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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Enforced Greatness

By U San Shwe Bu

Once upon a time there lived a very poor middle aged couple on the outskirts of a great and magnificent city. Early in the morning the man used to set out to the city and return home in the evening with a few odd annas earned by picking up small jobs in the warehouses of wealthy merchants. One fine morning, being lazier than usual, he remained in bed with his eyes closed though fully awake, and furtively watched the proceedings of his wife during her toilette. When she was completely satisfied with her performance the man pretended to wake up as though from a deep sleep and addressed his wife, "You know, my dear, of late I have been feeling that some strange power has been granted to me by the gracious nats who preside over our destinies. To illustrate my point, you saw just now that I was fast asleep, and yet, would you believe it, I knew exactly what you were doing a little while ago from the time you rose from your bed up till the present moment," and proceeded to tell her all she did at her toilette. As may be imagined, his wife was quite astonished at this feat, and womanlike, she began to see in this power the means to a profitable living.

Just about this time the kingdom became greatly distracted by a series of daring thefts which took place both by day and night. All efforts by the authorities to capture the culprits proved useless. At length the king became seriously alarmed for the safety of his treasure, and in order to afford better protection he redoubled the guards round the palace. But in spite of all this precaution the thieves entered the palace one night and succeeded in carrying away a large quantity of gold, silver and precious stones.

On the following morning the King issued a proclamation to the effect that a thousand gold mohurs would be given as a reward to the person who could either capture the thieves or restore the stolen property. So without consulting her husband in whom she had absolute faith, she went off to the palace and informed the king that her husband was a great astrologer and that it would be quite easy for him to find the lost treasures. The king's heart was filled with gladness on receiving this information. He told the good woman that if her husband could do all that she promised, further honours and rewards would be heaped upon him.

When the woman returned home she joyfully related to her husband the details of her interview with the king. "What have you done, you silly fool?" shouted the man with mingled astonishment and alarm. "The other day when I spoke to you about my powers I was merely imposing upon you. I am neither an astrologer nor a diviner. It will be impossible for me to find the lost property. By your silly act you have not only brought disgrace upon us but you have also imperiled our lives. I don't care what happens to you; I only know that I am going to commit suicide this very day."

So saying he left the house and entered a dense forest with the intention of cutting a stout creeper with which to hung himself. After he got what he wanted he climbed up a big tree to tie one end of the creeper to a branch. But while he was engaged in this act the notorious thieves came to the foot of the very tree on which he was perched and proceeded to divide the treasures which they stole from the palace. The man on the top remained absolutely still and eagerly listened to all that was going on down below. Apparently the division was not quite satisfactory to every one, and as a result a terrible dispute arose among them. For along hours they argued and abused each other without being able to come to a settlement. At length seeing that the sun was already declining they agreed to bury the treasure at the foot of the tree and to return on the morrow for a further discussion relative to their respective shares.

As soon as they left the place the poor man came down from the tree and ran home as fast as he could. "My dear wife," I know exactly where the treasures are to be found. If you make haste and come along with me I shall be able to remove the whole lot to our house." So they hastened together with baskets on their heads and reached the spot when darkness had properly set in. They then dug up the treasures as quickly as they could and conveyed them home.

On the following day they went to the palace and restored the lost treasures to the king. Greatly overjoyed at his good fortune the king praised the man and marveled at his rare knowledge. In addition to the rewards which he received, the man was forthwith appointed the chief astrologer to the King with a handsome salary which placed him beyond the dream of avarice.

While in the enjoyment of such honour and rewards the astrologer one day thought to himself, "So far I have been fortunate. My luck has been phenomenally good. Everybody takes me to be a great man, though actually I am not. I wonder for how long my luck will befriend me?" From that time forward his mind became uneasy. He often sat up in bed at nights dreading the future which should bring about his exposure and disgrace. Every day he spoke to his wife about his false position and the peril that threatened him. He saw that it would be utter folly and madness to make a clean breast of everything as he had already committed himself too far. So he decided to say nothing for the present but to await a favourable opportunity of extricating himself from the awkward situation.

It so happened that one day the king received a letter from the ruler of a distant country which stated that he had heard about the famous astrologer. But that somehow he did not quite believe all that was said concerning the wisdom and knowledge of the man. By way of testing his real powers would he, the king, enter into a bet?" if acceptable, he said he would send him a gourd fruit by his Envoys, and if his astrologer could say how many seeds it contained, he was willing to forfeit his kingdom provided he (the former) did the same in the event of his protégé going wrong in his calculations. Having absolute faith in his astrologer the king forthwith sent a reply to the letter accepting the bet.

For many days after this the poor astrologer thought very hard how he should act in the matter. He knew that the gourd fruit usually contained thousands of seeds and that to attempt a guess would be worse than useless. Being fully convinced that the day of reckoning had at last arrived, he determined to run away and hide himself in some obscure corner rather than face the disgrace of a public exposure. So the next thing he did was to procure a boat. He then loaded it with food for many days and quietly left the shores of the city.

The following day as he was nearing the mouth of the river, a foreign vessel came sailing up under a full spread of canvas. He saw from a distance that the sailors, having nothing particular to do, sat in a group and were engaged in pleasant conversation. As he came alongside the vessels he heard a man remark to the others, "Somehow I feel quite certain that our King will lose the bet. Don’t you fellows know that this country possess an astrologer who is infallible in his calculation? He is reputed to possess the combined sight of a thousand devas. To such a one the single seed, lying hidden within this gourd we now convey with us, will not prove an obstacle of any serious difficulty. You may therefore rest assured that he will find it out in a very short time.”

