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03_The Tale of Melon City

 

Summary

In ‘The Tale of Melon City Vikram Seth presents a ‘just’ and ‘placid’ king. His exaggerated sense of justice led to his own death. The people he ruled didn’t care if they had a man or a melon as their king. The whimsical king and the melon king crowned after his death were perfect substitutes for each other.

  1. A Just and Placid King

There was a king. Vikram Seth ironically calls him ‘peaceful’ and placid. Actually, he was neither of the two. He was whimsical and moody. He was fickle minded and unstable. He was swayed by the mood of the people.

  1. Proclaimed an Arch to be Constructed

The king issued a proclamation. An arch should be constructed. It should serve as an entrance and a symbol of his triumphs. The great arch must extend across the thoroughfare of the city. The sight of the grand arch should inspire and motivate people and spectators there.

  1. The Arch Too Low ; Banged off HisCrown

The workmen worked accordingly. They built the arch as it was ordered to be constructed by their king. The king rode down the thoroughfare to motivate others to follow him. The arch was too low. Under the arch, the crown of the king was banged off.

  1. The King Became Angry

Signs of anger appeared on the calm face of the king. He was agitated. The act was just a disgrace. He ordered that the chief of builders would be hanged. The chief pleaded that it was the ‘workmen’s fault’. The king ordered all workmen to be hanged. The workmen looked surprised. They pleaded that it was not their fault. The bricks were not of proper shape and size. The king was easily convinced. He sum­moned the masons who made those bricks. The masons shifted the responsibility on the ar­chitect. Now the architect was to be hanged. But he also pleaded to be innocent. He had urged the king to make certain amendments in the plan.

  1. A Tricky Affair ; Sought Counsel

The king realised that the whole issue was quite tricky. He needed counsel. The wisest man was found and brought to the Royal Court. He declared that the arch itself was the culprit. It banged the crown off, so it must be hanged. The arch was brought to the scaffold to be hanged. Then a counsellor gave a new twist to the whole drama. He argued how a thing that touched the royal head could be hanged. The king readily agreed not to do such a thing.

  1. Crowd Getting Restless ; His MajestyHanged by the Royal Decree

The crowd was watching the whole drama. The people were getting restless. They demanded some real action. The king judged the mood of the people. He trembled. He declared that “the nation wants a hanging.” Someone must be hanged and must be hanged immedi­ately. A noose was set up somewhat high. Each man was measured by and by. Only one man was so tall that his neck could fit in the noose. He was the king himself. His Majesty was, therefore, ‘hanged by the Royal Decree’.

  1. A New Proclamation to Choose theKing

The Ministers thanked God that they could find someone to be hanged. Had the king not offered himself to be hanged, the people would have revolted against him. The Ministers shouted, “Long Live the King !” They had tochoose a new king now. “Being practical minded men”, they declared that the first to pass the City Gate, would choose the next king of the state.

  1. An Idiot to Decide the Next King

The man who first passed the City Gate was an idiot. The guards stopped him. He was to choose the next king. He gave his choice. A ‘melon’ was to be the next king.

  1. Crowning of a Melon

The Ministers decided that a melon would be their next king. They carried the melon to the throne with all respect and ceremony. This incident happened ‘years and years ago’. When someone asked the people why they chose a melon to be their king, they answered that it was a customary choice. It made no difference to them if their king was a melon or a human being. They were happy. At least, the melon king would not interfere in their lives. They would be free to live in peace and liberty.

