If Rules Can’t Change…

Part 1

The day had dawned and it was the appointed time to get going. The royal carriage appeared in front of the palace gates. The Sanghi’s (Seniors of the Sangha) had assembled to ensure nothing went awry. The King emerged from his quarters in full royal regalia and purposefully strode up to the main doors, feeling the push of their glances on his back. The farewells and the thanks had been said on the previous evening. For people who had collected, it was a re-enactment of a familiar spectacle. What struck them right away was, unlike in the past, the King’s formal attire and also his amused look not befitting the solemnity of the occasion. This time they were sorry to see him go. He was kind to them; he often held his court in public and heard their grievances. But then the ‘Code’ was inviolable and the Sanghi’s would ensure so.

As the King approached the carriage, the Vizier stepped forward, bowed in salutation and put his hands out palms up. In the manner of ‘Ah, yes,’ the King removed the sheathed long-sword from his waist belt and placed it on Vizier’s outstretched palms. Surrendering the last instrument of power, he climbed on, stood up and waved at the crowd with grace as the carriage pulled out. Close on the heels was another carriage that carried the Sanghi’s and the Vizier to the final scene and act. As the carriages were lost in a cloud of dust the emotion-choked crowd reluctantly dissolved in silence.

As they drove past the inner streets, some of the alert citizens caught a glimpse of their departing King. Soon the entourage left the outer boulevards behind and sped through to the outskirts. The Sanghi’s in their carriage were mulling over it in silence. Yes, they too had no complaints with him. Admittedly, he was a capable administrator – his welfare schemes generated value and at the same time provided gainful employment to his people. He applied himself seriously to civic, military and people’s problems. But even the Sanghi’s were helpless.

The short procession of two carriages drove past the paddy fields and fruit-orchards beyond the settlements and finally reached the river bank. The noise and the dust kicked up by the approaching carriages alerted the boatman who gently steered the caparisoned boat close to the pier. Upon alighting from the carriage the King went up to the boat, gave it a cursory look and nodded his head in satisfaction – he had asked for the boat to be decked up fit for royal use. Even now there were no signs on his visage of sadness, despondency or resignation at his fate. He was curt efficiency one moment in matters of the arrangement and chirpy next moment. At this stage his predecessors had their knees turn into jelly and were alternately pleading and blabbering like idiots.

The Sanghi’s bowed for the last time and imperceptibly signaled for the boatman to move away. With a graceful wave of his hand acknowledging their gesture, he turned his back on them and the bank. The Sanghi’s and the Vizier stood at their station until the boat had made about a third of the way to the other side of the river. Their job was done – they had implemented the ‘Code’ or almost. The successor would be crowned on the following day.

When the boat was within a shout of its landing, the boatman stood up at his post, furtively looked at the distant pier and hurried up to the King. He had tears in his eyes. ‘My Lord, I cannot do this to you. You may not remember – last year after the harvest, you arranged for us the means to buy these boats, fishing nets…and earn a living. This boat, why, everything I’ve – is all yours. I’ll take you further downstream and drop you at the Town Of Pearls, outside the borders of this state or wherever you wish. No one would know.’

‘My friend, I appreciate your offer and am grateful to you for the same. But isn’t your life dear to you? Sooner or later it is bound to come out in the open. When that happens you would be rounded up in no time and put to death in public for dire dereliction of duty. So, you’ll do nothing of that sort. Stay on course, take me to the other side, to the hut inside the forest and you return. That’s what you’re told to do. And that’s what you’ll do like you’ve always done. ’

‘With you, it’s not the same thing. I can’t leave you to the mercy of the wild beasts. There’s just a day’s food in the hut. And the hut has no doors even. It’s a thick forest teeming with wild animals – you can’t walk for fifty steps before running into one. You won’t be alive to behold the beauty of the rising sun tomorrow. I’ve seen it happen all the time, since I’ve to go back later and retrieve the royal signet, the dress, the bones or whatever remained as proof for those heartless Sanghi’s.’

‘Listen, my friend, don’t get bitter about them and you know it’s not so much by their will. It was all explained to me when I ascended the throne three years back. And I willingly accepted the terms in toto. So I insist…’

The tone of authority was intact in his voice. Left with no option the boatman returned with a heavy heart to his post and continued sailing the boat towards the landing spot.

Part 2

Nearer the banks, there were waist-high bushes as the land sloped up to a mound high enough to screen out the beyond. On the far side of the mound the ground fell away gently and disappeared beneath a carpet of dry leaves, twigs under the canopy of the tall-growing trees jostling for space and shutting out the sun overhead. And a few hundred steps into the outgrowth would bring them to the hut.

With a clanging bell on one hand and a fire torch in other to scare away the animals, the boatman led the way on a rutted track up the slope. As they crested the mound the boatman let out a cry – he was not ready for what he saw. It was as if the trees were disciplined to order and moved around by some giant hand to make space in the middle for a large human settlement. There were rows and rows of newly built houses, tree-lined streets and people going about with their daily chores. And before them there was even a welcoming party to receive the King with due pomp.

The dumb-struck boatman looked up at the King pleading for comprehension.

‘Well, my friend, I got started on it on the day I ascended the throne. These are people from the outskirts of your state who helped me build this settlement. More are coming from all over. I used my personal funds that I was entitled for. This is now my state and these are my people. When one gets stymied by the rules of the game, it may be easier and rewarding to change the game itself than trying to break or change the rules. It takes a while for the rules to catch up with the change and that’s all the time one needs to get ahead.’

The still-dazed boatman nodded his head sagely.

He did not return home that day or ever after.


PS: This is based on a hitherto-unheard folk-story I received from friends (Thanks to Nagulan and Sabitha) on the net. The source could not be ascertained to acknowledge due credits.


6 Responses to If Rules Can’t Change…

  1. Trisha says:

    Fantastic story. very beautifully written and so full of hope.
    all the best!


  2. tskraghu says:

    Thank you for taking the time to read it.


  3. gopal says:

    Climax & Anti climax,two sides of the same coin,Life !

    Just as one thought he is walking away from life , he walks into hell ,oops, Life again..

    Well written Raghu,kept up the twist till the end,unlike you



  4. Sanjay says:

    I liked the moral about what to do when one gets stymied by the rules of the game. I like the idea of preparing secretly for an obvious future calamity. I like the way you built up the suspense. I liked the way the twist was revealed.


  5. Nithya says:

    Sort of reminded me of Rama leaving for vanvas, didn’t Bharata suggest something like this? If you can’t come to Ayodhya, we will build the city here?


  6. Muktha says:

    Unexpected turn of events. Interesting!


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