By Vaishnavi Tyagi
The Tale of Melon City CBSE Class 11 English (Snapshots) Lesson, Explanation, Summary, Difficult words
The Tale of Melon City CBSE Class 11 NCERT English (Snapshots) Lesson 8 – Detailed explanation of the Lesson along with meanings of difficult words. Also, the explanation is followed by a Summary of the Lesson. All the exercises along with Question and Answers given at the back of the lessons have been covered.
Class 11 English (Snapshots book) Chapter 8 – The Tale of Melon City
By Vikram Seth
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The Tale of Melon City- Introduction
The poem “The Tale of a Melon City” narrates how the city found it’s new King, a melon. The story unfolds as their King orders to have an arch built which turned out to be too low. It hit the King’s head resulting in the falling off of his crown. The King considers it a disgrace and orders for the chief of builders to be hanged. It is then followed by a series of events where they blame each other. Finally, a noose is built to determine the guilty and the only one to fit the noose, is the just and placid King. The new King is then elected by the first person to pass that arch.
The Tale of Melon City- Summary
The poem begins with a description about the King who ordered an arch to be built. When he rode down that arch, it hit his head and his crown fell down. It was because it was built too low. The King thought it was dishonorable and thus commanded the chief of builders to be hanged. The chief of builders put the blame on the workmen who in turn, blamed the bricks. The King orders for the execution of the mason who put the blame on the architect. The architect is brought to the Royal Court and indirectly blames the King for the wrongly constructed arch. The placid King now grows angry and demands for the wisest man in the country to be brought to the Royal Court. They brought the wisest man, who was so old that he could neither see nor walk. According to him, the arch must be hanged. When the arch is supposed to be executed, one of the ministers argue that it would be a shame to punish something that had touched their mighty King’s head. Everyone, along with the King, agreed. The crowd grew restless and the King promised them a hanging. Therefore, a noose was set-up and the one to fit it would be hanged. All were measured one by one but the only one to fit was the King. The ministers heaved a sigh of relief upon finding someone to execute. Thus, as a result of the customary choice, the next to pass the City gate would choose the new King and the next to pass it was an idiot who wanted a melon to be their King. The melon was given the throne with due ceremony and the town lived happily ever after without any interruption or interference.
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The Tale of Melon City- Lesson and Explanation
The following poem is taken from Mappings which was published in 1981 and is included in the Collected Poems by Vikram Seth.
In the city of which I sing
There was a just and placid King.
The King proclaimed an arch should be
Constructed, that triumphally
Would span the major thoroughfare
To edify spectators there.
Just- based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair
Proclaimed- announce officially or publicly.
Arch- a curved symmetrical structure spanning an opening and typically supporting the weight of a bridge, roof, or wall above it.
Triumphally- Celebrating or commemorating a victory
Span- Celebrating or commemorating a victory
Thoroughfare- a main road in a town
Edify- instruct or improve (someone) morally or intellectually
The city which the poet is talking about was ruled by a ‘just and placid’ King. He is known to be fair and calm in his proceedings. One day, he ordered for an arch to be built on the main road of the town. He felt that it would be a good sight to look at that would motivate the onlookers.
The workmen went and built the thing.
They did so since he was the King.
The King rode down the thoroughfare
To edify spectators there.
Under the arch he lost his crown.
The arch was built too low. A frown
Appeared upon his placid face.
The King said, ‘This is a disgrace.
The chief of builders will be hanged.’
The rope and gallows were arranged.
Frown- a facial expression indicating disapproval, displeasure, or concentration, characterized by a furrowing of one’s brows.
Gallows- a structure, typically of two uprights and a crosspiece, for the hanging of criminals
Since it was the King who ordered for it to be built, the workmen followed his orders and constructed the arch. To mark its inauguration and indulge the onlookers, the King went to the thoroughfare. There, the arch hit his head and his crown fell down. It happened because the arch was formed too low. His calm expressions were instantly changed, indicating extreme displeasure. He considered it a moment of dishonour and ordered for the chief of builders to be executed by hanging. To fulfill King’s orders, ropes and gallows were put in order.
The chief of builders was led out.
He passed the King. He gave a shout,
‘O King, it was the workmen’s fault’
‘Oh!’ said the King, and called a halt
To the proceedings. Being just
(And placider now) he said, ‘I must
Have all the workmen hanged instead.’
The workmen looked surprised, and said,
‘O King, you do not realise
The bricks were made of the wrong size.’
