King of Afghanistan

Just as our environment treats every man and woman differently so are they different with different tastes, different needs, different demands and different contributions.  Yet, nearly every one among us marches around with a firm concept in his mind of just how any man or woman should be, what he or she should eat, how to behave, how he should belch, dress himself (or herself), think, feel, and act.  And woe be he or she who falls short or long of the neighbor’s standards and demands.

One who taught me deeply about this was the aging King of Afghanistan.  In 1928 I was staying at Ankara Palace, a superb – and only – inn in the just-then-emerging capital of the “Young Turks”.  One morning as I was relaxing in this unobtrusive elegance, the hotel manager approached me, bowing ingratiatingly: His Majesty the King of Afghanistan would arrive this afternoon, and, with his retinue, occupy the entire inn.  Would I please, kindly, find other quarters?
My shock was as if the Empire State Building in New York had suddenly blown down with all the chunks and pieces falling on my head.  How did one go about finding “quarters” in this less than half finished emerging capital?
In a daze I gathered by things and took off in a taxi.
It was late in the afternoon when I discovered that my only pair of decent shoes had been left at the hotel.  I returned, knocked at the door of my old room and — since there was no answer — entered.  the room was half dark and seemed to be empty.  I headed straight for my bed, bowed down and peeked under it.  I sensed more than saw that I had company.  I turned and saw an extremely dignified elderly gentleman on his knees, helping me to peek.  As we both found nothing there, we looked at each other quizzically.  I hastily explained that I had occupied this room until this morning, had been told to leave because the King of Afghanistan was expected and in a hurry had forgotten my best shoes.
The gentleman nodded, with a troubled look.  “You know,” he said, “that was not very nice to ask you to leave just because a king was coming.  Kings ought to be told more frequently what inconvenience they cause.”
The gentleman helped me search the room, stood on tip-toe looking on top of shelves, came down on his knees peeking under chairs.  Finally, he looked searchingly at my feet.
“You know,” he said, “it just seems to me you must use the same size of shoes as myself and it just so happens that I have more of them than I really care for and can use at the moment..”
He opened a monogrammed leather suitcase and there were six pairs of various types, neatly stacked inside.
“Do you think any of these will do?”
“No, no, thank you; I wouldn’t dream of..”
But he had already taken out a luxurious pair, set me down in a chair and tried them on me.  From his kneeling position he smiled up at me, “A perfect fit.”
At that moment there was a perfunctory knock at the door and a splendidly uniformed dignitary entered.  He eyed the kneeling figure at my side and exploded, “But your maj – ma – jesty!”
I walked out from that hotel on air, in a King’s shoes, recalling that old Indian saying, “Judge no man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.”

from Planet Earth Demands

0 thoughts on “King of Afghanistan

  1. Carol says:

    I had sent this message out by email to people who knew Shamcher a few years ago. Yes, it is a good story, but also it has layers of meaning which reveal the power of his being completely in the moment, rooted to a centre of all things that came out in his writing. The whole section that compares his feelings as “the empire state building crashing down around him” seemed to me so resonant with the world trade center Sept. 11, along with the context of Afghanistan. Of course this meaning layer is outside of the story.

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