The Tale of Melon City

by Vikram Seth

About the Author

 

Poet Name:   Vikram Seth

Born:             20 June 1952 (age 67 years), Kolkata

Education:     Corpus Christi College, St. Michael’s High School

Nominations: National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography

Awards:         Padma Shri, Sahitya Akademi Award

Theme

‘The Tale of Melon City’ by Vikram Seth is a satire about a king, his ministers, and the kingdom. The king has been ironically called lawful. But in reality, he stretches justice too far. Due to this quality of his character, one day he himself is hanged. The ministers also are a group of fools who decide an odd way to choose the next king. An idiot announces that a melon should be the king and people unhesitatingly crown a melon as their king. People also do not bother who their king is as long as they enjoyed their freedom.

The Characters

The King:

He has been mockingly portrayed as just and quiet. But in reality, he was not an intelligent person, and did not have any decision taking ability. Because of his foolishness he had to lose his life.

 

The Architect:

He was a smart person who is able to frustrate the king. When his turn came to be hanged, he pointed out. something which put the king in a tricky situation and made him angry.

 

The Wisest Man:

He is very old. He can neither walk properly nor see well. He is picked up by the council of ministers to give a wise decision to the king. But unfortunately, the decision given by him was not wise at all.

 

The Idiot:

He is a man of low intelligence and does not art rationally. His advice is asked for choosing the king. Without thinking, he says a melon should be made the king, as he was very fond of melons.

 

About the Lesson
 

This poem is all about a king who was just and placid who carries his notion of justice too far that he has to lose his life.

One day, the king decides to get an arch to build to show his victory to his minions and subjects and to address his spectators from there if needed. Following his orders, the workmen go there and build that arch but too low.

One of the days, while going past that arch, the king’s crown collides with that lowly-built arch and falls down. All this makes king filled with fury and rage. Therefore, he sends for the chief of the builders and orders him to be hanged in front of all the people for his blunder. Even the ropes and the gallows are arranged to execute all this.

But before he is hanged, he justifies himself and advocates his innocence adding that it is the fault of workmen who had built that arch not his.

For a moment, his hanging comes to a halt. The maharaja ponders and summons all the workmen so that they can be hanged. Whey they are produced before the Maharaja, they declare themselves at faultless. They pass on the blame to the masons who made those bricks of wrong size and shape which led to the building of improper arch.

Once again, the hanging comes to a standstill. The maharaja ponders once again and calls all the masons and order his minions to hang them one by one. The masons stand trembling over there but soon, one of them, passes on the blame to the architect.

Later on, the architect is summoned who holds the Maharaja responsible for making amendments at the eleventh hour. Now, the Maharaja, himself gets trapped in dilemma. He orders his minions to find out the wisest man of the city who can counsel them to come out of that tricky thing. Soon, the wisest man is found who advises the Maharaja to hang the arch which led to the falling of Maharaja’s crown but soon contradicted by others.

Now the crowd gets restless and wants the hanging as early as possible. Perceiving their mood, finally, the Maharaja comes out with an idea that whosoever fits from the crowd in the noose, made for hanging, will be hanged by royal decree. All of them are measured one by one but there is only one who fits in that noose i.e. the Maharaja himself. So, he is hanged without any objection made by him.

Now they decide that the first one who passes by the city gate, will choose the king and this will be enforced with due ceremony. An idiot passes the gate; therefore, he decides that the melon will be the king of this city. His decision is followed, and the melon is made the king.

Now, if you enquire the people of this city about the melon being the king, they seem peaceful and satiated. According to them, they can enjoy more in the kingship of melon than any human being.

 

Word Meanings

placid – even-tempered
notion – concept
proclaimed – announced officially
arch – gate structure with a circular top
triumphally – delightfully
span – pass over
thoroughfare – main road
edify – enlighten
spectators – people standing
he lost his crown – his crown struck the arch and fell down
frown – expression of displeasure
gallows – structure on which criminals are hanged
proceedings – activities
placider – calmer
summon – call
quivering – trembling
architect – planner
do ordain – order
amendments – changes
saw red – became angry
lost his head – lost control over his emotions
counsel – advice
nay – no
quavering – shaky
culprit – offender
banged – hit
scaffold – a raised wooden platform used for hanging
mused – thought carefully
muttering – talking in low voices
consideration – thinking
noose – a loop of rope with a knot used for hanging criminals
standard – fixed
decree – order
unruly – uncontrollable
crown – ruler
pondered – thought over
dilemma – perplexing situation
heralds – messengers
enforced – implemented
with due ceremony – ceremonially
by and by – one after another
customary – natural
rejoice – feels great joy
liberty – freedom
laissez faire – the policy of leaving things to take their own course

 

Summary

The King Orders an Arch to be Built
 

This story is about a city whose king was lawful’ and gentle. He orders an arch (curved structure) to be built which would become a symbol of his triumphs and accomplishments. The arch would be constructed on the main road and it would inspire and motivate the people who would see it. As per the orders of the king, the arch was built. The king rode down the main road to inspire others.