Halt- bring or come to an abrupt stop
The chief of builders was found and brought to be executed. He was being taken to the King. On seeing the King, the chief of builders immediately shouted and exclaimed that it was the workmen who were at fault. The King immediately called it off and declared that the workmen must be hanged. This hit the workmen with surprise. They pointed out that it was not their fault but the bricks were not of the right size.
‘Summon the masons!’ said the King.
The masons stood there quivering.
‘It was the architect…’, they said,
The architect was summoned.
Summon- order someone to be present
Masons- a person skilled in cutting, dressing, and laying stone in buildings
Quivering- trembling or shaking with a slight rapid motion
Architect- a person who designs buildings and in many cases also supervises their construction
On hearing that it was the bricks that were of the wrong signs, the King called for the masons. The masons were trembling in front of the King. They put the blame on the architect and thus, the architect was called for.
‘Well, architect,’ said His Majesty.
‘I do ordain that you shall be
Hanged.’ Said the architect, ‘O King,
You have forgotten one small thing.
You made certain amendments to
The plans when I showed them to you.’
The King heard this. The King saw red.
In fact he nearly lost his head;
But being a just and placid King
He said, ‘This is a tricky thing.
I need some counsel. Bring to me
The wisest man in this country.’
Ordain- order (something) officially
Amendments- a minor change or addition designed to improve something
Saw red- became angry
Counsel- advice, especially that given formally
The King tells the architect that he considers him the one at fault and he must be executed. Instantly, the architect mentions that it was the King who made minute changes to the architect’s initial plan. This indirectly indicated that it was the King who was responsible for the wrongly built arch. The King grew angry but since he was ‘just and placid’, he thought it would be best to consult someone in such a confusing situation. Thus, he ordered them to get the wisest person alive.
The wisest man was found and brought,
Nay, carried, to the Royal Court.
He could not walk and could not see,
So old (and therefore wise) was he —
But in a quavering voice he said,
‘The culprit must be punished.
Truly, the arch it was that banged
The crown off, and it must be hanged’.
Quavering- (of a person’s voice) shake or tremble in speaking, typically through nervousness or emotion.
They found the wisest man but he had to be carried to the Royal court for he was so old that he could neither walk nor see properly. With his age, came his wisdom. He finally spoke in his extremely shaky voice that the one at fault must be executed and it is the arch that striked off the King’s crown. Thus, the arch must be hanged.
To the scaffold the arch was led
When suddenly a Councillor said —
‘How can we hang so shamefully
What touched your head, Your Majesty?’
‘True,’ mused the King. By now the crowd,
Restless, was muttering aloud.
The King perceived their mood and trembled
And said to all who were assembled —
‘Let us postpone consideration
Of finer points like guilt. The nation
Wants a hanging. Hanged must be
Someone, and that immediately.’
Scaffold- a raised wooden platform used formerly for the public execution of criminals.
Mused- say to oneself in a thoughtful manner
After listening to the wise man’s opinion, the arch was being taken for public execution when suddenly one of the ministers of the Royal Court raised an objection. According to him, it would be disgraceful to hang something that touched the head of their mighty King. The King also found it appropriate. By this time, the crowd became unsettled. They wanted execution of the one at fault. The King, being ‘just and placid’, recognised the temper of his people and declared that they must postpone something as crucial as determining the guilty. He further added, that if the nation wants a hanging, the guilty, once decided, would be hanged without further delay.
The noose was set up somewhat high.
Each man was measured by and by.
But only one man was so tall
He fitted. One man. That was all.
He was the King. His Majesty
Was therefore hanged by Royal Decree.
Noose- a loop with a running knot, tightening as the rope or wire is pulled and used to trap animals or hang people
Decree- an official order that has the force of law
To ascertain the one to be executed, they set up a noose and the one to fit in it would be hanged. Each man was called and measured one by one. The noose was set up at quite a high point and the only man tall enough to fit in the noose was the one and only; the King. Finally, they had found someone to be executed and their King was hanged by the official force of law.
‘Thank Goodness we found someone,’ said
The Ministers, ‘for if instead
We had not, the unruly town
Might well have turned against the Crown.’
‘Long live the King!’ the Ministers said.
‘Long live the King! The King is dead.’
Unruly- disorderly and disruptive and not amenable to discipline or control
Against the Crown- questioning the power, integrity and honesty of the state
The Ministers of the Royal Court heaved a sigh of relief as they found someone to be put to death for the faulty arch. They feared that if they would have not found someone, the disorderly crowd would begin questioning the power and integrity of the power vested in the Crown. “Long live the King”, everyone said. It brings out the irony because the King they were hailing for, was no longer alive. They wanted their King to live a long life but on the other hand, they were relieved to have found someone to execute even if it was their King.
