What The Drop Taketh

The anecdotes of Emperor Akbar and his trusted aide Birbal are entertaining as well as enlightening. Once, the Emperor received the gift of a rare perfume. As he opened the bottle, a drop of perfume fell to the floor. Akbar instinctively moved to retrieve it by wiping the floor with his finger. As he looked up he noticed a bemused look on Birbal’s face… his eyes seemed to mock the Emperor for being scrounging.

To change Birbal’s perception, Akbar summoned him the next morning to his bath. He asked his attendants to fill up the bathtub with the best of perfumes. Akbar sought to show Birbal that as Emperor he could afford to waste as much perfume, as he wanted. Birbal when asked to react said the immortal lines, “Boond se jati, woh haudh se nahi aati” (An entire tub full cannot retrieve what the drop took way!)

Birbal sought to tell the Emperor that his earlier instinctive action (that exhibited miserliness) could not be undone by an intentional action (aimed at big-heartedness). Our character is determined by our reactions, not by forced posturing. It is better to be transparent then wear favorable masks. In fact every little action and reaction, every spoken word and emerging thought reflects our true self!

The King of Iran had heard that Birbal was one of the wisest men in the East and desirous of meeting him sent him an invitation to visit his country.

In due course, Birbal arrived in Iran.

When he entered the palace he was flabbergasted to find not one but six kings seated there.

All looked alike. All were dressed in kingly robes. Who was the real king?

The very next moment he got his answer. Confidently, he approached the king and bowed to him.

“But how did you identify me?” the king asked, puzzled.

Birbal smiled and explained: “The false kings were all looking at you, while you yourself looked straight ahead. Even in regal robes, the common people will always look to their king for support.”

Overjoyed, the king embraced Birbal and showered him with gifts.

A man who made spears and shields once came to Akbar’s court.

“Your Majesty, nobody can make shields and spears to equal mine,” he said. “My shields are so strong that nothing can pierce them and my spears are so sharp that there’s nothing they cannot pierce.”

“I can prove you wrong on one count certainly,” said Birbal suddenly.

“Impossible!” declared the man.

“Hold up one of your shields and I will pierce it with one of your spears,” said Birbal with a smile.

Akbar came to the throne when he was only thirteen years old. In the years that followed, he built on of the greatest empires of his time. He lived in unimaginable splendor. He was surrounded by courtiers who agreed with every word he said, who flattered him and treated him as if he were a god. Perhaps it was not surprising that Emperor Akbar was sometimes arrogant and behaved as if the whole world belonged to him.

One day, Birbal decided to make the great emperor stop and think about life.

That evening as the emperor was going towards his palace, he noticed a Sadhu lying in the centre of his garden. He could not believe his eyes. A strange Sadhu, in ragged clothes, right in the middle of the palace garden? The guards would have to be punished for this, thought the emperor furiously as he walked over to that Sadhu and prodded him with the tip of his embroidered slipper.

“Here, fellow!” he cried. “What are you doing here? Get up and go away at once!”

That Sadhu opened his eyes. Then he sat up slowly. “Huzoor,” he said in a sleepy voice. “Is this your garden, then?”

“Yes!” cried the Emperor. “This garden those rose bushes, the fountain beyond that, the courtyard, the palace, this fort, this empire, it all belongs to me!”

Slowly that Sadhu stood up. “And the river, Huzoor? And the city? And this country?”

“Yes, yes, it’s all mine”, said the emperor. “Now get out!”

“Ah”, said the Sadhu. “And before you, Huzoor. Who did the garden and fort and city belong to then?”

“My father, of course”, said the emperor. In spite of his irritation, he was beginning to get interested in the Sadhu’s questions. He loved philosophical discussions and he could tell, from his manner of speaking, that the Sadhu was a learned man.

“And who was here before him?” the Sadhu asked quietly.

“His father, my father’s father, as you know.”

“Ah”, said the Sadhu. So this garden, those rose bushes, the palace and the fort all this has only belonged to you for your lifetime. Before that they belonged to your father, am I right? And after yours time they will belong to your son, and then to his son?

“Yes”, said the Emperor Akbar wonderingly.

“So each one stays here for a time and then goes on his ways?”

“Yes.”

“Like a dharmashala?” the Sadhu asked. “No one owns a dharmashala. Or the shade of a tree on the side of a road. We stop and rest for a while and then go on. And someone has always been there before us and someone will always come after we have gone. Is that not so?”

“It is”, Emperor Akbar quietly.

“So your garden, your palace, your fort, your empire… these are only places you will stay in for a time, for the span of your lifetime. When you die, they will no longer belong to you. You will go, leaving them in the possession of someone else, just as your father did and his father before him.”

Emperor Akbar nodded. “The whole world is a dharmashala”, he said slowly, thinking very hard. “In which we mortals rest awhile. That’s what you are telling me, isn’t it? Nothing on this earth can ever belong to a single person, because each person is only passing through the earth and must die one day?”

