In the Kingdom of Fools
(A Kannada folktale from A.K. Ramanujan’s Folk Tales from India)
‘Folk Tales from India’ has been written by the renowned Indian translator, A. K. Ramanujan. This book is a compilation of 110 folktales from across India, translated from around 22 Indian languages. These tales have been passed down from one generation to another and have great cultural and historical value.
About the Author
Attipate Krishnaswami Ramanujan also known as A. K. Ramanujan was an Indian poet and scholar of Indian literature who wrote in both English and Kannada. He was born in Mysore City on 16 March 1929. Ramanujan was a poet, scholar, a philologist, folklorist, translator, and playwright. His academic research ranged across five languages: English, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, and Sanskrit. He published works on both classical and modern variants of this literature.
Ramanujan worked as a lecturer of English at Quilon and Belgaum; he later taught at The Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda for about eight years. In 1962, he joined the University of Chicago as an assistant professor. He was affiliated with the university throughout his career, teaching in several departments. He taught at other US universities as well, including Harvard University, University of Wisconsin, University of Michigan, University of California at Berkeley, and Carleton College. At the University of Chicago, Ramanujan was instrumental in shaping the South Asian Studies program. He worked in the departments of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, Linguistics, and with the Committee on Social Thought.
In 1976, the Government of India awarded him the Padma Shri, and in 1983, he was given the MacArthur Prize Fellowship (Shulman, 1994).
A. K. Ramanujan died in Chicago, on 13 July 1993 as result of adverse reaction to anaesthesia during preparation for surgery.
Image & Text reference: alchetron.com
This story is about a kingdom ruled by a foolish king and his silly minister. The story is a folktale and gives the message that one should stay away from foolish people; else one is bound to suffer. In order to tackle foolish people one should employ wisdom and not logic.
There was once a Kingdom of Fools. In this kingdom, both the king and the minister were idiots. They wanted to rule in a way different from other kings. They ordered that everyone should be awake at night and work during the day. One day a guru and his disciple arrived in the city. It was broad daylight and everyone was asleep. As soon as the sun set, the whole town woke up and started its business. The two men were hungry. They went to buy some groceries. They found that everything cost the same — a single duddu. When they had cooked and eaten, the guru realised that it would not be wise to stay in a kingdom of fools. But the disciple didn’t want to leave the place because everything was cheap there. So the guru left the place and the disciple stayed on, He ate his fill every day and grew fat.
One day a thief broke into a rich merchant’s house by making a hole in the wall. As he was carrying out his loot, the wall of the house collapsed on his head and he died instantly. The thief’s brother went running to the king and complained that the merchant should be punished for not building a strong wall.
The king sent for the merchant. But the merchant pleaded that it was really the fault of the man who built the wall. The bricklayer was brought in. He said that when he was building the wall, his eyes and mind were distracted towards a dancing girl. She was going up and down that street all day with her anklets jingling. The dancing girl was brought to the court. She gave the excuse that she had given some gold to the goldsmith to make some jewellery for her. The goldsmith was a lazy fellow. He delayed the work. He made her walk up and down his house a dozen times. When the goldsmith was brought before the king, he said that he had to attend to a rich merchant’s orders first. There was a wedding at the merchant’s house and he was not ready to wait. That was why he made the dancer come many times to his door. The king asked him the rich merchant’s name. He was none other than the merchant whose wall had fallen. But the merchant cried that it was not he but his deceased father who had entrusted the jeweller with the job of making the ornaments. At this, the king remarked that it was proper to punish him in place of his father.
A new stake was ordered to be made ready for the execution. It occurred to the minister that the rich merchant was too thin to be properly executed on the stake. He discussed this with the king. It was decided that a fat man should be found to fit the stake. The eyes of the servants fell on the disciple who had fattened himself for months on bananas and rice and wheat and ghee. He was taken to the king. The disciple pleaded that he was innocent but it was all in vain.
