As a young emperor, Akbar seems to have had a whacky sense of fun. Since he was very fond of cock fights, he once announced that anyone coming to see him must bring a fighting cock with him.

One person who got a real taste of Akbar’s sense of humour was the governor of Punjab, Shamsudin Atka. He was on his way to meet the emperor when he received an order from Akbar that he should have his head shaved.

When a Whacky King Turned Serious
When a Whacky King Turned Serious [illustrations: Nitin Vishwakarma]
The governor was troubled, for the hair on his head had not grown long enough for a complete shave. In a disturbed state he reached Akbar’s court. And, as expected, he was asked why he had not got his head shaved. He pointed to the small crop on his head and said that he would get his head shaved on reaching Mathura. His hair would have grown enough by then!

This was in 1560. Akbar was 18 years old. Fourteen years later, Akbar had become a serious young emperor. He was now more interested in building a strong empire and an efficient government.

One of the first things he did was to have a correct means of measuring every bit of land that fell under his rule, be it forest, plain land or fields. The idea was to have a better way of calculating how much tax or revenue people had to pay the ruler.

Till then, a rope had been used to measure land, and it was not a very good way to measure. The same rope, when wet or dry, gave different measurements. There was a chance of fooling everyone.

Realising that, Akbar went for a measuring rod made of bamboo stems joined by iron rings.

Those who praised Akbar, said this action brought prosperity to the people of the empire. And those who criticised him, said, “In the grief-stricken eyes of a croaking man, a double-headed snake is better than a measuring rope.”