The Conqueror



(Rendered into English by the writer from his original Bengali)




Everyday after lunch the king goes for his siesta–perhaps for a short nap, his forty winks–but no, everyday the strains of a flute floating on the wings of the breeze, crossing the moat and clearing the ramparts, enter through the windows into his apartments and he is distracted. The heavy furniture, the damask curtains even the beams and rafters lose their age-old dignity and seem to vibrate with a youthful, impudent exuberance. The king cannot get his siesta. He loses his habitual kingly aplomb and his mind strays on, one knows not, to what bizarre and uncomfortable longing and yearning. He rages–“What the strains of a flute are greater and mightier than all the wealth of my kingdom!” At last, one day he summoned the kotwal and ordered–“The flute player must be punished.”


Immediately hundreds of guardsmen with uplifted lances scattered in all directions in search of the piping culprit.


But when the culprit was found it was seen that he, nothing mighty, was only a tiny cowherd boy with a tiny bamboo flute. Every day at noontide, while his herd grazed in the field, he went and sat in the cool shade of a nearby Banyan tree by the side of a meandering murmuring brook and played on his flute as if forgetful of everything else in the world and the strains of the flute seemed to make the towers and the turrets, the domes and the cupolas of the king’s mighty palace look less mighty and less lustrous. The boy was arrested then and there.


The king was sitting on the throne in his vast audience hall with the nobles, the chieftains and the courtiers seated in front of him in dignified silence and decorous demeanour. There the boy fettered and manacled was brought before the king by the guardsmen.


The king’s astrologer with folded hands was standing behind the throne. For a moment wonder and astonishment were seen to be depicted on his features. Then suddenly he stepped forward and bowing to the king, said–“Your Majesty! I notice wonderfully auspicious marks on the features of the boy–he will conquer the earth.”


Hearing the astrologer the king’s countenance too bespoke wonder and astonishment. He pondered for a few moments and then said–“Set the boy free.”


The fetters fell off the boy’s feet and the manacles off his hands. The guardsmen lowered the points of their lances in deep humility and the eyes of the courtiers usually filled with malice and scoffing contempt shone with wonder add adoration.


Then the ‘king said,–“This boy is the crown-prince of this kingdom. I have an only child–a daughter I will marry her to this boy–he is the heir to my throne”.


The minister nodded as if fully concurring with the king’s decision The king’s chamberlain led the cowherd boy to the palace.




The erstwhile cowherd, the boy was living in the palace as befitting a prince of the blood. Almost naked before, he was now covered with rich raiment and his slender body shone in gold, and jewelery–the head was covered with a bejeweled turban, ruby-pendants adorned his ears, strung pearls encircled his neck–emeralds and sapphires, opals and amethysts, diamonds and cornelians scintillated from all over his slight body.


As a cowherd, while playing the flute and tending the cattle, the boy used to gaze at the huge pile of the palace and wonder what riches, what wealth and treasure there might not be accumulated there; he used to fancy, with a cowboy’s imagination, what secret there must be hidden in all its apartments, what mysteries there must be lurking in all the nooks and corners, round the turnings of the flights of stairs! Today the gates of those mysteries and secrets were flung open before his eyes and his curiosity knew no bounds. His inquisitive eyes wandered from chamber to chamber, from corridor to corridor, from one story to another, from tower to turret and turret to tower. But alas! those secrets, those mysteries, where were they, oh! Where?  Under his gaze they all seemed to disappear and take refuge somewhere else. Before his searching eyes an apartment became only a sleeping-chamber or a sitting-room or a banquet-hall, a corridor became only a convenient passage and round the corner of the staircase he found only another landing, perhaps another stone-pillar, another sentry. Nearness and familiarity made the palace as matter-of-fact a place as one’s own dressing table or a flat polo-ground.


Thus days were passing–days passing into months and months into years. The cowherd boy grew to be a vigorous youth. And when, after several years, the crown prince, the betrothed to the princess; had attained the first flush of manhood, the princess approached her sixteenth year. Her eyes became like dark deep pools hiding the mystery of unfathomable hopes and fears of a maidens heart, a sweet aroma spread allover her tresses, the soft lines of her neck, the softer curves of hex bosom seemed to have been fashioned after a Greek goddess and her whole body reminded one of the melodies from an Aeollan harp.


The king summoned the minister and said–“Arrange for the wedding.”


Accordingly, pundits and priests, astrologers and astronomers were called and assembled in the private audience hall of the king. There they put their heads together and after some hot dispute over the vagaries of the planets and much edifying discussion about the nature of the stars and considerable expenditure of snuff, paper and ink, found a very auspicious day and fixed it for the wedding. And the preparations began in right earnest for the great occasion. The king told the minister not to spare his treasury. The wedding of the crown-prince and the only daughter of the king! When the news went forth there was great rejoicing in the kingdom. And men and women, young and old in the capital city, were all agog with excitement and expectation.


At last the wedding day came. The whole capital was en fete. With ferns and flowers, foliage and festoons the royal residence looked like a Fairy’s abode. The night came. The whole palace was illuminated with thousands and thousands of lamps. And it looked as if a Fairy had turned night into day by the touch of her magic wand. The marriage hour approached. There was din and bustle: bands were playing; salvoes were being fired from the ramparts. And from the four gatehouses–East, West, North and South–came the sweet melodies of Roshonchowki orchestra, which always communicated to the listener a sad and sweet longing and yearning for, one knows not, what! Above all the din and hubbub the melodies of this orchestra reached the ears of the waiting bridegroom.


All on a sudden, as if from the very depth of his soul a memory of long forgotten days awoke, and a long-lost world opened its vista before his eyes. He saw a murmuring meandering brook and the coolest shade of the biggest banyan tree, a limitless open space under the canopy of sun-bathed sapphire sky and soul-coveted leisure, and he seemed to hear the sweet strains of a rustic flute opening his soul to the Infinite. Oh! what was he doing here, here in the midst of this pile of brick and mortar, stone and steel, amidst the pomp and pageant? What, oh! What indeed!


The precise auspicious moment for the wedding came and the ladies of the palace went to let the bridegroom to the wedding-pavilion. But when they reached his apartment they found his bejeweled turban rolling in one corner and all the ornaments and jewelleries with which he was decked for the occasion scattered above all over the place, but he was not there.


There was a great consternation and a greater uproar. A thorough search was made throughout the whole palace but the bridegroom was nowhere to be found.


The king was wild with fury. Immediately he summoned the astrologer. And when he came, the king, in bitter accents and biting sarcasm, said–“Astrologer! your science is sheer nonsense and your reading into the future is all humbug.”


The astrologer with folded hands bowed very low to the king and in a deep voice, as if communicating the deepest mystery said–“Your Majesty! there is nothing wrong in my reading. The youth, whom a princess and a kingdom would not bind, has really conquered the earth.”


The next day after the lapse of many year’s the king, was again disturbed in his siesta by the strains of a flute.