to go with me.”

With that, he collected his horse and rode away.

Silence enveloped Vikram for just an instant, only to be confronted by the Vampire. “Now, what kind of a fool fights to get a throne only to give it up voluntarily? You better answer me if you know why. Or else, I’ll have the pleasure of watching your head explode.”

Vikrama had no other choice but to answer the Vampire. “It is true that Jayadhar wanted to end the cruel reign of Virendra. So when the old man first suggested that he should overthrow Virendra, Jayadhar believed that he would be a kinder and just king. But the old man was very cunning in the way he planted the idea. He used flattery to escape with all of his rewards and Jayadhar fell for it.

Once he became the King, Jayadhar fell into the same trap as Virendra. Dinanath controlled him through flattery, and the courtiers and scholars benefitted by flattering him.

When he heard the old man say that there was a new dacoit, Jayadhar realized that just as he had replaced Virendra, a new man had replaced him. He wasn’t cruel or greedy but vain. The new dacoit was helping the poor and saving them from his stupidity.

Jayadhara felt ashamed that he had not been a better ruler. So he gave up his claim to the throne and left Kanchanpur.”

With a lightening of his shoulders, King Vikram knew that the corpse had flown away.

CLick here to listen to other Vikram and Betaal stories:

The Wary Chief

The Man Who Wouldn’t be King!

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