Monday, 31 December 2007


Some people insist to measure and judge you by that which you are not, which you do not have, you cannot, or that which you do not know. Reject this stupid abuse; assert credit for who you are, for what you do and what you know. This reminds me of a story:

The splendid court of Samarkand was glittering with the loot of twelve conquered kingdoms.

Maulana Nasr Ed Din, the eating guest of Emir Tamerlane spent his days dressed in pure silk, sat at the King's table, and lay his fingers on the finest delicacies brought from the confines of the empire. The advisers sought his advice and the powerful laughed heartily at the bite of his jokes, while the Kinsman of the Khan showered him with small gold coins.

It is related that a party of young noble princes, still unknowing of the ways of the world, met the old Mullah one day amidst the trees of the royal garden and challenged his worth:

"Now tell us Seeker of the Truth, from all people you must know; how many grains of sand make a heap?"

"I do not know, blue-blooded princes."

"Why, then will you care to tell us Dervish, this simple thing: Why can you see in a mirror your right and left eye and ear reversed in the reflection but not your face up side down?"

"If I only knew, priceless offspring of your lordly fathers."

"Then tell us at the least, Fakir, what is the meaning of life?"

"This, I only know that I do not know, splendid princes."

At this, the young noblemen exclaimed:

"You don't know this, and don't know that! Why then are you, tired old jerk, fed and dressed and honoured at the royal tables as if you were the wisest of all people?"

"O, noble seeds", replied Hoca, "I am dressed in silk and fed with good food for the little that I know. For if I were to be rewarded for what I don't know, all the treasuries of the world put together would not be sufficient."

Sunday, 30 December 2007

God’s kingdom

It is hard to correct people who know for certain but there are ways to make them discover the wider truth; here is one of my ways of doing it: to challenge peoples' certitudes from inside grow them. Develop them. Usually, they burst into paradox. Then, help them rise and see themselves from above, at their real dimension, where what they do to other people is applied to them. This reminds me of a story:

One day Nasrudin found a dervish stealing figs in his orchard.

As he grabbed the fakir by the neck he shouted:

“What do you think you are doing here sheikh?”
“Nothing wrong, answered the Sufi with insolent confidence. I am Allah’s loving servant, feeding on the fruit of God’s tree in Allah’s garden.”

“Is that so!”, growled the Hodja and proceeded to beat him with no pity but with a solid wooden stick instead.

“Infidel! screamed the dervish, how do you dare rising your hand upon a saint? Don’t you see what you are doing?”

“Nothing wrong, replied the Hodja. Just hitting the servant of Allah, with the stick of Allah, under the tree of Allah, to preserve Allah’s garden.”

Hearing this, the dervish found enlightenment.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

A horse saved me

We don't learn from experience, but from the way we understand it. It is God's hand in everything or simply the work of your own hand. This reminds me of a story:

After another one of his many battles with the rebellious Black Sheep, Timur rode back to his tents and sat on his throne, surrounded by his court. For a long time the roomful of courtiers and noblemen was silent, waiting for him to speak. Until finally he sighed loudly and said:

"A horse saved me."

Everyone started breathing again and rivalled in ooh's and aah's, glad as they were to learn that their master was safe and sound, and, additionally, that he harboured no bad feelings towards them, at least not for the moment.

"How did this happen, Amir?" asked the Grand Vizier of the Grand Emir.

The Grand Emir took a deep breath, and told the story, slowly and eloquently:

"Impetuous in my chasing of an enemy chieftain whose name is already forgotten, and which I wanted to cut to pieces with my own hand, I found myself suddenly surrounded by the vicious scum. Even my huge army is of no use when it is just one stone-throw too far. Five despicable janissaries cornered me in a dried-out riverbed. They fought like enraged dogs, their greedy eyes injected with the mad hope that they would earn their ruler's favour by taking my head. They almost took it, in fact. But then, with my arrows spent and my lance broken, when my strength was beginning to wane and I felt the sword grow heavy in my hand, my faithful Al Sifr did the impossible and jumped up over the riverside. It is good to feel the steppe running free under your stallion."

He paused. Everyone waited for him to finish, and he did:

"This event shall be mentioned in the Malfuzat-i Timuri. Let the future generations learn that once, a horse saved my life!"

The court cheered for the ruler, until Hoca's voice was heard to say:

"Once, a fish saved my life."

Even the Emir was curious to hear how such a miraculous thing happened.

"At one time, shipwrecked, I was about to die, explained Nasruddin, alone in a small boat, drifting on the sea.
I had nothing to eat or drink for so many days I had stopped counting. I was starving.

And then, as I see you and you see me, a fat fish jumped out of the water and fell in my boat.
I caught it and ate it. It saved my life."

Hearing this, the Conqueror waved a weary hand and proceeded to attend usual business.

Friday, 28 December 2007


Things that do not exist have an enormous potential; unhindered by fact, everything becomes possible. to imaginary problems you can impart imaginary solutions, at will. Moreover, the non existent is indistructible and forever reliable. Build your castles in imaginary, intangible realms and you will never be proven wrong. This reminds me of a story:

When Hodja was a cadi, two peasants came to plead their case.

The first one was very convinced of his right:

“This man was carrying a big load of dry wood. He lost balance and fell. The wood spread all around him. As I was near him, he asked me for help. I asked him what he would give me for the assistance.

“Nothing.” he answered.

I agreed: “All right, I will do it for nothing.”

I gathered with him all the fallen wood and then put it on his back. When we got to his home I asked him to pay me nothing but he refused. It is my right though. I demand to be paid as agreed.”

The second man confessed that indeed he did agree to pay nothing, so that there was nothing to pay and this is why he refused to pay something that was nothing at all.

Nasrudin considered the case with his usual determination to impart justice:

“Given word must be kept. You helper, come forth!

He pointed to the small rug in front of his chair:

“Lift the rug and tell me what you see under it!”

The man did and said:


“Perfect, “said Hodja “now take the nothing and go your way.”

Thursday, 27 December 2007

The key to heaven and hell

Few things teach like show-how. Only experience is stronger. Reserve this for the important insights. This reminds me of a story:

One early morning, Tamerlane sent for Nasrudin.

"Listen, worm" he spoke, "Once more I did not find sleep this night. I was thinking of Hell and Heaven. I was trying to figure how those places could be. But there was a veil on my mind's eye.
I thought I give you a chance to teach me today about the kingdoms of the after-world, or, if you don't know, to send you to find out for me. See what I mean?"

Hoca looked the Emir in the eye and said:

"You don't need to know both those places, old thief. And who are you, but a lame duck with a rusty sword, unworthy of even raising your question to such unworldly things?"

Red in the face, Timur drew his formidable scimitar to chop the insolent head and wash his hands in fresh blood.

Nasrudin was flung on his knees. The curved blade rose above him like the wing of Azrael.

"Now this," said quickly the Hoca, catching the eye of the king, "this is Hell."

Timur, fast in spirit as he was short in temper, understood and felt pleased. A smile sweetened his face.

"Be it, you are forgiven for the teaching. I reward you with a sack of gold, a maiden to put your heart back and new silken chalvars, as you may need them. Rise and sit on the pillow by my right side."

"And this is Heaven, sublime Padishah!" bowed the Mullah, sweet like honey, while taking a seat by the feet of Tamerlane.

But in his heart, he was thinking otherwise.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Ask Abdul

Cultivate the art of profuse excuses. Nobody believes them but at least you prove that you care and have imagination. This reminds me of a story:

A neighbour came, again, to ask Hodja to lend him his donkey, Abdul.

“I must go and ask Abdul first,” answered Nasrudin.” If he agrees, he’s yours for the whole day.”

He went and came back after a short while:

“How unfortunate! He is totally unwilling.

He said that things can only go wrong, and I, his master will come out with a disadvantage.

If you go in front of him, he will bite you. If you go behind him, he will kick you. If you mount him he will bolt and throw you. Anyway, whatever of these, you will curse me.”

