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Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Tale of Melon City: Analysis

  1. Born 20 June 1952 (age 59)
  2.    A polygot, a poet, novelist, travel writer, librettist, children's writer, biographer and memoirist
  3. NOVELS: The Golden Gate, A Suitable Boy, An Equal Music, A Suitable BOY
  4.    POETRY: Mappings, The Humble Administrator’s Garden, All You Who Sleep Tonight, Beastly Tales, Three Chinese Poets, The Frog and the Nightingale
  5. CHILDREN’S BOOK: Beastly Tale
  6. NON FICTION: From Heaven’s Lake, Two Lives

THE TALE OF MELON CITY : poem from Mappings, Seth’s first volume of poetry published in 1980

·            Monarchy - a political system led by a king or a queen
·     Democracy - a political system which believes in the freedom, equality and power of choice of its people who elect representatives from among themselves to lead the nation
·      Satire - a piece of writing which criticises people or ideas in a humorous way
·     Irony - a situation in which something which was intended to have a particular result but has the opposite or a completely different result. Irony can be a powerful tool when writing a satire.
·     Couplet - two consecutive lines in a poem, which rhyme and have the same length/rhythm


The poet dedicates the poem to Idries Shah, an author in the Sufist tradition who maintained that spiritual teachings should  be present in forms and terms familiar in the community where they take root. Used humour and irony extensively influencing many intellectuals and authors, apparently including Vikram Seth.

One extraordinary aspect of Shah’s work is the wide spectrum of readers his books attract: they are read and studied by psychologists and novelists, physicists and by social workers, by actors, lawyers and housewives.

Idries Shah wrote 'The Tale of Melon City' as a short story in his book, The Caravan of Dreams. That story was converted into a poem by Vikram Seth.

The poem is similar in style to a folklore but written with a satirical quill and ironical twists using couplets which do not break with the end of a line.

The King is described throughout as 'just' and 'placid'. However, the irony lies in the execution of this 'justice' and 'calmness' which is carried too far by both the king and his ministers.


 - the fickle-minded, whimsical king and his decision
  - the blame game played by the accused in the poem
  - the tone of the accused as they appeal to the king and what it shows about their social status  
 - the pettiness of the initial incidence with respect to the enormity of the eventual outcom
 - the role of the crowd which can even make the king 'tremble  - the postponing of finer points like who was guilty to accommodate the crowd's expectations
  - the criteria for the choice of the wisest man and the man's so-called 'wisdom'
 - the silliness of the counter-argument to defend the arch
   - the idiocracy of the way the eventual decision is arrived at
   - the irony of the slogan shouted by the ministers and the crowd
  - the 'idiot' and his decision for the idiots of the city
  - the concept of laissez faire and its presence in the city making the life of the citizens 'peaceful'

·     The king is a parody on those in power who take extreme steps to combat petty issues. He is also a reflection of those in power who claim to be 'just' but prove to be 'foolish' instead

·   The ministers are a mirror to those in the ruling and opposition parties who do not fulfil their true purpose in the parliament which is to help the leader make the right choices.

·  The blind faith of Indians in age and experience as opposed to awareness and true wisdom. This blind devotion and criteria to label someone as 'wise' is presented craftily through the personality of a man who could not see or walk but was still termed wise no matter how absurd his persona or words spoken.

·  The blame game which is, unfortunately, so utterly a part of our political structure as well as daily lives. There is no sense of accountability and the buck continues to be tossed from one to another when any issue arises.

· The crowd's enjoyment of a 'hanging' even at the cost of justice takes from the irrational demands and expectations of the public without patience or understanding of the true cause of an event
·   The principle of Laissez Faire and its possible implications. 

Q.1. “The Tale of the Melon City” consists of a series of humorous incidents. Describe the events that led to the hanging of the King by his own order.

Q.2. Why did the King order the construction of the arch? Does it tell you something about the tone of the poem/poem?

Q.3. Why did the King ordered that chief of the builders be hanged?

Q.4. What was the criteria for choosing a man to be hanged? Who was found fit?

Q.5. What do you think of the ‘just and placid' king?

Q.6. Pick out the irony of the poem. Why do you think it is so?

Q.7. What is the principle of ‘Laissez Faire’? How is it established in this poem?

Q.8. Many people are mentioned  in this poem.Whom do you find the most humorous other than the king?

Q.9. Comment upon the verse form used for narration in the poem “The Tale of Melon City”

Q.10.Justify the title of the poem “the Tale of Melon City”.