A folk Tale from Pakistan

Once upon a time there lived a young king who was generous and wise. The king often wandered in the streets in disguise, for he loved to listen to his people’s conversations. He wanted to understand their ideals and dreams.

One evening as the king passed a fragrant garden, he overheard four young women whispering. He ducked behind an orange tree to listen without showing himself.

The first young woman said: “I think meat must be the sweetest thing in the world. I have never tasted it, but I see people enter the butcher’s shop, their mouths watering, and no one ever wastes a single bite.”

The second girl laughed. “Meat cannot compare to wine. I have never tasted wine, but I watch those who drink whole bottles and afterward they trip and fall and hurt themselves, but the next day they return for more. Wine must be the sweetest thing.”

“Nonsense,” said the third girl. “Nothing is as sweet as love. If this were not true, my mother would not be so filled with joy whenever my father is near, and couples would not laugh so heartily when they are in love.”

The fourth young woman smiled. “Love and wine and meat may be sweet, but nothing in the world is as sweet as telling a lie.”

The king was startled and could not wait to hear her explanation, but then one of the others said, “Look how late it’s getting. We must go home.”

The king secretly followed them, and he watched carefully to see where the fourth young woman lived. The next morning he sent his minister to go to the narrow cobbled street, to the tiny gray house with a gray door, and to bring the man who lived there to the palace.

When the man appeared, the king said, “Sir, do you have a daughter?”

“Yes,” said the man. “My Khalida. Has she done something wrong?”

“No, no,” said the king, “but I ask you to bring her to me.”

The man shook his head hard. “Khalida is only a poor girl. It would not be right for her to visit the palace.”

“Nonsense,” said the king. “If Khalida is your daughter, she is my family as well, for we are all one family.”

The next day Khalida appeared. The king looked into her lovely eyes. “Khalida,” he said, “tell me why you think that telling lies is the sweetest thing in the world.”

“Everyone does it. There is nothing else everyone does,” she said simply.

“But Khalida, many people do not lie.”

Khalida shook her head. “Everyone lies,” she said. “Even you will lie one day.”

The king thought he was thoroughly honest. “I cannot imagine that,” he said.

“Your majesty, if you will give me a thousand rupees and six months, I will prove this to you.”

The king could not resist, and so he gave Khalida the money, and six months later she sent a message to the king, inviting him to visit the beautiful home she had built not far away.

At once the king set off, taking two ministers with him. When they arrived, they stared in wonder. “It is exquisite,” the king said. “More impressive than my palace!”

Khalida nodded. “Yes, of course, for this is the house of God.”

“I see,” the king said hesitantly. And Khalida could see he believed she was telling a lie.

“I promise you, I tell the truth,” Khalida said. “You may come inside to see for yourself, but you must know two things. First, God reveals himself only to one person at a time, and second, he will not reveal himself to anyone who has ever sinned.”

The king sent his first minister inside. “Go tell me what you see,” he said, and so the man stepped inside a room so lovely, he knew this must be the house of God.

He stared, and he waited, but he did not see God, and soon he began to worry. If he confessed he had not seen God, he would be confessing he had sinned.

And so, when the first minister walked outside, he cried, “I saw him!”

“And what did he say?” the king asked.

The minister shook his head. “He forbade me to reveal his words.”

Now the second minister entered, and he too saw nothing, and he too fretted. The king might punish him for sinning. He gazed about and thought, “It is so lovely surely it is possible that God lives here.”

And so outside he said, “I saw him too! And we spoke, but I am not permitted to tell you his words.”

Now the king eagerly and confidently entered, but when he looked around, his heart sank. He saw no one. How could both his ministers see the deity and he could not? How had he sinned? He could remember nothing he had done wrong. He felt embarrassed.

When he walked outside, he looked sheepishly at his ministers and at Khalida.

“Have you seen God?” she asked.

He bowed his head. “Yes,” he said softly. “I did.”

“Truthfully?” Khalida asked.

“Yes,” he repeated. Khalida asked three times, and each time the king answered yes. He had seen God.

Khalida laughed. “But, sir, God is a spirit, and no one can see a spirit.”

The king blushed. “I lied,” he said. Then the ministers confessed they had too.

Khalida nodded. “Sometimes we tell lies to save ourselves, but you are king, and have nothing to fear from a poor girl. You must have lied because the lie itself tasted sweet.”

Now the king saw that Khalida truly understood human nature. Moved by her wit and her wisdom, he fell in love, and he asked her to marry him. And soon Khalida was the queen, and soon she became the king’s most trusted adviser, admired by all.

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