Tuesday, 25 December 2007


Tempters are those who lure you to be what you are not, or worse, to think no evil. It is a loosing game. This reminds me of a story:

The mighty and terrible Tamerlane, conqueror of numberless kingdoms, had, besides his awesome qualities, a couple of minor shortcomings. He was limping - to the comfort of his enemies who called him Timur the Lame - his hand was crippled and he was also blind in one eye, as it seems. But where he set his foot the grass never grew again and everything he saw with that one evil eye of his he proved able to conquer. At the zenith of his fortunes, he desired to be handsome too.

Alas, the Emir could not conquer, grab and burn himself to the ground to get what he wanted. So, he thought to pay. He promised a shower of gold and emeralds and honours to whomever cured him.

Unfortunately, the healers were shy to come forward, as Tamerlane's temper was notorious.

For want of volunteers, the impatient ruler reverted to his favourite scapegoat, Nasrudin. Thrown at the feet of the Emir, Hoca was given a choice. He could heal the foot, hand and eye of the master and finish his days old, rich and healthy, covered in honours, if Allah wanted so. Alternatively, he could leave this wicked world quickly under the hatchet, Inch Allah.

Nasrudin chose without difficulty.
"If it is an order then with pleasure, Great one! Just allow me two full moons to prepare."

After the second crescent filled, Hoca came forth:

"Here is the cure, master. With Allah's will you can try it once in a lifetime. For three days and three nights, you must not close your eye to sleep, you must only drink holy water from this jar, only eat these magic figs and rule the world from the height of the old palm tree in front of the imperial serai. For three days and three nights, you must ceaselessly recite the verses of the Holy Book while I will faithfully watch your shadow and pray to keep away the evil one. At the fourth dawn, you will be changed, as you like. With one easy condition only. Never ever during the three days and even less in the darkness of the nights will you think of the monkey, that impure fickle creature unable to concentrate on things of the spirit. If even for one instant its image or name profane your soul everything is lost! Do you wish to accept this peril?"
"I do," replied the king.

The courtiers gathered to witness the miracle. All the monkeys were chased out of Samarkand. The exalted person of the Grand Emir was helped up to the top of the palm tree with a jar of holy water, the magic figs and of course the Holy Book.

It was such a sad time for the sultan. Stronger than the prayers, more appetising than the figs, burning more than thirst and the hope of beauty, during three days and three nights one image haunted the mind of the great warrior: the Monkey.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Just playing

He who steals an egg today, will steal an ox tomorrow. Hunger develops imagination; that is true for the fool but not for the idiot. This reminds me of a story:

Once, when Nasrudin was still a kid, his father sent him with a sack of wheat to the mill. There was a long waiting line. Nasrudin spent his time snatching handfuls of wheat from other people’s sacks and adding it to his own. This went on until the miller caught him:

“What do you think you do here!?” he shouted.
“Oh, sorry,” answered Nasrudin “I am such a fool! I imagined myself when I was a baby playing in the sand. In my distraction I was carrying wheat here and there.”
“Since you are a fool, why didn’t you take grain from your bag into the others’?”
“Excuse me” replied Nasrudin, “I am a fool, not an idiot.”

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Looking in the mirror

Be careful, kings only, and not all of them, understand that having a jester at court – to tell them bold truth – is a luxury. Common people laugh at your jest and then treat you for an idiot. Be sparing with making a fool of yourself! This reminds me of a story:

The Spanish envoy, chamberlain Clavijo, offered to Tamerlane a precious chest full of barbarian presents. Among the daggers with jewelled hilts, Toledo swords, scarlet brocade, unknown Christian saints’ icons and heavy chains of gold, there was a rare device, a superbly polished silver mirror.

With that mirror the Iron Emir looked at his own royal face and did not like what he saw. A tear escaped from his vulture eye and quickly ran across the ravaged battlefield of his face to hide in the fearsome dark beard.

Nasrudin Hodja, the wise fool and favourite jester, prostrated at the sultan’s feet, burst into loud crying and laments. Timur was first impressed but Hoca went on and on weeping and tearing his hair out for hours until the Emir grew annoyed:

"Don't you go too far, Mullah? What do you think you are doing?"
"But Majesty, you only saw your worshipped face for one faltering moment and you had a tear in your eye. Consider us your humble loving subjects who have to look at your face for hours, everyday, year after year!"

Saturday, 22 December 2007

The right time

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:” A time to be born, and a time to die; …a time to be wise and a time to be like everybody else. Don’t choose the wrong time. This reminds me of a story:

Hodja was travelling alone in the wilderness.

Suddenly a tiger appeared, not far away. Hodja run for his life. As he didn’t have time to look, he slid behind the bushes into a precipice. By chance, he got hold with one hand of a large root hanging out from the rocks. He looked upwards. The tiger growled at him from above. He looked down. Below, another tiger was snarling at him. He felt weary. Two small legendary mice, one black and one white proceeded to slowly gnaw at the firm sustaining root. Nasrudin’s heart filled with fear. Then he saw in the green moss in front of his nose a sweet, fragrant, red strawberry. With a short movement, while clutching one hand on the root he picked the fruit with the other and eat it, and it was marvellous. Then he felt weary again. The mice kept playfully nibbling the root. His hands grew numb. His thoughts grew dark. Now, a noble, calm, quieting voice from nowhere spoke to him:

“Let go, Nasrudin… Relax and let go… Life is but a dream…Let go now…”

To this, Nasrudin replied:

“Get lost! I need help not illumination!”

Friday, 21 December 2007

Tamerlane’s elephant

Noble is sacrifice for the public good! It will be wise though to ask yourself whether a given public is good enough to deserve it. This reminds me of a story:

After trampling so many of Bajazet’s spahis and janissaries in the great battle of Ankara, Tamerlane’s war elephants deserved a vacation and good food. Accordingly, the Emir spread them to pasture one by one in many Turkish villages with orders to let them feed aplenty and to treat them with the respect due to his own envoys. One, ended up in Nasrudin’s village.

First, the villagers gathered to admire that beast never seen before. As they all enjoyed excellent eye-sight, they admired the whole and choose each of them their preferred part. One observed that the animal had legs like trees or stone pillars. Another marveled at the trunk and called it a water spout. The third compared the ears with huge fans, large like carpets. Yet another admired the back, large and haughty, equal to a throne. But while they replenished their eyes the elephant filled its belly.

This huge nosy creature couldn’t help heaving big feet and even bigger appetite. In no time he ate up a good part of the villagers’ crops and that which he didn’t gobble up he crushed into the ground.

Something had to be done. After a couple of days the peasants rebelled. Red with courage they came to Hodja and demanded him to head their complaining delegation to Tamerlane.

Nasrudin tried to shy away but they convinced him for the public good. The numerous delegation started bravely towards Timur’s camp. Curiously, as they advanced, more and more of the villagers were left behind and disappeared. Hodja who didn’t look left or right, absorbed as he was with what to say to the Emperor, suddenly found himself in his presence, alone.

“Miserable cowards, they left me alone” he thought as the Ruler asked him, with a very cold eye, what he wanted.

“I came to tell you, Sultan, that the people in our village greatly admire your wonderful elephant. But we must complain on its behalf.”

Tamerlane rose an eyebrow:


“The wonderful beast is lonely without a mate and all of us worry for its health. Our whole village begs your Highness to provide a she-elephant as a company for our guest.”

At this, Timur was pleased. Nasrudin was awarded a robe of honour and told to extend greetings to the population.

On the way home the delegation grew back in size:

“What did the Emperor say?” they inquired.

“Good news,” answered Hodja with enthusiasm. “As he saw me alone while I mentioned the elephant he immediately guessed that our beast also feels lonely. He agreed to send a mate to appease him. We will now be a renowned village displaying two elephants!”

Thursday, 20 December 2007

About learning

I witness that besides growing the freedom of choices in your mind, learning helps you feel less lonely when everybody deserted you. Many souls are with you when you learn. This reminds me of a story:

One morning, four years before his days were all counted Tamerlane had Nasrudin called and said:

"This day I feel inclined to ponder. It occurs to me that I spent so much of my life reading the thoughts of my enemies and then, counting their skulls, that I didn't take time all these years to read books and better myself. Is it too late for me? As you are a teacher, teach me. How would that be, to seek improvement at my age?"

"You can always light a small candle, Great Amir"

"Are you testing my patience, worm? What help is a small candle for the master of an empire spread from sunrise to sunset?"