MAIN POINTS

  1. There was a ‘just’ and ‘placid’ king.
  2. He proclaimed an arch to be built across the main thoroughfare of the city.
  3. The king rode down the thoroughfare. The arch was too low. It banged the crown off while the king passed under the arch.
  4. The king became angry. He ordered ‘the chief of builders’ to be hanged to death for this disgrace.
  5. The chief pleaded that it was the workmen’s fault.
  6. The king ordered all the workmen to be hanged.
  7. The workmen pleaded that the bricks were made of the wrong size.
  8. Masons were summoned to be hanged to death.
  9. The masons blamed the architect for the faulty arch.
  10. The architect pleaded innocence. He had recommended certain amendments in the build­ing plan.
  11. It appeared to be a delicate and confusing issue. The king needed counsel.
  12. The wisest man was found and brought to the Royal Court.
  13. He blamed the arch as it banged the crown off.
  14. The arch was brought to the scaffold to be hanged.
  15. Another counsellor gave a new twist to the issue. He urged that anything that touched the royal head couldn’t be hanged.
  16. The people were watching the whole drama. They were getting restless and needed some solid and real action.
  17. The king judged the mood of the people. He declared that someone must be hanged immediately.
  18. “The noose was set up somewhat high” and each man was measured by and by.
  19. But only one man was so tall as to fit in the noose. And he was the king.
  20. The king himself was hanged by a Royal Decree.
  21. Ministers thanked God and shouted “long live the king !” Had the king not offered him­self to be hanged, the people would have revolted against him.
  22. It was decided that any man passing the City Gate would choose the next king.
  23. An idiot who passed the gate, chose a melon to be the king of the state.
  24. People placed a melon and crowned it as the next king. They were happy. It mattered little whether their king was a man or a melon.
  25. At least, the melon king wouldn’t interfere in their affairs. He would let them live in peace and liberty.

 

Questions & Answers

Short Answer Questions

 

  1. 1. The king was a ‘just’ and ‘placid’ king, says the poet. Was he so ?

Ans.     The King of Melon City has been defined as ‘just’. We know what kind of justice he used to administer. He was ready to hang anyone who could be blamed for the mishap. He was whimsical and easily influenced. His exaggerated sense of justice caused even his own death. He is called ‘placid’ but loses his temper over a small incident. Actually, the king was too good to be of any use.

  1. 2. Why did he proclaim an arch to be constructed ? (Imp.)

Ans.     The king proclaimed an arch to be constructed. The arch would be a symbol of his triumph—a sort of victory-monument. He wanted the arch to be extended across the major thoroughfare of the city. It was made so grand as to ‘edify’ spectators there. The king himself rode majestically to urge others to follow him.

  1. 3. Describe the mishap that took place as the king rode under the roof.

Ans.     The king rode triumphantly under the arch. The arch was built too low. As the king rode under it, the arch banged his crown off. The incident upset the placid king. Signs of anger appeared on his face. He considered it quite a disgraceful act.

  1. 4. How did the incident affect the ‘placid’ king?

Ans.     The incident completely upset the ‘placid’ and the ‘peaceful’ king. Signs of anger were clearly visible on his face. He uttered, “This is a disgrace”. Not only that, he was in no mood to relent. He ordered that the chief of builders be hanged to death for this lapse.

  1. 5. How did the chief of builders save himself?

Ans.     The chief of builders was summoned. The king held him responsible for the mishap. The rope and gallows were arranged. He was to be hanged. But the chief pleaded that he was innocent. It was the fault of the workmen. Actually, they built the arch.

  1. 6. How did the workmen convince the king of their innocence ? On who didthey shift the responsibility ?

Ans.     The workmen were summoned to be hanged. Actually, they built the arch with their hands. But they pleaded that the bricks were made of the wrong size. The masons were responsible for this lapse.

  1. 7. Who did the masons blame for the mishap ? And how did the architectdefend himself ?

Ans.     The masons saved their lives by convincing the king that they were innocent. They blamed the architect who planned the arch. The architect was summoned to be hanged. The poor architect reminded the king that he had suggested certain amendments in the plan. Hence, he was innocent.

  1. 8. Why did the king call the issue “a tricky thing” ?

Ans.     Someone was to be hanged. The question was who should be brought to the scaffold. From the chief of builders to the architect everyone could convince the king of his innocence.

The king was confused. He needed some counsel to solve the tricky issue. He was to ascertain who was responsible for the faulty construction of the arch.

  1. 9. What did ‘the wisest man’ counsel?

