Emperor Akbar and the Half-Reward
Illustrated By: Tristan Liu
One day, the Emperor Akbar went to the jungle to hunt, but when he followed a new trail, he got lost. He called for help but it was no use. The sun was setting. The Emperor called out, “Ah! Here I am, all alone in the woods, in the dark!”
A young man named Mahesh lived in a hut nearby. He heard the call and ran over. You can be sure the Emperor was glad to see him!
“I know the way back to the palace,” said Mahesh to the Emperor. “Follow me.”
Safe home at last, the Emperor said, “Young man, I want to give you a gift.” He took a ring of emerald and gold from his finger, and gave it to Mahesh.
“In a few days, come back to the palace,” said he. “I want to give you something else, even more grand.”
A few days later, Mahesh came to the palace gate. A guard at the door stopped him. “Halt!” he said. “You do not look like someone who should see the Emperor!”
“But I have come to see him,” said Mahesh. “And the Emperor knows me.” He showed the guard the fine ring that Emperor Akbar had given him.
“Well!” thought the guard to himself. “It is not every day I see such a ring! I have an idea.”
The guard said, “Listen to me. I will let you inside. But any gift you get from the Emperor, I must get half.” The guard crossed his arms. “That’s the deal.”
What could Mahesh do? He agreed. The guard let him into the palace, and showed him to the royal room of Emperor Akbar.
“My young friend in the woods!” called Emperor Akbar when he saw Mahesh. “I am very glad you came back. Now I can give you another gift. What would you like from the King of Hindustan?"
"Your Majesty!” said Mahesh with a bow. “I would like 50 lashes."
“What?!” said the Emperor.
The royal advisors were shocked. “This young man is crazy!” they whispered.
“It makes no sense!” said Emperor Akbar. “Why would you ask for such a thing?”
“I will tell you after half the lashes,” said Mahesh. So the king’s men started to whip him, as he had said. But after the 25th lash, Mahesh asked the King to call the guard who was standing outside the room.
“Wow!” thought the guard. “What grand thing will I get now?”
But to his surprise, Mahesh pointed to him. He said, “My Emperor! This guard let me inside the palace only if I agreed to pay him half of any reward I may get from you. I always keep my promises. So please, give him the 25 lashes that are left."
The Emperor ordered that the guard be given 25 lashes, along with 5 years in prison. Emperor Akbar was more pleased than ever with Mahesh. He invited the young man to stay at the palace and serve as his royal advisor. And there Mahesh served for many long years.
Akbar-Birbal folk tales were passed on mainly by oral tradition. They focus on how Birbal manages to outsmart envious courtiers who try to trap and portray him in poor light in front of Akbar, often in a humorous manner with him shown giving sharp and intelligent responses. Others show his interactions with the Emperor which involve him trying to test Birbal's wit and Birbal making him realise his folly, which always ends with Akbar getting amused and impressed. He occasionally challenges Birbal by giving him a line of poetry which Birbal has to complete. Some of the other stories are simple humorous anecdotes. Getting an advantage in a seemingly impossible situation and making his challengers look silly are usual occurrences in these tales. From Wikipedia