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Class XI: Snapshot - The Tale of the Melon City

The Tale of the Melon City
By Vikram Seth

Introduction

The tale is humorous even though it is unrealistic and unbelievable. It ridicules the
king, the ministers, the wise men and the common people. All of them behave
foolishly. No one of them applies his brain. The tone of the poem is satirical.


Summary

It is a humorous poem which shows how stupid the king, the ministers and the
people of a certain kingdom were. It was, in fact, a kingdom of fools. Once the
king ordered the construction of an arch over the main street to impress the
onlookers. The arch was made. When the king rode down the thoroughfare, his
crown was knocked down. The king at once ordered that the chief of builders should
be hanged. While being led to the gallows the victim shouted that the fault lay with
the workmen. The king called the proceedings to a halt and ordered that the
workmen should be hanged instead. The workmen blamed the masons who in turn
blamed the architect. The architect pointed out that it was the king himself who had
made certain amendments in the plans. This put the king in a tricky spot and he
called for advice from the wisest man. The old man said the culprit was the arch as it
had knocked off the king's crown, so it must be punished. The Councillor expressed
his view that something which had touched the king's head could not be put to so
much disgrace. So ultimately the king set aside consideration of guilt and looked for
a man who would fit the high noose. The only one tall enough was the king who
finally was hanged. It was just as well that this happened as the public might have
rebelled against him. The ministers then announced that the person who passed the
City Gate next would choose the ruler. An idiot was
questioned and he replied that a melon should be the king. Thus the melon was
crowned and carried to the throne. People did not bother much about who or what
their king was. They only wanted that they should be left to do whatever they
desired.

Summary in Points

1. Once there was a king who was just and cool headed.
2. One day the king ordered to construct an arch over the main highway.
3. Soon the arch was built. The next time when the king rode through it, his crown
banged the side of the arch and fell from his head. The ‘peace-loving’ king lost his
peace in an instant and ordered to hang the chief of the builders.
4. When the rope and gallows were arranged and the culprit was led to the gallows, the
innocent chief of the builders cried out that he was not guilty and placed the blame
upon the workmen.
5. The king was very wise, too, so he asked to halt the hanging and ordered to hang
the workmen.
6. The workmen were brought to the gallows to be hanged. The crowd watched the
proceedings. When they were under the gallows, the workmen cried out that the fault
was not theirs! They blamed the masons who made the wrong bricks.
7. Again the king had to halt and decide. When the mason was brought to the gallows,
he put the blame on the architect who made the plans. Well, the mason escaped and
the architect was called to the gallows.
8. The architect was smarter than the rest of him. He was so bold that he blamed the
king for having made a little changes in the plan that he drew for the arch. Everyone
turned to the king.
9. The king saw that he had brought him into chaos. Being wise, he ordered his men to
bring the wisest man to advise him. They found a man who was so old that he could
neither walk nor see. They thought he was the wisest and carried him to the king.
10. The wise man opinioned that the king was not guilty, but the arch. Having knocked
the king’s crown, the arch was to be hanged now.
11. Well, a wise man is to be respected. The king, having made a narrow escape,
ordered the arch be hanged.
12. While being carried to the gallows, the arch didn’t cry out for help, but someone else
remarked it was unjust. How can you hang an arch that touched the king’s crown!
The crowd listened.
13. The king saw all eyes turning to him once again for it was his turn again and this time
it would fix him forever.
14. An idea struck the king’s brain and it was soon decided that anyone whose height
matches that of the noose – noose is the rope that hangs the culprit. Everyone was
brought to the gallows, his height was checked with the noose but none so
accurately fitted as the one whose turn was the final one and the unfortunate one
was, again, the king! The king was hanged. The ministers were thankful that
someone at last had been found to be hanged. The shouted, “Long live the king! The
king is dead”.
15. The ministers heaved a sigh of relief after hanging the king but a new crisis was
encountered – who will be the next king?
16. Ministers and councillors came to this decision – the next man who passed the city
gate will choose the king and there came that man, an idiot. The guards stopped him
and asked whom he chose the next king and his reply was – a melon, because it
was his standard answer to all questions. He liked melons so much.
17. A melon was soon brought to the throne and was declared king.


Long Answer Questions

Q. What impression do you gather of a state where the king was just and
placid?

Ans. It was a kingdom of fools. No one in the state had any sense. The king wanted
to hang someone because his crown had hit against the arch and fallen down. The
king wanted to consult a wise man. The ministers brought a man to the king. He said
that the real; culprit was the arch and must be hanged. The king allows himself to be
hanged because no other man is tall enough to fit the noose. The king is dead but
the ministers make declarations in the name of the king. An idiot says that a melon
should be the ruler of the state. The ministers crown a melon and set it down on the
throne. Thus we see that it was truly a kingdom of all fools.

Q. Suggest a few instances which highlight humour and irony.

Ans. The poem is full of humour and irony from the beginning to the end. There is a
king who has a triumphal arch built on the major road of his city. But the same
triumphal arch bangs his crown off. The king wants to punish the guilty but in the end
gets himself hanged. The king is dead but the ministers make proclamations in the
name of the king. All these are examples of irony. And there is humour in the
description of each character. The king, the ministers, the wisest man of the city, the
councilor and melon idiot are all fools. In fact, it is a kingdom of fools. Nothing could
be more humorous than a melon being crowned and carried to the throne reverently.

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