It’s a long time since I wrote on Akbar and Birbal and so I am giving a short and sweet tale of Birbal’s sharp intelligence.
Once, there was some argument between Akbar and Birbal over some issue and Akbar shouted at Birbal and said, “Don’t ever show your face to me again!”. Poor Birbal did not retort as he walked out with a red face. Of course, Akbar did not mean it when he told Birbal not to show his face again, but Birbal, this time wanted to make the king realise that he could not shout at anyone just because he was wielding power, and so without informing anybody, he went away to live in hiding in a nearby village.
The next day Birbal did not turn up in the court. Akbar did not give much thought to it since he knew Birbal would be angry. “He will come tomorrow!” he said to himself, smiling. But Birbal did not turn up the next day as well, and the next and the next.
Akbar was worried and sent a messenger to Birbal’s home but the messenger brought a message that Birbal had gone away even without informing his family, which was indeed true. His family members were also anxious about his whereabouts but had not dared to ask the king, as Birbal had told them about the argument.
Now Akbar was more worried. He felt bad about having shouted so badly and now he found no way to get his favourite minister back. The courtiers who were jealous of Birbal were very happy. “Good riddance!!” they chuckled to themselves. “Now the king will ask us for suggestions instead of asking that cheeky Birbal” they thought. But Akbar was missing his intelligent friend badly and could not find a way to locate him. Somehow, it occurred to him that Birbal would not have gone away to a very far place.
Ten days passed and now Akbar was desperate to see Birbal’s face and hear his witty anecdotes. He thought for a long time and came up with an idea. After all he had been with Birbal for so many years and had imbibed some of Birbal’s qualities.
Few days later, there was an announcement in the city and the suburbs by the security guards. In those days, there were no newspapers or television or such media and announcements had to be made by persons in a loud voice, and to attract the attention of the people, they would usually come beating drums and stand in a public place and make the announcement.
“Dum dum dum dum”
“Hear O People of this kingdom!” said the man who was making the announcement in a loud voice. “Our Emperor, His Royal Highness Akbar Sultan has announced a competition for all. The winner of the competition will be given a hundred gold mohurs”
Now, ‘mohur’ was the name of the coins issued by various kings from the sixteenth century in India. A gold ‘mohur’ was the coin in gold and used to weigh about 10 to12 grams.
All the people gathered there were curious. “A hundred mohurs??” said one. “Then it must be very difficult task” said another. “What is the occasion for this competition?” asked yet another. At the same time, each one jostled with the other to come nearer the announcer and hear the details. When many had gathered around him, the announcer continued, beating his drum.
“Dum dumara dum dumara dum”
“The Emperor has announced that anyone who can walk one hundred metres in the sun and the shade at the same time will get one hundred mohurs. Whosoever wants to compete may come walking day after tomorrow and meet the emperor”
“Dum dumara dum dumara dum”
The people looked at each other puzzled. “Who can walk in the sun and shade at the same time? What sort of contest is this?” they murmured to themselves, looking disappointed that they could not get the prize announced by Akbar.
The crowd melted away as the announcer went to the next spot to announce the same contest.
On the appointed day Akbar was holding his court in the open courtyard under a makeshift pandal(shamiana), wondering if his idea to locate Birbal would work out. The court was almost over and it was going to be one o clock and Akbar was looking up now and then hoping that someone would take part in the contest and come to him.
Suddenly from afar, he saw a queer sight. A man was walking towards him, carrying a cot made of rope.(It is called ‘charpai’ in Hindi). As Akbar peered at him, the courtiers also turned around to see what had caught the attention of the emperor.
The man walked and came and stood in front of the pandal , in the sun but he was still holding the cot aloft with both his hands over his head. He seemed to be a very poor man as it was seen from his tattered clothing and bare feet.
To the puzzled emperor, he said in a weak voice, “Huzoor! I heard of the contest you had announced. I am very much in need of money and therefore I have participated in this”. The emperor and the onlookers were still puzzled when he continued, “Huzoor, look at me. I am in the sun and shade at the same time! Will you give me the promised prize??”
It was only then that all noticed that the sun was shining on him through the rope cot and therefore the shade of the rope was also falling on him.
Akbar was truly amused at this idea. But he knew that none other than Birbal could have thought of this and so he asked him, “Is it your idea or did any one else give you this idea? Tell the truth”.
The man replied “Huzoor, an elderly traveller has come two weeks back and is staying in my neighbour’s house in my village and when I was telling my friend about this contest, it was he who gave the idea, but anyway told me to take the prize money if I won, as he is well placed already it seems”
Akbar smiled to himself and said to the man “Well, you are the only contestant and I will give you the money for the smart idea, but I want to see the fellow who gave you this idea. So, go with my guard on horseback and bring that person here”
The man could not disobey and went with the guard and Akbar was waiting without even taking his food as he was eager to know if his idea was going to bring back Birbal to him. True to his expectation, in about half an hour the person returned with his ‘elderly traveller’ and the man was none other than Birbal!
The emperor was so happy to see Birbal again and gave him a warm hug much to the ire of the jealous courtiers. Birbal was also very happy to be back. Even though he had been upset when Akbar shouted at him, in his heart of hearts he was longing to come back.
“Now you have outwitted me Huzoor!” said Birbal beaming with happiness and the two were united once again.