 

The King Loses his Crown and Gets Angry
 

The arch was built too low and the king’s crown fell down when it struck the arch. It was a disgrace for him. He ordered that the chief of builders should be hanged for this mistake. The arrangements for the hanging were made. The chief of builders was called.

 

The Blame Game Begins
 

The chief of builders pleaded that it was not his mistake; it was rather the workmen’s fault. So, the king stopped the hanging of the chief builder. He ordered that all the workmen must be hanged instead. The workmen claimed that the bricks used were not of the right size. So, the masons were called. They were trembling in fear. The masons in turn blamed the architect for a wrong design.

 

The King Gets Stuck in a Tricky Situation
 

The architect was called. The king ordered that the architect must be hanged. The architect reminded the king that he himself had changed the original plan of the arch when it was shown to him sometime back.

The king realised that the blame had shifted to him. It was a tricky situation. The king withdrew for consulting some wise people. He asked for the wisest man in the country. The wisest man was chosen on the criteria that he should be very old.

The person chosen could not walk or see properly and he was carried there by other people. The wisest man said in a shaking voice that the culprit should be punished. He announced that it was the arch which banged against the crown, so it should be hanged.

 

The Nation Wants a Hanging
 

The arch was being taken for the hanging when one of the councillors said that the arch actually touched the royal head with respect. The king agreed, but the crowd was getting restless and wanted a hanging. Perceiving the situation, the king ordered that someone must be hanged, guilty or not.

A loop of rope was set up quite high and each man was measured to its height. Only one was tall enough to reach it and that was the king himself. So, the king was hanged. The ministers heaved a sigh of relief that someone was hanged or else the crowd might have turned against them.

The Dilemma
 

The ministers now faced the dilemma that the country had no king. They followed their old custom and sent out messengers to proclaim that the next person who would pass the city gate would choose the next king. After some time, an idiot passed the gate and the guards stopped him.

When they asked him to name the king, the idiot said, ‘a melon’. This was his standard answer to all the questions as he was very fond of melons.

The Melon King
 

After the answer given by that idiot, a melon was made the king of the city. The ministers respectfully carried the melon to the throne and set it down on the king’s throne.

This happened long ago. If you now ask the people why their king appears to be a melon, they reply that it is a customary choice. It makes no difference to them if their king is a melon. They are happy because the king doesn’t interfere in their lives. They live in peace and harmony.

Highlights

  • Once there was a king of a city who pretend to be lawful and gentle.

  • The king ordered construction of an arch over the main road in the city to motivate the people.

  • Soon the arch was built. When the king rode through it, his crown hit the top of the arch and it fell from his head.

  • As it was a disgrace for the king, he lost his temper instantly and ordered the chief of builders to be hanged.

  • The chief of builders cried out that he was not guilty and blamed the workmen.

  • So, the workmen were brought to be hanged.

  • The workmen cried out that it was not their fault. They blamed the masons who made the bricks of the wrong size.

  • The masons were brought, but they blamed the architect who had made the plans.

  • The architect was smarter; he told the king that he was forgetting that he himself had made some changes in the plans when they were shown to him.

  • Everyone turned to the king. The king realised that he had brought this onto himself, He said that in this tricky situation he needed some advice from the wisest man in the country.

  • People of the kingdom were equally foolish; so, they brought a very old man presuming him to be the wisest man.

  • The wise man was of the opinion that the king was not guilty, but the arch was guilty, so the arch should be hanged.

  • While the arch was being taken to be hanged, a Councillor remarked that the arch touched the king’s crown respectfully, so it should not be hanged.

  • The nation wanted a hanging. So, the king asked for the loop of rope to be used for the hanging to be set high and anyone whose head reached it would be hanged.

  • One by one all the people were measured but nobody reached its height except the king himself, as he was the tallest. So, as per the royal order, the king himself was hanged.

  • Now a new crisis arose: who would be the king?

  • The ministers decided that the next man who passed the City Gate would choose the king and then they sent out messengers to tell everyone about this.

  • An idiot, who was fond of melons, happened to pass the gate first. The guards asked him about who should be the king to which his answer was, ‘A melon’.

  • So, a melon was named the king and was crowned in a proper ceremony. The people were happy to have a melon as king as long as it left them in peace and at liberty.

