(an Indian folktale)
Once upon a time the good King Krishna Deva Rayalu’s mother fell ill, and the poor king was distraught. He called every doctor in the land to court, but everyone agreed: She was too ill to recover. “Nothing can be done,” they concurred.
When his mother heard the news, she called her son to her side. “My beloved, I have just one more wish before I die.”
Naturally Rayalu was determined to fulfill his mother’s wish, and so he said, “Of course, whatever you want. I am king, and anything can be yours.”
“Very well,” she said. “I wish to eat a mango before I die.”
It was the time of year when the trees were just beginning to bloom, and it would be many more weeks before the mango trees bore ripe fruit. The king sent his servants out in search of a mango. “Cost is no object,” he said. “Go where you must. Whatever you do, find a nice, sweet mango for my mother.”
The servants set off, and they traveled everywhere, searching every farm and field in the land. At long last one of the servants found a ripe mango, and he hurried back to the palace as fast as he could. The journey was long, and before he had arrived, the king’s mother died.
Rayalu was beside himself with sadness. “How could I fail my mother in her final wish?” he wept to his advisers. “I am king. I should not have let my mother down.”
The thought that she had died without once more tasting a mango sent him into the depths of despair. So sad was he that he could not even rise from bed. He no longer read poetry. He could not smile or eat or speak. He could not give orders to his servants. How could he ask anyone for anything? After all, if he had failed his mother, he would surely fail at anything and everything he tried to do. He was convinced of that.
His advisers became very concerned and gathered to discuss what they could do to help their king. The Royal Master thought for a while, and at long last he had an idea. He hurried to the king’s bedside.
“Sir, your mother was always generous to the poor of our nation. I believe she would be happy if you fulfilled her desire to help others in need. Perhaps you could give away mangoes to the poor to feed them.”
The king’s eyes lit up. “Yes, I can help the poor just as my mother did. Do you think this will ease her soul?”
“I am certain of it,” said the Royal Master.
“But I must do more,” the king urged. The next day he called his advisers to his chambers. “We shall give away not only mangoes. We shall give away gold!”
Before long word spread that the king would pass out mangoes and gold to all the poor in the land. He would do this in his mother’s memory. And from everywhere the Brahmins soon came. They lined up outside the palace, and the line grew so long that there seemed no end in sight.
Day after day, the advisers passed out mangoes and gold, and eventually the chief of the king’s finances began to worry. “We’ll run out of gold if this does not stop,” he told the advisers. “We must warn the king.”
The advisers told the king that he must stop. “You will have no money,” they cautioned.
But the king refused to stop. “I must fulfill my mother’s every desire,” he said.
So the lines continued, the handouts continued, and the advisers became more and more worried. Then one morning the king’s trusted adviser Tenali Raman had an idea as he watched the long lines outside the palace.
He told the servants and soldiers to tell each Brahmin that he must speak to Tenali Raman before he walked inside for his mango and gold.
Everyone knew that Tenali Raman was one of the king’s closest advisers, so naturally they assumed it was the king’s orders to speak to him. When the first Brahmin came to see him, Tenali Raman smiled and said, “We have changed things a little today. The king wishes to give extra gold to he who has a burn upon his back.”
When the Brahmin heard this, he begged Tenali Raman to burn him.
Later, when this Brahmin approached Rayalu, the king as usual handed him one mango and a gold coin, but the Brahmin said, “Sir, I have a burn, please give me the extra gold.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” the king asked, and so the Brahmin told him the story.
The king was furious, and he called Tenali Raman to his chambers. “How dare you harm our people! What were you thinking?”
Tenali Raman bowed. “My dear king, please understand, when my mother was dying, she asked me to please burn her back, for she believed this would keep her alive. I refused. But you see, if I had fulfilled her wish, she might live still. But I am poor and cannot invite the Brahmins to come to me. And since all these men have come to you, I thought in this way I might fulfill my poor dead mother’s wish.”
When the king heard this story, he understood the lesson Tenali Raman was trying to teach him. “You want me to think more carefully about what I am doing, isn’t that so?” the king asked.
Tenali Raman bowed his head and said, “If you say so, sir.”