When I first read ‘Vikram and Betal’ I was perplexed by all the riddles and captivated by all of the answers. That book holds a special place in my heart not only because of the wonderful story and conundrums posed by the spirit who tries to trick the King but also because it made me realize that things are not always what they seem.
In the story, King Vikram is tricked by a saint to get him the corpse hanging on the tree so that he could gain ultimate power. The King doesn’t realize this at first and as a man of his word persists in capturing the corpse (Betal) and answering his many riddles.
In the end, when he finds the truth, he vanquishes the trickster and saves the corpse.
A few years back, when I picked up the book again, I was once again mesmerized by the depth of the story that I hadn’t really noticed before. It asked questions that not many literary works do and it had answers that I would have never come to.
The twenty-five riddles were not just puzzles and a plot device of the story, but a way for the reader to analyze a situation in a different manner. This was something I had not seen before, much less analyzed it.
At the end of every tale when Betal asked Vikram questions like who was the bravest of them all or who was the most loyal, it never occurred to me that sometimes every story that we come across doesn’t always portray the real hero.
For example, when Betal asks Vikram who was the most brave and who’s sacrifice was the greatest when the man guarding the King kills himself and his family and when the King learns of his servant’s sacrifice, kills himself too, I expected the answer to be different.
Clearly, the servant’s loyalty was commendable and I thought the King had been foolish to sacrifice his life after the servant was already dead. It turns out that the King’s sacrifice had indeed been greater because while it was the servant’s job to protect the King, it wasn’t the King’s duty to do so.
Vikram’s answer to the riddle, took me by surprise and from thereon, it gave me a different outlook on how I perceive things.
The other day I was watching an episode of ‘The Adventures of Tintin’. Tintin in Tibet is one of my favorite comics in the series and the animated show did full justice to it- stretching it to two episodes and highlighting all the great and memorable scenes in the comic.
The ending of the story had always bothered me and learning from ‘Vikram and Betal’ I asked myself a question: Who was actually a true friend?
That was when I realized what it was about the ending that didn’t make sense to me. Right before the story ends, the monks from a nearby monastery revere Tintin for having a brave heart and being a true friend to Chang.
Chang was a young boy who Tintin had befriended in China a long time ago. When he has a strange dream about him and learns that Chang may have been involved in a plane crash, he immediately makes his way to Nepal to search for him.
Despite all obstacles- rough weather, avalanches, etc.- Tintin perseveres, eager to find his friend and bring him back home. Obviously Tintin is a noble person and a great friend for doing all this for Chang.
Bu then there’s that nagging question that I asked myself at the end: Was Tintin really a true friend and deserve all the praise from the monks for being the noblest?
Yes, he was. He did a lot for Chang and that did make him a good friend and noble. But, Captain Haddock was a better friend.
Like the riddle Betal poses to Vikram, Tintin knew Chang and wanted to save him; Captain Haddock did not. He was friends with Tintin and faithful to him. He saw that Tintin wanted to save his friend and embark on a perilous journey. The Captain could have stayed back, but he wanted to be there for his friend.
Captain Haddock then proceeds to show what an incredible his friend he was and ready to sacrifice himself for Tintin’s sake. When he slips and falls off a cliff while still tied to Tintin, he is ready to sacrifice his life by cutting the rope so that Tintin could be safe and continue to search for Chang.
Fortunately he is saved, but that scene cemented the fact that Tintin was lucky to have Captain Haddock by his side- a man who was ready to face just as many obstacles for a boy he barely knew.
Too bad, his sacrifice is hardly acknowledged, but I hoped Tintin did appreciate the Captain’s sacrifice of hauling himself all the way over to Tibet to find his friend.
Reading these two stories, gave me a different perspective and made me realize that the hero is not always the one standing in the front or the one who’s face is plastered all over the covers of books.
Sometimes it’s the ones standing at the back who make sacrifices for the hero without being too flamboyant about it.