Water poured down King Vikram’s face, blurring his sight. He felt his way around the peepal tree, trying to remember how far he had to climb to reach the hanging corpse. Then, a flash of lightning lit up the sky, and he saw the toothy grin of the corpse welcoming him. Over his shoulder went the corpse with the Vampire, and Vikram began to march through the slush. It seemed like the Vampire got used to this ride.

As the rain abated, the Vampire began to speak to King Vikram. “Adventure, and the need to keep your word seems to be your nature, King Vikrama! Now, do you believe that one can change their nature at all? Some people believe that it is impossible to change one’s nature, and that you are stuck with being who you are. Others believe that you can change your nature. Listen to my story on the choice people make and tell me what you think.”

The Choice

Amar and Ashok had been friends since childhood. They went to the same school, played together, and even began to work together. When two friends spend a lot of time together, they end up mimicking the other’s behaviour, thoughts, and habits. No one knows who started it first, but the two friends had this habit of being critical about everything and everyone.

The two friends justified their behaviour in the name of being honest and plain spoken. “It is our nature to speak the truth. We are not doing it to hurt anyone. If others are hurt by what we say, maybe they should see if there is some truth in what we say. They must be doing something wrong. Otherwise we won’t have anything bad to say about them.”

Friends and family tried to explain to them how it was affecting their relationship with others. “other kids don’t want to spend time with you because they feel that you are always criticizing them. If you don’t stay this way, neither of you will be invited to any activities or celebrations. You will miss out on being with others.”

“We don’t care,” Amar replied. “ All those activities are boring,” Ashok commented. Neither boy saw any need to change their behaviours. They had each other, after all.

When the boys were old enough to work, Amar’s father sent him to the neighbouring village to work on his uncle’s farm. Amar began to follow the same path here as well. “You have given the animals too much to eat.” “You haven’t locked the granary door properly,” he criticized his fellow workers. In his mind, the others had to listen to him because it was his uncle’s farm!

Chandru, the farm manager, was patient for a couple of days. On the third day, when he saw Amar berating a farmhand, he couldn’t stay quiet any longer. “I haven’t seen much work from you. I’ve been watching you, and all you do is interfere with what the others have to do. You better stop finding fault with their work, young man, or you’ll get into trouble with me!” Chandru’s voice was calm, but no one had any doubt about who was in charge here.

His skin pricked with everyone’s eyes on him, but Amar was not one to let things go. He swung around abruptly and carried himself off to the house to find his uncle.

“Uncle, do you know what your farm manager Chandru did? I was correcting some of the other workers because they were too lazy to do it right. Instead of appreciating my hard work, he told me to stop. Because of his poor management, the other workers don’t do their work correctly. They are all cheating you, and he doesn’t mind it. When I showed them the right way, he had the audacity to tell me to stop interfering with their work. Doesn’t he know who I am? Come with me, and we will show him who is in charge!” His angry words rolled off his tongue like heavy clouds crashing into each other.

Now, Amar’s uncle was a smart man. He was a successful man. Amar’s father had had a good reason to send his son to him because he had known that over at his uncle’s house, Amar would hear a few truths himself.

Amar’s uncle walked out with him. Chandru and the other farmhands were busy working. “Chandru, Amar’s father wants him to learn everything about farming. Where should he start?”

“Well, sir, in that case, I think he should first learn to clean up after the animals.”

“Fantastic! Amar, Chandru is going to teach you everything you need to know about farming. Follow his orders exactly as he says, and when you finish here, you will be ready to manage your own farm back home.”

Amar could not challenge his uncle. His uncle made it clear that Chnadru was in charge and yet had given him a way to save face. He had no other choice but to do as Chandru said.

Amar had to start from the most basic jobs on the farm, and only when Chandru was satisfied with his work did he change his job. Chandru kept a tight rein on Amar’s criticisms. At the same time, he praised Amar when he did his job well. Amar understood how every job on the farm had to be done well for the animals and the crops to thrive. He was accepted as a good worker by the other farmhands, and he learned to respect the others. A little over a year later, Amar went home to visit his parents.

Amar wandered around the familiar streets happily and went to meet his friend Ashok. “I’m so happy to see you back here! I heard that your uncle was teaching you to farm! What is there to learn to farm?” Ashok teased him. Ashok had opened his store selling clothes.

“A man claiming to be the strongest man has come to our village. Let us go see what that pompous fool can do!” Ashok dragged Amar to the show.

There on the stage was a strong man. “He has to be strong!” thought Amar. “He is so large!” The man lifted some heavy objects, and the crowd oohed and aahed.

“What nonsense! I bet those are fake objects and not heavy at all!” Ashok called out loudly. “Shhhhh! Stop!” Amar shushed his friend.

“What? You don’t believe me! This man is just faking it. No one can pick up a steel cupboard on his own like that.”

All eyes were on them. Ashok enjoyed the attention, but Amar wanted to sink into his chair.

“Oh, Come on, Amar! You know I’m speaking the truth! This man is just an empty vessel making noise.” The problem was the auditorium had gone quiet except for Ashok’s voice.

The strong man was drawn to the mocking voice. “Oh, so here is someone who thinks that I’m ‘faking it’ and can do better. Let’s welcome our friend….”

“Ashok! His name is Ashok!” the crowd called out with enthusiasm. At some time or the other, they must have suffered from Ashok’s plain speech!”

Ashok had never learnt to watch what he said. He marched to the stage, bent down to pick up the steel cupboard, and couldn’t move it even an inch!

A deafening laughter erupted from the crowd.

“Listen, young man, it is important to be honest. But that is not the same as saying whatever comes to your mind. That is being rude!

