It is believed that fools are so dangerous that only
very wise people can manage them. Who are the
fools in this story? What happens to them?
Author: A.K. RAMANUJAM
IN the Kingdom of Fools, both the king and the minister were idiots.
They didn't want to run things like other kings, so they decided to
change night into day and day into night. They ordered that everyone
should be awake at night, till their fields and run their businesses
only after dark, and go to bed as soon as the sun came up. Anyone
who disobeyed would be punished with death. The people did as
they were told for fear of death. The king and the minister were
delighted at the success of their project. One day a guru and his
disciple arrived in the city. It was a beautiful city, it was broad
daylight, but there was no one about. Everyone was asleep, not a
mouse stirring. Even the cattle had been taught to sleep by day.
The two strangers were amazed by what they saw around them
and wandered around town till evening, when suddenly the whole
town woke up and went about its nightly business.
The two men were hungry. Now that the shops were open,
they went to buy some groceries. To their astonishment, they
found that everything cost the same, a single duddu -- whether
they bought a measure of rice or a bunch of bananas, it cost a
duddu. The guru and his disciple were delighted. They had never
heard of anything like this. They could buy all the food they
wanted for a rupee.
When they had cooked and eaten, the guru realised that this
was a kingdom of fools and it wouldn't be a good idea for them to
stay there. "This is no place for us. Let's go," he said to his disciple.
But the disciple didn't want to leave the place. Everything was
cheap here. All he wanted was good, cheap food. The guru said,
"They are all fools. This won't last very long, and you can't tell
what they'll do to you next."
But the disciple wouldn't listen to the guru's wisdom. He
wanted to stay. The guru finally gave up and said, "Do what you
want. I'm going," and left. The disciple stayed on, ate his fill every
day -- bananas and ghee and rice and wheat, and grew fat like a
street-side sacred bull.
One bright day, a thief broke into a rich merchant's house. He
had made a hole in the wall and sneaked in, and as he was carrying
out his loot, the wall of the old house collapsed on his head and
killed him on the spot. His brother ran to the king and complained,
"Your Highness, when my brother was pursuing his ancient trade,
a wall fell on him and killed him. This merchant is to blame. He
should have built a good, strong wall. You must
punish the wrongdoer and compensate the family
for this injustice."
The king said, "Justice will be done. Don't
worry," and at once summoned the owner of
When the merchant arrived, the king questioned him.
"What's your name?"
"Such and Such, Your Highness."
"Were you at home when the dead man burgled your house?"
"Yes, My Lord. He broke in and the wall was weak. It fell on him."
"The accused pleads guilty. Your wall killed this man's brother.
You have murdered a man. We have to punish you."
"Lord," said the helpless merchant, "I didn't put up the wall.
It's really the fault of the man who built the wall. He didn't build
it right. You should punish him."
"Who is that?"
"My Lord, this wall was built in my father's time. I know the
man. He's an old man now. He lives nearby."
The king sent out messengers to bring in the bricklayer who
had built the wall. They brought him, tied hand and foot.
"You there, did you build this man's wall in his father's time?"
"Yes, My Lord, I did."
"What kind of a wall is this that you built? It has fallen on a
poor man and killed him. You've murdered him. We have to punish
you by death."
Before the king could order the execution, the poor bricklayer
pleaded, "Please listen to me before you give your orders. It's true
I built this wall and it was no good. But that was because my
mind was not on it. I remember very well a dancing girl who was
going up and down that street all day with her anklets jingling,
and I couldn't keep my eyes or my mind on the wall I was building.
You must get that dancing girl. I know where she lives."
"You're right. The case deepens. We must look into it. It is not
easy to judge such complicated cases. Let's get that dancer,
wherever she is."
The dancing girl, now an old woman, came trembling to
"Did you walk up and down that street many years ago, while
this poor man was building a wall? Did you see him?"
"Yes, My Lord, I remember it very well."
"So you did walk up and down, with your anklets jingling.
You were young and you distracted him, so he built a bad wall.
It has fallen on a poor burglar and
killed him. You've killed an innocent
man. You'll have to be punished."
She thought for a minute and said,
"My Lord, wait. I know now why I was
walking up and down that street. I
had given some gold to the goldsmith
to make some jewellery for me. He
was a lazy scoundrel. He made so
many excuses, said he would give it
now and he would give it then and
so on all day. He made me walk up
and down to his house a dozen times.
That was when this bricklayer saw me. It's
not my fault, My Lord, it's the damned
"Poor thing, she's absolutely right,"
thought the king, weighing the evidence.
"We've got the real culprit at last. Get the
goldsmith, wherever he is hiding. At once!"
The king's bailiffs searched for the
goldsmith, who was hiding in a corner of
his shop. When he heard the accusation
against him, he had his own story to tell.
