The Robber King

In ancient Vidarbha, there was a time when it seemed that dacoits were ruling the kingdom. Every day there were endless complaints of merchants being waylaid and robbed. Houses were looted even though the guards had been doubled.

The youthful King, who had only been on the throne briefly, was harassed from all sides. The rich people of the King demanded that the King provide armed protection for their property and when they went on journeys. His ministers said the only answer was proclaiming that all thieves would be summarily executed.

But as time passed, severe punishment did not deter the thieves because robberies were undoubtedly on the in- crease. In the end, the King decided he would find out for himself the reason for such a spate of crime.

Unbeknown to his ministers, the King, disguised as a commoner, set out on foot to tour his kingdom and see what he could discover.

Coming to a village and already feeling footsore, he decided to join a group of the men- folk who were sitting outside the temple.

At first, the villagers eyed him suspiciously, but very soon, the King, who could be very charming, conversed deeply with some elders.

“Tell me,” said the King. “I understand there are lots of robbers in this kingdom. Are you good people often robbed?”

“Good gracious, no,” replied one of the men with a broad smile. “We are far too poor to interest robbers.”

“You are certainly a stranger,’ chortled another. “Here, like all other villages, the land is owned by the rich, who demand high rents. Then on top of that, the King’s ministers tax us on everything. So you see, we are too poor to rob.”

The King. was somewhat taken aback upon hearing this. “But why are there so many robberies in the land?”

“The poor have to live,” the man answered in rage. “These robbers you speak of only rob the rich, who have already robbed the poor. And only the so-called robbers will help the sick and needy.”

“I would rather meet one of these robbers,” said the King with a disarming smile.

The men looked at each other in surprise. “Go to the next village,” one of them said. “And ask for Bhoja. He might help you.”

Bidding farewell to the villagers, the King went to the next village, where he promptly sought out this man Bhoja.

When the King found Bhoja, he was surprised to find he was a small nondescript individual who did not appear to have a care in the world.

“What may you want?” Bhoja said, eyeing the King from top to toe.

“I am looking for someone who would like to employ a nimble hand,” the King replied. “Someone who is not afraid to take a risk.”

Bhoja looked puzzled at first; then, he broke into a roar of laughter. “Are you trying to tell me that you are a robber?”

“I have had a lot of experience,” replied the King. “And I have never been caught.”

“Well, you look a likely sort,” Bhoja said, scratching his chin. “Maybe I will try you out.”

The King was relieved that Bhoja did not ask too many questions. “Good, whose house do we burgle?”

Bhoja grinned and slapped the King on the back. “Tonight, my friend, you and I will visit the King’s treasury.”

The King was amazed at the audacity of such a venture, but on second thought, it would be a good test to find out how alert his guards were. Turning to Bhoja, he said. “How do we share the booty?”

Bhoja looked hurt. Share everything equally,” he laughed. “Just remember, if we get caught, we shall both suffer the same punishment, so it is only fair we should also share any gains we make.”

The King was surprised at such philosophy and thought that perhaps robbers were not as bad as they had been painted.

Late that night, the King and Bhoja crept up to the palace walls, and Bhoja, with the skill of a monkey, climbed the wall and threw down a rope so the King could follow.

He was carefully avoiding the guards, who, to the King, appeared more asleep than awake; the two made their way to the treasury building. Here Bhoja produced a big bunch of odd-looking keys and, in no time, slid back the lock and opened the massive door.

Lighting a torch, Bhoja soon laid his hands on a golden casket, which he forced open. Inside were three diamonds, each the size of a pigeon’s egg.

“Here is the booty,” Bhoja exclaimed, rubbing his hands. “But we cannot divide three diamonds, so as they are worth a king’s ransom, we will take one each.”

So each pocketed a diamond and left the treasury and palace as stealthily as they had entered. Outside the palace walls, the King and Bhoja parted company. The King waited till Bhoja was out of sight, then quietly entered his palace.

The following morning the chief minister was aroused by the captain of the guard with the news that the treasury had been stolen in the night. The minister hastened to the treasury, and when he discovered the broken casket with one diamond still inside, he quietly slipt the diamond into his pocket when the guards were not looking. Then he hurried to tell the King the bad news.

“Your Majesty,” he shouted as he rushed into the King’s chamber. “Last night, thieves entered the treasury and stole your three great diamonds!”

The King did not seem at all perturbed. Telling the minister to wait outside, he ordered the captain of the guard to go to the village and arrest a man named Bhoja.

When Bhoja was dragged before the King, he did not recognize his burglary accomplice, but realizing the game was up, he tearfully confessed to the robbery. He maintained that he and his aide had only stolen two diamonds.

“This man is an utter rogue,” the minister exclaimed. “He stole all the diamonds and should be put to death.”

“Not so fast,” the King said. “I have already discovered the accomplice, who tells the same story as this prisoner.”

“Torture will make them sing a different story,” the minister urged.

The King stood up and confronted the minister. “No, my friend,” he said sternly. “I think we shall find the third diamond in your possession. Now it is your turn to confess.”

The minister was so taken back that all he could do was whine some incoherent story, which the King dismissed with a shrug, and ordered him to be cast into a dungeon for the remainder of his life.

Bhoja was pardoned and given service in the King’s household. The King changed many of his ministers and laws so that taxes and rents were lowered, and the people no longer had to resort to robbery to live.

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