Amar ran to his friend, but Ashok shook his hand off and walked home. Amar realized that he couldn’t reach his friend. Anything he said would only make him even more reckless. It seemed like this experience made Ashok even more rude. He berated anyone who crossed his path as lazy, boastful, or stupid. But now, the people just laughed at him.

Ashok’s family was worried about him. “We made a mistake not correcting his behaviour when he was younger. Now he has become the laughingstock of the village. If he doesn’t change, he is going to be friendless and alone,” his father worried.

“There is a tantric visiting our temple. Why don’t we ask him to do some special prayers for our son?” His mother suggested.

The next day, Ashok’s parents visited the tantric with fruits, flowers, coconuts, and rice.
“Sir, we need your prayers for our son,” they began. After hearing the entire story, the tantric looked at the parents intently.

“You are right. If Ashok continues like this, everyone will avoid him. I will try to help you, but I doubt if I can change his nature!” the man cautioned the parents.

The following morning, the tantric visited Ashok’s home. The father invited him to eat with them, but Ashok walked in at that moment.

“What? A freeloader? Why can’t people get a job and feed themselves?” he jeered. Even the tantric was shocked. No matter how much you dislike someone, you don’t insult them when they sit to eat with you, do you?

“Young man, surely you know that you must be courteous to guests in your home?” the tantric asked Ashok.

“Guest? I don’t see any guests! Just another crazy man trying to get a free meal from my parents.”

“Shhhhh, Ashok, he is a tantric,” his mother hushed him, but it was in vain,

“So what if he is a tantric? Do you think I’m scared of him….” Ashok’s voice rose even louder!

“No, my boy, you don’t have to be afraid of me, but you do have to be afraid of your words,” the man smiled at Ashok. The smile enraged Ashok further. Ashok’s father stepped in between the two and pulled Ashok away.

“You don’t make me angry. I’m going to bless you with a special power to help you. But it is up to you to come to your senses and decide how to change your life around. May your curses turn into blessings for others.” With a smile, he walked away from there.

“Good riddance to the charlatan!” Ashok, too walked away, leaving his parents worried.

The next morning, Ashok’s neighbour brought some fresh bananas from his plantation. “How are you, my boy?” his booming voice made Ashok drop the book he was holding. True to his form, he started shouting at the neighbour. “You may be deaf, but I am not!” Ashok went on and on and on. He ended with, “Nobody is going to buy your bananas in the market! Why would they? They are so tasteless and small!”

The neighbour was deeply troubled as he left for the market. Imagine his surprise when he sold all his crops in no time. Customers came looking for bananas even as he was cleaning up. “Sir, I heard you have some of the tastiest bananas in the market. Please let me know when your next crop is ready. I don’t want to miss it,” one woman tried to pay him in advance.

The neighbour returned home exhilarated.

In the meantime, Ashok went to buy a new almirah for his room. He found one that was perfect for his room, but the carpenter refused to sell it to him. “It is already sold to the school teacher. He is here to transport it home.”

Ashok started to nag the teacher for the almirah. But the teacher wouldn’t budge. “Why don’t you order another one for yourself?” He countered.

Slowly Ashok started losing his patience and then yelled at the teacher. “What important things do you have to keep in an almirah? You have nothing of value. I have a better use for it!”  

The teacher felt insulted but refused to give up the almirah.

That evening, news spread of the teacher’s good fortune. He entered a story writing competition and won the first prize, a big cash award. Not just that, the teacher had been invited to speak at several places.

The people in the village heard about the tantrik’s blessing and began to annoy Ashok, just to get him to shout at them. It irked Ashok to find that people sought him out. He just couldn’t accept that he was the cause of their good fortune. To confound them, he decided to say nice things to them in the hope that the opposite would happen. Unfortunately, that wasn’t what the tantric had forecast. Nothing happened when he wished them well.

Gradually, Ashok stopped bothering others. He had no friends and ended up working by himself.

The Vampire asked Vikrama, “There is no doubt that people can change their nature. In this story, both Amar and Ashok changed for the better, don’t you think? In fact, the change in Ashok was even better because it resulted in good acts for the people he insulted. This is a good way to change people for the better, don’t you agree? Answer me now, or else you will lose your ability to think when your head shatters.” 

King Vikrama was ready for the Vampire. “Of the two young men, only Amar’s nature had changed. The people around him showed him how to treat those who worked for them by example. His uncle could have been rude and put Amar in his place or to Chandru to show he supported Amar. Instead, he politely talked to Chandru and let him know he was in charge of Amar’s training without insulting anyone. Chandru was also considerate of Amar. He corrected him when he needed to and encouraged him at other times. Amar came to see how everyone on his uncle’s farm worked hard, irrespective of their jobs, and came to respect them.

Unfortunately, Ashok didn’t have a strong guiding hand. He continued to say whatever came to his mind, even if it insulted the others, all in the name of being ‘plain spoken.’ He wasn’t really plain-spoken, just vain and rude because he considered no one else’s feelings except his own. The tantric didn’t change his nature, just stopped others from being hurt by it. When Ashok found that others benefitted from his speech, he tried to do the opposite. When he saw that his supposed ‘good wishes’ didn’t have any perverse effect, he became withdrawn and quiet. What turned him quiet was disappointment that he couldn’t hurt others!

It is possible to change one’s nature, but that can happen only if we look into ourselves, understand how our actions or speech affect others, and consciously change our behaviour. No magic spell can take the place of introspection. It takes courage and humility to do so.”

As soon as Vikramaditya ended his answer, the Vampire floated away to its tree.

Click here to listen to other stories in the Vikram and Betaal series:

The Man Who Wouldn’t be King!

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