The Sadhu nodded solemnly. Then, bowing to the ground, he removed his white beard and saffron turban and his voice changed. “Jahanpanah, forgive me!” he said, in his normal voice. “It was my way of asking you to think about…”

“Birbal, oh, Birbal!” the emperor exclaimed. “You are wiser than any philosopher. Come, come at once to the royal chamber and let us discuss this further. Even emperors are but wayfarers on the path of life, it is clear!”

Famous musicians once gathered at Akbar’s court for a competition.

The one who could capture a bull’s interest was to be declared the winner.

One by one, they played the most heavenly music but the bull paid no attention.

Then Birbal took the stage. His music sounded like the droning of mosquitoes and the mooing of cows.

But to everyone’s amazement the bull suddenly became alert and began to move in a lively manner.

Akbar declared Birbal the winner.

One day Emperor Akbar was inspecting the law and order situation in the kingdom. One of his ministers, who was jealous of Raja Birbal, complained that the Emperor gave importance only to Birbal’s suggestions and all the other ministers were ignored.

Akbar wanted the minister to know how wise Birbal was.

There was a marriage procession going on.

The Emperor ordered the minister to enquire whose marriage it was. The minister found out and walked towards the Emperor wearing a proud expression on his face.

Then the king called Birbal and asked him too to enquire whose marriage was going on. When Birbal returned, Akbar asked the minister “Where are the couple going?” The minister said that the king had only asked him to enquire whose marriage was going on.

Then Akbar asked Birbal the same question. “O My Majesty! They are going to the city of Allahabad,” replied Raja Birbal. Now the King turned towards the minister and said, “Now do you understand why Birbal is more important to me? It is not enough if you complete a task. You have to use your intelligence to do a little more work.’ The minister’s face fell. He had learnt the importance of being Birbal, the hard way.

One day Emperor Akbar asked Birbal what he would choose if he were given a choice between justice and a gold coin.

“The gold coin,” said Birbal.

Akbar was taken aback.

“You would prefer a gold coin to justice?” he asked, incredulously.

“Yes,” said Birbal.

The other courtiers were amazed by Birbal’s display of idiocy.

For years they had been trying to discredit Birbal in the emperor’s eyes but without success and now the man had gone and done it himself!

They could not believe their good fortune.

“I would have been dismayed if even the lowliest of my servants had said this,” continued the emperor. “But coming from you it’s . . . it’s shocking – and sad. I did not know you were so debased!”

“One asks for what one does not have, Your Majesty!” said Birbal, quietly. “You have seen to it that in our country justice is available to everybody. So as justice is already available to me and as I’m always short of money I said I would choose the gold coin.”

The emperor was so pleased with Birbal’s reply that he gave him not one but a thousand gold coins.

There lived a saint in an ashram in the kingdom of Emperor Akbar.

He was believed to prophecy the future correctly.

Once he had a visitor who had come to treat their niece. The child’s parents were killed in front of the girl’s eyes. Once she saw the saint, she started to scream loudly saying that that saint was the culprit.

Angered by the girl’s words, the saint demanded the couple to get away with their child.

The whole day the girl cried which made the couple to realize that the girl was not lying.

Therefore, they decided to seek the help of Birbal.

Birbal consoled them and asked them to wait at the Emperor’s assembly. Birbal had invited the saint to Akbar’s court too.

Then in front of all the ministers he drew a sword and neared the saint to kill him. The saint in bewilderment immediately drew another sword and began to fight. Thus by this act of the saint it was proved that he wasn’t blind.

Therefore, Akbar demanded to hang the culprit and rewarded the girl for her bravery for telling the truth even at the critical situation.

One day Akbar said to Birbal: “Can you tell me how many bangles your wife wears?”

Birbal said he could not.

“You cannot?” exclaimed Akbar. “You see her hands every day while she serves you food. Yet you do not know how many bangles she has on her hands? How is that?”

“Let us go down to the garden, Your Majesty,” said Birbal, “and I’ll tell you.”

They went down the small staircase that led to the garden. Then Birbal turned to the emperor: “Your Majesty,” he said, “You go up and down this staircase every day. Can you tell me how many steps there are in the staircase?”

The emperor grinned sheepishly and quickly changed the subject.

Emperor Akbar asked Birbal if it was possible for a man to be the lowest and the noblest t the same time.

“It is possible,” said Birbal.

“Then bring me such a person,” said the emperor.

Birbal went out and returned with a beggar.

“He is the lowest among your subjects,” he said, presenting him to Akbar.

“That might be true,” said Akbar. “But I don’t see how he can be the noblest.”

“He has been given the honor of an audience with the emperor,” said Birbal. “That makes him the noblest among beggars.”