"Sublime Padishah, learning is light:

“For a young child study is like the sun that will make him see the whole world in broad daylight.

“For the middle-aged man learning is like the moon. Under its silvery shine the weary traveller can find his hesitant way on the narrow path through the night.

“As for the old, the one like you Ruler, learning is lighting a small candle in the depth of night. But when it's dark enough one candle is plenty. Instead of the fearful pitch-dark void that grew around you, you see a friendly speck of light that warms your heart.”

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Divine Justice

You see this one and that one doing without shame to others what they hate to be done unto them. But when it comes to their own interest they demand justice. This reminds me of a story:

Three robbers, who had stolen a sack of corn, disagreed on how to share it. As each thought to have the highest merit to the booty they decided to go to Nasrudin the Hodja for arbitration.

“Hodja,” said they, “you have read the Quran. We trust that you will find for each the right share of the corn. We will abide by your ruling.”

“Tell me how you stole the corn and what was done by each of you to deserve a share” ordered Nasrudin who was pondering how to treat such dangerous petitioners.

“I knew about the sack, and where it was stored,” said the first. “Without me there would be no corn. I have right to half of it.”

“I kept an eye on the owner’s house, ready to kill him with my yatagan if he ever came out to surprise us.” said the second. “Mine was the riskiest part of the robbing, so that I deserve at least half of the sack.”

“All this is empty talk,“ said the third, for I took and carried away the heavy load. It is obvious that half at least is mine.”

Hodja listened and thought for a while. Then he said:

“There is no doubt that you were all of you involved in the stealing the peasant’s corn. How would you like me to do the sharing: the human way - like a cadi or Allah’s way?”

The thieves did not like to hear about cadis and preferred Allah’s way.

Nasrudin looked at the sack, closed his eyes and withdrew in deep meditation. The robbers waited anxiously.

After a while, without opening his eyes Hodja put his hand in the sack and murmuring: “The Seer of All” took out one grain of corn:

“This is the way Allah hands out goods among men on earth. You Zafer, you who carried the load, take this one grain and be grateful to have your life saved on this day.”

He handed over the grain to confused Zafer and then, still with eyes closed, slipped his hand into the sack and withdrew it full of corn:

To you Süleyman, for your evil deed of watching intent to kill a man, Allah dispenses this rich handful. Not enough to feed you, but, Allah knows, enough maybe to seed in the field and start an honest life. It may produce abundant harvest if you take it with humility.”

“As for you Ahmad,” he continued while opening his eyes, “you who knew where the booty was, Allah lavishes on you the whole sack. Take it with fear and get home with it, if you can, before God decides to divide it again.”

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Me again

The ability to marvel when considering the simplest of things is the sign of fine intelligence but looks silly to the stupid. “What good is an idle thought,” they say, “when you can’t even sell it?” This reminds me of a story:

The new market-street in Samarkand was as rich as you can imagine a place where they piled up and sold the incredible loot of Timur's conquests.

In his magnanimity, the Emir had drawn a straight line across the town, side to side. He ordered all houses thrown down and replaced within twenty days by an endless row of fountains and arched shops, each with the same white earthenware bench in front and the same two chambers, front and back.

Inside the shops one could see magnificent goods that ranged from the finest cotton to precious silks, elegant lambs-wool hats to chiselled stone. There was paper, porcelain, enchanting perfumes, carpets, pearls and spices, more carpets, musk, halva! In some shops one could just glimpse gold jewellery hammered as thin and fine as a feather. Others boldly displayed weapons of all the kinds desired, or slaves from the graceful dancer to the solid eunuch. It was an endless diversity, enough to make even Ali Baba dizzy like a cat in a butchery.

Now all this abundance happens to concern us because one day, Nasreddin the Mullah stepped in through the fly-curtain of one of those carpet shops.

A plump merchant, all smiles from the top of his silken turban to the tips of the embroidered slippers rushed to greet him, full of love for the new client.

Nasrudin observed for a moment the efforts of the salesman and then asked with curiosity:

"Did you see me coming in?"
"Yes esteemed effendi, I certainly did, ready to serve you, effendi."
"And do you know me?"
The salesman looked at him courteously:
"No, effendi, I'm afraid I do not."
"Then," said Hoca "how do you know it's me?"

And he left.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Seek and you will find

Surprise is the weapon without a blade. You can floor people by the sheer power of the unexpected. This reminds me of a story:

One night the Hodja was sleeping in his bed, snoring peacefully after a busy day when he was awaken by somebody, obviously a burglar, who was cautiously investigating the pitch-dark room.

With an unexpectedly friendly voice he addressed the anonymous presence:

“Light a candle please, so that I can see you.”

The stranger froze.

“Fear nothing, my good man,” continued Nasrudin. “I only want to see the gifted one who is able to find, in the darkness, something valuable, here in my poor house where, in broad daylight, I find nothing.”

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Free lunch

It is easy to influence people by exaggerating in one direction in order to obtain an opposite response. This reminds me of a story:

Out on the road under the blazing sun, the ever hungry Hodja – the pilgrim – found a party of merchants. They were eating a lavish, appetising lunch of smoked cheese, olives, flat bread and juicy fruit with delicious refreshing drinks, in the shade of the one big green tree of the endless sandy plain. This vision was worse than the heat of the sun and the ache of the soles. Something had to be done.

While passing by he threw up his hands and exclaimed:

“Allah have mercy on me! Not again! This road is infected with outlaws! You are the second gang of foreign robbers I meet in one day! Anyway, enjoy your loot and thank you for not robbing me this time!

Surprised, the travellers protested with indignant voices:

“We are not thieves, but honest, friendly merchants!"

"We are good Muslims from Medina."

This here is our honest meal, earned by Allah's Will.”

“Now that is another thing altogether!" replied Nasrudin and sat immediately down on their carpet, close to the food and to the drinking jars.

"I still have some doubts about how honest and friendly you are," the Hodja continued while stretching out his hand towards the food. "Teach me a lesson and prove me that I am mistaken and you are alms-giving, brotherly Muslims.”

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Hodja’s nail

Do not burn all the bridges! Do not spit in the well! Death only is final. Try to always leave some little thing, some reserve behind you so that you may come back. Life changes. Sometimes a foot in the door is your way back to lost friends and property. This reminds me of a story:

This was the year when all went bad. Hodja’s father died. The draught scorched the vineyard and the cornfield. Abdul the donkey perished of snake bite. The war tax ravaged Anatolia. There was nothing left but heat and dust, except for the beautiful little house Hodja inherited from his father, with its old, rich, fig tree, its red tiled roof and its vine covered porch so pleasant for a rest.

To survive that year, Nasrudin borrowed one thousand dirhams from Hakim, who said he was not a usurer. But he was. When the time came to pay back the money, Hakim pointed at the contract and made it plain:

“You pay the money, or you go to jail. Or, you give me your house and I tear up the contract.”

Nasrudin looked at him and thought that the house was worth much more. Carefully, he answered:

“Look Hakim, I would sell you the house as you desire, but there is in the sleeping room wall one big nail that I can’t sell. It is my father’s copper nail. I must keep it and visit it when I pay respect and sacrifice to my father’s remembrance.”

“Take it out.”

“Following Father’s last will it can never be moved from there.”

“Well, if you can't sell the house, you're going to jail. Remember that. What do you want to do with that nail, then?”

“Not much. It must be put in the contract. I will sell you the house but that nail remains mine. I can visit it and do with it whatever I wish.”

“So be it.”

The contract was duly written and sealed in front of the kadi. Nasrudin left with Kadidja to live in a small, smoky hut, and Hakim, very satisfied, moved into Hodja’s house.

Two weeks passed until Nasrudin was seen again. He knocked at the door and asked to see the nail. After standing in for a while front of the nail, silent and grave, he hanged his turban and turned to leave bare-headed.

“What are you doing, Hodja, you can not leave your turban here!”

“Certainly I can, remember our agreement,” said Nasrudin and left.

Another week passed and Hodja came again, recollected in front of the nail and left after he added a coat to the hanging turban. Hakim did not like this but there wasn’t much to say.

