Poetry at Sangam



FOLK TALE by Mangalesh Dabral

(Translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell.)

Once upon a time there was a king. There were many murders in his kingdom, but they were committed so cleverly that one could never tell what was happening, or if it was later found out, no one could prove who had committed the murders and why. It often so happened that there were even people who died without losing their lives. This was because the king believed that he could kill off intellectuals and thinkers and artists, without even taking their lives, and do it in such a manner that they themselves had no idea it had happened. The king often said that he was in the habit of doing all things in good taste and he never tarried over decisions. This was also true in the case of having people killed. His great good taste extended to the manner in which he dressed. This was because the king always kept himself neat and tidy and there were never any stains or blemishes on his clothing.

The king had a strange habit of changing his clothes many times a day. He would tell people with a smile that this was all a part of doing things in good taste and his special manner of dressing was proclaimed to be an aspect of the historical achievements of his kingdom. But few people knew that the king always felt as though something filthy, some stain or blemish, had seeped into his clothing and was steadily growing. As the days went by, the king began to believe that his clothing was infused with something dark and misshapen, but when he looked closely and saw his clothes were completely spotless he was astonished at his own confusion. Nonetheless, the moment his clothing began to bother him he would immediately change into something fresh. It was said that as long as he lived the king never wore the same attire more than once.

The king’s rule came to an end one day, as is always the case, but the tale of his stained clothing has survived in history and legend. Later on, this episode came to be known as the Age of the Stained Garments.