His footsteps sounded loud in King Vikram’s ears. There was not a soul stirring in that graveyard. Now that he knew where the corpse hung, without any hesitation, he walked over to the tree, pulled the corpse and put it on his shoulder, and started his long trek again. This journey was silent no more; as soon as King Vikrama started walking back, the vampire started.
“So, King Vikrama, You’ve got me again! You are dedicated. But why exactly are you carting me away on your shoulder? Hmmm? You work this hard to fulfill someone’s wish; why? Somehow, giving me up to the hermit will magically make everything perfect for your kingdom! By the way, do you really want everything to be perfect? Be careful what you wish for! Quite often, when we get what we want, we find that we don’t want it after all!
Let me tell you the story of the twins Rohan and Rohini and the magic necklace.
The Magic Necklace
Rohan and Rohini lived in a town in the foothills of the mountains. If you asked them what they liked the most in life, they would both say “adventure.’ From exploring the hills, swimming in the river, and trying their hand at every new activity, the two had no fear. Naturally, this got them into trouble. One day, their parents gave them chores to do hooping to keep them at home and out of trouble. Rohan and Rohini tried their best to finish all the work, they really did. But folding clothes, cleaning the garden, and organizing the kitchen can be incredibly dull for children who’d rather climb the mango tree, peek into bird’s nests, and find treasure in the caves.
Seeing their mother napping after lunch, the two children filled a bag with snacks, slipped out of their home and yard, and fled into the hills. And there they played for a while.
“Look at it shine,” Rohan held up a rock to catch the light. “Let’s take it home,” Rohini said. Soon the collection of treasures to take home—heart-shaped leaves, shiny stones, and colourful feathers had grown that it was impossible for them to carry it all in their hands. So, the two found a rock flat enough for both of them, right by the river. As she sat munching on the murukku, Rohini swished her feet in the river below. Minnows darted here and there in the flowing water. Crushing the murukku into small crumbs, Rohini flung them into the water. Fish gathered like the petals of a flower to catch the crumbs and then disappeared with the flow of the water.
“Why do we have to do chores? There is so much to see and so much to do! If only we could hide away like this every time!” Rohan grumbled.
Thumps of running feet and shouts made them jump. An uneasy feeling settled in their stomach. They climbed up higher and hid behind large rocks. Rohini peeked out from the safety of her hiding place. Five men spread out on the rocks below, trying to catch something in the empty air. Their eyes glinted as hard as the steel of the knives in their belt. “Where did he go?” asked a gruff voice. If the men didn’t look so disreputable and chill their bones, the two children would have thought it was the funniest thing that they’d ever seen. But they stayed still behind the rocks and quiet as a feather. The men walked on, checking behind the rocks, looking for something or someone. Rohan made to step out, but Rohini pulled him back with a finger at her lips. “Let’s wait for another ten minutes to be sure they don’t come back,” Rohini mouthed to her twin. That’s how when a new man appeared on the rocks, he didn’t see them. A bead necklace hung between his hands as if he’d just taken it off his neck.
The children held their breath. What magic was this? The man looked around furtively and hurried on, away from the path the five bandits had taken.
Rohan and Rohini waited a while longer before they scurried to the rock below, collected their treasures, and walked home.
The kids were unusually quiet and stayed home for the next few days. “What happened to them?” their mother thought. The day she went to the market, Rohan and Rohini went to help her. Rohini felt a sharp dig in her waist and turned crossly. “Over there, isn’t that the same necklace?” Rohan pointed. The jewellery stall had many bead jeweller, but one stood out. Large colorful beads with an even bigger red bed in the middle.
As one, the twins walked to the stall. “I’d like to buy that necklace, please,” Rohini asked. Luckily for them, they had enough money to buy it. “It’s so beautiful! Where did you get it? I’d like to buy another for my mother,” Rohan said. “Oh, there’s only one of that kind, I’m afraid. A little girl sold it to us.” The jeweller told him.
That evening Rohini and Rohan both tried the necklace on, and yes, they became invisible! It was the same necklace! Keeping quiet about the magic necklace was the hardest thing Rohan and Rohini had ever had to do in their short lives. At first, they were very careful when they used the necklace. As time went by, it was too tempting to play gags on their friends.
One evening, Rohan wore the magic necklace and climbed the mango tree in a neighbour’s garden. In his excitement, he forgot to check for others in the garden. Down below, the grandma of the house saw a bag floating in the air. Mangoes snapped off the branches and disappeared into the bag! And she let out a loud howl!
Something toppled and fell to the ground loudly, along with the raining mangoes and bag. Grandma pulled herself up and ran to the spot. Her feet connected with something. She plonked herself on the wiggly invisible Rohan and hollered for the others in the house.
