The Biter Bit | Part 1

KING Bhoja was in the habit of giving a lakh to anyone who recited a new verse. This led, at times to certain malpractices. The king made the award only for the poem’s originality, not for its content. Taking advantage of this fact, a particular obscure poet called Satam-Jaya wrote a mean verse.

“अपशब्द शतं माघे भारवौच शतत्रयं कालिदासे नगण्यन्ते कविरेक इशतंजयः “

This was undoubtedly an original verse, but it said this: “Poet Magh used a hundred wrong words.; poet Bharavi three hundred; as for Kalidas, there is no counting them. Satam-Jaya is the one (only) poet.”

The evil intent of this man was quite clear. On the one hand, he was not only defaming such mighty poets as Magh, Bharavi and Kalidas but also claiming that he was the only poet. On the other hand, he was going to make the famous patron of poets, King Bhoja, reward him for that verse because it was original!

The idea was so bold and, at the same time, so cruel that Satam-Jaya had no courage to take the verse to King Bhoja’s court and present it himself. He called one of his pupils and said, “Go, take this verse to Bhoja’s court and read it; they will give you a lakh; bring it to me.”

The boy took the verse and started for the king’s court. On the way, he met a gentleman evidently on his way to the court. Without knowing that this gentleman was Kalidas himself, the boy said to him, “Sir, are you going to court?”

“Yes,” Kalidas replied. “Why do you ask?”.

“Will you kindly take me there?” the boy requested Kalidas. “I don’t know the way.”

“What business do you have at court?” Kalidas inquired.

“My teacher wrote an original verse”, the boy replied. “He asked me to present it to the king and return with the award. This is the reason for my going to court. You see, they don’t know me. They may not permit me inside. Please, sir, get me inside the court somehow.”

Kalidas could not understand why the poet was presenting the verse by proxy. “Let me see the verse,” he said to the boy.

The boy handed over the verse to Kalidas. Kalidas read it and understood the evil intent of its author. He made a deprecating noise and said, “But for one small defect, this verse deserves the award.”

“Please, sir!” said the boy anxiously, “if you know the defect, why don’t you rectify it? My teacher will be angry if I go back without the award.”

Kalidas changed only the first letter of the verse, but that small change was enough to alter the real sense of it.

The boy entered the court of Bhoja with the help of Kalidas. Bhoja asked the boy about the purpose of his visit. The boy obtained the king’s permission to read an original verse and read the following:

“आप शब्द शतं माघे भारवीच शतत्रयं कालिदासे नगण्यन्ते कविरेक रशतंजयः”

Now the meaning of the verse is as follows:

“One poet (called) Satam-Jaya borrowed a hundred words from poet Magh, three hundred from Bharavi, and as for Kalidas, there is no counting them.”

When the pandits and poets in the court heard this verse, they laughed. It received no award. Disgraced and disappointed, the boy returned to his teacher and reported what had happened. Poor Satam-Jaya realised that he had become a laughing stock and went far away from Dhara.

Later the other poets learnt what Kalidas did to that verse and admired his cleverness greatly.

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