Scene I : A King’s Court. The court awaits the arrival of the king. Two guards are standing front right of the stage.
First Guard : (To the second guard) Be alert, the king is about to arrive.
Second Guard : Who wants to be alert ? Life seems like one long sleep in this land. I am at ease, all day, though I am a guard.
First Guard : How boring ! I wonder if some interesting drama will unfold at the court today. It would enliven the atmosphere.
Second Guard : I would be equally happy if there was none. (Enter the disciple looking around.)
First Guard : Halt ! You are a stranger. Give your identity.
Disciple : You are right. I am a visitor here – a disciple of the Wise Sage from the Ghangor forest which lies to the east of your kingdom.
First Guard : What brings you here ?
Disciple : I have heard amazing stories about this kingdom of Andher Nagari and the great King Chaupat. I am especially impressed by the fact that everything in the market is sold at the same price. No complications.
First Guard : You have heard right. In our land, you can buy the most rich and delectable sweets for the same price as an equal measure of vegetables. Taka ser bhaji, taka ser khaja. I am quite happy about it. It makes life easy.
Disciple : So it should. It would be a good idea to settle in this land. But first I would like to attend the court today and pay my respects to the mighty King Chaupat.
Second Guard : You may stand there (pointing out) with those people who are in a queue.
(Loud Voice from backstage : Hear you people. Here comes the most noble, most revered, most gracious, most learned King Chaupat of this vast kingdom. Make way for the king – Bow to the Royal Monarch.) (King Chaupat arrives to the fanfare of bugles and drums and takes his place on the throne.)
King : Let the court begin !
Fourth Guard Messenger : The first complainant !
Thief : (rushes forward and wails loudly) Justice ! Oh, Most Great King ! I beg for Justice.
King : And what is your complaint ?
Thief : In this great land of Andher Nagari, my friend and I have been truly hard-working honest thieves. All these years we have been true to our profession. And what is our reward ? Last night, with great efforts, we made a hole in the wall of a merchant’s house, when all his family were away. My friend peered through that hole into the house, when suddenly the wall collapsed (Wails louder)…. and …. and my friend was instantly killed. I’ve lost my only friend and partner. O King ! It’s the merchant’s fault for living in a house with such weak walls.
King : Fetch the merchant at once. A life for life ! The merchant must be hanged ! (Third Guard leaves and returns with the merchant who bows before the king.)
Merchant : Mercy, O Noble King ! I had no intention of killing these skilled professionals. It is not my fault that the wall of my house collapsed. My house has been recently built. It is the fault of the bricklayer, who carelessly built such a weak wall.
King : Bring the careless bricklayer immediately. He must hang for his fault. (Second Guard leaves and returns with the bricklayer)
Bricklayer : O Most Kind Lord and King ! (kneeling to the king) Have mercy. I beg you, don’t send me to the gallows. I agree that I built the wall which collapsed and killed a man. But it was not due to my carelessness. The mortar which I used to lay the bricks was of very poor quality. There was too much of water mixed in it. It is entirely the mortar-maker’s fault.
King : Summon the mortar-maker at once. He must pay with his life for his thoughtlessness. (First Guard exits and returns with the mortarmaker who rushes and throws himself before the king.)
Mortar-maker : (wailing loudly) Forgive me, O Merciful King. Please do not hang me to death. I have a wife and two young children. Who will look after them ?
King : Your carelessness has cost a life. You must pay with your life.
Mortar-maker : No… no… no, my Royal Lord. I am not to blame. The pot which I used to pour water into the mortar had an extra-ordinarily large mouth. So excess water poured down into the mortar mixture. I was helpless. It is the potter’s fault for making such a useless pot.
King : Let the potter be brought here at once. He must be executed for moulding such useless pots. (Fourth Guard leaves and re-enters with the potter.)
Potter : (cowering before the king) Your Majesty, show mercy to this humble potter. I agree the pot I made and sold to the mortar-maker was a defective one. But I am not guilty. As I was moulding that pot, I heard the sweet delicate tinkling of anklets. It was the money-lender’s daughter. She distracted me just as I was shaping the mouth and it became too wide.
King : Bring the money-lender’s daughter here, this very instant. She must be sent to the gallows for disturbing this poor potter at work. (First Guard leaves and enters with the moneylender and his daughter.)
