The Tale of Melon City

Chapter Summary

Vikram Seth in his poem "The Tale of Melon City" describes Melon City and its autocracy due to the recklessness of its King. The poem is written with both "humour and irony". The poet mentions the King as the "just and placid King" who is highly concerned about his people as he decides and instructs to build an arch. Many workmen and builders started making an arch and upon finishing it the King was supposed to visit the arch.

There, the King faced embarrassment as his crown fell off his head. The angry King commanded to execute the builders first, then the workmen and finally the architect. This is where the poet brings the humour and the irony for the first time by reflecting the King as not so "just and placid".

However, the King cannot decide whom to punish and decides to punish anyone to avoid rebellion. He himself gets killed at the end and the city decides to choose a new King. They have a weird custom regarding the selection of a new King. They wait till the next day and pick the person who first passes by the city gate to decide on the new King. The person who passes the city gate tells them to make a melon their new King. The melon becomes the new King and the city gets named "Melon City".

What impression is formed of a state where the King was ‘just and placid’?

The words just and placid give the impression of a King who knows how to provide justice and how to stay calm in any given situation. He must have intellect and must know how to make the right decision. This would make a state the greatest of all other states. The scenario in The Tale of Melon City written by Vikram Seth was quite different though. The poet described the Melon City’s King as just and placid but in reality, he was the opposite of it. The poet has used these two words in a satirical sense to mock the judgement of the King. He kept ordering the execution of common people without any reason just to keep his face value. This in reality brought great chaos to the state.

How, according to you, can peace and liberty be maintained in a state?

The poet here describes a picture that how peace and liberty cannot be maintained. The poet has shown here various instances where the King kept ordering useless executions just for his mere ego. It did not matter to him if his order was justified or not. The poet wanted to suggest through this instance that to have peace and liberty in a state the leader of the state needs to have a fair sense of justice. He also wants to suggest that a leader needs to have a great deal of intelligence, unlike the King of this poem who gets easily manipulated by other people.

List a few instances from the poem which highlight humour and irony.

The Tale of the Melon City is completely written in a satirical sense where the author kept using irony to mean the opposite. The poet started his poem by mentioning the King as just and placid. However, later it is realised that he was the exact opposite. His crown fell off his head while he was passing under the arch and he felt embarrassed about that. He simply decided to execute the builder, then the workman, then the architect and finally the arch. An arch is an object, and nobody could execute it, but the way the author used this line created humour.

The next humour that came in the poem was when the King hung himself because of his stupid law. It showed that, although the head of any state needed to have a great deal of intelligence, he was a stupid King. The stupidity of the King got complimented by the stupidity of the man who chose a melon to be the next King. The poet here created the final humour with this incident. He portrayed that it did not matter to the common people who the King was as they crowned the melon as their new King.

‘The Tale of Melon City’ has been narrated in a verse form. This is a unique style which lends extra charm to an ancient tale. Find similar examples.

The poet Vikram Seth has written a narrative poem of an ancient tale by writing The Tale of Melon City. It is written in a verse form where every second line rhymes with the first line, as known as rhyming couplets. This writing style gives the poem the impression of prose in a form of narrative style story-telling. The name of the poem is The Tale of Melon City that in a literal sense means the story of Melon City. The poet here purposefully used the word tale during its naming to make it similar to the verse-like structure of the poem.


Q1. Why the city was called the melon city?

Ans. An idiot man chose a melon to be the King of the City after their old King’s death. The melon became the new king and the city became the melon city.

Q2. What are the two qualities the King actually had?

Ans. The King seemed to have the qualities such as gentle and fair. He was gentle because he thought about the welfare of his people and decided to build the arch. He was fair because he gave the builder, workmen and architects a chance to speak before ordering them to execute.

Q3. Who killed the King?

Ans. The King killed himself due to some bizarre situation. The King could not find who was guilty of his embarrassment and therefore could not decide whom to punish. He, however, was afraid of the rebellion of the people as he ordered them to execute anyone. Nobody could fit in the noose except the King and therefore he hanged himself.