The Tale of Melon City – Vikram Seth
This poem is all about a king who was just and placid who carries his notion of justice too far that he has to lose his life.
One day, the king decides to get an arch to build to show his victory to his minions and subjects and to address his spectators from there if needed. Following his orders, the workmen go there and build that arch but too low.
One of the days, while going past that arch, the king’s crown collides with that lowly-built arch and falls down. All this makes king filled with fury and rage. Therefore, he sends for the chief of the builders and orders him to be hanged in front of all the people for his blunder. Even the ropes and the gallows are arranged to execute all this.
But before he is hanged, he justifies himself and advocates his innocence adding that it is the fault of workmen who had built that arch not his.
For a moment, his hanging comes to a halt. The maharaja ponders and summons all the workmen so that they can be hanged. Whey they are produced before the Maharaja, they declare themselves at faultless. They pass on the blame to the masons who made those bricks of wrong size and shape which led to the building of improper arch.
Once again, the hanging comes to a standstill. The maharaja ponders once again and calls all the masons and order his minions to hang them one by one. The masons stand trembling over there but soon, one of them, passes on the blame to the architect.
Later on, the architect is summoned who holds the Maharaja responsible for making amendments at the eleventh hour. Now, the Maharaja, himself gets trapped in dilemma. He orders his minions to find out the wisest man of the city who can counsel them to come out of that tricky thing. Soon, the wisest man is found who advises the Maharaja to hang the arch which led to the falling of Maharaja’s crown but soon contradicted by others.
Now the crowd gets restless and wants the hanging as early as possible. Perceiving their mood, finally, the Maharaja comes out with an idea that whosoever fits from the crowd in the noose, made for hanging, will be hanged by royal decree. All of them are measured one by one but there is only one who fits in that noose i.e. the Maharaja himself. So, he is hanged without any objection made by him.
Now they decide that the first one who passes by the city gate, will choose the king and this will be enforced with due ceremony. An idiot passes the gate, therefore, he decides that the melon will be the king of this city. His decision is followed and the melon is made the king.
Now, if you enquire the people of this city about the melon being the king, they seem peaceful and satiated. According to them, they can enjoy more in the kingship of melon than any human being.
A. The poet describes the king’s character as one quite calm and composed. He ruled his people without any kind of unfair or unjust tactics. He wanted justice equally done to everyone including himself. Besides, like a good father to his sons, the king used to instruct his people.
A. The King proclaimed the construction of an arch that would proudly span the major thoroughfare from where the king used to instruct his people.
Q. Narrate ‘The Tale of Melon City’ in your own words
A. The just and placed king once had a desire of building an arch across the thoroughfare to edify the spectators. Workmen with great agility constructed the arch. With an effervescent heart, he tried to pass through the arch. But his crown struck the arch and the king lost his crown. Furious at the disgrace he ordered the chief of the builder’s hang. But the chief of the builders blamed the workmen for this. The workmen proclaimed the mason to be guilty of the wrong brick size. The mason even brushed off the blame blaming the architect. The architect put the king in the dilemma as the last correction was of the king’s. The king called for the wisest man to decide the guild. The old man ridiculously blamed the arch. But the arch was not punished as the arch touched the king’s head. But the king assumed the nerve of the public. As the public wanted a hang the king ordered for a hang without any guilt. This proved boomerang for him. He was eventually hanged. His mutton head ministers decided to choose the next kings an awkward way i.e. whoever would first cross the gate, would choose the king. It so happened that a man entered and he chose a melon as the king. And from then a melon ruled and the common people enjoyed complete freedom as the king melon endowed them “Laissez Faire”.
Q. What impression would you form of a state where the king was just and placid?
A. It seems that the state which is ruled by the king is the abode of fools. The king is flaky and capricious. The king considers himself as the one for whom the subjects are to be ruled like the ignorant. His desire of an arch is promptly fulfilled by the subject. But he seems to be whimsical when he chased them to punish. As if he is the law and his wish is the command, he dictates the death sentence. His ministers are like claques who flatter the king and keep their self-interest in the soundstage. The common masses are illiterate and crazy. They are to enjoy a hang and they can go rebel if they are deprived of it. They are boorish and do not care who is being hung, even if the person is the king. They do not care whether they are ruled by a king. What they care is their self-interest. They want their self-freedom, the facility to do any business and ironic life.
Q. How according to you, can peace and liberty be maintained in a state?
A. Peace and liberty will be the outcome of a few key factors in running a state.
A transparent and responsible administration free from partiality and corruption will perpetuate peace. A well proven administrative system where there are no unlawful activities and where service to people is of most priority and delivered with ease; where grievance will be at lower stake and people will maintain trust on state and will work collaboratively are what to be the priority. The first priority must be to educate every child so that future rulers are wise, strong, and capable to heighten the civilized sensibility. A state must be free from all negative dogmas. Superstitions, blind religious hatred, favoring particular creed and caste must be matters of the trash bin. A state must be run by a democratic process where there is no scope for tyranny and autocracy.
Q. Suggest a few instances in the poem which highlight humor and irony.
A. “The tale of the melon city” is best understood for its irony and humor.
- The king decides to make an arch across the thoroughfare to edify the spectators. He creates a humorous scene when he dashes with the arch and loses his crown.
- The king is of the mind of punishing the guilty that made the faulty arch. His chasing one after another and their excuses and blaming the king indirectly presents a ludicrous show.
- When the wisest man is called, his conclusion of pointing the arch to be the culprit and their assay to hang it giggles us.
- We cannot but grin when we find the king to be the fittest person for the hang.
- The process of choosing the new king and melon as the king creates the utmost humor in us.
- The king who desired for a hang to punish the guilty gets hanged for the public wanted a hang.
- The wise man was selected because he was old and he could not see anything and points the arch to be the guilty and should be hanged without any precision.
- The ministers chose a king on basis of a fool’s choice. i.e. a melon. And all accepted without bothering whether the king was human or not.