Ans.     The wisest man of the kingdom was called to counsel and guide the king to solve the tricky issue. The old wiseman replied in a trembling way that “the culprit must be pun­ished”. Truly it was the arch that banged the crown off. Hence, it must be hanged.

  1. 10. How was the ridiculous act of hanging the arch avoided?

Ans.     The wisest man of the kingdom gave the most stupid and ridiculous counsel. He held that the arch was the real culprit. It banged the crown off. Hence, it must be hanged. However, the ridiculous drama was averted. A counsellor argued that what touched the head of the king couldn’t be hanged. The king was convinced and changed his mind.

  1. 11. Why was the crowd restless ?

Ans.     The crowd was watching the whole drama for long. They expected something exciting to happen. But nothing happened. The hanging was averted on one reason or the other. They felt bored and needed the real action. They grew restless and demanded that someone should be hanged immediately.

  1. 12. What light does the whole incident throw on the nature and mood of the mob?

Ans.     Common people are not always swayed away by reasoning. They are impulsive. The people were watching the whole drama for long. Much was done about nothing. No one was hanged. They needed some real action. They grew restless and demanded that someone should be hanged immediately. It didn’t matter who should go to the gallows. It shows the fickle-mindedness of the people.

  1. 13. How did the king judge the mood of the people ? What did he decide todo?

Ans.     The king judged the mood of the people. They had waited for long but no one was hanged. They felt cheated and bored. They clamoured for real action. So the king declared that the nation wanted ‘a hanging’. Someone must be hanged immediately.

  1. 14. Describe the final preparations made for the hanging.

Ans.     Someone was to be hanged immediately. The noose was set up ‘somewhat high’. Each man was measured by and by. The man whose neck fitted in the noose perfectly deserved the hanging. But the high position of the noose saved many lives.

  1. 15. How was the king hanged by his own ‘Royal Decree’ ?

Ans.     The noose was set up somewhat high. Each man was measured by and by. Unfortunately, no one came up to the noose. There was only one man who was so tall that his neck could fit in the noose perfectly. And he was the king himself. Therefore, His Majesty himself was hanged by the Royal Decree’.

  1. 16. Do you justify the act of the hanging of the king? Did the ‘just’ king meetthe needs of justice ?

Ans.     The ‘just’ king overstretched the limits of justice. His exaggerated and ridiculous notion of justice cost him his own life. Someone was to be hanged immediately. There was only one man whose neck fitted the noose perfectly. And he was the king himself. So, the whimsical king fell into his own trap.

  1. 17. How did the Ministers justify the hanging of their king ?

Ans.     The Ministers heaved a sigh of relief. At last, someone was found to be hanged. No matter that the man was their king. Had the king not offered himself for hanging immedi­ately, the people would have revolted against him. So the king saved himself from that dishon­our and disgrace. They shouted “Long live the King” !

  1. 18. What was the procedure that was followed to choose the new king ?

Ans.     The heralds were sent to proclaim that the new king would be chosen. Anyone who first passed the City Gate would choose the next king. An idiot passed through the gate. The guards stopped him. They pressed him to choose the next king.

  1. 19. How did the idiot choose the next king ?

Ans.     By chance an idiot happened to pass by the City Gate. He was stopped by the guards. He was pressed to decide and choose the next king. The idiot answered ‘a melon’. His choice was unanimously accepted. A melon was brought and crowned with respect and ceremony as the next king of the state.

  1. 20. How did people react when they were reminded that they had a melonking ?

Ans.     The people showed little interest in this matter. It made them no difference if theirking was a man or a melon. Even their previous king was whimsical and idiotic. A melon in hisplace couldn’t be a bad substitute. They were ready to accept even a melon as their king so longas they were allowed to enjoy peace and liberty.

  1. 21. Describe the humour and irony in the poem.

Ans.     The very title is humorous. A melon is crowned as a king. How absurd and ridiculous ! The king is ‘just’ and ‘placid’. Quite ironical ! His sense of justice can send anyone to the gallows. He falls in his own trap. The most humorous as well as ridiculous act was the idea of bringing the arch to the scaffold. A melon could only be the right substitute for such a whimsical and idiotic king.