"My Lord," he said, "I'm a poor
goldsmith. It's true I made this dancer
come many times to my door. I gave her
excuses because I couldn't finish making
her jewellery before I finished the rich
merchant's orders. They had a wedding
coming, and they wouldn't wait. You know
how impatient rich men are!"
"Who is this rich merchant who kept
you from finishing this poor woman's
jewellery, made her walk up and down,
which distracted this bricklayer, which
made a mess of his wall, which has now
fallen on an innocent man and killed him?
Can you name him?"
The goldsmith named the merchant, and
he was none other than the original owner of
the house whose wall had fallen. Now justice
had come full circle, thought the king, back to
the merchant. When he was rudely summoned
back to the court, he arrived crying, "It wasn't
me but my father who ordered the jewellery!
He's dead! I'm innocent!"
But the king consulted his minister and ruled
decisively: "It's true your father is the true
murderer. He's dead, but somebody must be
punished in his place. You've inherited
everything from that criminal father of yours,
his riches as well as his sins. I knew at once,
even when I first set eyes on you, that you were
at the root of this horrible crime. You must die."
And he ordered a new stake to be made
ready for the execution. As the servants
sharpened the stake and got it ready for the
final impaling of the criminal, it occurred to
the minister that the rich merchant was
somehow too thin to be properly executed on
the stake. He appealed to the king's common
sense. The king too worried about it.
"What shall we do?" he said, when
suddenly it struck him that all they needed
to do was to find a man fat
enough to fit the stake. The
servants were immediately sent
all over the town looking for a
man who would fit the stake,
and their eyes fell on the
disciple who had fattened
himself for months on bananas
and rice and wheat and ghee.
"What have I done wrong? I'm innocent. I'm a sanyasi!" he cried.
"That may be true. But it's the royal decree that we should
find a man fat enough to fit the stake," they said, and carried him
to the place of execution. He remembered his wise guru's words:
"This is a city of fools. You don't know what they will do next."
While he was waiting for death, he prayed to his guru in his heart,
asking him to hear his cry wherever he was. The guru saw
everything in a vision; he had magic powers, he could see far,
and he could see the future as he could see the present and the
past. He arrived at once to save his disciple, who had got himself
into such a scrape through love of food.
As soon as he arrived, he scolded the disciple and told him
something in a whisper. Then he went to the king and addressed
him, "O wisest of kings, who is greater? The guru or the disciple?"
"Of course, the guru. No doubt about it. Why do you ask?"
"Then put me to the stake first. Put my disciple to death after me."
When the disciple heard this, he understood and began to
clamour, "Me first! You brought me here first! Put me to death
first, not him!"
The guru and the disciple now got into a fight about who should
go first. The king was puzzled by this behaviour. He asked the
guru, "Why do you want to die? We chose him because we needed
a fat man for the stake."
"You shouldn't ask me such questions. Put me to death first,"
replied the guru.
"Why? There's some mystery here. As a wise man you must
make me understand."
"Will you promise to put me to death if I tell you?" asked the
guru. The king gave him his solemn word. The guru took him
aside, out of the servants' earshot, and whispered to him, "Do you
know why we want to die right now, the two of us? We've been all
over the world but we've never found a city like this or a king like
you. That stake is the stake of the god of justice. It's new, it has
never had a criminal on it. Whoever dies on it first will be reborn as
the king of this country. And whoever goes next will be the future
minister of this country. We're sick of our ascetic life. It would be
nice to enjoy ourselves as king and minister for a while. Now keep
your word, My Lord, and put us to death. Me first, remember?"
The king was now thrown into deep thought. He didn't want
to lose the kingdom to someone else in the next round of life. He
needed time. So he ordered the execution postponed to the next
day and talked in secret with his minister. "It's not right for us to
give over the kingdom to others in the next life. Let's go on the
stake ourselves and we'll be reborn as king and minister again.
Holy men do not tell lies," he said, and the minister agreed.
So he told the executioners, "We'll send the criminals tonight.
When the first man comes to you, put him to death first. Then do
the same to the second man. Those are my orders. Don't make
That night, the king and his minister went secretly to the
prison, released the guru and the disciple, disguised themselves
as the two, and as arranged beforehand with loyal servants, were
taken to the stake and promptly executed.
When the bodies were taken down to be thrown to crows and
vultures the people panicked. They saw before them the dead
bodies of the king and the minister. The city was in confusion.
All night they mourned and discussed the future of the
kingdom. Some people suddenly thought of the guru and the
disciple and caught up with them as they were preparing to leave
town unnoticed. "We people need a king and a minister," said
someone. Others agreed. They begged the guru and the disciple
to be their king and their minister. It didn't take many arguments
to persuade the disciple, but it took longer to persuade the guru.
They finally agreed to rule the kingdom of the foolish king and
the silly minister, on the condition that they could change all the
From then on, night would again be night and day would again
be day, and you could get nothing for a duddu. It became like any
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