Monday, 3 December 2012

The Tale of Melon City: Analysis

  • Born 20 June 1952 (age 59)
  • A polygot, a poet, novelist, travel writer, librettist, children's writer, biographer and memoirist 
  • NOVELS: The Golden Gate, A Suitable Boy, An Equal Music, A Suitable Girl 
  • POETRY: Mappings, The Humble Administrator’s Garden, All You Who Sleep Tonight, Beastly Tales, Three Chinese Poets, The Frog and the Nightingale
  • CHILDREN’S BOOK: Beastly Tales
  • 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 decisions
              - 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 outcome
              - 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”.


  1. Very Well Explained, But explanation could go in detail.........

  2. @Unknown: Thank you for the comment and compliment. However, the idea is to help students analyze the text on their own, based on the suggestions in the post, not to spoon feed them :)

  3. Thank you so much for this explanation. Unlike anything else on the internet, this gave a concise look into the deeper meaning if the poem; very helpful for students who could not understand it on their own.

  4. R u nuts! The idea should be to sumarize the whole poem rather than relate the ideas of the poet with the present world!

  5. @Shahran: You're entitled to your opinion. However, mere summarizing is neither the purpose of this site nor of modern-day education :)

  6. i agree that "mere summarizing is neither the purpose of this site nor of modern-day education" :)
    really helpful.............please continue ur awesome works!

  7. thank you! this was very helpful indeed. thank you.

  8. thank you! this was very helpful indeed. thank you.

  9. Beautiful material, thanks a ton!

  10. Hats off 2 u!great critical appreciation f d satire..its gud dat rather than summary u dealt wid objective n unnoticed aspects f it.

  11. hey
    this helped me alot
    could u please give ans. to the following question
    do you think today's political class is like melons. if yes why?

  12. The idea of a melon on the throne is to be governed by a non-interfering silent ruler. An authority figure who asserts no authority at all. Are today's political leaders non-interfering and silent, no, I don't think so. However, in being least bothered about the problems of the citizens, yes, they are like melons.

    P.S. - Food for thought: With the recent influx of young, educated, secular politicians in opposition and leading government, we may finally be able to see melons as nothing but food for consumption.

  13. my ma'am copied whole of it and gave it to us as our assignment

  14. my ma'am has given us this page as our assignment
    gotu ma'am

    1. Thanks for letting me know, sweetheart.

      While I pity a school and teacher who cannot come up with original assignments, I'll take your comment as a complement, Deepansha. Glad to bless the lesser mortals ;)

    2. xD 'the lesser mortals'
      Do you write, ma'am? I mean, non text related? I'd love to read.

  15. how, acoording to you, can peace and liberty be maintained in a state?


    1. Sweetie, it's a truly subjective question. An intelligent question, nonetheless. Think about it on your own. Perhaps the following questions would help:

      1) Would you be peaceful and truly independent if the ruler of your native land were a mute melon?

      2) Would peace and freedom mean as much in an always peaceful and free society?

      3) Which is an ideal goverment, according to you? - one that controls most activities of the nation, supports division of responsibility between the public and private, only active in emergencies or one that takes a backseat in all situations letting the public do what it wants, when it wants and how it wants?

      These are questions most of us would answer differently. Hence, you'd have to find your own answer, around the themes reflected in the questions above.

    2. cn u pls explain in detail the"Laissez Faire"?

    3. So justify it :D

      It's the story of a city and how it came to be ruled by a melon. Hence, the name 'The Tale of Melon City'.

      Of course, if it comes as a longer question, you would have to discuss the story a bit. It's like a fairy tale gone wrong, isn't it? The beginning similar to fairy tales by introducing the protagonist once upon a time. ...

      To me, the title is also reminiscent of 'The Tale of Two Cities'... but that's an avenue best left unexplored for CBSE purposes.

      Just remember that in literature, interpretation is as limitless as your imagination. A good author weaves together multiple hidden layers. It sounds like a cliche but there are so many books which seem to be different to me each time I read them.

  16. how, according to you, can peace and liberty be maintained in a state? ans in context to this poem.

  17. Thank you ! Your method of raising certain points to answer broad, subjective questions is quite helpful. Thorough with it now . Thanks a lot !

  18. can u please explain
    The principles of laissez faire
    Seem to be well established there.

    PS: the analysis of each unit is great. I admire the concept of dividing ideas into pre , main , and the post analysis.

  19. please explain
    The principles of laissez faire
    Seemed to be well establihed there.

    PS: the analysis of each unit is great. I admire the concept of dividing ideas into pre, main and post analysis.

  20. @Tejas: Thanks for the compliment. Laissez Faire is a hypothetical form of governance where there is no interference by the government. People are free to do what they want, when they want and how they want. If a melon sits on the throne, the economy obviously faces no interference by the ruler. The questions to ask yourself is what would happen to a nation which has a non-interfering government.

  21. thank you very much for the very efficiently done analysis of the above.
    it has been of great help in relating the poet's views to current Indian political structure.
    also the explanation of Laissez Faire in the above comment has been very helpful.

  22. @Shivangi and Anonymous: Thanks :)

  23. The way explained is really awesome!!!!! It helped me a lot!!!

  24. Good job done , as a teacher i read many expalnations, summaries etc , just to see whats new aswell to broaden my outlook at time i might overlook a point and woukd hate it .
    I will in future connectthe blame game to todays usual behaviour

  25. @all: Thank you for your positive comments.