  1. 22. Justify the title of the poem.

Ans.     The title of’The Tale of Melon City’ is quite logical. The city is ruled by a whimsical and idiotic king. He is ironically called ‘just’ and ‘placid’. Actually, he is neither. His substitute is a melon. It doesn’t make any difference to the people. Being ruled by a melon king or the idiotic king amounts to the same thing.

LONG ANSWER TYPE QUESTIONS

  1. 1. The king in the poem is ‘just’ and placid’. Does he carry his notion of justice abit too far?

Ans.     Vikram Seth’s ‘The Tale of Melon City’ describes a unique king. He is whimsical. Sometimes he looks funny. And most of the times he is ridiculous. The poet calls the king ‘just’ and ‘placid’. He is neither of the two. His sense of justice is not based on logic and reason. He can order any person to be hanged on the slightest pretext. The king is expert in making an issue of a non-issue. After all sky has not fallen if his crown is banged off by the arch. The king makes a mountain out of a mole hill. He is called placid but he loses his temper over a small thing. He carries the things too far. He becomes the victim of his own stupidity.

Yes, the king carries his notion of justice a bit too far. This leads him to summon so many persons—all to be hanged. He lacks sound judgement. He is easily influenced and

convinced. The exaggerated notion of justice invites his own death. Out of all the persons who were measured by and by, only he himself fits in the noose. Ultimately, he is hanged to death by his own decree.

  1. 2. ‘The Tale of Melon’ city has been narrated in a verse form. Vikram Seth’s uniquestyle lends extra charm to an ancient tale. Describe the devices used to create special effects in the poem.

Ans.     The Tale of Melon City’ is a narrative poem. It is an ancient tale told in verse.Vikram Seth uses all poetic devices to create special effects. The whole poem runs in rhymingcouplets. The last word of each line rhymes with the second. The poet adopts a narrative styleof story-telling. But it is the use of humour and irony that creates a special effect in the poem.

The poem introduces us to a ‘just’ and ‘placid’ king. Both the adjectives are ironical. Theirony is that the king is neither of the two. He is neither ‘just’ nor ‘placid’. His exaggeratedsense of justice is the reflection of his personality. He is whimsical. The arch is too low andbangs his crown off when he rides under it. The king takes it as a ‘disgrace’. Then starts thesummoning of the people to be hanged. But he is easily influenced and convinced and letsevery one go scot-free. He falls in his own trap. His exaggerated sense of justice leads him tohis own death.

Again it is quite humorous that an idiot chooses the next king. He names a melon. The crowning of a melon with respect and ceremony sounds quite humorous. But it is ironical as well. The irony is that the people care little if they are ruled by a man or a melon. Even when the king was alive he was no better than a melon. A melon was the right substitute for such a whimsical and idiotic king.

  1. 3. Draw a character sketch of the king as described in ‘The Tale of Melon City’.

Ans.     The king in Vikram Seth’s ‘The Tale of Melon City’ is a unique personality. He is not guided by logic and reason. Whimsical nature can drive him from one extremity to the other. We are introduced that he is ‘just’ and ‘placid’. The use of such adjectives is ironical. Actually, he is neither of the two. He can’t do justice. He has his limitations. He lacks sound judgement. Nor does he have a firm mind. He vacillates. He can be easily influenced and convinced. He is spineless and fickle-minded. He orders an arch to be constructed as a monument of his glory and victory. However, a disgraceful incident of his crown being banged off by the low arch is too much for him to bear. He orders everyone to be hanged whom he thinks to be responsible for the faulty arch.

The king leaves no impression on his subjects. He is totally meaningless for them. His being alive or dead makes little difference to them. The ministers heave a sigh of relief when he is hanged by his own decree. The king is weak and bends under the pressure of the people. He falls in his own trap and suffers for entertaining such an exaggerated notion of justice. The people don’t care if they are ruled by a man king or a melon king. They don’t have any choice. One is a perfect substitute for the other.

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