The next time Nasrudin came he added a salwar to the nail, after he prayed for a long while. By this time Hakim, and his family felt that tings were definitely going wrong.

They were certainly right. Only two days passed before Hodja came back dragging a dead sheep which he said he wanted to hang on the worshipped nail.

This was too much. The whole matter was brought in front of the kadi. The judge carefully read the contract, sought advice from the wise men of the village, and concluded that there was nothing to do but live with the clear terms of the agreement: Hodja had the right to hang on the nail whatever offering he pleased. To the horror of Hakim’s household the dead sheep replaced the turban, the coat and the salwar and was left to rot on the nail.

Within two days, it became impossible to live in the house. The third morning, Hakim begged Hodja to buy back the house for only five hundred dirhams, and even offered to lend the money for two years.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Bulls’ eye - This is how I shoot

Often those who teach cannot do and those who find the fault cannot fix it. Nothing wrong in this provided you understand to take from each what they can offer instead of believing foolishly that he who can do more can do less too. This reminds me of a story:

Around the tents of the big encampment everyone was busy at the king's orders. The slaves were slaving, the horses horsing, the scribes scribing and - of course - the soldiers soldiering.

The Mullah only, as Tamerlane's fool or advisor - nobody knew for certain - was free to roam about and mingle with everything and everyone he liked. Which he did.

By the right side of the royal pavilions, the dismounted archers of the Guard, the elite of the Chagatai Horde, were practicing their skill, observed now and then by the sharp eye of Tamerlane who knew better than anyone else the old truth: it is the eye of the owner that gets the cow fat.

Nasreddin, always helpful, provided rich comment about the best manner to string a recurved saddlebow and on the subject of the never failing ways to aim at a moving target.

The royal archers were trying to keep the pace of the drill and to empty their arrow-full quivers but listened with deep respect. Who in his right mind would dare to look down at a man so highly placed, close to the ear of the Emir? In their souls, they all hoped Hoça would proceed elsewhere. It was not a good thing to play a role in one of the funny stories of the Hodja, especially when Timur could get involved in the ending.

"The golden rule is to let your eye and arm aim freely. First look at the target and be the target. Then work back from it to your eye and the hand that pulls the bow. Let the arrow depart by itself as if you plucked a ripe cherry. You must simply let it go where it belongs, into the target, instead of trying to thrust and push the arrow towards it." This is what Nasreddin said.

"Deep thought indeed," intervened Tamerlane, emerging suddenly from behind a tent flap. "You must be familiar with archery to know all this."

"I am, Sublime Sultan," answered modestly the Mullah. "I had some practice once, at the fair in Konya when I was young."

The guards kept unsmiling and busy.

"Is that so... Then, show my men with your own hand and eye. Take a bow and give this lazy bunch a lesson."

Hoça stepped bravely forward, bent a bow and shot his arrow.

It went astray, quite far above the target. Without losing his composure, Nasreddin turned towards the archers and said sternly:

"Did you observe this? Too high! This is how your captain aims."

The captain grew pale.

Nasreddin tried another shot. This one dipped into the ground under the target. He pointed a finger towards the soldiers on his left and said,

"This is how some of you bahadurs shoot. Too low under the belt!"

The archers lowered their eyes towards their belts.

The third arrow somehow touched the target before being lost.

"This is what most soldiers di in battle. They are too busy to throw their arrows. They don't aim for perfection, just shoot."

And he threw another arrow.

By sheer luck, this one went right into the bull's-eye.

"Now did you see this?" said Nasreddin. "This is how I shoot!"

Thursday, 13 December 2007


Did this happen to you? Ask for help against a thief and the policeman investigates you. The people of the order don’t like to deal with disorder. It’s easier to search the victim. This reminds me of a story:

Hodja’s donkey was stolen from his shed. He rushed to complain to the magistrate of the village.

“Misfortune,” he said, “my help, my precious, my only donkey was stolen!”

“Tell me exactly how it happened!” commanded the asas bashi.

Nasrudin looked at him surprised:

“How should I know how it happened? I was not there when it was stolen!”

Wednesday, 12 December 2007


Most people believe that asking questions is something that goes by itself. But I see that questions are like doors; if you open the right one you may go where you need. Through the wrong one, you go nowhere, or worse, to the wrong place. Before seeking answers you must spend time and find the right question. This reminds me of a story:

Nasruddin folded his legs, sat down in front of the sultan’s palace and proceeded to shout in the evening breeze, with the resounding tone of a muezzin calling to the prayer:

“All your questions answered, Inch Allah! Whoever you are, I answer your questions! Any questions. The pure truth! No wavering! One hundred silver dinar for two questions of your choice! Your deepest questions answered, Inch Allah!”

The sultan himself distracted by this noise came out and when Nasruddin was in his presence, asked:

“ Hodja, isn’t one hundred dinar shamelessly too much?”

“Yes Sublime Padishah," replied Nasrudin. "And what is your second question?”

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

I had the upper hand

Sometimes, you can make a fool of yourself to let people find out how ridiculous they are. The least clever don’t understand, at first. But, slowly, it dawns on them too. This reminds me of a story:

Peace had finally broken out in Anatolia, so the hay market tea house in Aksehir was once again the setting for much bragging about military exploits. Listening to the group, you would have thought yourself to be in the company of legendary heroes and survivors, chosen to live and tell their tale by the miraculous decree of Allah, blessed be his name.

Abdul the hamal gave an account of the fearless way in which he, with incredible force, precipitated a huge block of stone from a hill, smashing to pieces no less than three chagatay archers.

Yusuf the barber slashed the air with his fuming chibook to show how he cut a vicious arab into two equal halves.

Mahmud the fat milkman shook the backgammon tavla illustrating how he used to strangle his enemies, two at a time.

After a while, Nasrudin grew tired of so much heroism and intervened:

“I had the upper hand in an encounter with ten of Timur’s fiercest soldiers.”

“Who will believe you Hoca? How did you do such a thing? You are no warrior.”

“I will tell you the whole story. I was quietly walking in the fields minding my own business.”

Here Hodja stopped for a moment as overcome with the emotion of memory. Then he sighed and continued:

“Suddenly, no less than ten fierce soldiers, of Timur’s own body guard, emerged from a bush and precipitated towards me, sword in hand. I ran for my life. But they caught me. I uttered my last prayer…”

“And then?” asked Yusuf, impatient.

“Oh, then? One of them recognised me as the fool who amused the Emir. And I had the last word in that matter. They all apologised for the mistake and escorted me back to the royal camp.”

Monday, 10 December 2007

They don’t know who I am

The last insanity of the rulers is to conclude that they are God. In fact this ridiculous illness befalls also a number of petty backyard tyrants, when some little power over people goes to their head. This reminds me of a story:

One day as Tamerlane relaxed in private counsel with his favourite fool Nasreddin he grew inspired. In that moment of secrecy, away from the crowd, he felt inclined to confess the great truth and said:

"God speaks to me!"

The Hodja, looked at him very surprised and answered sternly:

"I didn't say anything."

Sunday, 9 December 2007

It’s me

Sometimes language is silly. Revealing it makes people think. Well, some of the people. This reminds me of a story:

The gates of Samarkand were closed for the night when a busy traveller demanded entry.

“No strangers are admitted after sunset!” shouted the guard.

“I am no stranger! I am Nasrudin the Hodja, advisor to Emir Timur!”

The gate opened and an incredulous and menacing soldiery emerged:

“Can you identify yourself?”

Hodja extracted a small mirror from his bag, looked into it and replied:

“Yes, it’s me.”

The guards looked at each-other and agreed:

“Yes. It can only be him.”

Saturday, 8 December 2007

The border of truth

The mind has definite limits but we don’t see them because we do not know what we do not know. However, there is a way to feel those frontiers - trying to understand paradoxes like “What I say is false.” This reminds me of a story:

Tamerlane, may Allah keep him forever where he belongs, was sick and tired of the flatterers at his court, ready to lie away the stars from the sky and say to him whatever he seemed to desire. He loved to know all the truth (even details I am shy to mention), he wanted to possess every bit of it, and he used it sparingly.

