In Search Of a Throne

Sudarshan of Malwa was exceedingly handsome, but he was utterly poor. He spent all his childhood at Banaras getting educated. When his education was finished, he started in his home country.

He made the long journey on foot and, over time, reached a town called Purandar. By the time he entered the city, it was already dark. Sudarshan did not like the idea of begging for food and shelter from house to house. He went to the king’s palace and told the king, “Sire, I am a foreigner and a guest. Give me food and shelter tonight. I shall be on my way tomorrow.”

The King of Purandar was very much pleased with the handsome boy with the bold talk and agreed to play host to him. When the boy went to have a refreshing bath, the queen said to the king, “I feel this boy is no ordinary lad. He must be a prince in disguise. To find out who he is. He will make an excellent husband for our daughter.”

“If he is a prince in disguise,” said the king, “he will not reveal himself even if we ask him. His secret must be discovered without his knowledge. Let me consult our minister.”

“That can be easily ascertained,” said the minister to the king. “I can determine whether he is a prince or a common person. But not in one night. I want time. Keep him here for a couple of days.”

So, at dinner, the king turned to his young guest and said, “I am afraid you cannot go away tomorrow, my boy. My daughter’s birthday is tomorrow, and you must stay for the celebration. You can go later.”

Meanwhile, the minister arranged a hard bed for Sudarshan in a room. He called a night watchman and said to him, keep an eye on the guest. You must report to me whether he has slept well in the morning.”

After dinner, Sudarshan was shown into this bedroom. He closed the door, sat on the bed, and removed his shirt to lie down and sleep. As he lifted the shirt, several green peas dropped down from its pockets and scattered all over the bed and the floor.

It happened this way. Being a poor boy Sudarshan was always careful about his needs. That morning he saw lots of peas while passing by a field. He plucked many pods, took out the green peas, and filled his pockets with them. It was not unusual for him to sustain himself on such a diet when he could not find food.

These wretched peas were all over the place and created a problem. The king had been. Very well disposed to him, and the servants should not find these peas tomorrow. Otherwise, the king would come to know about it and treat him with less respect. So, Sudarshan began to collect every single pea on the bed. Then he lifted the bedsheet and shook it. Having cleared the bed, he crawled onto the floor and ordered all the peas that fell there.

It was past midnight by the time Sudarshan collected all the peas. He did not know what to do with them. Though he was already complete with the king’s food, Sudarshan proceeded to eat the peas slowly, one by one. Three-quarters of the night was gone by the time he went to sleep.

“How did our guest sleep last night?” the minister asked the night watchman the following day.

“Sir.” said the watchman, “the young gentleman did not have a wink of sleep. I heard him shaking the bedsheets and stalking until the first cock.”

The minister was satisfied. He went to the king and said, “Sire, this boy is no common person. I shall not be surprised if he is the son of a monarch.”

What the minister said was confirmed when the king and queen found that Sudarshan hardly ate a morsel of the rich fare before him. They did not know that the peas had spoiled his appetite.

The next night the minister arranged a fine featherbed, and Sudarshan, who was ready to sleep even on a bare rock, slept like a log in the soft and cozy feather bed.

“There is no longer any occasion for the least doubt,” said the minister to the king and queen. “My only fear is that the young prince may not care to marry our princess!”

“Nonsense,” said the queen. “Pretending to be a commoner, he dare not refuse our daughter. In any case, find out his opinion.”

The minister took Princess Indu-mati to Sudarshan and suggested he marry her. At first, Sudarshan was surprised, but later, they consented to marry the princess. The king and queen were pleased. Soon Princess Indu-mati was married to the destitute Sudarshan.

Sudarshan enjoyed a life that not dreamt of for a whole year. Then his troubles started. One day Indu-mati said to her husband, “How long are we to remain here? Let us go to your kingdom.”

“Our kingdom?” Sudarshan repeated in amazement.

“Yes,” she replied. “You need not pretend anymore. Even before I married, I khat you were a prince.” She told him about the tests devised by the minister to make sure that he was a prince. When he heard this, Sudarshan was amazed.

But now, it was up to him to show her a kingdom or to confess the truth. Sudarshan loved his wife too well to hurt her by blurting out the truth. He would start with her and keep wandering until the truth dawned on her.

One fine morning Indu-mati and Sudarshan took leave of the king and queen of Purandar and started upon their aimless travel. Weeks and months passed. The young couple moved from one village to another and from one country to another. Indu-mati was sure that she was going to her husband’s place, but she did not know where it was and what it was. She bore the hardships of the travel without complaining. She never once asked her husband, “Where are we going?”

Several times Sudarshan had a great urge to leave his sleeping wife and go away to end this problem. But daily, his love for his uncomplaining wife grew, and he did not have the heart to desert her.

At the end of six months, they arrived in the city of Kalinga. Sudarshan sold one of his wife’s ornaments there, and they lodged with a poor woman.

The poor woman looked at the couple with some surprise. Despite the journey’s hardships, Indu-mati still looked like a princess. But the boy intrigued the older woman. Some fifteen years back, the prince of Kalinga was kidnapped by robbers. The older woman thought the boy would be the same age as Sudarshan if he were still alive. She suspected that this boy was the kidnapped prince.

To make sure, the old woman took Indu-mati aside and asked her, “Who are you, my dear? And what is your husband?”

“I am Princess Indu-mati of Purandar. My husband is a prince in disguise,” said the girl.

“Which place is he the prince of?” the old woman asked again.

“I don’t know. But we are going there,” Indu-mate replied.

The older woman’s suspicion was confirmed. She went to see the king and told him, “Your Majesty, a boy is lodging in my house with his wife. I feel he may be our prince whom the robbers kidnapped several years ago.”

“Can you bring the couple here once?” the king asked the old woman.

That evening the older woman took Sudarshan and Indu-mati to the palace. Both the king and queen of Kalinga were overcome with joy when they saw Sudarshan. The king thought there was a strong resemblance between his wife and the boy, while the queen said her husband looked exactly like the boy at the time of her marriage.

“God has given us back our son,” they said. Sudarshan agreed to be their son and stay with them.

Soon after, Sudarshan was crowned as the future king of Kalinga. When this news reached Purandar, the minister said, “Didn’t I tell you so? How lucky we have the Prince of Kalinga for a son-in-law!”

Chandamama December 1955 | N Narmadeswar

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