Once Emperor Akbar had gone on a hunting expedition. It was the peak winter season and late in the evening, Akbar wanted to have a wash, after a tiring day. He went to the nearby river and when he tried to take the water, it was ice cold. Akbar was very surprised that the water should be so chill that he could not bear it even for the few seconds when he put his hand in. He made a casual remark, saying, “I bet nobody would have a dip in this cold water even if I give them one thousand gold coins!!” Birbal, who was present there immediately retorted, “No Jahanpanah, I can bring you a person who will even stay chest deep in this cold water through the night for getting thousand gold coins. Money is very powerful!” Akbar looked at him amused, and asked him to bring the person, the next day to court.
Birbal, obeyed the order and the very next day, brought a young , but poor man, to the court and the Emperor asked him whether he would stand in the river bare bodied in chest deep water through the night, if he was given a thousand gold coins. The man nodded his head vigorously and said that he will do it the same night. Akbar ordered the man to be taken to the river along with two bodyguards and told the guards to keep a watch over him while he stood through the night bare bodied in chest deep water. The man was taken accordingly and he stood in the river shivering through the night but did not give up. As the sun came up in the morning, the man went home.
Later, in the day, eager to claim his award, the man came to the court to meet the Emperor. “Hmmm…. So.. you stayed in the cold water throughout the night huh?” thundered Akbar. “Yes, Jahanpanah” replied the man meekly, “I stood throughout the night in the water.”
“Did you not feel cold at all?”
“I did… Jahanpanah.”
“How did you spend the night without sleeping?”
“Jahanpanah, there was a street light two hundred metres away and I kept staring at it to keep myself awake…”
“Well, you have earned your reward” said Akbar and called his minister to get the bag of gold coins as promised.
Just then, a voice was heard, “Salaam Jahanpanah! ” The voice belonged to one of the courtiers who was always jealous of people who got rewards from the king. “Excuse me” he continued. “Your Highness is an epitome of justice and your judgement is always impeccable, but now….”
Akbar looked at him questioningly. The man continued “ This man has already admitted that he was staring at the street light throughout the night and is it not possible that he grasped the warmth of the light ? Then how could he claim that he spent the entire night freezing in the cold water?”
Akbar considered this view point and shrugged his shoulders. “ It seems what my courtier says may be true. I don’t think I can give this reward to you.” The poor man face fell as he heard the words of the Emperor . He stood sadly for a moment and left the palace, without a word, his face really downcast. Birbal, was watching the entire proceedings and was shocked by this behaviour of Akbar and he also knew about the attitude of the courtier. He mentally made up his mind to see that justice was done to the poor man, but left the court silently.
A few days later, Birbal was absent in the court. He had assiduously sent word to the King that he would come to the court after he finished cooking Khichdi which he had started that morning. The next two days also, he was absent and word came that the “Khichdi was not cooked yet.” Akbar was curious and knew that this was not an ordinary matter.
So, the next day, accompanied by the courtiers, he paid a surprise visit to Birbal’s house. He was told that Birbal was cooking Khichdi in the garden behind the house. “Strange” thought Akbar as he walked to the garden. The sight he saw there was even more strange. Birbal has planted two long poles which were connected with a rope and in the middle of the rope hung a pot and Birbal was stirring its contents standing on a high stool, with a look of impatience on his face. There was a small oil lamp on the ground beneath the pot and the distance between the lamp and the pot was approximately two metres.
Akbar and his courtiers were genuinely amused, and Akbar asked “ Birbal, What is this I hear? I was told you were cooking Khichdi and…” Before the King could complete, pat came the reply, “Yes Jahanpanah, I am cooking Khichdi for the past four days and this stupid thing is not getting cooked yet!” Akbar asked, “But Birbal, how can the food get cooked at such a height with such a small flame?” “It is not that much of a distance Jahanpanah”, said Birbal, “When a man can get warmth from a lamp two hundred metres away, there should be no problem for the heat to reach this small pot from a small distance of two metres.”
Akbar immediately saw Birbal’s point and said “Well done Birbal, I see your logic and I shall summon the poor man today itself and give him the reward he earned.”
The poor man was very thankful to Birbal and once again, Birbal proved himself to be witty as well as just.