At once, the Iron Emir sent a firman across the empire to summon a jester that would tell him the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

"Truth is safety! Rasti, Rusti! Let the candid people come to me freely! My royal tent is wide open, day and night. I will ask each of them one question. The sincere will be safe, but the one who lies, I will have his head cut. Him who is truthing, I will take in my service, garb in silk and feed at my tables. And his kin and town will be spared when I get to them."

Few tried. All lost their head. Whatever they said, the Emir was bored and resolved in his own justice:

"What you say is a lie!" he would decide, and add their skulls to one of his fearful minarets.

The people of Aksehir talked Hoca into trying his own luck for the sake of the town.

In the beginning, the road - on mule back - from Aksehir to Timur's tents was long enough. The longer, the better. With the lightning advance of the Horde, the distance grew shorter by the day. Suddenly he found himself there, with the Chagatai Tartars.

As soon as he entered the presence of the awesome conqueror Nasrudin shouted:

"Inshallah! I will be beheaded!"

"You are lying!" hastened to declare Tamerlane. And he added to leave no escape:

"And whatever you are about to say is false."

To this Hoça replied with a wide smile:

"The Infallible Timur has spoken truly."


This is how Timur Kurgan, Lord of the Fortunate Conjunction of the Planets met Khoja Nasr ed Din and appointed him as House Fool.

At that time the Mullah was only one hundred and ninety four years old. This is true as nothing is ever said by storytellers that didn't happen once upon a time.

Friday, 7 December 2007


It is amazing how much people worry about funeral observances. Isn’t your true feeling the most important thing? This reminds me of a story:

A man came to seek advice from Hodja concerning burial customs.

“Pray Hodja,” he asked. “When the stretcher or the casket is carried in silence by the friends or family, I as a well meaning visitor, where should I place myself in the funeral procession? Behind, on the right side or on the left side? Or should I walk far in front of them?”

“Don’t worry so much my good man. There is only one place where you should definitely not be placed: on the stretcher or in the casket.”

Thursday, 6 December 2007


Some people just don’t want to take no for an answer when it is about their interest. Yours, they don’t see at all. This reminds me of a story:

“Hodja, can I please have your laundry rope for a couple of days? We do our spring washing tomorrow.”

“Unfortunately the rope is busy. My wife is drying flour on it.”

“But Hodja, who can imagine such an incredible thing – drying flour on a rope? Is that even possible?”

“Well neighbour, little do you know what it's possible to do to avoid lending your rope when you don’t wish to.”

Wednesday, 5 December 2007


Hypocrites should be paid with barefaced fabrication. In this way there will be a little justice in this world. This reminds me of a story:

Three poor pilgrims were proceeding on the long road back from Mecca. It so happens that one of them was our Hodja who had joined the other two that same day. After the evening prayers, Nasrudin extracted from his meagre bag a flatbread and told his companions:

“This is what I have. What do you bring?”

“Our bags are empty. It is Allah The Nourisher who will provide our food!”

“We can share my bread,” offered Nasrudin.

“Certainly not!” said one of the pilgrims. “This is a small piece of bread, sufficient just for one. We must wait until Allah will give us a sign showing who shall eat it.”

“He’s right,” added the second. “Let’s sleep now. The one of us who has the dream most beautiful among us three will deserve to eat this morsel by himself, inch Allah.”

Because of this, Nasrudin went to sleep hungry.

Next morning, one of the pilgrims told his dream:

“I deserve the bread," he declared. "In my sleep I had a miraculous vision. Gardens watered by fountains and running streams, blue skies, cool shade, white flowers and ripe fruit, innocent cups of red wine passed from hand to hand... When I saw the wide, dark eyed huri reclining on their silver thrones I knew I was in Paradise. This is a clear message. Allah has spoken his wish: I must have the flatbread.”

“Wait a minute,” said the second traveller. “Just listen to my dream and marvel. I was taken by a celestial hand and transported to an indescribably bright place, a castle of light in all colours where, with my own hand and lips, I touched, and then kissed, the left slipper of the Prophet, peace be upon him. And he even smiled at me and opened his hand, as if to give me whatever I should like. The bread should be mine.”

“I am so pleased for you both,” said the Hoca. “You had such enviable colourful visions! How lucky you are!"

As the travellers glanced at Nasrudin's bag, and one was about to say something. Nasrudin continued:

"I too had a dream, but it was not so beautiful. This night, in my vision, from a black, cold abyss, Allah The Nourisher told me in a plain voice and without showing Himself in any way: 'Miserable mortal and sinner, wake up and eat your poor bread. This is all you deserve and you will have nothing else this night!'

"What could I do but obey Allah's order? I did what He told me. I got up, ate the bread, and went back to sleep."

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Son of somebody

People may be born equal but at the market they are certainly not all the same. As they say, some are more equal than others. This reminds me of a story:

The souk was so crowded that you could easily mistake it for a carpet of beards.

Nasrudin addressed a tall young man next to him:

“May I salute you, young master! Aren’t you by any chance the imam’s nephew?”

“Not at all.”

“The son of the cadi, maybe?”

“Certainly not!”

“One of Timur’s envoys?”

“Nothing of this, my good man.”

"In this case, you son of an adultery bitch, step off my toe before I hit you right on your stupid nape!”

Monday, 3 December 2007


Prayer reveals the praying one as questions lay bare the questioner. Listen and learn about people. This reminds me of a story:

It was Friday afternoon, after the zuhr, at the tea house in Nasrudin’s village. Groups of weary men sat outside, drinking tea while resting from the hard work of the week.

Yet they were not allowed to rest. Like a gadfly, a young bearded dervish newly arrived in the village flew from group to group, admonishing Allah to grant him his infinite grace:

“Praise be onto Allah, Inspirer of Faith. May he give me lasting faith, that I may follow his glorious way for all my life,” he yelled near one group of somnolent farmers.

“Humiliator, please give me humility, that I may recognise that I am no better than a worm drying in the sand,” he added with intent, passing a merchant.

Tirelessly, he walked through the terrace, loudly granting himself Allah’s praise.

“Doer of Good, make me do good, and preserve me from the evil ways,” he pronounced, his arms spread, looking suspiciously to a group of foreigners.

Finally, he walked past Nasrudin himself, who was enjoying some halva with his tea while discussing with the kadi an incident involving two donkeys.

“O Allah, you who need nothing, may you protect me from gluttony and greed, that I may enter heaven unsoiled!”

Nasrudin looked at the dervish a moment, and then stood up and yelled, at the top of his voice:

“O Allah, praise be unto You who has power over all. May you in your grace grant me good health to the last instant of my life! O Allah, Giver of All, let me have gold inexhaustible, enough to forget forever poverty and greed! O Allah, satisfier of all need, give me a woman most ravishing for my senses but also for my heart! O, Inheritor of All, let me have many good children happy in their turn of life. O, Creator of All Power, give me power enough to protect all this from the stupid and the envious! O Allah…”

The dervish stopped him, a horrified look on his face.

“How dare you ask Allah, praise be his glorious name, for such trivial things!”

Nasrudin looked at him with candid fervour:

“My friend, don’t we each of us pray for what we lack?”

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Calling names

Let me wonder again at the power of changing with one single word the meaning of a whole situation. Such turns of phrase are good to treasure in your memory. Nasreddin’s sharp mind is a school of bringing down mighty Goliath with a mere sling. This reminds me of a story:

There was a famous sheikh who hated Nasreddin’s wits. He decided to teach this insignificant mullah a public lesson that will put him right where he belonged.

The best place to shame a mullah was of course under the porch of the mosque, at the hour when the believers flocked to attend the Friday noon sermon.

The angry sheikh stepped out of the crowd towards Nasreddin and shouted – for everyone to hear:


In response, Hodja bowed to him with deep respect and answered with a friendly smile:

“Pleased to meet you Master Idiot! I is an honour to make your acquaintance. My name is Nasreddin.”

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Rule of the market

Let’s face it. There is too little honesty in commerce. Too often, for some perverse reason, stealing from the buyer in the marketplace is called business. This reminds me of a story:

A sunny winter day is excellent for selling donkeys. Fat, gray donkeys against the white snow. Buyers are well disposed in the sunshine and decide faster because of the cold. And the donkeys like it too. Young Nasrudin was exercising the noble donkey trade, with much success, to the amazement of the competing horse-traders. For his donkeys were the cheapest on offer.

