In the land of Swarna Pradesh were two kingdoms. Rampur was ruled by Ram Singh, while Krishnapur was ruled by Sher Singh. Both the kings had gone to the same gurukul and had been taught by the learned sage, Swami Krupacharya.
Even though they had grown up in the same environment, their philosophies and outlook towards life were entirely different. While Ram Singh worshipped peace, Sher Singh believed in violence. Ram Singh was content with his kingdom and spent his energy and resources in developing it. Sher Singh, on the other hand, wanted to expand his kingdom as much as he could and therefore, continuously waged battles with the neighboring kingdoms.
In Rampur, agriculture, industry, literature, music, sculpture, dance, painting and sports flourished. All around there was economic and cultural development. Everyone prospered. Rampur could boast of the most learned scholars and poets, the most gifted musicians and dancers, the most talented sculptors and painters and the most accomplished sportsmen. This did not mean he neglected defence. His was one of the best equipped and trained armies in the region. But, because he believed in peace, it very rarely had to participate in wars. The soldiers kept fit by practicing and waging mock battles and performing relief operations during times of natural calamities like floods and earthquakes.
In Krishnapur however, things were quite different. Sher Singh was interested only in winning battles and stretching the borders of his kingdom. Agriculture, industry, music, fine arts and sports, he felt, were a waste of time. If they wanted food grains or other necessities, they could always attack the neighboring kingdoms and loot it. What was the necessity of spending time and energy of these needless pursuits?
As a result, all the young and able-bodied men were recruited in the army. The rest of the activities were left to the old, the feeble and the handicapped. Thus, industry, agriculture, fine arts and sports languished. All the young men were busy fighting, while their parents, wives, and children spent the years waiting for their loved ones to return.
One day, Sher Singh was returning home after a long battle. He was very happy. He had managed to win back a small kingdom to the north-east of Krishnapur which he had lost the year before. As he was passing through Rampur, he decided to call on his old friend and take a break.
In the king’s palace, he was pleasantly surprised to see his Guru, Swami Krupacharya. Sher Singh greeted Ram Singh and bowed down and touched Swamiji’s feet.
"How are you, Sher? You look tired. For a moment, I couldn’t even recognize you. Both you and Ram are of the same age. But see, how young and healthy he looks, while you look old and scarred."
"Well, Swamiji, I don’t sit in my palace watching dances and listening to music. I perform my duties as a king by going out and waging battles and expanding the borders of my kingdom."
Ram Singh kept quiet and merely looked at Swamiji and smiled.
"Listen, my dear Sher. Can you answer a simple question?"
"Why not, Swamiji? Please ask."
"What is the most important duty of a king?"
"To expand his kingdom, conquer new lands."
"No, you are quiet mistaken. The most important duty of the king is to keep his subjects happy. Have you been successful in doing that?"
"Of course. My people are not only happy, they are also very prosperous. In the last five years, since I became king, I have fought fifteen battles and expanded my kingdom."
"At what cost, Sher? Have you ever thought how many young men have died in these battles? How many women have become widows and how many children orphans?"
"But Swamiji, we do have to pay a price for getting something. Nothing in this world is free."
"I agree. But you have paid too much for too little."
"I don’t agree, Swamiji. I am sure my people are very happy."
"We can check that out. I suggest that we disguise ourselves and go and mix with the people in your kingdom. This way, we’ll be able to get the true picture."
So, the next evening after dark, Swamiji, Ram Singh and Sher Singh, putting on suitable disguises, went to Krishnapur. There, they took refuge in a small inn.
After dinner, Swamiji started making small talk. The owner of the inn was an old man of around sixty years. His name was Suraj Seth.
"Suraj, my two sons and I have come from very far. My sons are looking for jobs and if they get a suitable opportunity they will settle down in Krishnapur. People have spoken very highly about this kingdom. What is your advice?"
Suraj glanced here and there and lowering his voice said, "Since you are outsiders I can speak my mind freely. Don’t settle down in this hell. Your sons will not get any jobs. They will have to join the army and keep fighting useless battles till they are seriously injured or dead. I had two sons. The older one died three years back. Last year, the younger one lost his legs in a battle. Now I have a widow, a cripple and my half mad wife with me."
"But Suraj, you should be proud that Krishnapur is now regarded as a very powerful kingdom."
"Of what good is this foolish pride to me? I have lost everything. And even in war, we have really not been very successful. In the last eight years, since that battle-crazy king took over, we have annexed eight and lost seven kingdoms. We have had to fight fifteen bloody battles, lose thousands of ours sons, for what - just to gain one measly kingdom! Tell me brother, is it really worth it?"
Next morning, the three of them left the inn and made their way to the market place. There, under the shade of a banyan tree, some old men were sitting and chatting. They joined the old men and after striking up a conversation, Swamiji repeated the same dialogue. One of the old men, whom the others called Chacha, said –
"Are you mad? Why do you want to rot in this place? Why don’t you go to Rampur? It is really a heaven when compared to Krishnapur."
"Why? What is so special about Rampur?"
