The Prince

Carelessly tossed emeralds and rubies lie strewn across an ornately carved teak table, blinking their arrogance in the dawning light. A once opulent landscape, an abundance of crystal and silver pots filled to brimming with the most succulent foods, is lain waste. Bodies are scattered across the floor in various stages of undress, like dolls abandoned by a petulant toddler.

A prince steals silently across this scene, picking his way between the snoring, drooling courtiers and dancing girls exhausted from a night of drunken debauchery. He slowly shakes his head, his face contorts his conflict between pity and disgust. His heart aches with the comparison to what he has seen over the last month of exploring his lands.

How does he reconcile the man who lies ailing at the palace gates, eyes recessed in their sockets, the stench of impending death a hovering miasma, with the rotund Minister for the Arts, cheeks puffed, stomach bursting through thick silk robes, lying at his feet?

Here, lies the royal accountant, each finger encased in golden rings, lustrous bangles squeezing tight to his corpulent wrists, thick brocaded robes wrapping his gelatinous flesh. There, in the village, is the beggar-woman clothed in tattered rags, obsessively chanting mantras, paper-thin skin highlighting the contours of her skeleton, face sunken with hunger, eyes glazed in devotion.

A cough brings the Prince to a pensive musing of the old man beyond the palace walls, gripping his cane, gingerly scraping one foot in front of the other, hunched with age, and ambling his way through life. While at his feet lies the adolescent dancing girl he had seen twirling and spinning throughout the night, her skin taught and plump with youth, eyes bright, vitality exudes from every pore.

His foot catches on the indolent body of the Prime Minister, as his mind races to the sight of the man lying by the side of the road. Death has wrapped its sinuous fingers around the man, claiming the empty vessel of his soul. He kicks the Prime Minister sharply in his ribs, eliciting nothing more than a grunt of acknowledgement.

The Prince picks his way through the macabre scene, the weight of his ambivalence bearing heavily down upon his shoulders. As he reaches the other end of the great hall, the Prince knows what he must do.

Deliberately, attentively, he begins to remove, one by one, the vestiges of his standing. He scatters robes and wrappings, necklaces, earrings and bangles like shedding leaves from a peepul tree. He looks down at his body, lean and gleaming in the first rays of morning’s light, clothed now only in a loincloth, and a relieved smile. At last, he is rich.

©Asha Rajan

Note: This story is based on Siddhartha Gautama (the first Buddha) and the four sights of enlightenment.

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