 

Textual Questions

 

A. Reading With Insight

 

Question 1: Narrate ‘The Tale of Melon City’ in your own words.
Answer: ‘The Tale of Melon City’ runs like folk tale. The city is called Melon City because its ruler is a melon. There is a curious tale around it. Once a fair and gentle king ruled over a state. He got an arch built across the thoroughfare. As he passed under the low arch it struck his head and he lost his crown. He thought it a disgrace and ordered the chief of builders to be hanged. The chief lay the blame on the workmen. The workmen were surprised. They said that the bricks were made of wrong size. So, the masons were thought guilty. The masons shifted the blame on the architect. The architect put the blame at the king’s door as he had amended his original plan.
The king sought a wise man’s counsel. He held the arch guilty and ordered it to be hanged. A councillor objected to it as it had touched the king’s head. The people became restless. They wanted to see someone hanging. Only the king’s head could fit. the noose. So, he was hanged. It was now announced that the next man who passed the City Gate would choose the king. An idiot came. He suggested ‘A melon’. So, melon was crowned the king. He was taken to the throne. He was called melon king.

 

Question 2: What impression would you form of a state where the king was just and placid*?
Answer: The State where the king was just and placid’ seems to be a backward region full of ignorant fools and ruled by a whimsical king. The king considers himself to be the custodian of people and gets an arch erected for their spiritual upliftment. The king’s word is a command and unwritten law. The whole process of changing judgement on the appeals of the victims appears as a mock-trial. The Ministers and Councillors seems to be selfish. They advise the king to serve their own ends, though they appear to flatter the king and seem dedicated to the state. The common people are uneducated and ignorant fools. They need mental as well as spiritual upliftment. They are fun loving. In their quest for fun, they can cross all limits. If deprived of fun, the unruly mob can rebel against the crown. They do not bother whether the king is a man or a melon. They want their personal freedom, free business, and peaceful lives.

 

Question 3: How according to you, can peace and liberty be maintained in a state?
Answer: Various people advocate various means of maintaining peace and liberty in a state. Some are in favour of dictatorship while others favour democracy. I think the best course lies in good governance. Whatever is well-administered is most fruitful for the citizens as well as the rulers. It ensures peace and liberty to the common man. A strong state, in itself, is safe against any external threat. Dedicated rulers, enlightened citizens and proper law enforcing agencies can establish peace and harmony in the state. Narrow considerations based on region, religion, caste etc. should be discouraged because these are potent threat to internal security as they fuel dissensions among the people. Free expression of opinions must be allowed but respect for law and order be observed. People should be conscious of their privileges and rights as well as duties and responsibilities. This is the only way to maintain peace and liberty.

 

Question 4: Suggest a few instances in the poem which highlight humour and irony?
Answer: ‘The Tale of Melon City’ is full of instances of humour and irony. The just and placid king got an arch built to ‘edify’ spectators. The king’s riding under low arch and losing his crown also creates humour. The way the accused appeal to the king and shift the blame on others is quite funny. The unstable behaviour of the king also creates humour. The self-defence of the architect is a masterpiece. He holds the king himself responsible for the disgrace as he had ‘made certain amendments’ to his original plan. The king’s anger and inability to act calmly create humour.
The criteria for selection of the wisest man is quite ironic. It is assumed that wisdom comes with age. Being blind he does not know that an arch cannot be hanged. Others have eyes, yet they follow his advice and take the arch to the gallows. How ironic it is! The king wants to keep the crowd in good humour and orders that someone be hanged. Only the king is tall enough to fit the noose. What an irony! The king is hanged by his own order. The custom of naming the next king seems equally ridiculous. The idiot who passes by the City Gate suggests “melon” to be the next king. People who think only of their own interests do not bother whether the king is a man or a melon.


Short Answer Type Questions

 

Q1. What did the king order to be built? What happened when it was built?
Ans. The king ordered to build an arch across the major thoroughfare of the city as a symbol of triumph—a kind of victory monument. The workmen built it, but it was too low. When the king rode under it, his crown struck against it and fell down.

 

Q2. Why did the King order the chief of builders to be hanged?
Ans. One day the King was riding down the thoroughfare. The arch was so low that it struck against the crown. The crown fell off. The King was angry at this disgrace. He held the chief of builders responsible for this and ordered him to be hanged?

 

Q3. What did the chief builder say when the king ordered him to be hanged?
Ans. The chief builder said that it was not his fault that the arch had been made low. He said it was the fault of the workmen.

 

Q4. What did the workmen say in their defence when the king ordered them to be hanged?
Ans. The workmen said that the bricks had been made of the wrong size. Thus, it was the fault of the masons and it was they who should be hanged.

 

Q5. How did the masons save themselves from being hanged?
Ans. They put the blame on the architect and thus saved themselves from being hanged.

 

Q6. How did the architect plead his case before the king?
Ans. The architect said that the king himself had made some changes in the planning of the arch. Thus, it was not his fault that the arch was low.