While he was waiting for his death, he remembered his guru. The guru saw everything by his magical powers. He arrived there at once to save his disciple. He whispered something in his disciple’s ear. Then he requested the king to put him to the stake first. When the disciple heard this, he said that he was brought there first and so he should be put to death first. The king was puzzled by their behaviour. He asked why each of them wanted to die first. The guru hesitatingly told him that whoever died on the stake first, would be reborn as the king of that country. The one who died next would be the future minister of that country.
The king did not want to lose the kingdom to someone else in the next round of life. He and his minister decided to go on the stake themselves and be reborn. The king told the executioners to put to death the first man who came to them and then do the same to the second man. That night the king and his minister went secretly to the prison and released the guru and the disciple. They then disguised themselves as the two and got themselves executed. The people now begged the guru and the disciple to be their king and minister. The two agreed and changed all the old laws. From then onwards, the night was to be night and day was to be the day. Also, nothing could be got for a duddu. The place became like any other place.
1. The Guru: The guru was a very wise man. He was quick to judge that his disciple and he were in the Kingdom of Fools. Knowing that the behaviour of foolish people is unpredictable, he decided to leave the city immediately.
2. The Disciple: The disciple was a simple but greedy fellow. He followed his guru everywhere and listened to him. However, once he could not resist the temptation of good and cheap food available in the Kingdom of Fools. He did not pay heed to his guru’s warning and stayed back. His greed almost cost him his life but he quickly regained sense. He had faith in his guru’s powers; that is why he first recalled him in his thoughts and then behaved according to the plan devised by him.
3. The King: The king was a fool who owned a beautiful kingdom. He could go to any length in order to be different from others. His orders were foolish and his ideas stupid. Turning day into night and ordering execution of those who disobeyed are examples of his silliness. The king had no idea about justice.
4. The Minister: The minister was also a fool like his king. The king consulted him on different matters but the minister could never give any sane advice. He would be as irrational as the king himself.
Q1. What are the two strange things the guru and his disciple find in the Kingdom of Fools?
Ans. Two strange things observed by the guru and his disciple are:
(a) In the kingdom people slept during the day and worked during the night only.
(b) Everything cost one duddu, the local currency. Be it gold or banana, for fools everything had same value. In a way people were not capable of judging the true worth of a thing.
Q2. Why does the disciple decide to stay in the Kingdom of Fools? Is it a good idea?
Ans. The disciple thinks of the easy life ahead. He thinks that he could afford all pleasures of life without worrying about monetary budget. He dreams of relishing every rich food on offer as everything cost same in that kingdom.
Q3. Name all the people who are tried in the king’s court, and give the reasons for their trial.
Ans. The merchant was the first accused because his house’s wall collapsed and killed the thief. The next person was the bricklayer as it was thought his bad workmanship created a weak wall. Then the dancer was accused of distracting the bricklayer resulting in poor quality of the wall. Next accused was the goldsmith who called the dancer time and again to deliver the jewellery which in turn led to the distraction of the bricklayer. The goldsmith passed the buck on the merchant’s father as his pressure on the goldsmith delayed the finishing of dancer’s work. At last the wheel turned full circle and the blame came back to the original merchant.
Q4. Who is the real culprit according to the king? Why does he escape punishment?
Ans. The king applied his weird logic to come to the conclusion that as the merchant inherited everything from his father so he should take the share of his father’s sin as well. As the merchant was too thin to fit on the new execution stake so he escaped execution. The king concluded that a man fat enough to fit the stake will serve the purpose.
Q5. What are the Guru’s words of wisdom? When does the disciple remember them?
Ans. The guru said that you never know what those foolish people would do to you next. When disciple’s life was at stake, he remembered his guru’s words of wisdom. This is normal human behavior. During good times we tend to forget the good teachings of our teachers and well-wishers. It is only when the going gets tough, we tend to remember them. We usually remember god during times of crisis.
Q6. How does the guru manage to save his disciple’s life?