One evening, an old horse-trader took the Hodja aside:

“Tell me young friend, in all confidence, how do you manage such low prices? In full honesty I tell you, I am an old timer and can’t beat you. I, myself, don’t pay my workers, steal the fodder, cheat on the weight and quality of the beasts, elude the taxes and your donkeys are still cheaper! How come?”

“Since you ask, I will tell you. You steal too many things. I only steal the donkeys.”

Friday, 30 November 2007

Ibn Khaldoun’s mule

Waiting is a practical art. Menace itself has a course of life: it is born, it dwells around for a while and sooner or later dies out. The wise plan ahead. This reminds me of a story:

Timur Kurgan, Protector of the scholars, enjoyed the company of the learned. Those who gave him right answers were relatively safe. Before he pillaged and burned Damascus, he even bought, as a sign of good will, the grey mule of the celebrated historian and kadi, Ibn Khaldoun, whose noble looks and words (I mean, the kadi's, not the mule's) impressed him.

At a later day, during the house divan, Tamerlane - who suffered that morning from his sore wrist - summoned advice about how to get the best out of the new imperial mule.

There was a respectful silence at this request.

"Better be some good advice," growled the Emir, "and let it come soon. I grow bored with mute company."

No doubt, this was a moment for Nasrudin to step forth and save the day.

"I could, by an old secret recipe, teach the precious beast to read. It will be done in no more than three weeks, Inch Allah. I only need to retire with full provisions for the noble student and for myself."

"Go and do it," resolved Tamerlane.

For three weeks the Hodja enjoyed good food and a quiet time in a royal retreat. As for the mule it had much less to eat. Instead of hay or straw Hoca presented the hungry animal, several times each day, with a large, beautifully bound book: Ibn Khaldoun's Muqaddima in exquisite Arabic calligraphy. Between the pages he scattered tasty grains of rye.

After two weeks of fasting the mule became very interested in the book and able to pick out the grain from among the erudite pages.

The day came when Tamerlane remembered - he always remembered - to have the reading mule produced in his presence.

Nasrudin stepped forth with the big leather-bound book under his arm. He bowed with deep respect to the Master, put one knee to the ground in front of Timur's seat, opened the treatise on his other knee while the mule was brought in.

The clever animal rushed to the book and proceeded, skilfully, to turn the pages with his tongue. As he didn't find anything he turned many more pages and gave various signs that the text was disappointing.

"Here is the proof!" exclaimed Nasrudin. "Under our very eyes my student reads page after page"

Tamerlane offered a half-smile, pondered and decided:

"We are not amused. It reads, maybe, but how do we know, as it doesn't talk..."

"Your thought becomes an order to me even before you utter it O My Emir!" interrupted the Mullah bravely. "If the Master of the Happy Constellation wills the mule to speak, it will speak. I came prepared with my calculations. Under your auspices it will take ten years of my hard work - with only a modest pension - and of course the good food ordered for the both of us. Let my head be where my feet are if I don't teach him."

"I desire that you teach this mule to speak like a man. If you fail, your head will speak from a pole to other cheeky liars."

With this, the Emir left, as he was luckily busy to attend other state affairs.

"How imprudent you are my poor man," said the Grand Vizier. "You will lose the bet and your head with it! Timur has no mercy for the fools."

"Inch Allah!" murmured Nasrudin, "we should not worry for this. The Emir is sixty-four years old. I am quite old myself and the mule has seen many years. Before ten years pass, I die, the mule dies or the sultan dies..."

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Secret of the saints

Renown breeds high expectations. This is poisonous credit. When people imagine they will behold miracles, whatever you do will disappoint them. Reject excessive praise if not by modesty, by prudence. But if it is too late to be humble, then shroud yourself in mystery and absence. This reminds me of a story:

At one fleeting period in time Nasreddin was a celebrated Sufi recluse. Since he was trying to find solitude and peace of mind, his hermit’s abode was of course assaulted, day and night, by an endless row of believers seeking the enlightenment of saintliness.

One afternoon came the turn of a young pilgrim who after respectfully pressing his face into the dust and his lips onto the reticent slippers of the master, implored to become a disciple.

“What do you want to learn from me?” enquired the Hodja.

“Your secret wisdom Sheikh! I will do anything to gain knowledge of your secret!”

At this, Nasreddin looked anxiously to right and to left and then whispered,

“Follow me! Shut the door too.”

Inside the hut, behind a curtain, Hodja asked in a very low voice:

“Are you at your delicate young age able to keep a secret?”

“I certainly am, without a doubt. My lips are sealed, silent like the tomb of Ali, peace be upon him. I am young, it is true, but worthy of your trust.”

“I see,” whispered Nasreddin, "so you understand the importance of withholding secrets?"

"I do, master," asserted the young man again.

"Then how can you imagine that, at my age and reputation, I am unable to keep my secrets?”

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Still going strong

Just playing with the words: doesn’t your strength start where your weakness stops? This reminds me of a story:

“You know," said old Nasreddin, "now at eighty I am exactly as strong as I used to be sixty years ago.”

“How can you say such a thing?" wondered a neighbour. "At eighty you cannot be like a young man!”

“But it’s true!”

“Can you prove it?”



“You can witness it with your own eyes if you want. You know the big millstone by the public well. Once when I was twenty I tried to move it and it didn’t budge. Yesterday I tried again and again I couldn’t move it. The same as when I was young.”

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Patience please

There are heaven-sent situations where you can teach by example. It is like having life at your command, for a moment. One such case is when you get the learner to do exactly the mistake you instruct him about. This is luxury education; once tasted in this way wisdom is very difficult to forget. This reminds me of a story:

The ageing Tamerlane sent after his favourite jester Nasrudin to come and tease his wits with some more words of amazing truth.

"Tell me Hodja, by your white beard", he said, "what else do I need to be remembered as a great ruler?"

"You have all the gifts in the universe but only need a little more patience, O Lord of the Fortunate Conjunction of the Planets," replied Hoca with a respectful nod.

"I see," said the Emir, "and what else do I need?"

"To always keep your calm and composure, Serene master," continued Nasrudin.

"So you say!" said Timur, "but what else?"

"Never to grow tired to listen, O, ear of the one God!"

"Is that all you can say?"

"More than everything, you need to be patient, my King."

"This is enough!"

"Patience and an even temper will lay the world at your feet, Incomparable one!"

The Emir grew red in the face and shouted:

"You mock me, worm? How many times will you repeat the same plain thing? Do you think I am too dumb to understand? Guards! Seize him! Let's see what else he has in his head!"

"Do you see what I mean?" whispered Hoca in Timur's ear as the guards approached, "I only repeated a simple piece of good advice a couple of times and already you lost patience."

Monday, 26 November 2007

To talk with kings…

Always look on the bright side of life. For a confident mind a kick in the pants is a step forward and a near miss – a blessing in disguise. Aim to turn a doubtful honour into apparent success. This reminds me of a story:

The Mullah rode back from Konya as fast as his donkey could, impatient to break the news. Once in Aksehir, he headed straight to the market and cried out for everyone to hear:

"The King talked to me! He talked to me even as we met for the first time!"

The villagers were quite impressed. Everyone ran to spread the word.

"Timur talked to our Mullah!"

Only the village idiot, sitting on a rock next to the fountain, remained with Nasrudin.

"Tell me Hodja," he asked, while toying with a fistful of dirt, "How did such a thing happen? What did the King say to you?"

"It was most unexpected! I was quietly riding my donkey by the big fountain in Konya when suddenly, a party arrived on horseback and with a great voice, Tamerlane the Padishah told me: Get out of my way!"

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Lame duck

Some say that a good joke never won an enemy but often lost a friend. Maybe. But I observed that some tyrants, when they are clever and strong, will reward audacious wit as eagerly as they despise the flattery they are used to.

Hoca was strolling through the market of Konya. His eyes and his nostrils were full with the colourful multitude of people and the mouth-watering treasuries of the stalls. The selling and the buying went on in noise and excitement. However, a heavy shadow hung over the busy crowd. People were too worried to open their purses, with Tamerlane's soldiers roaming the country.