"Friends, my brother lives there. He was telling me that everyone is very happy there. They read books, watch dramas, listen to music, participate in sports and enjoy themselves. The children there are exposed to every facet of education. Not like in this wretched place, where they are only taught to shed blood. In Rampur, they have the best quality food grains, the best quality cloth and the most peaceful life."
The three of them came back to Rampur. Sher Singh was wild. He also wasn’t totally convinced. He took leave of Swamiji and with a curt nod to Ram Singh went back to Krishnapur.
The words of Swamiji, Suraj and Chacha kept haunting him. He decided to wage a war against Rampur and annex it. If Rampur was really heaven, he wanted it to be a part of his kingdom. He was sure he would easily be able to defeat his friend, Ram Singh, in battle. After all, his men had had so much of practice while Ram Singh’s people had been singing and dancing all along.
He sent his minister to Ram Singh’s court with a challenge : "Ram Singh should either surrender or be ready to fight a battle with Sher Singh."
Ram Singh was quite amused to receive the message. He decided to meet Sher Singh in person. Swamiji, who was still in Rampur, insisted that he would also come along.
When Sher Singh saw Ram Singh and Swamiji, he thought Ram Singh had come to surrender and had brought Swamiji along for support.
"What is all this, Sher?" asked Ram Singh.
"If your kingdom is all that good, I want it to be a part of Krishnapur."
"And for this silly ambition you want to sacrifice thousands of lives?"
"Why don’t you simply say that you are scared of fighting with me? You know very well you will be defeated."
"It is not a question of victory or defeat. It is a question of thousands of innocent human lives."
"I have a suggestion to make. If it is only a question of superiority, we can decide by peaceful means," Swamiji said.
"How?" asked Sher Singh.
"Well, we can have competitions in literature, music, sculpture, dance, painting and sports."
"Swamiji, that is not fair. You jolly well know that Ram and his people have been indulging only in these pursuits for the last so many years. Let them fight it out with us."
"Okay then, in addition to the above, we can have mock battles. The rules will be framed by Swamiji. This way, without shedding a drop of blood, it will be decided who is superior," suggested Ram Singh.
"Okay. If I win, then you have to accede to me and if I lose, the Krishnapur will become a part of Rampur and I will be your prisoner."
One month later, the competitions started. Both the kingdoms participated enthusiastically. Kings and princes from the neighbouring kingdoms were invited as judges. In the first seven days, competitions in the field of literature, sports, music, dance, painting and sculpture were held. The competitors from Krishnapur were completely outclassed by their opponents from Rampur. As Sher Singh watched in dismay, his people lost every event by a huge margin. But, he didn’t lose hope. The main event - the mock battle - was still due. Since his people were in such good shape fighting real battles, he was sure they would win.
The mock battle started in real earnest. The people from Krishnapur put up a great fight. But the residents of Rampur, being stronger, fitter and healthier, managed to edge past. With this defeat, Sher Singh’s hopes of victory were dashed to pieces.
Next day, he came to Ram Singh’s court and surrendered. He stood before Ram Singh, bowed his head and said, "Ram Singh, I have lost. Krishnapur is yours and I am your prisoner."
Ram Singh got up, embraced Sher Singh and said, "My dear Sher, Krishnapur was always yours and will continue to be yours. And you are not my prisoner, you are and will always be my dear friend. My only advice to you is ‘Give peace a chance’."
Sher Singh had learnt his lesson. From that day, he stopped fighting useless battle and concentrated on keeping his people happy. He gave importance to the development of agriculture, industry, sports and the fine arts. Krishnapur made rapid progress in all fields.
The following year, another competition was held between Rampur and Krishnapur and this time, Krishnapur edged past Rampur.
After the prize distribution ceremony, Sher Singh embraced Ram Singh and said, "My dear Ram, I will never forget your words. Earlier, I used to win battles but, by giving peace a chance, I have been able to win hearts."
A Note From Ramendra Kumar
I got a lovely email from Avantika Sharma. She is thirteen years old and enjoys reading, writing and debating. She writes:
You really got me thinking about war and peace! I have a younger brother and we are always at war. My mother always wants us to make peace! Since I am older, my mom always advises me to take the initiative. I think USA should also do the same. I mean act like an elder brother and make smaller nations understand its point of view. When I and my brother play together- it’s lots of fun and masti, when we fight - we just sulk in our respective corners and make our parents miserable. I think it is the same with nations. So I feel we all, young and old, individuals and nations, should "give peace a chance".
What a lovely thought. Avantika, I agree completely with you and the day everyone agrees, our world will become a far, far better place.
Avantika’s beautiful words remind me of a song written by the pop singer John Lennon. I am sure you must have heard of him. He was part of the iconic group The Beatles. I bring you here a few lines from one Lennon’s most memorable songs - Imagine. I am sure you’ll love his words as much as I do:
Imagine there’s no heaven,
It’s easy if you try:
No hell below us,
Above us only sky.
Imagine there’s no country,
It isn’t hard to do.
Nothing to kill or die for,
And no religions too,
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace......
You may say,
I am a dreamer,
But I am not the only one,
I hope some day
You may join us and
The world will live as ONE.
Let us hope, my young friends that the Osamas of the world will listen to the voice of Lennon, the voice of reason, and give peace a chance.