A guru and his chela are travelling together from place to place. One day they arrive at the outskirts of a town ruled by a mad king. The guru waits while his chela goes into the town to look around. After an hour he returns, excited, carrying a big box of sweets. He tells the guru, "What a place this is! Everything is valued by weight -- an ounce of stones will buy an ounce of sweets! Grass is worth its weight in gold! We can settle down here and live like kings!" The guru says, "On the contrary -- we must run from this place immediately." The chela refuses, and they part. But because his chela has served him for a long time, the guru tells him that if he ever needs help, the guru will come. The guru goes to the next village, outside the mad king's territory, and settles there. The chela begins to enjoy his new life.
One night four brothers who are thieves go to a rich merchant's house to rob it. As they are breaking a hole in the wall, it falls on them and they are killed. Their mother runs to the king's court and cries, "What kind of justice is there in your kingdom? My sons were carrying out their trade, and they were killed. Should no one be punished for their deaths?" The king says, "You're right!" He calls for the merchant to be brought to the court, and orders, "Hang him!" The merchant says, "Sire, it's true that I paid to have the house built, but I didn't build it myself. Punish the builder." The king says, "Yes, you're right. Bring the builder, and hang him." The builder is brought to the court. He says, "Sire, I only supervised the work. Hang the masons." The masons say, "As we were mixing the cement with water, our attention was distracted by someone walking in the road -- so the cement became diluted." The man who had walked down the road is brought to the court. Like Kipling's Gunga Din he is a water-seller, carrying his goatskin water bag on his shoulder. He is very thin. The king has him taken to the hangman, but the hangman says, "Sire, just as your kingdom is great, so also the noose on my rope is too large for this skinny fellow." The king says, "You're right! Bring the fattest man in the kingdom, and hang him."
Well, the fattest man around is the chela, who has been trading stones for sweets for a long time. He is dragged into the court. The king says, "Now you must hang, but before you do you may have one last wish." The chela remembers his guru's promise to help. He asks the king to have the guru brought from the next village, so that he can meet him once more before he dies. The king agrees and the guru is brought to the court. As soon as the chela tells him the story the guru says to the king, "Don't waste time on this unworthy fellow; you must hang me instead." The king becomes suspicious. "Why are you so eager to be hanged?" The guru says, "I can't tell you that." The king insists, so the guru says, "That fool doesn't know it, but the exact moment that he's scheduled to be hanged is the most auspicious time: anyone who dies at that moment will go straight to heaven. Sire, you must hang me instead of him." The king says, "Do you think I'm an idiot? Why should I let such an opportunity slip away? Guards! Come here! Hang me at once!"
Dalpat Ram's Mad King
Ramesh was reciting a Gujerati poem he had had to memorise in childhood - by the poet Dalpat Ram. He told me the story: