Birbal, one of the nine jewels of Emperor Akbar’s court, apart from being a ready wit was also an expert in doing portraits. So one day Abkar being in a jolly mood asked Birbal to do a sketch of him.
A delighted Birbal had his easel and colors fetched, sat the emperor down in a courtyard and started to paint. It took about 3-4 hours for the sitting and Birbal promised to show Akbar the completed painting, next day.
So next day in court, Akbar was presented with the portrait. It was a good painting and Akbar was very pleased with it. With a glowing countenance he praised Birbal’s art. This obviously did not go down well with courtiers present who were anyways jealous of Birbal’s proximity to the emperor. So they requested the emperor, if they could have a look at the portrait as well.
The painting was passed around and Akbar could see that the reaction in court was muted. No one praised it properly. Upon inquiry, one of the courtiers replied: “Your majesty, rest of the painting is good but pardon me for saying, your ears seem a little big”. Next one joined in: “Your Majesty, the size of your eyes also seem mismatched”. Yet another one had problem with size of emperor’s head and so the critique went on. By the end of it, color had drained from Akbar’s face and he was visibly unhappy.
Seeing this, Birbal clever as he was, took the painting and started to stare at it as though studying it afresh. Minutes went by as the whole court watched, before Birbal exclaimed: “The courtiers are right Jaha-panah. I do see all the faults now. I am sorry and realize that I will have to learn this art from our esteemed friends here. So if you can direct one of them to make this portrait again I will be happy to accompany him as an observer”.
Hearing this, the courtiers realized that they had been outplayed. Any painting that they did now, would get critiqued likewise. So the environment shifted instantly. Another courtier stepped forward: “Maharaj, on second thoughts it doesn’t look so bad. Actually it is quite good”.
Rest soon joined the chorus.
Initially Akbar was taken aback at this turnaround. Then realizing Birbal’s presence of mind he began to laugh uproariously.