"What will befall us?" asked a man with a half undone turban who was selling a heap of ripe melons.

"Tamerlane is looting everything, even the graveyards," added a cobbler waving a pair of worn leader shoes.

"He burns towns to the ground and builds minarets of severed heads," added a voice from behind a Persian carpet.

A party of strangers, with faces veiled in dark cloaks came closer and listened to this.

"Have trust, my friends," stepped in Nasr Eddin, "that lame duck with his bloody rattling scimitar will rot before he reaches this sunny place. Allah's whip makes no noise."

One of the strangers, tall and dark, stepped forward:

"You who speak of Allah's whip, do you know who I am?"

The Mullah did not know.

"It happens that I am Emir Timur, the lame sabre-rattling duck that you desire to see blasted!"

"And you," replied Nasr Eddin, looking straight into the man's eyes, unaffectedly, "do you know who I am?"

"No," said Timur.

"Allah be praised!" exclaimed Hoca, disappearing in the crowd without delay.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

The sky is falling

Who has nothing has nothing to lose but those who have a lot at stake always engage him to die a heroic death for their ills.” Le sage, en hésitant, tourne autour du tombeau…” This reminds me of a story:

Bayazid in Timur's cage
The news spread fast, like fire in the bushes! Timur the Lame, the angry ghost of Genghis Khan had vanquished the great sultan Bayazid the Thunder at Ankara and locked him up in an iron cage. Now, a new, terrible Padishah was wielding his sceptre over Anatolia.

The good people of Aksehir rushed to pack their humble belongings and roved in all directions like headless chicken.

"The new King is coming upon us! Flee! Flee!"

Nasreddin all alone was resting peacefully under his porch, in the shade of the wine, sipping honey-sweet tea and exchanging thoughts with his donkey. As they did not know where to go, the frightened villagers soon gathered by the Mullah's fence, wondering at his strange tranquility.

"What are you doing, Hoça? Don't you want to save yourself before Tamerlane arrives?"

"I am conferring with my loyal donkey," explained Nasreddin. "He just reminded me of a tale of Aesop, the wise dwarf, my ancestor, who lived here one thousand years before us, when this land was still called Phrygia."

"A peasant, “the donkey said to me,” was grazing his mule by the gates of a fortress when he heard a great noise of weapons and shields.

"Let's run, let’s save ourselves before the enemy catches us, called the peasant.”

"Will they load me with two saddles instead of one?” The mule asked.

"How could they, stupid? There is only room for one on your back!

"If this is so, replied the mule, then you run, and I can stay."

Friday, 23 November 2007

Not much to say

Some rare people do it naturally, for the rest of us it is a valuable discovery: when you have nothing to say, just say nothing. You are not obliged to fill all the silences with your words. Allow pause and even better; create stillness when you want to cause other people to speak. This reminds me of a story:

Believe it or not, Nasreddin used to be a silent child. As a matter of fact his parents waited for the baby to start speaking and he didn’t.

Years passed. The boy was six now and still not talking. Not a word.

Mother and Father had tried all they knew to get him speak as other children do. Nothing helped. They even took him to town but the best barbers in Konya didn't find the cause of the ailment.

In time, the family accepted, with great sadness, that poor Nasreddin was mute.

Then came that God-given afternoon. The child ran into the house shouting,

"Mother! Father!! The barn is burning! The barn is all in flames! Come quick!"

Happy parents! Who cared for the barn! The boy was speaking!

"Dear son! You speak! Why then? Why didn't you talk for so many years?"

"Because there wasn't much to say, father, that's why."

Thursday, 22 November 2007

The art of dispute

Don’t fight each “No!”. Learn from water. Water gives way, goes around, and soaks trough. Easy does it. Don’t break through that which you can carry. This reminds me of a story:

Mounted on a platform by the wool market in Konya Nasrudin was teaching his followers and anyone else who wished to listen:

"Have trust in Allah, but don't forget to tie up your camel." and
“Don’t wait to dig your well until you are thirsty”

By that time the crowd trusted and obeyed the word of the Hodja:

"The wise will do what I say", he said, "and not what I do.

“The common people will do what I do, but not what I say.”

“As for the fools, they will call my stories "jokes". The fools will laugh, whatever I say or do. If they would listen to me, I might be saying something foolish. Now, let's see who heeds my words:"

A wandering dervish, who grew irritated to see everyone open-mouthed with admiration for such a simpleton, shouted from the crowd:

"They listen to you for the one-eyed is king in the land of the blind. But I can tell you one thing: Here is one man you cannot move with cunning words. And even less will I obey a fool like you."

"Is that so!" said the Hoca. "Why don't you come up here to prove it?" The dervish consented and mounted on the podium ready to dispute.

Bowing respectfully, Nasrudin invited him: "Please take place here on my left". Which the dervish proudly did, bowing in his turn.

"Even better", added the Mullah changing his mind and bowing again, "stand here on my right hand". The dervish bowed back with dignity and moved to the right.

"You know", concluded Hoca, "I think that you are a nice obeying person. Why don't you go back to your place and let me continue my teaching?"

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Poisonous gift

Words once spoken live their own life. Giving careless reasons may turn back on you like a boomerang. Think both ways. Mind that what you point to others now can be pointed back to you later. This reminds me of a story:

At that time Nasreddin was at schoolboy. Once, as his teacher was imparting knowledge, he was pleasantly interrupted by a relative who brought him a wonderful gift: A large plate full of lokum and sweetmeat. To wait for a break – when he could quietly enjoy his preferred sweets looked like ages to him. Worse, just before the break, the qadi called the teacher for an important affair. As he was leaving, the master told the children:

“Be careful in my absence! Don’t touch the sweets; they are poisoned by my enemies. Whoever ate them would drop dead.”

As soon as he left, the children attacked the plate so well that they didn’t leave even a morsel of the goodies. Adding to this they even broke the beautiful pen of the teacher.

After a short while the teacher came back only to see the extent of the damage.

“Who did this?” asked he angrily.

“I” answered Nasreddin. “Forgive me master, it was a misfortune. I wanted to write with your pen and broke it. Then, in despair, I decided to die and ate all the sweets to kill myself. Now I wait for the angel of death to come and take me.”

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

A pot is born

People believe what they desire to believe. Skilled liars know this very well. Their lies are tall (beyond your ability to compare) and simple (so that they can stretch them out as needed) and meet your wishes (so that you lovingly embrace them). They deceive but you cheat yourself. This reminds me of a story:

Young Nasrudin went to his rich neighbour, Hakim, to borrow a larger pot and a small silver akçe.

It is difficult to give and even harder to lend but in the end the neighbour brought out from the kitchen one of his many pots and handed over, with regret, one of his many silver sounding coins:

“For one week, no more”

When the seven days were over, without delay, the Hodja knocked at the neighbour’s door and gave him back the cleaned pot, covered with a clean piece of cloth.

“Where is my silver akçe?” asked the man.

“Just look inside the pot and you will be pleased”

In the big pot there was another small pot, inside the small pot the akçe and by the side of the akçe a small copper mangir.

“See, explained the Hodja, I left your pot in the warm vapour, in my kitchen, with the akçe inside and lo: yesterday morning I found that your pot gave birth to this small pot and, more than this, your akçe also had a son – this cuddly copper coin”

The neighbour was pleasantly surprised to see back home all this growing family of his belongings.

One month later, when Nasrudin asked again for a big pot and a silver akçe, he was welcome.

Now, the seven days passed and even three weeks passed but the Hodja was not to be seen.

The lender lost patience and came to reclaim his property.

Hodja told him with tears in his eyes:

“Didn’t you hear about it? I am sad to say, they died. Both of them! The pot got poisoned with mushrooms and the akçe bled to death in childbirth”

“What is this mad lie, exclaimed the neighbour, who on earth will believe that a pot can die of poisoning and an akçe perish by haemorrhage?”

“Who else than yourself my friend. Didn’t you believe as well that a pot can give birth and an akçe get pregnant? What gives birth dies too.”

