Hundreds of years ago an idiot was made King of Kashmir. His subjects called him foolish as a monkey, Vanara Murkha, for the reason that he loved to be with monkeys. Soon after his coronation, Murkha bought all kinds of trained monkeys in order to amuse himself with them. He had them dressed as human beings in scarlet, violet, emerald, and gold jackets. Whenever the court assembled, the monkeys sat with the nobles of the kingdom on a footing of equality.
Since a monkey adepts in the art of imitation, the animals bowed and scraped before Murkha’s throne in the exact manner of the human courtiers. This amused the king very much. It was the nobles who had to make the best of it. Among these monkeys there was a very clever baboon who grew to be the royal favourite. No matter where his Majesty led, this monkey would follow him. He proved to be the most loyal. In order to show his love for the brute, the king named him Manas, or Mind.
And mind the baboon had to an amazing degree. Within a short time after his adoption, he grew so skillful that he took the place of the king’s valet. He massaged the royal body of his Lord, brushed his clothes, and fanned him with a peacock-fan when Murkha took his afternoon nap. And at night instead of going to bed alone, the king insisted on having the monkey stay at the foot of his bed like a pet cat.
Now that he had grown to be the king’s favourite, the animal began to act harshly towards other people. One time he pulled the chief minister’s ear. Another time he ran away with a general’s sword, brandishing it in the air. To crown all, he began to scream and attack the queen whenever she happened to draw near her husband. His Majesty had grown so fond of him that he enjoyed the monkey’s every behaviour as a good joke. Every time he ran away with any old duke’s wig, laughter of approval greeted him. No doubt, this encouraged the baboon to grow worse and worse. As if he had become human enough, he was now taught to fence with a sharp sword. He became skillful beyond expectation.
For instance, one day seeing a fly on the wall of the palace he brought down his sword and deftly cut off its head. This was such skillful swordplay that all the courtiers, the king, and even the queen applauded, and gave him bananas, apples and almonds for his supper. So much praise went to the monkey’s head. Every day he took delight in frightening the king’s servants by brandishing his sword. People used to flee his presence like rabbits from a fox. Not that he did anything harmful, but the king’s subjects feared that a beast armed like a man is most dangerous. However, as time passed, the king and his courtiers became used to the sword-carrying monkey, so much so that his Majesty slept in his animal’s presence without disarming it.
Of course during the warm weather the monkey used to fan his master with a fan. One hot June afternoon during the king’s siesta, a swarm of flies invaded the royal presence. With his fan the monkey waved them away. No matter how many flies there were, he tried to drive them away with his fan. For a while he succeeded, but even an animal gets tired. This particular afternoon the flies came in swarms. In order to keep them away the baboon had to wave his fan constantly. At last he grew frantic. Lo, the instant he would stop his fanning, a fly would alight on his Majesty’s beard, tickling the royal almost to waking. The weary baboon had to wave the fan very fast, close to the face of his master in order to get rid of the pest. After the fly had gone off, he put the fan down for a little rest.
Alas, not for long. A dozen flies, new ones, came past him and alighted on the king’s throat. Utterly exasperated, he took his sword and sought to slaughter them. Suddenly he brought his sword down on them. Before he could realise what he had done, his master lay cut in two before him. King Murkha had been beheaded by his pet beast! Thus died the foolish king who made too much of a monkey. But it is said that the monkey was so grief-stricken at what he had done that he did not offer any resistance when he had to meet death at the hands of two of the late king’s guardsmen. The moral of this story is that no matter how we train an animal it can do no miracles. You may give a monkey a sword but you cannot make a man out of him.
Excerpted with permission from The Cat Who Became King and Other Stories From India, Dhan Gopal Mukherji, Talking Cub.