Once upon a time, there was a king who was very proud of his matchless position. He was young, well-read and intelligent and none of the youths of his kingdom equaled him in strength or valour. Moreover, he was the richest man in the kingdom.
One day, while strolling in his garden, he said to his wise, old minister, I am sure no one would ever dare to boast before me. I am glad that I am superior to everybody in every respect.
The old minister, who generally agreed with everything the young King said, did not reply. He did not even smile.
The King was very surprised. Why, my good minister, why do you keep quiet? he asked.
The minister smiled and replied, My noble Lord, to be quite frank, you can never be sure that no one will ever boast before you. Though it is a fact that you are superior to everyone in the kingdom, it is quite possible that there are some people who will not realise this. Everybody has his own vanity. Often it is seen that even a weakling considers himself the boldest of knights. So somebody, ignorant of your superiority, may boast before you some day. It would be wisest to ignore him. To take notice of the vanity of others is to lose one’s own peace of mind.
While the minister was talking, a tiny squirrel jumped forward and climbed a marble column in front of them. In his front paws, he held high a coin to show to the King and the minister.
The king was amused. On seeing the King’s smile, the squirrel chanted:
I have got so much wealth
How much has the King?
Pity how he eyes me with
Jealousy and suffering!
The King was furious. He rushed at the squirrel before the minister could say a word. The squirrel slipped away but dropped the coin. The King pocketed it and looking at the minister, smiled with satisfaction. The minister, however, did not say anything.
That evening, the King and his minister were discussing some important problems with the ambassadors of the neighbouring kingdoms. Suddenly from above, they heard the squirrel chanting:
If the King is so rich and so proud
It is with my wealth; I disclose this aloud!
The King’s blood boiled. He was enraged but he had to control himself as he was in the company of honoured guests. The squirrel hopped from pillar to pillar and repeated his verse. The ambassadors heard him, but did not laugh or say anything, lest the King feel offended.
After the guests had retired to their rooms, the King searched for the squirrel. He looked everywhere but could not find him. Anger made him restless and he could not sleep at night.
The king always began the day by giving alms to the poor. The next morning, while he was distributing alms, the squirrel appeared near the door and chanted:
How proudly he distributes alms!
But is it not my wealth that adorns his palms?
The King asked his attendants to capture the squirrel. But the squirrel managed to slip away. The poor King had to conceal his anger once again. A few hours later, when the King was just about to lunch, the squirrel peeped through the window and chanted:
Is it not funny
That with my money
Many a dish
The King would relish!
The King was so enraged that he could not swallow even a morsel of food. His attendants rushed around trying to capture the squirrel. But the squirrel was nowhere to be seen.
Early that night, just when the King was about to start his dinner, the squirrel appeared in front of him and repeated the verse that made the King give up his lunch. The king felt absolutely helpless. He took out the squirrel’s coin from his pocket and hurled it at him. The squirrel picked it up immediately. But on leaving, he chanted:
Victory to myself, the mighty squirrel
To all the people I can tell
The king did return all my wealth
Out of fear for my strength!
Like a mad man the King ran after the squirrel. But again the squirrel disappeared. Once again the King had a sleepless night. Throughout the night, the squirrel’s words haunted and taunted him.
In the morning, the King told the minister, I think I shall summon all my soldiers and order them to kill all the squirrels in the kingdom. There is no other way for me.
The minister replied, My Lord, I understand your anger. But there is no certainty that your soldiers will succeed in killing all the squirrels in the land. There may be millions of them spread over our corn fields, in the dense forests of our land where men cannot enter, and on the lofty peaks of our mountains. Besides, a squirrel does not need a passport to enter our country. So squirrels from neighbouring lands may pour into our kingdom. Our soldiers, who are so brave in battle, would feel disappointed and unhappy when asked to fight squirrels and more so when they see that they are not altogether successful. Then, if by chance, the naughty squirrel, which is teasing you, escapes, all our efforts will be wasted. And what will your people say and the future historians write about you? Would it not be funny for the students of tomorrow to read: Once upon a time, there was a king who led his army against squirrels!
Then what should I do? asked the harassed King.
My Lord, simply ignore the squirrel. If you had paid no attention to him when he first appeared in the garden, or if without getting angry you had just listened to his idle boasts, you would not have been so upset. However, it is never too late to change one’s attitude for the better.
A little later, the squirrel approached the King and again chanted that the King had been obliged to return his wealth out of fear. The King remained unmoved. He smiled and said gently:
Who does not know that the mighty squirrel
In wealth and wisdom can easily excel
A king or a monarch, as the yawn of a hen
Excels in expanse the mighty ocean?
The squirrel was taken aback. He looked at the King in surprise. Then without another word, he vanished and was never seen again.
First published by National Book Trust, India.