Emperor in disguise

Story of a little boy called Sanch  

258 BCE: A village to the southwest of the City of Vidisha (present day Madhya Pradesh)

“Give me that! Give it to me…now!”

Yells and shrieks proceeded from just beyond the grove, and the middle-aged man walked slowly amongst the trees. When he finally came into a clearing, he saw what seemed to be a brawl, and smiled.

Two boys were rolling on the ground; obviously, they came from the little village that the man himself was staying in, for the present. Each hurled punches, both verbal and physical at each other, and the man was about to open his mouth to stop them, when one of the combatants ceased fighting. He stepped back five paces, and went still.

“I’m not doing this any more,” he said. “I’m taking a few steps back, like my father told me to. Take that pendant, if you want it that badly.” And he stalked off towards a boulder.

His erstwhile “enemy” stared at him, pendant in hand. “You’re a coward, that’s what you are. You can’t fight me, Sanch, and you keep taking steps back!” He threw a contemptuous glance, and walked off. “Idiot!”

The boy on the boulder stared after him for a moment. Then, he shrugged, and began to scratch upon the ground with a twig. A shadow fell over him; the man stood in front of him, arms crossed across his chest.

“That was a strange thing to do,” he said, meditatively.

The boy looked up, surprised. “I thought we were alone.” He rose and executed a hasty greeting.

“No matter. I’m just a traveller.”

“Oh. May I know your name?”

“People call me Piyadasi.” The man paused. “You were winning that fight. You might have had the pendant, if you’d wanted.”

“Yes.” The boy shrugged again, and stared into the distance. “But I didn’t want to. Did you know, Chirag used to be my best friend, but now he’s fighting me over that stupid pendant! When even our King Asoka realised the error of his ways and gave up war,” he sighed.

The man raised his brows. “You know about that?”

“Every one does,” the boy widened his eyes. “At least, my father did and he told me,” he faltered a little. “Right here, as he sat on this boulder. He’d just come back from the Kalinga War, lost his right hand.” He missed the man’s sharp intake of breath. “He was always off fighting wars when I was a child so he said he wanted to make up for all those years and teach me what he could.” The boy’s face was lowered, and the man saw a tear splash onto his hand. “He was the one who told me about King Asoka, about how he fought many great wars, but he stopped, after the Kalinga one. Do you know, he was so sickened by the lives lost with fighting that he gave it up?” The boy’s voice was tinged with awe. “And he became a devotee of the Buddha, because he never wanted to cause any more suffering. So I won’t fight unnecessarily either. I’ll act like my name. I won’t destroy my friendship just for a trinket.”

“That boy, Chirag, he called you Sanch.”

“Yes, it’s a strange name, isn’t it?” Sanch grinned. “Of course, I was named Sachin, but my father began to call me Sanch, because I learnt to talk late. My tongue had to work at bringing them out. My father said I might as well be called Sanch, since I measured my speech so much. That’s what it means in Pali, you know.”

Piyadasi laughed. “It suits you in other ways too. It’s not just your speech that’s measured, but your actions as well. It takes great courage to walk away from almost winning.”

“King Asoka did,” Sanch said, stoutly. “He walked away from a great victory too but my father always said he is more a king now, than before.”

“A wise man, your father. Where is he now?”

Sanch looked away. “Dead. He got infected when he lost his hand, and the fever killed him …” he swallowed. “That’s why this boulder means so much to me. When I sit on it, I feel like he’s with me. Reminding me of everything he taught.”

Two months later

The little village was transformed into a hive of activity. Workmen and builders dotted the landscape, measuring, transporting bricks and drawing off plots. The villagers buzzed with news: Emperor Asoka was building Stupas, mounds that held Lord Buddha’s remains here. Right in their village!

Sanch ran helter-skelter to the site, peeping through the crowds. Suddenly, there was some sort of commotion: an elephant made its way through the crowd, trumpets blaring, conches blowing and drums thundering.

“The Emperor is here!” A murmur ran through the crowd, and they all bowed low. A tall man climbed down, dressed in simple robes and a crown. He smiled at the workers … and began to walk towards the villagers.

“Where is Sanch?” he asked, and the crowd murmured again.

“Why does he want that boy?”

“How on earth does the Emperor know him?”

Sanch stumbled forward. “Your … your Majesty?”

The tall man smiled down. “Don’t you recognise me, Sanch?”

The boy gaped. “The traveller! But you…you said your name was Piyadasi …”

“That is one of my names,” the Emperor agreed. “It means “He Who Holds Everyone In Affection”. A nickname, like your father gave you. But I was named Asoka.” He pointed towards the building site. “And I’m building stupas here, Sanch, to remind me of the man who taught me everything.” He paused. “I feel as though the Buddha is near me.”

Sanch blinked away happy tears. “Thank you. You’re as kind as my father said.”

“No, I thank you. Because, this village will be known after you, child. I’m renaming it.” Emperor Asoka smiled. “Henceforth, it will be known as Sanchi.”

Historical Note: The Stupas of Sanchi were built by Emperor Asoka in 3 BCE, and were added to in succeeding centuries by various dynasties. Among the oldest stone structures in India, these are shaped into mounds and are said to contain the relics of Lord Buddha. They stand to this day, a symbol of Asoka’s faith, and his genuine love for his fellowmen.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 12:52:51 AM |

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