Reward of life

 

Betaal did not have any objection to going with Vikram but he laid down a condition. “We have to cover a long distance and to relieve the tedious walk, I will tell you a story. But you should not utter even one word till we reach the destination. If by chance you utter anything, I will fly back to the tamarind tree. Do you agree to this?” asked Betaal. Vikram agreed to this and silently listened to Betaal’s story.

Long long ago, Kanchannagar was being ruled by King Chandradeep. His daughter was Indumati. Being an only child, the princess was brought up like a boy, and given training in the use of arms and warfare. It was certain that whoever married her would also become the ruler of Kanchannagar. The princes of many of the neighboring kingdoms cherished a desire to marry Indumati, who was, besides everything else, extremely beautiful.

Whenever the king broached the subject of marriage, Princess Indumati would hesitate to give him a definite answer, but one-day Indumati said to his father, “Yes, father, but…”. The king stared at her, waiting for her to complete the sentence.

“Whoever marries me must be strong and brave. And he must succeed in the tests that I give.” Indumati then spelled out what kind of tests she was contemplating for her suitors.

The king was horrified. “Don’t insist on any such test,” he advised the princess. “They’re all hazardous. No one will come forward to undergo the tests for fear of their life. Just forget about them.”

“Don’t worry, father,” Indumati, assured Chandradeep. “All those who profess that they love me than their life will certainly take these tests. You just watch!”

The king consulted his ministers. They came out with a suggestion. “If the princess is determined to impose the tests, let her wish to be carried out,” said the Prime Minister. “But when we make the announcement, let us not spell out the details. They will be let known only at the time of the test.”Chandradeep agreed to the suggestion. 

The royal announcement about the princess wedding merely stated that the suitors would have to take certain tests. The announcement was made in all the neighboring kingdoms, including Jayanagar, where a young man named Kurupshana heard it.

He had been born with both hands stunted. His mother died soon after he was born, and his father took a second wife. The boy was named Kurupshana, the ugly looking.

His stepmother was not at all kind-hearted, and she illtreated him much. It was seldom that he even got a full meal. She knew that the boy, with his handicap, would not be much use to her.

Kurupshana did not utter a word in protest or by way of complaint. But he lamented within himself. ‘Mother is always scolding & harassing me under one pretext or other. Won’t there be an end to all this? They feel that I’m no good and I had better die! I must take this as a challenge and show them that I too, can face life.’

He decided to go to Kanchannagar. Quite a few princes had by then assembled at Kanchannagar. There were some young men, too, wishing to try their luck, if the princes were to fail. They all spent their time guessing what kind of tests the princess would put them through. Some of them thought it could be wrestling. Some others thought it could be their performance with the bow and arrow.

The time came to announce the details of the tests. The King & Princess Indumati came to the stage and sat next to the king, and on the other side of the king sat the Prime Minister. He got up from his seat and faced the princely suitors. “The contest is about to start! 

Several suitors are present here to win the hand of princess Indumati. It is her wish that they are put to certain tests. Whoever succeeds in the test will qualify to wed her. You all can see the wall in front of you. You have to climb the wall and jump down into the three-tiered cage of sharp knives. The test is, while doing so, you must be careful not to injure yourself. There should not be a single scratch on your body from the blades of the knives. Whoever is willing to participate in the test may step forward!”

Many princes rose from their seats, and went and took a good look at the high wall as well as the cage of knives. One by one they went back to their seats.

The wall looked too high for them; the cage was placed deep down below, and the space between the knives was very small. They would not be able to jump down without injuring themselves. None dared even to make an attempt.

As they went back to their seats, some of them protested. “What kind of test is this? It could have been a sword- fight or wrestling or archery, or any other of that kind. But not this! It is almost a trap from where one can’t escape with one’s life. Why should anyone sacrifice his life for the hand of a mad princess in the world?” It looked as though no suitor was willing to take the test.

The king was in a dilemma. He regretted that his daughter did not accept his advice and despite insisting on tests.

Kurupshana was watching all this from his seat. Suddenly a thought struck him. After all, people back home, like his stepmother were only wishing for his death. If he were to succeed in the test by the grace of God, he stood to win the hand of none else than a princess!

So, why should he not try his luck? And if he were to die, nobody would grieve over his fate. He left his seat and walked up to King Chandradeep. “Your Majesty, can I have your permission to take the test?”

The king was shocked. Who was this ugly- looking handicapped youth? Suppose he were to succeed in the test? His daughter would have to marry him according to the rules of the game. And if that happened, she would have to spend the rest of her life in the company of a handicapped husband!

Princess Indumati, too, was in a similar dilemma. She was expecting to be married off to a prince, brave, daring, and handsome. But look at this ugly youth! Would it be her fate to become his wife? She regretted she ever thought of tests for her suitors.

Suddenly a doubt arose in her mind: would this young man be able to climb that high wall? How would he avoid a scratch while jumping into the cage when he had no hands to guide him through the sharp knives? She almost concluded that he would only meet with his end if he were to be foolish enough to attempt jumping down from the wall. King Chandradeep waited for a moment to know his daughter’s reaction and then gave permission to Kurupshana.

Kurupshana went up the wall and asked the soldiers to take him to the top of the wall.

He then took a good look at the cage and jumped down. He landed between the knives arrayed all around on all the three tiers. He was unscathed! A loud cheer arose from the audience.

The cage was slowly raised, to allow the young man to come out. He then walked towards the king and the princess. Their face had gone a milky white.

Kurupshana realized their predicament. “O King! Please don’t worry. I didn’t wish to marry the princess. I had only wanted to take a challenge and I know I’ve succeeded. That itself is a big reward for my life and I can now face life.” He bowed low before the king and retreated.

The vampire ended his narration there and turned to King Vikramaditya. ” O, King! Didn’t Kurupshana behave like a fool? If he had no intention of marrying the princess, why did he at all decide to undergo the test?

And after having succeeded in the test and qualified to wed the princess, why did not want to marry her? What was the reward he was referring to when he said he didn’t want to aspire for anything more? If you know the answer and still decide not to satisfy me, beware, your head will be blown to pieces!

“True, Kurupshana was a handicapped young man,” said the king. ” He was fully aware of his handicap that bothered his stepmother. He really wished that she changed her opinion about him. She should not any longer feel that he was no good. Instead, she should know that where people with no handicap had failed, he could, despite his handicap, come out a victor.

That, for him, was the biggest reward he could aspire for. He decided to undergo the hazardous test, not with the hope of marrying a princess. If he married her, he would one day be called upon to rule the kingdom. But as a ruler, he wouldn’t be able even to hold a sword.

If that was the case, it wouldn’t be proper for him to marry her. That was why he gave up his claim to her hand. It was not an act of a foolish person. On the contrary, it was the decision of an intelligent, wise person.”

Betaal knew that the king will definitely speak out the answer so he flew back to the ancient tree carrying the corpse along with him. Vikramaditya drew his sword and went after the Betaal.

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