Summary of The Tale of Melon City

The Tale of Melon City is a narrative poem written by Vikram Seth describing how a melon was chosen to be the monarch of a state in accordance with custom. In an amusing tone, it tells a story of the events leading up to the coronation of a melon as king.

The poem begins with a description of an ancient state’s just and peace-loving king. The king had intended to build an arch that would span the main thoroughfare. The arch’s objective was to raise the morale of viewers while also providing aesthetic pleasure. The king’s proposal was swiftly carried out.

The king was passing along the side of the road one day. The arch was built so low that the king’s crown collided with it and fell off. The king immediately responded adversely. He felt betrayed. He made the decision to hang the chief of builders, holding him accountable. The necessary preparations for the hanging were made.

In his defence, the chief of builders delegated responsibility to the labourers. When the monarch heard this, he paused the proceedings for a while before deciding to have all the labourers hanged. According to the labourers, it all happened because of the incorrect size of the bricks. So the king summoned the masons. They, in turn, blamed the architect. The architect was sentenced to death by the king. The architect reminded the king that he had made some changes to the drawings before they were given to him for approval.In some ways, the architect indirectly blamed the king. The architect’s explanation completely perplexed the king. Because the situation was complicated, the monarch sought the counsel of a wise man. He directed that the wisest man in the country be brought to him.

The king’s men were able to locate the wisest man and bring him to the King’s court. He couldn’t walk or see since he was so elderly. The actual villain, according to the old guy, was the arch. The arch collided with the crown, causing it to fall off. As a result, the arch had to be hung. The arch was escorted to the scaffolding. At the time, a councillor stated that hanging the arch that struck the king’s head would be a very dishonourable conduct. The audience was becoming agitated. To pacify the masses, the king said that someone had to be hanged because it was a popular desire. The noose was hung. It was a little high. Each man was measured one at a time. Surprisingly, there was only one man tall enough to fit in the noose, and he was the king. So, his majesty was hanged.

The ministers breathed a sigh of relief that they had found someone; otherwise, the mob may have revolted. The question of who would be the state’s king arose now. The old custom was resurrected. They sent out heralds to announce that the next person to pass through the City Gate would be the King’s choice. A moron occurred to walk by the City Gate. The idiot was asked who would be king. Melon was spoken by the fool. Actually, because he enjoyed melons, that was his go-to response to any question. The ministers coroneted a melon and reverently installed the melon monarch on the throne.

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All of these things happened a long time ago. When someone asks the people how their King appears to be a melon, they respond that if His Majesty enjoys being a melon, that is fine with them. They have no right to tell him what he should be as long as he leaves them alone and in peace. Non-interference norms appear to be well entrenched in that state.

Questions & Answers Class

Q. 1: Narrate ‘The Tale of Melon City’ in your own words.

Answer: The Tale of Melon city is a narrative poem by Vikram Seth written in the couplet form. The poem is an account of an incident involving the monarch and citizens that took place in a city long ago. The tale is humorous with a very sharp focus on the thematic aspect. Structurally, the story has three parts the first part mentions about a king’s wish to build an arch. The second part relates his complaints regarding the faulty construction of the arch and the last part narrates how his decree ultimately falls on him leading to his hanging. The poem in a high tone of humour narrates the transition of power from the king to a melon which became a symbolic head.

In the beginning, the poet narrates that there was a king in a city long ago. One day the king expressed his desire to construct an arch spanning the main thoroughfare to improve the onlookers morally and mentally. The king was just and peace-loving. The construction work was soon undertaken by employing a large number of labourers.