Money-lender : (in a desperate voice) O Just King ! Spare my daughter. She is my only child and to be wedded next Monday.
Daughter : Oh, do not fret, father. The king will not hang me. (To the king) Your Most Esteemed Highness, I rarely step outside the threshold of my home. But as my father said, I am to be married next week and my jewellery is not ready. I had to go to the goldsmith’s shop to urge him to work faster and hand over my ornaments on time … The potter’s shop is on the way. I could not help it. It is all the goldsmith’s fault. Had he delivered my ornaments on time. I would not have been forced to go past the potter’s shop.
King : Then send for the goldsmith and without any delay, he must be hanged.
(Second Guard exits and returns with the goldsmith)
Goldsmith : (in a cranky tone) O Noble King ! I beg of you ! How can you give me such a harsh sentence ? I was merely following your orders to the letter. You commanded me to set aside all my work and get the Queen’s ornaments ready before Her Highness’s birthday. So there has been a delay in making this lady’s bridal ornaments. In the name of justice, Your Highness, pardon me. Spare my life. I was just following Your Highness’s orders.
King : Not another word. Your excuse does not hold good. (To the guards) Take the goldsmith away to the gallows and hang him at once.
Goldsmith : Have mercy, O, Generous King, I fall at thy feet. Please, forgive me, just once, this time. Let me live. I have….
King : (loudly) None of this anymore. Take him away at once. Let him hang to death. (Two guards drag the wailing goldsmith away. Courtiers and others whisper to one another out of shock. Soon the guards return with the goldsmith and the hangman.)
King : (annoyed) What ? Why have you not carried out my orders ? Hang the goldsmith at this moment or else you will suffer the same punishment.
Hangman : (holding a noose in his hand) A thousand apologies, O Great King, but this noose does not fit the goldsmith’s neck. It is too loose.
King : Then try it around everyone’s neck here (Pointing to the subjects) and see who it fits. Whosoever has a neck of the size of the noose must be hanged. (Hangman tries the noose on many of the subjects waiting for justice. They spurn and resist, but the Hangman with the help of the guards overpowers them. Finally, the noose fits the disciple.)
Hangman : Ah, Your Highness, It fits….. at last.
Disciple : But… but…
King : Ah ! Justice at last ! Take him to the gallows without further delay. (Hangman and guards force the protesting disciple out.)
King : Justice delayed is justice denied. Andher Nagari prides itself on prompt action. Our actions speak louder than words. (Voices and shouts heard from outside. All reenter in a rush with another elderly man.)
King : What ? Why have you all returned with this stranger alive ? And who is this man?
First Guard : I beg your pardon, Your highness but we are confused indeed. This old man rushed towards us as we were about to hang the young stranger and begged and pleaded that he should be hanged instead.
Second Guard : At first we thought the old man had lost his mental balance. What sane man would wish to suffer such a drastic death willingly?
First Guard : But this young man says that he is a wise and learned sage from the forest yonder and he himself was this man’s disciple.
Sage : O Noble King, You are most generous. Be kind and allow me to be hanged in place of my disciple. I beg of you.
King : What a strange appeal ! And why does such a wise and holy man wish to obstruct the course of justice, may I ask ?
2.5 A Play (showing reluctance to let out his secret) Your Majesty…. the truth is… no…. no…. I cannot say it.
King : I demand an explanation or I shall not have you hanged in place of your disciple.
Sage : You see…….. uh…….. it has been predicted by the great prophets….. uh…… no…… no….. I shouldn’t say this.
King : (annoyed) Speak out at once or your disciple will be hanged.
Sage : The…. the great prophets have foretold that the one who will be hanged on this day, in this kingdom, shall…. shall become the next king and conquer many more nations. I want to become the next great king, Your Majesty, and reign over a greater country… I will go down in history as a famous royal monarch. The future generations will read about me and my greatness for milleniums to come. I shall never earn that fame if I remain a recluse – a sage. So do grant me this favour, O King, let me die at the gallows today.
King : Humm…… The next king ? And this kingdom will expand? Glory for milleniums to come ! Why, no one but I should be entitled to this privilege. Guards ! Take me to the gallows and hang me at once without any delay. Hurry up ! Don’t waste time. What a wonderful fate in my next life – a king once again ! Goodbye, world. See you again.