This week’s tale is all about a Raja. He was content with his palace and never really stepped outside to see how his people lived. One year, the rice harvest was really bad. The farmers still brought rice to the palace storehouse so the Raja could enjoy his fine food, but there wasn’t enough to feed the people. People took to begging on the street.
One day, an old man came to the palace with a present for the Raja. He said it was a game of great skill that he called ‘chess’. The Raja was immediately intrigued because he loved games. The old man showed him the chess pieces and told him that the finest piece was His Highness himself riding on his favourite elephant. The Raja wanted the old man to teach him how to play.
Every day the old man went to the palace, through the streets crowded with starving people to teach the Raja how to play chess. It wasn’t long until the Raja was very skilled. The Raja asked the old man what he could possibly give him as a token of gratitude. The old man asked for some rice. The Raja laughed at the man and told him he could have anything he wanted. The old man humbly told the Raja that rice was all that he wanted, enough for the chess game.
The Raja thought this was odd. He was told to put one grain on one square, two on two and so on. The Raja did as he was told and soon enough the chess board was full, so he put some into a casket for the old man. The old man ended up with 32,868 grains by the end of the second row and for the next square twice as much. The next day, the servants brought the rice and the Raja counted. The Raja continued until the last grain had gone. He told the servants to fetch the grain from the farmers.
The old man informed the Raja that there was a famine in the land. He told the Raja that there isn’t enough rice to feed even the hungriest child. The Raja was troubled and realised he had neglected his people. He was troubled that he had given the rice to the old man. But the old man told him that he never wanted it for himself, he was putting a bowl of rice to every hungry person outside the palace doors.
An extract from A Year Full of Stories, by Angela McAllister, illustrated by Christopher Corr (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2016)