by Kiran Jhamb
(Nagpur, Maharashtra, India)
Once upon a time, there was a king. The King was very handsome and his Queen was very beautiful. In due course of time, a son was born to them.
Surprisingly, the baby was very dark, clubfooted, almost ugly. The good parents didn't mind that their child was not beautiful and loved him as any child should be loved. They named him Abhijeet. Being club footed, Abhijeet had to wear a special shoe. When he was five years old, he had a baby brother. The younger brother was a chubby, beautiful baby - a befitting son to the good looking parents.
From that day onwards started Abhijeet’s misery because wherever the brothers went - in the palace, in the court, in the temple, in the parties, in the school - everyone remarked on the difference between the looks of the two brothers. This made Abijeet hate his brother Utsav, for that was the younger brother’s name. But Utsav adored his elder brother and trailed after him everywhere. When Abhijeet tried to shake Utsav off, the queen mother admonished him. She tried to reason with Abijeet and told him that he should love his younger brother. So in the presence of others, Abhijeet learnt to hide his dislike for Utsav.
When Abhijeet was fifteen years old, the king and queen went for hunting. Their chariot turned turtle in the jungle and they died there and then. Abhijeet and Utsav felt very sad. Then the courtiers and the royal priest with due pomp and ceremonies made Abhijeet the King. The sudden power he gained in this way went to Abhijeet's head. He felt that he could do whatever he wanted. He declared that every man in his kingdom will wear the kind of shoe he wore and walk like he walked.
He had always hated his brother. He decided he wanted to kill him for being handsome. The jealousy which had been eating him for years came to the fore. But he had the cunning practice of hiding it from the last ten years. So he hid his true intention behind glib words. He declared that he wanted to turn his brother into a brave young man who was not afraid of anyone or anything. He told his brother to perform daring feats. He talked to Utsav about only this at the dining table or during their evening walks. He told Utsav to collect the wonders of the world. Such wonders, he told him, were found deep in jungles or in oceans. And if he was a real brave boy, he would go alone and bring them, thereby pleasing his elder brother and also proving his bravery.
The palace servants heard this brain
washing but were helpless. The steadying influence of the queen mother was no more available. The King thought that either the boy would drown, or some wild animal would rid him off the boy. He became more and more moody and nasty. His courtiers were afraid of him and dared not suggest works of public welfare. Abhijeet's reign became the reign of terror where suspicion and hatred grew. Goodness and friendliness took leave.
One day, fired by his brother’s urging, the young prince in all his innocence, took his horse and went to the jungle in search of something unusual and wonderful to bring back for his brother. Unknown to Utsav, a wise old man, who knew magic also, lived in that jungle. The whole day the prince traveled into the jungle. The wise man had told all the wild animal to stay away from Utsav. In the evening Utsav found a cottage and an old man talking to his pet rabbits, peacocks and birds in their languages. The old man welcomed Utsav and asked him where he was going. Utsav told him that he was traveling to find some unusual, wonderful gift for his brother, “Do you know anything or any such place where I may find such a thing?”
“Today you have traveled long, rest in my cottage for the night. In the morning, I will take you to the place where you will find what you want,” replied the old man.
In the morning, the old man took the young prince to an open ground in the middle of which he had already placed a small golden balloon which was shining in the early morning rays. The prince made to pick up the balloon. The wise man warned him, "Oh Prince, this is a special balloon, it will not burst. Instead every day it doubles itself. Think carefully before you pick it up.” The young prince could only think of how happy and proud his elder brother would feel on
seeing this unusual gift and he picked it up. He thanked the old man and taking his farewell of him, rode back to the palace at a great speed.
On reaching the palace, Utsav went straight to the King and proudly presented his gift. The King, who had been secretly feeling very happy at the thought of finally having got rid of the younger brother, felt disappointed but pretended to be very happy and duly admired the golden balloon. He told himself, “I will have to think of a better plan next time.” Outwardly he told Utsav, “I am very proud of you, my boy. I will cherish this wonderful gift. You are a very good brother and a brave boy.” And the moment Utsav went away, in anger the King threw the balloon on the floor. It rolled under the King’s bed and the King forgot about it.
A fortnight later, in the morning while the King was taking his morning walk - in the palace garden, he saw something glistening on the grass. On closer inspection, he found they were small golden balloons. Suddenly a gust of wind came and the golden balloons scattered here and there flying on the wings of the wind. The King remembered what the young prince had told him, “It doubles itself every day.” He calculated fast. In fifteen days, 32768 balloons must have been formed. And the next day there would be 65436 balloons. He called his servants and told them to use guns to burst the balloons. The servants shot at the balloons, but the balloons were indeed unbreakable. They gently flew with the wind or bobbed here and there and seemed to be mocking the guns. All the efforts to pierce them proved futile. Every day, the balloons doubled themselves up. They flew with the wind and spread into the whole kingdom. On the roads, in the garden, on the roof tops, in the homes, the golden balloons could be seen. At first they delighted people but then people began to have nightmares. People became desperate. They realized that if the balloons continued to multiply, it would become even difficult to breathe.
In desperation the King asked Utsav to take him to the old man who had given him the balloon. Utsav took him to the jungle. They found balloons in the jungle also. When the two brothers reached the heart of the jungle, they found the old man in his cottage. It seemed as if the old man was waiting for them. The wise man asked Utav to go and play with the pet animals. When the young prince had gone, the old man beckoned the King to come to him alone, leaving his servants outside. He turned to the King and said, "You wanted your brother to bring an unusual gift for you. He brought it. You got what you wanted - the balloons are unusual, no? Now you are reaping what you sowed. The balloon which your brother brought symbolizes your hatred. Since the day he was born, you have hated your brother because he is good looking. Looks are nothing. Deeds count. Handsome is he who handsome does. Your brother adores you - try returning his love; give up your hatred. Hatred is like these balloons - it doubles every day and suffocates. Outward beauty is skin-deep. Your brother looks beautiful because his thoughts are full of love and kindness,” he paused to breathe and then reproved him gently, "Stop scowling. Your scowl mars your face. If you will be at peace with yourself, that peace will shine on your face and make you almost beautiful. Learn to be kind, to love your brother and learn to express your love. Only then will these balloons burst.”
The wise man’s quiet manner and his talk opened the King’s eyes. For the first time, he realized how ugly he had become in his deeds also. He decided to turn a new leaf in his life. He took leave of the wise man and called Utsav in readiness to go home. Utsav came running to him. With affection Abhijeet bent to kiss him and murmured, "I love you my brother.” They heard a small ‘pop’ and saw that one of the balloons around them had burst. The brothers returned home.
After coming to the palace, the King declared that people could wear normal shoes and walk normally. For days together, the people of the kingdom heard small ‘pops’ because whenever someone said to the other person, "I love you” or showed kindness to others, a balloon burst. And love spread. The King had a new shine in his eyes and looked almost handsome.*****