They pondered the dilemma; then,
Being practical-minded men,
Sent out the heralds to proclaim
(In His [former] Majesty’s name):
‘The next to pass the City Gate
Will choose the ruler of our state,
As is our custom. This will
be Enforced with due ceremony.’
Pondered- think about (something) carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion
Heralds- an official employed to oversee state ceremonial, precedence, and the use of armorial bearings, and (historically) to make proclamations, carry official messages, and oversee tournaments
Proclaim- announce officially or publicly
At first, the ministers were indecisive as to how to choose their new King. But reasonable as they were, they sent out the official messengers to declare that their next ruler will be chosen by the one who passes the City Gate next. The one chosen by him will be declared ‘King’ with due ceremony as was the custom.
A man passed by the City Gate.
An idiot. The guards cried, ‘Wait!
Who is to be the King? Decide!’
‘A melon,’ the idiot replied.
This was his standard answer to
All questions. (He liked melons.) ‘You
Are now our King,’ the Ministers said,
Crowning a melon. Then they led
(Carried) the Melon to the throne
And reverently set it down.
Reverently- with deep and solemn respect
The next to pass the City Gate was a man, nay, an idiot. The guards stopped him and asked him to name their next King. An idiot as he was, he answered, ‘a melon’. Not to call it his mistake or anyone else’s, this was his fixed reply to all the questions as the man was fond of melons. The ministers crowned a melon believing that it is now going to rule over their city. They set the melon on the throne and declared him ‘King’.
This happened years and years ago.
When now you ask the people, ‘So —
Your King appears to be a melon.
How did this happen?’, they say, ‘Well, on
Account of customary choice.
If His Majesty rejoice
In being a melon, that’s OK
With us, for who are we to say
What he should be as long as he
Leaves us in Peace and Liberty?’
The principles of laissez faire
Seem to be well-established there.
Customary- according to the customs or usual practices associated with a particular society, place, or set of circumstances
Rejoice- feel or show great joy or delight
Laissez faire- the policy of leaving things to take their own course, without interfering
Now, the melon was declared the King many years ago and now when anyone asks the people of the city about how it all happened, they simply call it a “customary choice”. It means that their regulations pushed them towards making a melon their King. But now, they are more than happy with their King being a melon because the people live in peace and enjoy freedom. They are flourishing with no interference by their King.
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The Tale of Melon City- Question and Answers
1. Narrate ‘The Tale of Melon City’ in your own words.
A. The poem “The Tale of a Melon City” narrates how the city found it’s new King, a melon. The story unfolds as their King orders to have an arch built which turned out to be too low. It hit the King’s head resulting in the falling off of his crown. The King thought it was dishonorable and thus, commands the chief of builders be hanged. The chief of builders lay the blame on the workmen who in turn, blamed the bricks. The King orders for the execution of the mason who put the blame on the architect. The architect is brought to the Royal Court and indirectly blames the King for the wrongly constructed arch. The placid King now grows angry and demands for the wisest man in the country to be brought to the Royal Court. They brought the wisest man, who was so old that he could neither see nor walk. According to him, the arch must be hanged. When the arch is supposed to be executed, one of the ministers argue that it would be a shame to punish something that had touched their mighty King’s head. Everyone, along with the King, agreed. The crowd grew restless and the King promised them a hanging. Therefore, a noose was set-up and the one to fit it would be hanged. All were measured one by one but the only one to fit was the King. The ministers heap a sigh of relief upon finding someone to execute. Thus, as a result of customary choice, the next to pass the City gate would choose the new King and the next to pass it was an idiot who wanted a melon to be their King. The melon was given the throne with due ceremony and the town lived happily ever after without any interruption or interference.
2. What impression would you form of a state where the King was ‘just and placid’?
A. Being ‘just’ means to treat everyone equally and to be fair in one’s dealings whereas being placid means portraying a calm and composed behaviour or not losing one’s cool easily. A state of monarch ruled by a ‘just and placid’ King must offer a safe space to its people. The people would have complete confidence in their King and that evil will get what they deserve. There would be equality and no one would be looked at with the sense of inferiority. People of the state would be happy and no one would go to bed empty-stomach. Therefore, a ‘just and placid’ King would ensure quality of living for all.
3. Suggest a few instances in the poem which highlight humour and irony.
- Who is to be the King? Decide!’ ‘A melon,’ the idiot replied.
- ‘You Are now our King,’ the Ministers said, Crowning a melon.
- A frown appeared upon his placid face.
- ‘Long live the King!’ the Ministers said. ‘Long live the King! The King is dead.’