The Comet | Part 1
A long time back, King Chitrasen ruled the Isle of Kundalini. At the time of our story, he had been on the throne for only two years. Yet, he had made every effort to see that his subjects were happy and contented, and his rule rivalled Ram Raj. Towards this end, he had cut all taxes by hall.
The people were pleased that the burden of taxes was reduced. They praised their king in verse and song. The good name of King Chitrasen echoed from every corner of his island kingdom.
This was all to the good. Yet, even as the king’s good name was spreading far and wide. The treasury began to run dry; As the money dwindled in the royal coffers, the administration became topsy-turvy.
The chief minister was, however, a clever fellow. He had foreseen some of the consequences. He had also been warning the king time and again. Only the king was bent upon doing good to his people, and the minister’s word fell upon deaf ears. So ultimately, the minister had to give up.
Now the treasury was quite empty. The minister had to do something about it. So he approached the king and submitted to him respectfully, “Sire, it is true that our subjects are happy. But then, the state is bankrupt. Nothing can be done without money. I cannot discharge my duties unless I can get things done. So I request you to relieve me of my responsibility.”
“Has it come to that?” the king asked in surprise.
“I hate to say this, Sire. But the balance in our treasury is hardly enough to pay the gardeners of our palace. In another week, the monthly payment of salaries for our administrative staff and the military falls due,” the minister replied.
“Is that so? We shall decide something in court tomorrow. See to it that all the ministers and most important citizens shall attend,” the king said. The minister nodded but could,d do not guess what the king intended to do. Promulgation of new taxes was the only way of averting disaster. Holding court was going to solve no problem, the minister thought. Anyway, the king had to be obeyed.
When the people heard the announcement asking everyone to attend court, they did not know what it was all about. They began to guess according to their fancies. Some people went about saying, Mark my words. The good king will do away with all taxes this time.” Quite a few unsuspecting people believed this rumour to be true.
The next day the court was filled to overflowing with many ministers, other officials, and many essential citizens. King Chitrasen entered the court and sat on the throne. At the king’s command, the chief minister addressed the gathering with these words.
“We have had the fortune of being ruled by a kind and charitable line of kings. They have always treated their subjects as their progeny. The taxes that were levied on us have always been purely nominal. But even these have been reduced by half in the present regime, as is known to one and all of you. Now has arisen the question of how to administer the land with such meagre taxes.”
Someone stood up among the crowd and asked the chief minister. “Is it necessary to tax the people to carry on with the administration?”
This question amazed everyone. The chief minister nearly had a fit, but he controlled himself and went on:
Compute for yourself. What is the population of our kingdom? What would it cost to provide amenities for the entire population? The sick need medicines and treatment. Growing children require education. Any moment enemies might attack the land; our defence forces must protect us. How can all these expenses be met except through taxation? Where else are we to look for the funds to provide our people with all these amenities? Every citizen must understand taxes and their purpose.”
At this point, the king interrupted the chief minister and said, “What the chief minister says is quite true. But it is a matter of doubt whether we can restore the old taxes and collect them easily.”
There were whisperings all over the court. One bold fellow stood up and said, “Your Highness, you should think twice before you increase the taxes again. For one thing, it will be a great blow to the good name you have achieved far and wide. It is not a small matter that a king should return upon his word. Think well, Your Highness, think well!”
The king could see that there was some truth in these words. It was out of the question that he should restore the reduced taxes and lose the good name he had earned since he ascended the throne. So, other ways must be found to solve the present problem.
“We certainly do not intend to go back upon a decision which was once made,” he said. “The taxes shall not be enhanced. Nor new taxes levied. On the other hand, the minister has explained to you the nature of the present problem. Let someone come forward with a solution.”
There was a hush over the entire court. People looked at each other and saw only blank faces. The silence was broken by the commander-in-chief, who stood up and said, “Your Highness, it is not very difficult to fill the coffers. There is a way of doing it. But, it is a matter of great secrecy, and I can only reveal it to Your Highness in strict privacy.”
So, a private audience of the king was granted to the commander-in-chief at ten o’clock that night in the royal gardens.
Meanwhile, the courtiers wondered what was up the sleeve of the commander-in-chief. They had to content themselves with the thought that the secret would be out the next day.
The commander-in-chief went to the royal gardens at the stroke of ten and met the king. He said to the king:
“the people are happy and establish Ram Raj. It is not to be hoped that we will be able to raise a pie more through taxes. That leaves us with only one choice. Let us loot other kingdoms. It is one of the legitimate rights of kinghood. For this very purpose, armies and their commanders are maintained.”
“I agree with you, Samarsen. But ours is an island surrounded by the ocean. Imagine for a moment how much navy and military might is required to cross the ocean and conquer foreign territory,” the king said.
“Sire, I shall answer for our military might,” replied Samarsen, the commander-in-chief.
“Then I leave the entire thing to you,” said the king. “For conscription and other things, you will require the royal authority. So take the royal seal.”
The commander-in-chief took the seal from the king and departed. He assembled all his military chiefs and told them about his conversation with the king. They appeared to agree with the king in his doubts. But the commander-in-chief said:
“You must remember that our purpose is only to cross the ocean and loot other lands. We do not intend to conquer or subjugate them. I believe that we have enough military strength for our present purpose.”
“While we take away our armies abroad, the king will be left helpless in case of a people’s uprising.”
“In the name of Mother Kundalini. Such a calamity can be very easily averted,” said an old veteran. “An internal revolution is bound to be headed by the youth. We must conscript all the young fellows.”
This was considered a wise measure. A proclamation was drawn up, conscripting all male citizens between fifteen and forty, and the royal seal was put to it.
The next day, military officers went around the various villages with copies of the proclamation and drafted all available young men into the army. Not all, however, joined willingly. “For heaven’s sake, don’t draft us and take us away from our kith and kin. We would rather pay taxes to any extent,” they pleaded in vain.
While those who voluntarily joined the army went along with the officers, those who protested and resisted were tied hand and foot and dragged away mercilessly.
Some people went on a delegation to the king and complained about conscription.
“It cannot be helped,” said the king. “Some of you have already praised me in song and verse for my considerateness in reducing taxes. If I enhance them, you will again write songs and verses, abusing me this time. You know that we never go back on our decision. What we have decided upon shall take place.”
The conscription was over, and the armies entered the military vessels on one auspicious day. Just as the king said, “Start”, to the troop-carrying ships, someone saw a mighty comet in the south-eastern direction. Its head shone bright like the moon, and its enormous tail was flung across the sky.
Soon everyone was gazing at it. Awe-struck, some of them said, “An ill-omen!”
The court astrologer also considered this a bad omen and suggested that the boats postpone their voyage and a more propitious time be chosen.
The commander-in-chief scoffed at this and said, “I never heard such nonsense in my life. We have got the bravest soldiers in the world. What harm can the comet do to them?”
The astrologer tried to persist but to no purpose. The king was inclined to agree with the commander-in-chief, and the astrologer had to retreat for the soldiers’ anxiety. No one was bothered about it.
There was no time to lose. An expedition like this was bound to take a lot of time. The commander-in-chief had a big task before him. He had to cross the ocean, fight his way into other countries, loot them and come back. Then only could the coffers be filled and the economic crisis averted. That was the reason why the commander-in-chief ignored the ill-omen. The being, too, supported him for the same reason.
Finally, the commander-in-chief gave the order and the ships, setting sail, headed southeast toward the comet.