Now, now, Vikram, who is the most delicate of them all?

Now, now, Vikram, who is the most delicate of them all?

Anusha S Rao.

The Raghuvamsha has a memorable passage: King Dilipa hands over the throne to his young son and retires to the forest with the queen because, Kalidasa tells us, “This is the family tradition of the Ikshvaku kings.” Granted, in a democratic republic, officials no longer hand over charge to their own children (or so it is supposed to be), but usually to someone their own age, and more often than not, to someone equally attached to power. But we live in unprecedented times when incumbents blatantly refuse to concede elections and instead take to ranting on Twitter.

But let us forget that for a moment and turn to a handy tale from the Vikram-Betal collection. We all know the story of the Princess and the Pea, in which an innocent pea tucked beneath the cushions causes a delicate princess a night of sleeplessness and bruises on the back. Well, wait till you hear the story of King Dharmadhvaja’s queens.

Vikram carried Betal over his shoulders, and Betal, who liked his entertainment, much as we all do, launched into a story. King Dharmadhvaja had three beautiful queens: Indulekha, Taravali, and Mrigankavati. Once, the king was sitting by the side of his first queen, Indulekha, when a blue lotus that she had tucked behind her ear fell on her thighs. Indulekha was so sensitive that she fainted from pain! The royal physicians had to be summoned to bandage the wound that the lotus caused and treat her with every royal ointment they had.

The king was distraught, so of course he sought the company of Taravali to console him. He went on the terrace with her and retired by her side. It was a cool night, and the breeze blew Taravali’s veil aside, exposing her delicate self to the rays of the moon. She immediately woke up from the pain. We’ve all had a bad case of sunburn some time, but Taravali holds the unique distinction of having experienced ‘moonburn’. The cool rays of the moon (a cliché in Sanskrit) were enough to give her blisters! Her attendants had to treat her with delicate sandal paste and a soft bed of lotus leaves.

Then the third queen, Mrigankavati, concerned for the king’s emotional state, set out to meet him. It was a quiet night, and very unwisely, she was out in the open air. Unwise, because she distinctly heard the sound of a pestle pounding some rice in a distant house. Unable to walk, she sat down, shaking in pain. Her attendants had to take her back to her bed, where examination showed that her own hands were covered in bruises, just from hearing someone else’s hands pound the grain with the pestle.

The first queen was wounded by a lotus, the second was burned by the rays of the moon, and the third was bruised by the sound of a pestle. Here, Betal paused to ask Vikram, “Which of the three queens was the most sensitive, and why?” Vikram answered, “Mrigankavati was the most delicate. The other two queens experienced the contact of the lotus and the moon rays respectively, but she was bruised without even touching the pestle.”

We have to take leave of the king and Betal here, but don’t you think Betal could have given Vikram a few additional options? After all, we can tell Vikram of a man more sensitive than all these three mythical queens, whose tweets are evidence that he was wounded, burned, and bruised, all at the same time — to the point of derangement — simply on hearing the news of election results on television!