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The Reader of Minds

2006-07-14 00:13

  Some years after Birbal had come to the imperial court at Agra, Emperor Akbar had a magnificent new capital built at Fatehpur Sikri, about twenty kilometers outside the city. The emperor had his queens moved into exquisite stone palaces in the new capital and some of the more important courtiers were given houses close to the emperor's palace. Among them was Birbal. Many of the other courtiers had to build their own havelis below the hill on which Fatehpur Sikri was built. Some built their homes in the village of Sikri. They could not understand why Raja Birbal had been shown such special favour. It made them feel very envious indeed. They wished there was some way to make Birbal look foolish in front of the emperor. But Birbal was too clever for them. So they gumbled to each other and longed for the day that the emperor would ask him a question that he would be unable to answer.

  One of these countries, a man called Yusuf Khan, went a step further. One day, when Birbal was away to a distant kingdom, on a special mission for the emperor, Yusuf Khan thought of a plan. That evening at the durbar, he said to emperor Akbar, “Jahanpanah, it is said that Raja Birbal now claims that he can even read the thoughts of  others. Is he not extraordinarily clever?”

  “Oh, he is a genius, of that there is no doubt”, commented another jealous courtier. “There is surely nothing that he does not know.”

  “Is he so clever?” the emperor asked, reacting just as Yusuf Khan hoped he would. “We shall soon find out.”

  Some days later, when Raja Birbal returned from his mission, he attended the small private durbar in the emperor's palace. Yusuf Khan and his friends waited anxiously for the emperor to ask the fateful question. They were sure it would put Birbal in a spot. How would he answer? Would he protest the deny that he had ever said such a thing? Would he try to bluff his way out? Could he? Yusuf Khan was certain it was not possible to do so. He waited gleefully for the business part of the durbar to end. Birbal made his report on his successful mission to end the rebellion of a minor ruler and Emperor Akbar congratulated him warmly. Other reports were heard and decisions given to commanders of the army and to various officials. Then, when all the  work was done, Emperor Akbar asked Birbal, “It is said, my friend, that you can even read minds now. Is this true?”

  Raja Birbal glanced around the hall and saw the nasty smiles on the faces of Yusuf Khan and his group. He turned back to the emperor and answered calmly, “Jahanpanah, I would not dare to presume enough to think that I could ever read the subtle mind of your Highness. However, I can certainly tell you the thought that fills the minds of each and every other person present here this evening.” He paused and smiled at Yusuf Khan.“Each of Jahanpanah's servants who are gathered here today has but one thought in his mind. They are thinking: May God bless our emperor in his mercy and wisdom and allow him good health so that he may rule over us for ever and ever!” Then, turning to Yusuf Khan, he asked, “Am I not right, my dear friend?”

  Yusuf Khan met Birbal's bright eyes and knew that he was beaten. He didn't dare deny that he was thinking only of the emperor's welfare and nothing else. Forcing a smile upon his lips, he bowed and said, “Shahanshah he is absolutely right”。 A murmur of agreement rose from all who were gathered there. Not one dared to admit that he was thinking of anything else but the emperor.

  Birbal turned to the emperor with a look of immense amusement on his face. He and the emperor both understood exactly what had happened. Emperor Akbar began to laugh. “Birbal you are incomparable!” he cried, while Birbal's enemies fumed in helpless silence.

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