After the completion of the arch, the king went to inspect the newly constructed arch. The arch was very low. His crown struck against the arch and fell off. Feeling dishonoured, the king decided to hang the chief of builders. All arrangements were made for the hanging. The Chief of builders defended himself by shifting the responsibility to the labourers. Convinced by the argument, the king then ordered to hang all the labourers. The labourers shifted the responsibility to the size of the bricks. The king accordingly ordered the hanging of the masons. The masons in turn defended themselves and put all blame on the architect. The king ordered to hang the architect. The architect reminded the king that he (King) had made some amendments to the plan when it was shown to him. The architect indirectly blamed the king. The king was confused to hear the architect’s argument. The king solicited the advice of the wisest man in his kingdom. Accordingly, the wisest man was found and brought to the court. He was so old that he could neither walk nor see. He gave the verdict that the arch was the real culprit. It was the arch that hit the crown violently and it fell off. So, the arch must be hanged. Accordingly, the arch was led to the scaffold. In the meantime, a councillor pointed out that it would be a very shameful act to hang the arch that touched the king’s crown.
The crowd which gathered there to witness the hanging of the culprit was getting restless. Sensing their mood, the king said that someone must be hanged since the nation wanted a hanging. The noose was set up. It was somewhat high. Each man was measured turn by turn. But there was only one man who was tall enough to fit in the noose, and it was the King. Interestingly, the king was hanged.
The poet then narrates the third part of the poem. In the concluding part, the ministers heaved a sigh of relief that they were able to find someone, otherwise, the unruly crowd might have risen in revolt. After the death of the King, it was required to choose another king. As per the convention, the ministers sent out the herald to proclaim that the next to pass the City Gate would choose a king. An idiot happened to pass the City Gate. The guards asked him who was to be the King. The idiot answered that a melon should be chosen to be the next king. Actually, that was his pet answer to all questions as he liked melons. The ministers crowned a melon and placed their Melon King reverently at the throne.

The poet narrates that the citizens were least bothered about their symbolic head. They enjoyed the principles of Laissez-faire. They were very respectful to their new monarch as the new monarch did not interfere in their lives.

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Q. 2: What impression would you form of a state where the King was ‘just and placid’?

Answer: A state where the king was Just and placid enjoyed peace, liberty and justice. The king was titular and symbolic. The citizens enjoyed the freedom of all kinds. The real governance of the country was in the hands of the citizens. In the poem ‘The Tale of a Melon City’ the king had to be hanged as the citizens ultimately wanted someone to be hung. The king could not defend himself. Even though the wisest man gave the verdict that the arch was the real culprit but the citizens wanted someone to be hanged. Ultimately, the king was hanged. This shows that in such a state where the king was just and placid the citizens influenced the fate of a king.

Q. 3:  How, according to you, can peace and liberty be maintained in a state?

Answer: Peace and liberty can be maintained in a state if there exists Laissez-faire, i.e., the principle of non-interference by the king in the activities of the citizens. However, the king or the government must maintain law and order in the absence of which anarchy may reign in the state. There should be a happy balance between state interference and citizens rights. Only then one can expect peace and liberty to be maintained in a state.

Q. 4:  Suggest a few instances in the poem which highlight humour and irony.

Answer: The poet has used the tools of humour and irony in the poem. Humour refers to cognitive experiences which provoke laughter in a person. Irony refers to the strange aspect of a situation that is very different from what one expects. Some instances of humour and irony in the poem are:
The decision of the king to hang the chief of the builders for constructing a low arch when his crown struck against it evokes laughter among the readers. It is an example of humour. The way the king got convinced that actually the labourers who constructed the arch were responsible is also humourous. The king wanted to hang the labourers but the labourers were able to defend themselves. This situation is humorous as it evokes laughter among the readers and ironic as the readers find that the labourers can shift their responsibility to the architect. Ironically, the architect can shift the responsibility to the king himself. The selection of the wisest man who would give the verdict as to who was the real culprit evokes laughter and is, therefore, humorous. The old man ultimately blamed the arch and declared that the arch must be hanged. Ironically, one of the ministers pointed out that the gathering wanted a man to be hanged. As the noose fitted the king’s neck, so, he was hanged.

The choice of a successor is humorous as an idiot is consulted in selecting the successor. The idiot chose a melon who became the symbolic head of the state.

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