There was once a king who had this strange habit of meeting all the wrong kind of people in his kingdom. He met prisoners charged with murder, theft, so on and so forth. He had directed his prison chief to send him five prisoners every night for a one-on-one. He used to meet them alone but no one knew why.

    He had also left instructions that post his meeting no one should cross check with the prisoner about the conversation the king had had with him. And, if ever, it came to his notice that someone in the prison has tried to coax the prisoner to reveal the conversation the prisoner had had with the king that person’s head would be guillotined … he would be beheaded.

    The learned class in the kingdom could not comprehend this uncommon trait of the king. Failing which, they became extremely weary of this habit of his.

    Unable to hold the suspense one day the queen asked the king.

    ‘I understand from the wives of the courtiers that the courtiers are extremely unhappy and suspicious of your habit of meeting prisoners every night. What is it that you want to know from them?’

    The king said, ‘I get a lot of ground level wisdom from them.’

    ‘Maharaj … wisdom and ground level don’t go hand in hand. Moreover, you have your guru, teachers, scriptures and your courtiers for the wisdom required to govern the kingdom. Why don’t you keep consulting them on a regular basis instead of meeting these prisoners?’

    ‘Maharani, I keep doing that from time to time. But for governing a kingdom that alone is not sufficient.’

    ‘But why Maharaj? Who could be more intelligent than you and your courtiers? They are the cream and elixir of your kingdom.’ The king remained quiet.

    One day when the king was passing through his office he saw without being noticed that his courtiers were having a serious discussion. The topic, of course was, the king’s meetings with the prisoners. But the king chose not to disturb them. Rather, he remained unfazed and continued with his normal duties.

    One day the chief-Priest approached the king. It appeared he wanted to say something. The king got up from his chair with folded hands and said, ‘pranam acharya.’

    ‘Aayushman vatsya.’ replied the chief priest. But he did not stop there and continued.

    ‘Maharaj! You are such a wise and vivacious personality. In addition, you have, intelligent and renowned courtiers too, and that includes me, yet you keep meeting these immoral prisoners. What wisdom do you derive out of them? Our scriptures alone are so very rich that you could efficiently rule your kingdom with the help of them.’

    The king looked at the Chief-Priest and politely said,

    ‘Be that as it may. There is no denying the fact that I have the best of courtiers, and I too, am intelligent enough, to rule the kingdom in the most quintessential manner. But then there are certain limitations.’

    ‘What limitations Maharaj?’

    ‘Limitation of … grassroots wisdom.’

    ‘Can you please explain Maharaj?’ said the Chief-Priest.

    Hey Acharya, ‘Crime is a symptom and not the disease. I meet different kinds of criminals only to find out where I’m faltering in ruling my kingdom. For example when I meet a thief, he gives me, grassroots reality, of why he stole, which my official, may not give me. The information that I get from the prisoner, gives me a sense of, what is in short supply, and where and when. Theft, also conveys to me, that the wealth of the country is disproportionately distributed and that indeed is the reason why some are stealing and some are amassing. A murderer tells me why he murdered a person. He narrates the softer issues, whether it was for money, love or revenge and that conveys to me the unease in the society.

    After the crop is harvested, the incidents of food thefts come down because, food is abundantly available, but after a few months it starts all over again when the stocks start depleting. When the crop is sown, theft of water goes up because more water is required to irrigate the crops. This teaches me the equation of demand-supply. So, by meeting prisoners I get these titbits. That gives me the ground sense of the happenings in my kingdom.’

    The Chief Priest after a while, thought, it was pointless attempting to convince the king so he left for the day. Nonetheless, the king continued meeting prisoners every day as his routine. While the courtiers did not appreciate the king’s gesture of meeting prisoners, the citizenry of his kingdom on the contrary admired and appreciated the gesture.

    Time flew. One day the king was interfaced with a young thief. The king asked why he committed the theft.

    The young thief replied, ‘Maharaj I committed the theft only to meet you. I had heard, every night you meet five criminals … five criminals, so I took a chance and here I am in front of you. Please bless me.’

    The king froze as if he was struck by a thunderbolt.

    Moral of the story: Although, the king was doing a great job, he was passing the wrong message. The young thief took the easiest route to meet the king by becoming a criminal.

    The story goes out as a caution for our rulers and the media.


Written by Kamlesh Tripathi



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