The King’s Stilts

A few years ago, the pater looked at me with an amused smile on his face, and said, “I’ve been seeing you walking around with that book for weeks. Do you plan to finish it?” 

I gave him a mock sorrowful look. It was true. That summer, life had been jolly and full. The son was a baby then, and any time I could snatch away from my highly demanding work spot was split between the visiting folks, the kitchen, housekeeping, and the children. I cannot say that I felt effective in  any of these areas, but I was stretching myself as best as I could. Without a book to help me get a perspective in, I felt even more unmoored. So, I did the next best thing and walked around with the book in hand. The intention was there, when the moment presents itself, I could glance a page here, and a page there, I told myself.

No one in the household but the pater noticed that I had the same book with me for weeks. 

“Never fear! These are phases that will come and go, and once the children are grown, you will be able to read again.” , he said. Luckily, it turned out to be true. I did get a little more time on my hands mostly snatched during public transit commute times, or when I finally wound down at night, all the demands of the day done, and a fresh set of demands not yet hankering for attention till dawn. 

As I opened my library account, I realized the same thing had just happened again. I had gone for several weeks with the intention of finishing several books, and did not get the opportunity to do so. I felt like King Birtram in The King’s Stilts. A Dr Seuss book that I did manage to finish owing to its size. 

King Birtram is the hard-working, conscientious and just king of the low lying kingdom of Binn. He starts his day attending to all his administrative duties at the crack of dawn, signing papers and making decisions while taking his bath, eating his breakfast and is finished with his paperwork just in time to start his duties as commander in general who is in charge of keeping his cat army in tip-top shape, and motivated to protect the kingdom from the Nizzard birds.

His cats, are after all, critical to the functioning of the state. They keep the pesky nizzard birds at bay. The gizzard birds weaken the dike trees, and weakening those marvelous trees means the kingdom of Binn could be flooded within days since the trees are the only ones that are able to keep the waters at bay. 

King Birtram, however, never complains. He knows what needs to be done, and he is proud to do it. His moments of relaxation comes in the evening when his boy brings his stilts out for the king to play. The evenings with the king striding  across the kingdom playfully in his stilts endears the man to his subjects and all is well. 

Written with Dr Seuss’s characteristic humor, style and illustrations, the story takes an interesting turn when a judgmental courtier hides the King’s Stilts. The climax draws nearer and the perils of the water destroying the kingdom is even closer with every page. Does the King find his stilts? Is the kingdom a happy, prosperous place again?

Where am I going with this? Yes! The lack of reading made me feel like King Birtram deprived of his stilts. Lack-lustre, if you see what I mean. So, imagine the joy when I obtained a rare afternoon and evening in which I could read uninterrupted, and with no expectations of any kind?

Wild Souls – Freedom and Flourishing in the Non-Human World By Emma Marris will have a special place in my heart for providing me with this rare luxury last week-end. I have not galloped through a book that quickly or without guilt for a long time. 

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