The clever gems of Akbar Beerbal stories

A most common tale in every Asian-Indian child’s story-telling (or listening, reading) experience is the stream of Akbar Beerbal stories. There is no author of course. Each story may differ when retold, rewritten by a a different person. Each generation is still fascinated by these simple acts in royal courts.

My favorite is the ‘Beerbal Shortens a line’ (completely made up title and not good one at that, but hey).

So here is the Royal command (or whim) of the Mughal emperor, Akbar, one fine day on a beach. Akbar comes across a line drawn by a reveller on the sand. A simple stick drawn line, nothing fancy, nothing important, at least not to an emperor. But there you are, Akbar does notice.

Then he commands his courtier, the closed at hand. The cleverest of the nine gems Akbar has established in his royal court, Beerbal. On a whim, he asks Beerbal to shorten this line.

Of course there are conditions.

He can not erase the line (nor anyone else). He can not fill it with sand to make it disappear. In short, he can not touch the line at all.

A crowd draws, everyone wondering and waiting for the outcome.

Of course Beerbal prevails.

He picks up a stick nearby. He draws a longer line just a feet away from this line.

“Behold Alampanah, the line is short now, is it not?” Beerbal says.

The emperor laughs.

“Yes, that it is Beerbal. That it is,” Akbar says and thumps Beerbal on his back. He feels proud of his choice in having Beerbal with him.

So simple right? There is not complications of plots or height of drama in such simple stories. But those are effective all the same. Those taught us a problem might have as simple solution as drawing a bigger line. Those also taught us an emperor and his employee could have subtle friendship. Those taught us a quick wit to be a most pleasing trait. To children and a Mughal emperor alike.

That’s what I still look for when strolling through the book fair in my son’s school. Here is to finding laughter (or tears, highs and lows, any emotion which enrichs our mind and makes our day)!

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