 

Q7. What was the King’s reaction when the architect blamed him for the incident?
Ans. When the architect blamed the King for the incident he was confused and nearly lost control over himself. However, being a just and placid King, he said that it was an intricate matter and he need someone’s advice. He ordered to bring to him the wisest man in the country.

 

Q8. What suggestion did the wise man give to the king?
Ans. At the King’s command the wisest man was found and brought, rather carried, to the Royal Court. In fact, he was so old that he could neither walk nor see. He said that the culprit must be punished. He held the arch responsible for hitting the crown violently and causing it fall. So, according to him, the arch was the real culprit.

 

Q9. How did the arch escape punishment?
Ans. As advised by the wisest man, the arch was held responsible for hitting the crown and led to the scaffold. Suddenly a councillor said that it would be a shameful act to hang the arch that touched His Majesty’s head. The king thought it was true and spared the arch.

 

Q10. Describe the circumstances which led to the hanging of His Majesty?
Ans. The crowd was getting restless as the hanging was being delayed. Sensing their mood, the king said that someone must be hanged immediately, as the nation wanted it. A noose was set up. It was somewhat high. Each man was measured turn by turn. There was only one man who was tall enough to fit in the noose, and it was the King. So, His Majesty was hanged.

 

Q11. What was the problem confronted by the Ministers? How did they solve it?
Ans. After hanging of His Majesty, the Ministers were confronted with the problem of finding a ruler for their state. To solve this problem, they followed their old custom. The heralds were sent out to proclaim that the next person who passes the City Gate would choose the ruler of their state.

 

Q12. How was a melon crowned as the king of the country?
Ans. The ministers decided that the first man to pass the city gate would choose the ruler of the state. This man happened to be an idiot. When he was asked, he said, “A melon.” Thus, a melon was crowned as the king of the country.

 

Q13. What are the principles of ‘Laissez- faire’?
Ans. ‘Laissez-faire is French for leave alone. It also means the doctrine of avoiding government interference in business. So, these principles worked well in the melon city “when a melon’ was made the king and that did not interfere the lives of his subjects. They were happy till the king let them live in peace and liberty.

 

Q14. What is the significance of phrase just and placid used for the king?
Ans. The phrase ‘just and placid’ is significant because the king in the course of the story turns out to be the opposite of this phrase which means who does justice and can’t be easily excited but the king is quite opposite, whimsical and easily influenced. His exaggerated sense of justice caused even his own death. He used to lose his temper even over a small incident. He was too good to be of any use.

Q15. How according to you, can peace and liberty be maintained in a state?
Ans. It is the duty of the rulers to maintain peace and liberty in the state. There should be rule of the law. Everybody should be equal before the law. The rulers should be wise and just. There should be no exploitation of one class by the other.

Q16. Give examples of humour and irony from the poem ‘The Tale of Melon City’.
Ans. The king takes the bumping off his crown by the arch as a disgrace and summons the builder to be hanged. They go on accusing one another which results in the hanging of the king himself. An idiot chooses the next king. He names a Melon. The crowning of a Melon with respect and ceremony sounds quite humorous and ironical. The irony is that the people care little if they were ruled by a foolish man or a Melon.

Q17. What message does it convey?
Ans. Vikram Seth gives a message that how by thoughtless action people choose irresponsible government and the whole kingdom would turn into a farce. People need to be wise and careful in choosing their governments which in turn should be responsible and transparent to the people.

 

Long Answer Type Questions

Q1. Describe the circumstances leading to the hanging of the king.
Ans. The king found himself in a difficult situation after hearing the architect’s argument. He said that it was an intricate matter and he needed someone’s advice. He ordered to bring to him the wisest man in the country. The wisest man was found and brought to the Royal Court. He said that the arch was the real culprit. It impudently hit the crown which fell off. So, the arch must be hanged. Suddenly a councillor said that it would be a very shameful act to hang the arch that touched His Majesty’s head. It seemed true to the king. He was at a loss what to do. Meanwhile, he saw the crowd was getting restless and they wanted a hanging. So, he declared that someone must be hanged. The noose was set up. It was somewhat high. Each man was measured turn by turn. But there was only one man who was tall enough to fit in the noose, and it was the king. His Majesty was, therefore, hanged by Royal Decree.

Q2. How does a melon become the ruler of the State?
Ans. After the hanging of the King, the Ministers are confronted with the problem of choosing the ruler of the state. They follow their old custom. They send out the heralds to proclaim that the next to pass the City Gate will choose the king. An idiot happens to pass the City Gate. The guards stop him and ask him to decide who should be the king. The idiot replies, “A melon”. Actually, that is his pet answer to all questions since he likes melons. The Ministers crown a melon and place their Melon king reverently at the throne. So, the melon becomes the ruler of the State. The people are quite happy with their Melon king because he does not interfere in their affairs.

 

Q3. Suggest a few instances in the poem 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 councillor 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.

 

Q4. 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.

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