This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Friday, 12 October 2012

King For A Day

Once upon a time there was a poor man who lived on the fringes of the royal capital. He had a buffalo, which was everything to him. It gave him milk, which he could sell, and it gave him dung, which he dried and burned for fuel. And although it was a milch buffalo, he could hire it out sometimes as a draught beast.

Now this man, for all that he was so poor, was a proud man too; and when he felt a neighbour had insulted his honour, he was all ready to pick a fight. And then events followed a tragic and largely predictable course...

He, our hero, went and slapped the other man, and kicked him, and slapped him some more. The other man was much larger and stronger, and could have smashed him to the ground with one single blow; but he was a shrewd man, and he saw that people were watching. So he made no attempt to retaliate, and went to the judge, and made a complaint of assault.

It all ended as the neighbour had planned. The judge ordered the buffalo to be handed over to the bigger man as compensation for his pain...

Our hero went half insane with grief. As the days went by, he began to look more and more wild, more crazed. He raved and ranted through the streets, muttering about buffaloes and thieves and the idiocy of judges.

Now at this time the king of the nation became seriously ill. There was nothing wrong with him physically - he was stressed out, what with the problem of finding money enough from taxes to carry out his wars of expansion. However, his doctors didn't tell him that. One can't tell a king "You need a break" - instead they told him he would be well if only another man occupied his throne for one day. And in order that the king didn't try to retain the actual control, they specified that the man who occupied the throne must be king in fact for that one day, not just a glorified puppet.

But who could be entrusted to occupy that high a position? Who would not make use of his royal powers to damage the interests of the actual king beyond recovery?

Who else but a simpleton?

And so it was that our muttering, distraught hero was taken off the streets and led, clothed in a uniform of purple cloth set with golden epaulettes and hanks of braid, a plumed crown on his unkempt head, to the throne and installed on it...

"Don't worry, Your Majesty," the ministers assured the old king, "he's mad as a hatter, as screwed up as a batty old rat..."

The new king sat on his throne, and the ministers came and made obeisance, and called him the Emperor of Heaven and Earth.

And he said "Ah, but am I emperor of the buffaloes?"

Then the singers came, and they sang of the birds of the air and the fishes of the water owing allegiance to him, the king.

And he answered: "But how about the buffaloes of the grass?"

Then came the army's soldiers and paraded in front of the palace, so that he could review them. There were the infantry and its lines of troops with their tall shakos, their pipeclayed crossbelts and their long muskets, and there was the cavalry with its big black horses and its bowlegged soldiers with their short carbines and their flashing sabres, and there was the artillery with its big iron cannon and its pyramidal piles of cannonballs.

"Ah," he said, "but  where is the buffalo corps?"

"We'll set it up directly, Sire," they promised him, and grinned at each other when he was  gone.

Meanwhile - ah, but meanwhile! - the big neighbour had  come to know of the  poor man's becoming king and was stricken with terror. He decided that the only thing for him to do would be to return the purloined buffalo at once, and, leading it by a rope through a ring set in its nose, he walked to the palace. There they would not have let him in, but the new king, walking back from the parade, saw him and saw the buffalo. With a cry of joy so pure and unalloyed that even the guards forbore to smile, he ran, thigh boots, uniform braid, plumed crown and all, to the buffalo and threw his arms round its neck. And in so doing, in an instant, he was cured.

The ministers came puffing up. "Your Majesty," they said, "it's time to attend court..."

"Court?" And the new king smiled, a smile calculated to strike fear in the bravest heart. "Ah, yes, the court...come on, " he added over his shoulder, leading the buffalo by the rope. "What a court session we shall have!"

Sitting on his court throne, he looked at his Prime Minister, an old man in a white beard and a blue turban. "As far as I understand it, I am the king here now?"

"Yes, Sire," said the Prime Minister nervously. "King, but only for a day."

"And," the new king continued, "my word is law? What I say goes?"

"Yes, Sire," agreed the Prime Minister, now really worried. "But only for a day."

"Then," said the new king, and his voice thundered to the rafters, "I declare that this day shall never end!"

His buffalo switched its tail in approval as the courtiers cried out in dismay.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2008


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