Emperor Akbar was very fond of perfumes. He had a large collection of different perfumes from all over the country and abroad. It was the Emperor’s birthday. A huge pandal was put up in the garden of his palace. Beautiful mattresses and cushions of silk were arranged neatly all over the pandal.
The Emperor, his courtiers and the guests were seated on the mattresses and cushions. The guests arrived one by one. They presented their gifts to Akbar and took their seats. One of Akbar’s courtiers offered a paan and a cotton pellet dipped in perfume to all the guests. The courtier went to a guest who was sitting near Akbar.
Birbal was watching all this. When Akbar realized this, his behaviour left him feeling rather abashed. Birbal started looking in the other direction and pretended as if he had seen nothing. But Akbar could not get over the incident. Akbar could not sleep that night. He was very upset. He kept wondering, “What will Birbal think of me? Oh God! What a silly man I am! What a foolish and embarrassing behaviour it was on my part! Only for a tiny drop of perfume! What will happen if Birbal spreads this story? What about my prestige?
People will ridicule me saying “Look at the Emperor. How could he be so stingy?” Now I will have to prove and convince Birbal that I do not care for perfumes. He should know that I am the least bothered even if the costliest perfumes spill out.”
The following day, Akbar ordered his men to empty the pond in his palace and to pour all the bottles of perfume that he had into the pond. Then he issued a proclamation in the city, “All those who want perfume may collect it from the pond in the Emperor’s palace.” Soon, a big crowd gathered at the pond to collect the perfume. While the people were collecting the perfume, Akbar stood there proudly holding his head high. He thought, “I am sure that Birbal will now come to know that I do not care for perfumes.”
After a while, Birbal arrived at the pond. Akbar looked at him and said proudly, “My dear Birbal! How do you do? Look! A large number of people are here to collect perfume.”
Birbal said calmly, “Pardon me, Your Majesty, but the prestige which was lost for a drop (of perfume) can never be regained through a pond (of perfume).”
Akbar lost his prestige for a small drop of perfume. He could never regain his prestige, even after filling a pond with perfume and giving it away to the people. Akbar was very depressed. Birbal realized that his harsh words had hurt the Emperor’s feelings. He lovingly embraced Akbar. Akbar, too, smiled and felt relieved.