When Mahesh became a young man, he took the few coins which were all his savings, along with the Ring of the Royal Seal, kissed his mother farewell, and set out upon the long road to the new capital of the Empire, Fatehpur Sikri. He walked a long way to the Palace & finally reached the red walls of the palace.
The palace gate was so large and so richly ornamented, Mahesh thought it must be the door to the Emperor’s own home. But it was far from that. Beautiful as it was, it was merely the outermost edge of the great city within a city, which was the Imperial Court.
As soon as the guard on duty noticed the astonished gaze of this simple-looking country boy, he slashed the air with his spear and barred Mahesh’s path.
“Where do you think you’re going, oaf?” “I have come to see the King,” said Mahesh, mildly.
Making fun of him the guard continued, “Oh, have you? How very fortunate. His Majesty has been wondering when you’d turn up.” Mahesh replied, “Yes, Well, now I’m here and let me pass.”
“Fool ! Shah Akbar is very busy, Go away!” Mahesh looked at the quivering moustaches of this arrogant warrior and half-smiled.
Seeing the situation Mahesh started polishing him, “Please, brother let me go. I know when you were young, no doubt you fought wonderfully on the Emperor’s frontiers but now that they have given you this easy job – why do you want to risk it?” The guard became furious and as he was about to hit him, he stopped short as Mahesh held out Akbar’s ring. Even a guard could recognize the Imperial Seal.
Mahesh then said, “Our good King receives all who come to see him. Many years ago he had sent for me. Now let me pass.” The guard was very annoyed as now he has to let the young man pass, but he was unwilling to let him off scot-free. “You can pass on one condition,” he scowled. “If you obtain anything from the Emperor, you will give half to me.” “Agreed,” smiled Mahesh, and went by.
Shade trees rocked with the breeze as Mahesh followed the path through the royal gardens. Each building he passed seemed more magnificent than the last. Finally, he reached the Hall of Public Audience. Seeing so many richly dressed courtiers his heart pounded as he felt that he was not to properly dressed in order to meet the king.
But at last he saw Akbar, seated upon a throne of gold which was studded with flashing gems, a man of simple elegance. He needed to look no further.
May your shadow never grow less, O Full Moon!” Akbar smiled. “Ask, O One of Bright Prospects.” “Sire,” said Mahesh, rising. “I have come at your command, which none dare disobey.” Pushing past the generals, Rajput princes, and Persian artists, Mahesh prostrated himself before the Throne and caught the Emperor’s gaze.
“May your shadow never grow less, O Full Moon!” Akbar smiled. “Ask, O One of Bright Prospects.” “Sire,” said Mahesh, rising. “I have come at your command, which none dare disobey.”
And he handed back to the Emperor the ring which he had given the country boy so many years before. Akbar laughed with pleasure. “Welcome, welcome. What can I do for you? What can I give you? What is your heart’s desire?”
The courtiers hushed at this unusually generous reception by the King. Who was this shabby-looking young man? Mahesh thought for a moment and then said, evenly: “I would like you to punish me with one hundred lashes.”
“What!” exploded the king. “A hundred lashes? But you have done nothing wrong!” Mahesh then said, “Will Your Majesty go back on his promise to fulfill my heart’s desire?” “Well, no; a King must always keep his word…”replied Akbar.
So, with great reluctance, Akbar ordered Mahesh’s back to be stripped and a hundred lashes of the whip to be laid upon it by the Court Executioner. To the acute interest of all the assembled courtiers, Mahesh endured every stroke with a stony expression, and without uttering a sound.
But when the whip had cracked for the fiftieth time, he suddenly jumped up and shouted: “Stop!” “Ah!” cried Akbar. “Then you see how foolish you are being.”
Guard getting his share “No, Sire. It is only that when I came here to see you, I was unable to enter the Palace, unless I promised the guard at the front gate half of whatever he gets from the King’s generosity. So I have taken my half of the hundred lashes. Please be kind enough to deliver the rest of them to him.”
The entire crowd shouted with laughter, and Akbar loudest of all. His fingers snapped, and the unhappy guard was hauled into the Presence Chamber to receive his humiliating “bribe.”
When he was dragged out in disgrace, Akbar turned to Mahesh and said:
“You are as brave as when you were a child, and, if possible, you have grown even cleverer. I have tried in many ways to weed out corruption at my Court, but your little trick today will make greedy officials honest. From now on, since you are so wise, you shall be called ‘Birbal’. And you shall stay by my side and advise me in all things.”