And so, Rohan’s parents and everyone else there got to hear about the magic necklace. The twins’ parents knew that it wasn’t safe to keep the necklace. After a night of discussions, they decided to hand it over to the head of the townsmen.
The headman was really surprised by the gift. He tried it on and walked around, and sure enough, no one could see him. Every now and then, he wore the necklace and walked around the village, listening to what was going on. Thieves, gamblers, and others who were out to fleece the townspeople learned that their secrets were no longer safe. The town was a much safer place.
On one such night, the headman went about exploring market street. The shops were closed for the night, but he could make out the shapes of a group of men sitting and talking. He tiptoed close to the men and eavesdropped. “He is an honourable man. He wouldn’t do that.” A tradesman shook his head, defending someone. Another querulous voice spoke up. “Ha! He walks around with that magic necklace, and no one knows what he does or listens to. No one can resist the temptation of using something like that for his own benefit. He is only an ordinary person like us. I have my doubts about him. I bet he walks around listening for information to make his business better than the competition. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is here right now!” An uncomfortable silence settled on the group, and it broke up.
The headman padded away and went home. He lay awake, biting his lips, pulling his cover on and off. Unable to stay in bed, he tiptoed to the hall. When the sun shone through the window, he knew what he had to do.
He told his assistant to keep an eye on his affairs, saddled his horse, and left for the capital of the kingdom.
Uday, the raja of Vishalpur, was known to be a wise man. The headman was relieved to pass on the responsibility of the bead necklace on to the king and rode back the same day.
Uday decided to keep the necklace with him rather than give it to the attendants for safekeeping. He wore the necklace every now and then and roamed around freely all over the capital. Just as it was with the town, the city too, became a safe place. Thanks to the necklace, Uday was able to root out the criminals and their hiding places.
Then, on one of his nightly excursions, Uday wandered aimlessly, enjoying his time alone. A door opened to his right, and a man came out. There was a commotion inside. Curious, Uday fell in step behind someone opening the door and found himself in an inn. There, a man was acting out, and the crowd roared with laughter! Uday felt hot! Blood rushed to his face! The man was mimicking him, Uday! He was making fun of him! Wasn’t he the most benevolent and wise king? How dare he! Uday’s jaws tightened, and he reached for his knife. The room fell silent as he materialized with the necklace in his other hand.
The security officers on the street led the man away.
But Uday was not happy! An uneasy feeling niggled at him as he lay down to sleep. Nothing could shake it off. He woke up with the same feeling. The court, too, was subdued, as if waiting for him to do something. Uday stayed lost in thought. Later that day, a man approached the king. “Raja, I hear that you have my necklace. I lost it in the forest. I don’t know how it came to you, but I’d like my property back.”
“Can you tell me what it looks like?” Raja Uday asked the man. “It has thirty five colorful beads in all, with the bead in the middle, the eighteenth bead, all red in colour. But my necklace has a special power. When you wear it, you become invisible to everyone around you.”
The Raja immediately handed the necklace over to the hermit. Soon after, he asked his guards to release the man they had imprisoned the night before.
The vampire laughed and said, “Oh Vikrama, isn’t it strange what happened here? The kids wanted to be invisible so they could have fun. But their parents gave the necklace away. The headman of the town used the necklace very wisely, but he too, gave it away to the king. Now the king, his behaviour was the most puzzling. He could have used the necklace to benefit his whole kingdom. Instead, he gave it back to the man who claimed it was his. He was the king, he could have kept it, and there would have been no recriminations. Why didn’t any of these people keep the necklace? If you know the answer and don’t speak, your head will shatter into a thousand pieces.
King Vikram replied to the Betaal, “The children didn’t understand the true power of the magic necklace. The parents were right to be concerned for their safety. Already, many people knew about the necklace. The news would spread, and the bandits could come back looking for it. They were wise to give it to the headman.
The headman had greater security. So he was not in danger from the bandits. But the night he overheard the merchants on market street, he realized that he could lose the trust of the townspeople. A leader cannot lead without the trust of his people. So he handed the magic necklace to the king.”
Yes, the king could have used the necklace to help his entire kingdom. The night he arrested the man who made fun of him, he realized that things had changed. As a king, he should be able to handle criticism and mockery. But in the heat of the moment, he had the man arrested. Uday realized that he should have walked away from the inn rather than reacting in anger. So what if the man made fun of him? People should have the freedom to do what they want as long as they don’t create problems for others.
That is why when the real owner came for the necklace, he returned it. He was already a wise and just ruler. He didn’t need the magic necklace to make his kingdom a better place.“
No sooner had King Vikram finished the Betaal flew back to its tree.
Click here to listen to other Vikram and Betaal stories: