In Exile

Bala-Vardhan was the King of Kari-pur. His queen died after giving birth to a daughter. The King married another wife, but he was not blessed with any children by her. He named his daughter Hema and brought her up with the utmost care. Hema got the training that was necessary for the future queen.

Hema was not only well-taught, but she was beautiful too. She gladdened the sight of everyone except her stepmother, who was intensely jealous of her. The king attempted to fix Hema’s marriage, but the queen frustrated them.

One day King Bala-Vardhan went hunting. The queen sent several maids to Hema, begging her to visit her once. Hema ignored these invitations at first but yielded in the end. In the evening, she paid a visit to her stepmother.

The queen pretended to be glad to see Hema and gave her all sorts of things to eat. Hema declined them, saying she was not hungry. Then the queen subjected Hema to an elaborate toilet had flowers arranged in her hair and asked her to try the fragrance of some scent. As soon as Hema inhaled the smell, she became unconscious.

The queen got Hema placed in a box and waited till midnight. Then she ordered her servants to throw the box over the fort wall and into the cremation ground.

That night a young man named Vijay came on a horse from a far-off place towards the cremation ground at about midnight. In the darkness, he saw a hut and thought of spending the rest of the night in it. But when he got down from the horse and went nearer, he found three corpses burning on the other side of the hut. At once, he knew that the place was a cremation ground, and the house was put up for mourners. Since Vijay was not a coward, he decided to spend the night in the hut.

Soon he heard a thud nearby. Vijay got up, took up a burning stick from one of the pyres, and investigated the noise. He saw a long box near the fort wall by the stick’s light. When he opened the lid, he saw a lovely girl lying unconscious inside the box.

Vijay lifted the girl from the box and carried her to the hut. All his efforts to revive her were of no avail. He could guess that some enemies attempted to kill her. But she was still alive and could be saved. Only dawn was approaching, and he must take her to a safe place before people began to move about.

So, Vijay put her upon his horse and went into the village. There he requested a Brahman for shelter. “Sir,” he told the Brahman, “we have come a long way, and my wife had a stroke. Can you please accommodate us in your house until she gets better?”

The Brahman’ agreed and put a small room at Vijay’s disposal.

Vijay attended to her till evening when, as a result of his efforts, Hema revived and opened her eyes. She was surprised to see a stranger following her. Vijay told her what little he knew, and Hema informed him what had gone on before he found her in the box. To avoid unnecessary questions, Vijay had told the Brahman that she was his wife. But Hema accepted Vijay in her mind as her husband, seeing that he devotedly saved her life.

Hema regained her health soon, but a new problem arose for Hema and Vijay. When the King returned from hunting and asked about his daughter, the queen told him Hema had eloped with someone. The King believed it and sent his men searching for Hema and her escort in all directions. Vijay knew this from people talking in the streets and informed Hema. They were both in a false position, and the King was not likely to believe the truth. So they decided to start that very night and go away.

The Brahman who sheltered them overheard what they said between themselves, and he knew that the girl was none other than Princess Hema and that the queen tried to put her to death.

Meanwhile, Hema and Vijay slipped away at midnight upon the horse. After journeying for several days without rest, they reached a far-off town called Jayapur.

They broke their journey and put up in a rest-house for the night. Hema could not sleep. Brought up amid all comforts and being the heiress to a throne, Hema began to mourn her present condition of an exile and a homeless refugee.

“Don’t take it to heart, Hema,” Vijay consoled her. “Let me see the king of this place once; I will give you a mansion of seven storeys and a golden swing.”

These brave words reached the ear of King Bhima of the city. The King was standing only a few feet from the rest-house when Vijay said those words to Hema. King Bhima was in the habit of going out in disguise on a dark- night every month and listening to what the people said, and he was out this very night.

The King was curious to see how this young man could provide for his wife a seven-storied mansion by simply visiting him once. So, when he went to court the following day, he said to his minister, “There is a certain young man who is now lodging in the rest-house with his wife, whose name is Hema. Kindly have him invited to court at once.”

Messengers were dispatched to the rest-house, and they soon returned with Vijay. King Bhima glanced at him once and showed him an empty seat near his throne. Until the court’s rising, the King never looked at Vijay, nor did he exchange a word with him.

At noon the King got up, and so did everyone in the court. Most of the courtiers took leave of the King on the spot, whereas the others accompanied the King up to the first floor, the second floor and the third floor in keeping with their high positions. Even the minister and the King’s vassals accompanied him only to the fourth floor, where they took leave of him. Vijay alone followed him to the sixth floor before he took a break from the King. Then he hastily came down the steps and, overtaking the departing courtiers asked them, “Which one is the minister?”

“Sir,” replied the minister stepping forward, “I am the minister.”

There was enough reason for the minister to show so much respect to this unknown youth. In the first place, he got invited to the court without any formal application. Then again, only the King knew the young man and none else. Yet the King said nothing to him at court. They must have talked while the young man accompanied the King alone. Not knowing how close he was to the King, the minister preferred to be polite with Vijay.

“Ah, you are the minister,” Vijay said. “In that case, be kind enough to supply me with a thousand coolies with digging implements and three hundred guards with a hundred yards of measuring rope.”

The minister never doubted that the young man had the King’s consent, and he arranged everything according to Vijay’s demand. Accompanied by the coolies, guards, digging implements, and the measuring rope, Vijay tracked the city streets. Whenever he saw a vast building or a newly built mansion, he stopped and asked for the house’s owner. When the owner presented himself before him, Vijay told him, “We are widening the streets. Vacate your house at once. What are you gaping at, you stupid louts? Start with the walls and pull down the house!”

“Kind sir, wait a moment!” the house owner begged Vijay. “Step inside, and we shall talk it over properly.”

The talking consisted of offering money bags and a prayer to save the house. Vijay was touched by the blessing and took the bags of money. Then he went to another place where the same thing was repeated. By evening Vijay had immense wealth. He sent off the coolies and guards after paying them handsomely.

The following day, Vijay purchased a seven-storeyed mansion in the city’s heart and furnished it like a palace. He got a swing of gold for Hema and began to live luxuriously.

A month passed, and King Bhima came out into the city one night in disguise. When he went to the city centre, he was surprised to see a brightly illuminated and luxurious seven-storeyed mansion to which his palace could not hold a candle. On inquiry, the King found that the estate belonged to the young man he called to court a month back. Evidently, the youth was as good as his word and fulfilled his promise to his wife.

King Bhima summoned Vijay to see him and learnt from him what had happened. It occurred to the King that his minister was a fool and that Vijay would make a much better minister. At once, Vijay became the minister of King Bhima.

Some time has elapsed. Hema gave birth to a son. The entire city celebrated the birth of the minister’s son. But Hema did not feel any great joy. What joy could she find in seeing that her husband, who should have been sitting on her father’s throne, was minister to some other ruler and people called her son the minister’s son while he was the crown prince of another state? She constantly yearned to be in her own country with her father.

But Hema could not go back. King Bala-Vardhan would order her to be put to death when he saw her. Nor was it easy after so long a time to prove that the queen had attempted to kill Hema. On the other hand, Hema had a husband and a son to confirm the charge of the queen that Hema had eloped with someone. So Hema had to suppress her desire to be in her own country.

But the truth will be out. The Brahman, who had given asylum to Hema at one time, went to the King and told him the truth, which he knew by overhearing the talk between Vijay and Hema before they left his house. The King clapped his wife in prison and sent his messengers to far-off countries to search for his innocent daughter. Some of these messengers arrived at Jayapur, and Vijay came to learn the tale they told everyone. Through him, Hema learnt it.

Now that her exile had ended, Hema’s happiness knew no bounds. Vijay told everything to King Bhima and resigned from his job as minister. Then he went to Kari-pur with his wife and son. King Bala-Vardhan shed tears of joy on seeing his daughter again. He crowned Vijay as King and his grandson as the Crown Prince. Hema lived with them happily.

Chandamama November 1955 | D N Madhavan Nair

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