The List of Fools
Akbar loved horse-riding to such an extent that he would pay any amount for the horse he liked. Merchants from distant lands as far as from Arabia, Persia and some other countries used to visit his court with strong and beautiful horses. The Emperor paid handsomely for the horses, he chose for his personal use. He would buy the other horses for his army that were not of his personal choice. Horse-traders were doing a lucrative business in Akbar’s court.
One day, a horse-trader asked for some money in advance. The trader was a new face and was rather unknown to other traders of his community. He sold two beautiful and sturdy horses to Akbar and told him that he could bring hundred more such horses of the same pedigree, only if he was paid half the price of the horses in advance.
The Emperor ordered his treasury to pay the money to the new trader as asked by him. The treasurer took the trader to his office to pay the money.
No one liked Akbar paying a huge sum of money to a new trader in advance. But they had no courage to utter a word in the matter. All of them wished Birbal to take up the issue. Birbal too seemed very unhappy over the horse deal. So he said to Akbar, “Only yesterday you ordered me to prepare a list of fools living in this city, I am sorry to say that your name appears at the top of the list!”
The Emperor’s face turned red with anger! He was being humiliated by Birbal in front of his courtiers and guests.
“How dare you call me a fool?” Akbar shouted at Birbal.
“I beg your pardon, Your Majesty!” said Birbal, bowing his head before the Emperor and said. “You may chop off my head. If you think I am wrong to say that you top the list of fools that you have asked me to prepare.”
With his right hand raised and first finger pointing towards Birbal, Akbar advanced towards him. All the people present in the court held their breath. Anxiety loomed large over their faces. The Emperor might chop the head of Birbal off. No one had ever dared to call the Emperor a fool.
But Akbar only rested his hand across Birbal’s shoulder. He wanted to know the reason. Birbal understood it and said, “You earned the top place in my list of fools, because you ordered a large amount of money to be paid to a new trader whose identity has not yet been fully verified. He can very well deceive you. He may not come here again. He might go and settle in some other country and you will not be able to trace him. One must know a person well before making a deal with him. That man sold you only two horses and you were so charmed that you agreed to pay him a large sum. That’s the reason why I give you the top place in my list of fools!”
“Go to the treasury and stop the payment to the new trader.” Akbar ordered his men to run and convey his orders to the treasurer.
“Now I will not put your name in my list of fools,” said Birbal.
Akbar stared at him for a few seconds, turned his gaze over the people watching him, and began to laugh. All the people there heaved sighs of relief that the Emperor had ultimately realised his mistake; they too laughed happily and praised Birbal for his courage and wisdom.