King Vikramaditya : The king and the bandit
Dark was the night and fearsome the atmosphere. Lashing gusts of wind were accompanied by intermittent showers. Eerie laughter got mixed up with the moaning of jackals.
But King Vikram did not swerve. He climbed the ancient tree again and brought the corpse down. However, as soon as he began walking through the desolate cremation ground, the vampire that possessed the corpse said, “O King! I don’t know whether it is in the service of some good people or for the sake of some unworthy fellows that you’re taking such pains. We know of kings who have patronized even bad characters. Let me give you the example of King Chandrasen. Listen to his story. That might bring you some relief.”
The vampire went on: King Chandrasen ruled over a kingdom which was famous for its trade and commerce. In the capital lived a number of prosperous merchants. They kept the king pleased by taking gifts to him every now and then.
Days passed smoothly until a bandit began proving a menace to the trading community. He burgled the houses of merchants one after another quite systematically. On their complaint, the king appointed special officers to track down the bandit. But all they could report to the king was that the bandit was distributing his loot among the poor of the land regularly. However, what was strange was that even those who benefited by the bandit’s benevolence did not know who he was!
The reason for the king’s failure to capture the bandit was simple. The officers were under the impression that the bandit who plundered the rich must be leading a luxurious life. They also surmised that he must be having a number of followers. They looked for such a person.
But the facts were different. The bandit, whose name was Gangaram , was a poor man and he wished to remain poor. He gave away everything to the needy. Secondly, he had no accomplice, he worked alone. There was no second man to know what he did.
One day, the merchants went to the king in a delegation and proposed that a reward be announced for catching the bandit. “Let it be a handsome reward, say, a lakh of rupees, so that his own accomplices might feel tempted to betray him or the common people might be attracted to risk their lives to capture him,” they said.
“I can give that much money,” said a merchant. “Well, any of us can give that!” said some others. The king accepted the suggestion and an announcement was made.
Gangaram was one day coming out of a forest when he saw a young man lying wounded just outside the forest. He nursed the traveler who appeared to have been mauled by a leopard. He took him home and made him take rest.
The traveler, Prakash, soon became a friend of Gangaram. He soon observed that Gangaram was going out regularly at night. He expressed his curiosity to his kind host.
It was surprising that Gangaram trusted Prakash entirely. He confessed to his being the bandit, after Prakash had promised that he would keep his knowledge a secret.
Prakash was now in a dilemma. No doubt, he felt grateful towards Gangaram. Had it not been for Gangaram, he might have passed away on the roadside. At the same time, the promise of one lakh rupees as reward was too big a temptation to be resisted. At last the temptation gained the upper hand.
After Gangaram went out one night, Prakash hurried to the palace and sought an urgent audience with the king. He promised to lure Gangaram right to the gates of the palace the next afternoon.
He was soon back at Gangaram’s hut. In the morning, he proposed that both of them visit the town. Gangaram agreed.
They reached the town by noon. They relaxed in a park and shared their lunch. A dog, obviously hungry, loitered around them looking wistfully at their food. Prakash was about to throw a stone at it. But Gangaram stopped him and gave it a piece of bread.
Thereafter, Prakash led Gangaram towards the palace. The dog followed them. On the balcony stood the king himself. Near the gate were some guards. Prakash expected them to pounce upon Gangaram. But minutes passed. Gangaram coolly began moving away. Prakash shouted, “Your majesty, this is the bandit! Why don’t you capture him?”
Gangaram realised his guest’s treachery. His hand went to pull out his sword. But Prakash was quicker. He pulled out a dagger and threw it at Gangaram. Gangaram might have been hit, but the dog which had been fed by him jumped up and the dagger hit the dog instead, and was killed.
By then Gangaram had his sword ready. He drove his sword deep into Prakash, shouting, “You nasty fellow! This dog gave its life for me because I gave it a piece of bread. But I had saved your life and this is what you nourished in your mind.” Prakash fell dead. Instantly the king gave the signal for his guards to capture Gangaram.
The king spent a long time with Gangaram in his chamber. He then called all the leading merchants. Presenting Gangaram to them, he said, “This gentleman was working as my representative. So far as the bandit’s menace is concerned, we both have succeeded in putting an end to it. Each one of you was ready to give a lakh of rupees. Now I want you to give a lakh each to this representative of mine.”
The vampire paused and then demanded, “O King, what is the significance of the king not punishing the bandit and instead introducing him as his representative? Why didn’t he disclose to the merchants Gangaram’s identity as the bandit? Why did he ask the merchants to pay him a lakh of rupees each? How is it that the king did not order his guards to capture Gangaram as soon as he appeared in front of the palace? Answer my questions, O King, if you can. If you keep silent though you may know the answers, your head would roll off your shoulders!”
Answered King Vikram forthwith: “The king already knew that Gangaram was no ordinary bandit, for, he was distributing his loot among the poor. In course of his private discussions with him, he must have felt convinced that by taking care of the poor, Gangaram was doing what the king himself ought to have done.
That is why he described Gangaram as his representative. He did not disclose Gangaram’s identity as a bandit because that was not Gangaram was not a real bandit. Gangaram was a friend of the poor. Secondly, the king must have decided to use Gangaram’s services as his minister. It would be awkward to present him first as a bandit and then to appoint him a minister.
“He wanted the merchants to pay a lakh of rupees each because they were willing to spend that much if someone had put an end to the menace. Secondly, he wanted Gangaram to use the money for the needy.
“The king did not order his guards to pounce on Gangaram because he wanted to make sure what the relation between he and Prakash was. Gangaram, of course, could not have escaped. The guards had already surrounded him. The delay also served a purpose. The treacherous Prakash got his due!”
No sooner had King Vikram finished replying than the vampire, along with corpse, gave him the slip. The king drew his sword and went after it.