When the man heard these words he felt very glad and blessed his good luck for having freed him once again from a dangerous situation. Instead, therefore, of continuing his journey, he swung his boat round and made for home, happy in the possession of his freshly acquired knowledge. On his arrival he related everything to his wife who shed tears of joy on hearing the good news.

Early next day, hearing that the king was about to grant an audience to the foreign Envoys, the royal astrologer went to the palace. The courtiers were very glad to see him turn up, for so great was their confidence in him that they felt that their country was quite safe and that the chances were in favour of their acquiring a new kingdom. When the king entered the Hall of Audience he invited the astrologer to sit on his right while the others sat in front of him with their faces almost touching the floor. Then the real proceeding began.

First of all presents were exchanged and complimentary speeches were delivered on both sides. When these ceremonies were over the Chief Envoy addressed the king in the following terms, “Oh Mighty Monarch! The real object of our journey to your most beautiful country has already formed the subject of correspondence between your Majesty and my king. I will not therefore tire you by its recital all over again. My master commands me to show you this gourd and to ask you to say how many seeds exactly it contains. If what you say be correct his kingdom passes into your possession; but on the other hand should you be wrong your kingdom becomes the property of my master.”

Hearing these words the king smiled and turning to the astrologer near him, said, “My dear saya, it is unnecessary for me to tell you what you have got to do. Consult your starts and tell us how many seeds the fruit contain. You already know how generous I have been to you in the past. And now at this crisis, if you are able to assist me in winning a kingdom, my reward to you shall be such as to make you rejoice for all the remaining days of your life.” “Your Majesty,” replied the astrologer, “everything I have, including my life, belongs to you. By your will I am able to live, and by your will I must also die. In the present case my calculations point to one answer only, and therefore I have no hesitation in saying that this gourd contains one seed only.”

Accustomed to seeing gourds with thousands of seeds, the king turned pale when he heard the astrologer’s answer. But still having complete faith in him, with effort he restrained himself from further questioning him. The gourd was then placed upon a gold plate and was cut open in the presence of all those present. To the astonishment of every body there was but a single seed as was said by the astrologer. The foreign Envoy congratulated the king on having won his bet and on the possession of so valuable a servant. He then returned home with a heavy heart bearing the news of his sovereign’s ruin and his country’s misfortune.

As to the astrologer his fame spread far and wide. All sorts of honours and rewards were heaped upon him. He was even granted the unique privilege of entering or leaving any part of the palace at all hours, just as his own inclinations directed him. Yet in spite of all these things he was not happy. He knew he was an imposter who stood in imminent danger of being found out. He was more than satisfied with the reputation he had made and the riches he had acquired. He did not desire any more of these things. His greatest ambition now was to find a graceful way of escape from his false position

So he thus spoke to his wife one day, “My dear wife, so far I have had most wonderful luck. It has enabled me to escape two great dangers with honour to myself? Something tells me that I shall be found out on the third occasion. What I propose to do next is this. Listen carefully so that you may carry out my instructions without a hitch. Tomorrow while I am at the palace with the king you must set fire to our house. Being of thatch and bamboo it will not take long to be consumed. You must them come running to the palace to inform me about it and at the same time you must keep on repeating these words “the Astrological Tables are gone.” I will then do the rest.”

On the following day while the king was holding a grand Durbar in the Hall of Audience, a great commotion was heard outside the gates. On enquiry the king was informed that the astrologer’s wife had come to inform her husband that their house was burnt down and that everything of value, including the most precious astrological tables by which her husband made his wonderful predictions had been consumed by the fire. Hearing these words the astrologer pretended to be terribly affected. He struck his forehead with the palm of his hand and for a long time he remained silent and for a long time he remained silent and motionless with grief. Then turning to the king he said, “May it please your Majesty I am now utterly ruined. For had it been my riches alone that perished in the fire I should not have minded so much. They could have been easily replaced. But now since these precious tables are gone it is impossible to procure a similar set from anywhere else. I hope I have served your Majesty faithfully and to your satisfaction in the past; but I grieve to say I shall not be in a position to give you the same service in the future. I beseech you therefore to release me from the present responsible position for I shall in no longer be useful to you. But in recognition of my past humble service if your Majesty, in your great goodness of heart, can see fit to grant me a small pension for the rest of my life I shall have cause to consider myself exceptionally favoured.”

The king was very sad to hear of his favorite’s misfortune. And as there was northing else to be said or done in the matter he ordered a beautiful building to be erected on the site of the house that was burnt down. Next he filled it with a large retinue of servants and other equipments such as horses, carriages and so forth. Then the whole thing was made over to the astrologer with the command that for the rest of his life he was to draw from the Royal Treasury no less a sum than ten thousand gold mohurs a month.

As may be imagined the lucky astrologer was more than satisfied with the arrangements and inwardly congratulated himself upon his good fortune which once more enabled him to escape from the dangerous situation. Thus some men are born great, some achieve greatness; but there are also others who have greatness forced upon them, and it is to this third and last class that our hero the pretentious astrologer belongs.

Ref: Kogreekyaw

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