Parables From the East - The Flattered King

 The Flattered King

Long long ago there was a king who never paid any attention to the problems of his subjects. He spent all his time in the company of some selfish friends. These friends kept the king pleased with flattering words. The king's officers turned into a gang of tyrants. They went from village to village like a pack of wolves and harassed the subjects. The king had a well-wisher in his priest. The priest was extremely worried. He never got a chance to direct the king's attention towards the suffering of the people. One day the priest overheard the wicked guys telling the king, "All your subjects, day and night, are singing our praise!" Then, one by one they cited words which they said they had heard from the people. They were flattering words, but needless to say, they were lies. As soon as the king was separated from his friends, the priest told him, "My lord, your friends have not been able to say all that the people are saying. If you wish to hear them, you must make a journey across the kingdom at least once. The king who had been pleased to hear the lies of his friends hoped to hear even more flattering words directly from the subjects. He and the priest went out in disguise.

Before long, passing through a village, they saw an old man, seated before his hut, writhing in pain. "What has happened to you?" asked the travelers. "A nail has entered my toe, cursed be the king!" cried out the old man. "Why curse the king for a nail in your toe?" asked the priest. "Under the good for nothing king, his officers have become tyrants. They plunder our houses. Yesterday they were seen coming towards our village. We fled into the forest. I had placed some nails before my hut to prevent them from entering it. Now, I am the victim of my own nail. Had we a good king, this would not have happened," explained the man. The priest smiled looking at the disappointed king. The two travelers then entered a small forest. They heard a cry and soon found out an old woman lying on the ground. She had fallen down while climbing a tree for wood. "Damned be the king!" she muttered. "Must you curse the king for your fall? Is it right for you to climb a tree at your age?" demanded the priest. "I have two young daughters. I can neither let them come out for fear of the king's beastly officers nor can I marry them off!" "You don't expect the king to find matches for your daughters, do you?" asked the priest. "No, but who will come forward to marry them at a time when the homes are not safe?" asked the old woman in reply. Beyond the forest were paddy fields. The two travelers, passing through it, saw a farmer wailing by the side of his wounded bullock.

"How was your bullock wounded?" asked the priest. "Struck by my plough. I wish the king had been wounded instead of my bullock!." "How is the king responsible for the accident?" asked the priest. "My wife had just finished cooking when a gang of officers trespassed into our house and ate up everything. My wife promised to arrange for some food for me. I had grown awfully hungry. I was looking back towards the road again and again. My plough slipped and wounded the bullock. Who is to be held responsible for the mischief of the officers if not the king?" As the king and his priest went farther, they saw a cow lowing pathetically at the death of her calf. The king's tax collectors had killed her calf in order to use its skin for making sheaths for their swords. "Let the king feel the pain of losing a child to hooligans as this poor cow feels!" several villagers said with anguish. "Let us get out of such places!" screamed out the king with anguish. "Let us take a shortcut to the palace through the fields." 

They avoided villages. But while walking through a pasture, they saw a crow swooping down upon a dry pond and carrying away a frog. "Let the king be eaten up by jackals and vultures!" croaked out an old frog of the pond. "Why do you curse the king, O frog? Do you believe that the king could protect all the creatures in his kingdom, even the frogs?" asked the minister. "Shut up!" shouted the frog. "Are you not ashamed of arguing in favor of a stupid king wasting his time with greedy flatterers and letting his wicked officers play havoc with his subjects? In normal times the crows would get enough to eat from the villagers. They will not go famished and look for frogs at such remote places!" The king's humiliation was complete. He shed bitter tears. But the priest consoled him, saying, "My lord, what you have heard and what you have seen should be a great lesson to you. It is never late to change. You are young and you have a long way to go. If you keep off bad company, punish the wicked officers, dismiss the lazy ones and encourage the good officers, the situation will change." The king followed the priest's advice. Years later, when he traveled through the land again, he heard his subjects blessing him that made him smile in peace. 

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