Maharaja Krishna Chandra was the king of Bengal during the middle ages. It was customary for kings in those days to patronise talented people. So every king had his own court poets, artists, singers, town planners, architects and what have you. And plenty of ministers to advise him on different matters.

And every king had a court jester. The jester was a very important person for his ability to make people laugh and feel happy. The king had a lot of serious work to do, lots of difficult problems to solve and deal carefully with rival kings! It meant a lot of tension. So he needed someone to make his tension lighter with his jokes. And help him with unexpected advice where no one else could help.

Gopal was the maharaja’s favourite jester. A barber by profession, he had a razor-sharp wit and could make the best of any situation. He was bright and clever and had a tremendous presence of mind. But what was most important, he had a kind heart as well. He was always ready to help anyone, not just the king.

Maharaja Krishna Chandra had a new visitor. He could recite all the
scriptures in perfect Sanskrit. He could speak chaste Arabic and Persian. He
spoke to the people in perfect Bengali with all its varied dialects. And he
could hold forth in half a dozen other languages.

The Jester and the Stranger's Language [Illustrations by Sudheer Nath]
The Jester and the Stranger’s Language [Illustrations by Sudheer Nath]

But no one knew which part of the country he came from. It was a mystery not just to the maharaja but everyone one else.

“Where are you from?” asked the maharaja times without number.

“This country, your majesty,” replied the scholar, “I belong right here –
with the rest of you.”

“And your language?”

“The language of this land.”

“Who is your father?”

“You are, Sire. The king is the father of all his subjects.”

“What about your family?”

“I am a part of yours,” came the prompt answer.

It was useless to question him. He always came up with vague, poetic answers
which sounded so good that it was quite impossible to pin him down.

Gradually people got to call him pundit ‘masai’ (a respectful term of address in Bengali) because he seemed to know so
much. He had ready answers for everything.

“I wish I knew who he is and where he comes from,” the maharaja said to Gopal
one day.

“I feel really uncomfortable when I realise that I don’t even know what his
language is. A king ought to have every detail about his subjects at his
finger tips.”

“I could find out what his language is,” said Gopal.

“Then please do,” said the maharaja, “Once I know that, I can easily find out
the rest about him.”

Gopal followed pundit ‘masai’ closely for the next few days taking note of all
he did. Pundit ‘masai’ lived all by himself and did his own cooking and

Gopal landed up there late one evening well before pundit ‘masai’
arrived from the market and hid all the lamps and lanterns in the house.

By the time pundit ‘masai’ reached home everything was in complete darkness. He
opened the door and hunted for the lamp. It seemed to have vanished! So had
the lanterns and the matches.

Pundit ‘masai’ could not imagine what had
happened. He had left everything in place as usual before he had left for
the market. Who could have possibly taken them? He felt really annoyed!

As he fumbled in the darkness he ran into Gopal who promptly trod on his

‘You blasted fool!’ he cried in Oriya, ‘Are you blind?’

Gopal chuckled and ran out in the darkness before Pundit ‘masai’ could
discover who he was. He made straight for the palace and asked to see the

“At this time?” asked the royal guard in surprise, “his majesty must be
resting although it is not yet time for him to retire for the night.”

“Tell him I’m here and I have an important message to convey,” said Gopal.

The maharaja was curious about Gopal’s message and sent for him at once.

“Sire I have the solution to your problem,” he said laughing.

“Do you mean about Pundit ‘masai’?” asked the maharaja eagerly, “Have you
managed to discover what his language is? And which part of the country he
belongs to?”

“Yes I have found out both. He is from Orissa and his language is Oriya’
said Gopal triumphantly.”

“But how can you possibly be sure?” asked the maharaja, “The man speaks so
many languages! His language could be any one of them.”

“But I am sure, your majesty,” said Gopal, “You can ask him tomorrow.”

“But tell me what makes you so sure,” asked the maharaja.

“Sire, when a person is off-guard, the language that springs instinctively
to his lips is his own mother tongue,” said Gopal, “Pundit ‘masai’ was not
expecting anyone to be there at that time so when I suddenly trod on his
toes – out of the blue, so to speak, – he automatically exclaimed in Oriya,
and not any other language.”

When the maharaja saw Pundit ‘masai’ in court the next morning he said – “Well
Pundit ‘masai’, so you are from Orissa? Your language is Oriya, isn’t it?”

“Yes it is,” said Pundit ‘masai’ with a broad smile, “I wonder how you found it

“Why didn’t you tell me right at the outset?” asked the maharaja.

“I enjoyed myself when everyone tried to guess my real identity,” said Pundit
‘masai’, “Please tell me how you managed to discover it.”

“Well, actually it was Gopal who did,” said the maharaja smiling.

“Gopal? You mean that jester of yours?” asked Pundit “‘masai”’ in surprise,
“He is a barber, isn’t he?”

“Yes, he is. But even barbers can be intelligent, you know,” said Gopal
laughing, “Especially when it comes to plain common sense!”

(C) Swapna Dutta

992 words | 9 minutes
Readability: Grade 5 (10-11 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: folktales
Tags: #market, #jester, #maharaja, #kings, #majesty

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