Long ago there lived a king somewhere in the central part of India. He was very proud of his looks. He spent hours admiring himself, looking at his reflection in the mirror.
“There cannot be another king as handsome as me”, he told himself and felt very pleased.
He dressed himself in the finest clothes and put on the finest jewellery in the land. People grew tired of him as he hardly attended to their problems or the problems of the kingdom. He made sure his hairstyle was new every day and… covered his ears. Yes covered his ears. The king had ears which looked like donkey’s ears. The only person who knew about it was the king’s barber, Baiju.
Baiju lived in a poor hut close to the forest with Gori, his wife. He constantly lived in fear as the king had threatened him with death if he ever told anyone about his donkey’s ears. He was not even allowed to cut anybody else’s hair or shave anyone in the kingdom.
The barber couldn’t sleep or eat properly. He was afraid to speak to anyone in the land because he was afraid he might mention it unknowingly. He lived a very morose and an unhappy life although he was the king’s barber.
One day, picking up courage, his wife asked him, “Ever since you have been appointed as the king’s barber you don’t speak to me or any one. I see that you hardly touch your food or sleep at night. You spend hours staring at the water in the pool near our house. We were much happier when we lived in the old city on the other side of the forest with our friends.”
The barber did not reply. He just walked out of their hut and sat by the pool. The pool was surrounded by many tamarind trees. He sat down on a big stone and kept staring at the shimmering reflection of the leaves and branches of the trees.
Gori followed him and sat beside him. She pleaded, “Please tell me what is bothering you. I promise I won’t tell anyone.”
Finally Baiju said, “You see the king has ears which are like a donkey’s. And he has threatened me with death if I talk about it to anyone. I don’t know when I might blurt it out in front of someone. So now I want to keep away from everyone. But I am very unhappy as I miss my friends and I am losing them all one by one.”
The tamarind trees heard every word he spoke and absorbed them. Baiju’s wife promised that she wouldn’t talk about it to anyone. But soon, she too grew restless. So one day she went to the tamarind trees and whispered the secret to them by holding them closely. She felt better and returned happily.
Festival season was approaching and the drummers of the kingdom were busy making drums. Some of them picked up branches from the tamarind trees near the pool for the wood for the drums.
When the day of the festival came, the drummers began beating their drums BUT— what did the drums beat?
“The king has donkey’s ears”.
The king was furious and called the barber to be executed. Baiju narrated that all he did was tell his wife while sitting near the tamarind trees. The drummers were questioned and the king found out the truth. Then the wise man of the kingdom came forward and said, “No one should be punished as truth cannot be changed even if you punish the person who has divulged it. Instead, the king should be kind and rule justly. The people would love him in spite of his ears, if he was good to them.”
The king understood the truth. He kept the drums and the sticks in his chamber to remind him always to be a good king.
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