Ans. The guru used his wisdom and magic powers to save his disciple’s life. He reached the kingdom instantly when his disciple prayed in his heart for help. He first confused the king by expressing his desire to be killed before his disciple. Then, he tricked the king by flattering him and telling him that the stake was the stake of the god of justice and whoever died first would become the king after rebirth. The second person to be executed would become the minister after rebirth. Ultimately the king fell in this trap and set the guru and his disciple free. He got his minister and himself executed in their place in the hope of being reborn as the rulers of their kingdom. Hence, the guru not only saved his disciple’s life but also got rid of the foolish king and his silly minister.
Long Answer Type Questions
Q1. What did the Guru and his disciple see in the Kingdom of the Fools? Why did the guru decide to leave the kingdom at once?
Ans. There was a Kingdom of Fools. In this country, the king as well as his minister, both were fools. They ordered all things to be reversed. People were ordered to work during the nights and sleep during the days. Anyone who did not obey this order would be put to death. So out of fear people obeyed the king. One day, a guru and disciple arrived in the city. They were surprised to find that everyone was sleeping during the day. There was no activity. Then the night fell and everyone got up. They started doing their normal work. The guru and the disciple were hungry. They purchased some food items. They were surprised to find that the price of everything was the same—one duddu. The guru realised that it was the Kingdom of Fools. He decided to leave the kingdom at once. He told his disciple that where fools ruled, their lives could be in danger. But the disciple was happy there. Everything was cheap in the kingdom. He did not want to go. So the guru left the kingdom. The disciple stayed on the sake of cheap food
Q2. Describe in brief the strange case brought to the king and the king’s judgement.
Ans. One day, a thief broke into the house of a rich man. A wall of the house fell on him and he died on the spot. The brother of the thief complained to the king that the rich man was responsible for the thief’s death because the wall of his house was weak. The owner of the house was summoned. But he said that the bricklayer who had constructed the wall was responsible. The bricklayer said that when he was making a wall, a dancing girl passed several times through the street. She distracted his attention. So she was responsible. The dancing girl told the king that she had ordered a goldsmith to make jewellery for her. He did not make it in time. So she had to pass through the street several times. The goldsmith was called. He said that he had to make ornaments for a wedding in the rich man’s house. So he could not finish the jewellery of the dancing girl in time. He was the same owner of the house where the thief had died. He said that his father had placed the order. The king and his minister decided that since the rich man’s father had died, he would be executed in his father’s place.
Q3. Decisions should be made with a cool and rational mind. Discuss with reference to the story “In the Kingdom of Fools”.
Ans. The story, “In the Kingdom of Fools” teaches us an important lesson that decisions should be made with a cool mind and rational thought. Hasty decisions always have dangerous consequences. The disciple got tempted by the cheap goods available in the Kingdom of Fools and did not heed his guru’s advice. Instead of thinking rationally, he made a hasty decision to stay back. Ultimately he fell a victim to the senseless judgement of the foolish king and came on the verge of losing his life. If he had taken some time to review his desire to stay back, he would have certainly realized the importance of the guru’s advice. The king’s and his minster’s decision too was in haste that cost them their lives. If they too had reviewed their decision of going to the stake to fulfil their greed to be the king and minister in their next life, they would have certainly lived on as the king and the minister. Thus, the story emphasizes the value of making decisions wisely by weighing all the pros and cons. A hasty or a foolish decision can have disastrous consequences.
Q4. Values determine character. Discuss this statement with reference to the characters of the guru and the disciple.
Ans. The values of farsightedness, wisdom, calmness, and rationality made the guru different from his disciple. Although the guru and his disciple were both ascetics, it was the guru who made a good use of the knowledge that he had accumulated over the years. The danger of staying in the Kingdom of Fools was sensed very quickly by the guru while the disciple easily succumbed to the temptation of throw-away prices. Again, the wise guru left the kingdom but the foolish disciple stayed back and ultimately fell prey to the king’s whim. The values of calmness and rationality, possessed by the guru, stood in good stead whereas the anxiety and greed of the disciple put him in the throes of death. Thus, the positive values of the guru not only made him different from his disciple but also helped in saving the disciple’s life.