"The Tale of Melon City" by Vikram Seth is a satirical poem that playfully critiques arbitrary systems of power and justice. The poem is set in a fictional city ruled by a seemingly just and placid king.
The king decides to build an arch on the city's main street for public admiration. However, while passing through the arch on his ride, his crown gets knocked off as the arch is too low. Enraged, he declares that the chief builder should be hanged for this blunder. The builder blames the workmen, who in turn blame the incorrect size of the bricks, which then leads to blaming the masons, and, finally, the architect.
When the architect is brought forward to be sentenced, he points out that the king himself had made amendments to the original plans for the arch. The king is momentarily angry at being implicated but quickly decides to seek advice from the wisest man in the kingdom.
The old and wise man suggests that the arch itself should be hanged as it was the direct cause of the incident. But this plan is soon discarded as a councillor points out that it would be shameful to hang something that touched the king's head. The king then proclaims that someone must be hanged for public satisfaction. When no one fits the noose, it ultimately falls upon the king himself, who is the tallest and thus is hanged by his decree.
To resolve the resulting power vacuum, the ministers, guided by tradition, declare that the next person to pass the city gate will choose the next ruler. The first person to pass is an "idiot," whose answer to any question is "a melon." Thus, a melon is crowned the king.
In the years that follow, the people of the city seem satisfied with the melon as their king, who, while it governs passively, ensures peace and liberty. The absurd conclusion reinforces the satirical tone of the poem, mocking the arbitrariness of power and the public's complacency in accepting any form of government as long as their daily lives are not disturbed.