Monday, 19 November 2007

What is Air

When you debate with the know-all ask them that simplest of things: “what is this which you believe to master so well? What is it?” Most people are unable to answer properly. Socrates used this question to prove the arrogant that they don’t know what they speak about. This reminds me of a story:

Tamerlane was a savage beast in his soul but he was a clever man too and liked to surround himself with studious and God-fearing people. Among the erudite and the believers the Emir felt as if he himself were enlightened and good. In this company of respectable ulemas and muftis Nasrudin was just a pet, fed to amuse the empty hours of the ruler. Unfortunately, while Timur was amused, Hoca rarely amused the scholars and they did their best to get rid of the Sufi jester who mocked so often the folly of the learned. At one time of danger they went to denounce him at the feet of Timur and requested – in the name of right thinking and general agreement– the Hodja to be beheaded for heresy.

Nasrudin was brought in the presence of Timur who said:

“Worm, this is your end. The clear thinking people in my divan found your opinion and your words wrong. You confuse the believers with perplexing teaching and mistaken notions. Can you defend yourself?”

“Great Master, replied Nasrudin, before having me put to death, please try these philosophers, so excellent in learning, perfect lawyers, careful inquirers, precise and subtle debaters, with one simple question, to see if their thinking is clear indeed. Pray, ask them to answer – one by one – a simple question: What is air?”

Timur, who liked to try out people as he liked to play chess, sent the ulemas to write down, each separately, the meaning of air. In no time they came back with their answers:

“It’s emptiness, mere nothing.”
“Air is the principle of life, the pure food of the lungs.”
“Air is the godly substance connecting all essences while allowing us to move freely trough it”
“It is the quiet mother of tempest.”
“The stuff of lying promises.”
“Who could know what air is? It comes and goes invisible, without trace.”
“It is the simplest and cheapest element, aplenty for the rich as for the poor.”

“Master of the lucky constellations, do you see how these people cannot agree on the simplest thing? Would you entrust them to judge matters of right and wrong or life and death?”

To this Timur agreed.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Rightful price

Things should be paid in kind. Pay true help with generous return, worth with worth and politeness with politeness. But to a question like sand in your bowl of rice give an answer like a stick dragged through swampy mud. This reminds me of a story:

A poor man passed by a shop where appetising shish kebab was roasting on a turning rod and koftes were frying with irresistible aromas. As he could not afford to pay such delicacies, he took out of his bag a large piece of bread. With his nose immersed in the delicious smell, he ate his loaf dreaming of lavish feasts.
The shopkeeper observed him for a while and then requested him to pay for the treat.
"Your bread tasted better in the smell of my kebab, so you must pay," he said.
As the man refused to pay, the owner dragged him before the cadi, who happened to be the Hoca.

Nasrudin listened to each party, with attention, and resolved quickly:
"Goods enjoyed must be paid. You, the client, present me your purse."
With tears in his eyes, the poor man handed the little bag containing all his money.

"Now you seller, how much is one good treat of your kebab worth?"
"Five aktche, Judge"

The Mullah took five coins, all there was, from the man's purse and called the merchant to sit by him. He rattled the coins in his fist and asked again:

"Do you recognise the sound? Is it good money?"
"It is", replied the seller.

"Then you are paid in full" decreed the Hoca. "For the smell of food you have right to the sound of money."

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Night walk

If you cannot dress in lion skin, wear fox pelt. In bad times, learn how to benefit from the shadow of the powerful. But that requires nerve. This reminds me of a story:

One sunny afternoon Tamerlane lay resting in the shade of a lofty red and green silken pavilion in the middle of his twelve-in-one Bagh-I Bihisht gardens at Samarkand. At his feet, the trustworthy Nasreddin. In front of them a large fountain with fresh red apples dancing in bubbling cool water.

At this hour of counsel, the mighty Amir felt he could relax and have a pleasant choice – play chess by his own rules or bully the Hodja. He fancied doing the second.

“You have no choice said he, but to place on your head the helmet of courage, and put on the armour of determination, bind on the sword of resolution, and like an alligator dive at once into the river of blood.”

He paused for a long moment enjoying the breeze and the gentle playing of the red apples in the pool. Then he added, “...Or, to put on the looks of a fox like you worm, and pinch away the leftovers at the lion’s feast.”

Timur rested for another while and Hodja asked himself what dangerous turn of whim will follow. At last it came.

“You, dreamers and thinkers are no good. On your own you would survive less than one day here. Nobody has respect for you, nobody fears you. Why did I keep you alive so long?”

Nasreddin took an air of respectful terror and deep soul-searching. Then he advanced with audacity,

“Conqueror of the World, let me take exception with your censure. If needed, I exude as much authority and respect as your Highness, and I can prove it in your very presence even before the break of the next morning. The populace fears and awes me.”

He paused and the Amir mused what to expect. Then Hodja added,

“Let’s go out together this night, I wearing your mantle and sword. You will please to follow a few paces behind, disguised with a large cloak, as Haroon al Rasheed used to do. You will see that I am treated with the same respect as yourself. Cloth maketh the man.”

Tamerlane accepted the test.

The same evening they went to wander about Samarkand, The Mullah carrying the legendary scimitar of the Emir and his mantle, while Timur walked a few steps behind, cloaked with an ample black mantle revealing only his panther eyes.

They went along the straight alleys of the capital, entirely rebuilt from the spoils of Tamerlane’s wars and indeed, whenever Hodja stopped or turned his gaze towards them, the shopkeepers, soldiers and other passers-by concerned, looked at him, then looked around anxiously and suddenly threw themselves in the dust or bowed with excessive respect and fear. Certainly they did, when seeing Nasreddin clad with Tamerlane’s attributes and followed by the shadow of that too well known tall cloaked stature with evil piercing eyes.

“You can see Majesty, whispered Hodja after a while, they all fear me. The coat does make the man.”

Friday, 16 November 2007

A silly joke

Everybody knows to push back. Few people learned - instead of opposing - to pull an opponent and make him fall by his own strength. As you turn a joke against the joker. Remember that it is more intelligent to sail than to row. This reminds me of a story:

One day, as the young Nasrudin sat by the gate of the village thinking up a scheme to smuggle donkeys, a cow in the nearby field started mooing. It continued this loud activity for a long while. Two honourable villagers were also sitting by the gate, playing a game of dice. Wanting to get back at Nasrudin for making fun of them another day, they yelled:

"That cow is talking to you, Hoca! Why don't you go and see what it wants?"

Without a word, Nasrudin stood up and walked to the cow. He listened to it and bowed deeply towards the animal, then returned to the two jokers and said:

"She told me: 'Hoca, what are you doing with these two asses? This is bad company for you.'"

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Justice to the people, in a garden of truths

Every man who says sincerely that which he believes, speaks truth. His. This is why there are so many truths. Do not err to call liars people who believe other than you. They may be mistaken but they are probably honest. This reminds me of a story:

At one time the Hoça used to be judge of the village. His young son was by his side to learn the office of giving justice to the people.

A man came to complain.

"Qadi, I had some garment fitted for me by the tailor. As soon as I dressed it and walked out in the street, the poorly sewn shalwar fell apart and, pardon me to mention, left me naked in shame, exposed to the crowd. I say, I must not pay the dressmaker."

Very impressed, Nasreddin exclaimed,

"You are right!"

Hearing of this verdict, the tailor rushed before the qadi to plead his case.

"This crazy man brought his own scraps of rag and ordered me to sow them together. He leaned over my shoulder to annoy me with his advice and pulled my hand to finish fast. Look, I even pricked my finger because of him. At the end he couldn't wait, snatched it away and left in spite of my warnings. He must pay for the work!"

The Mullah was totally convinced.

"You are right", he said.

This verdict left both, seller and buyer, lost in wonder.

After they left, the Mullah's perplexed boy said,

"But Father, they cannot be both right."

Without hesitation, Nasreddin agreed,

"You are right, my son."

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Language of signs

There are times when it is better not to understand each other; particularly in important matters of principle and of conviction. Consider leaving a few things misunderstood for the sake of peace and quiet. This reminds me of a story:

Tamerlane had Nasreddin called in his presence and ordered,

“Worm, you will be my envoy to the emperor of Constantinople.”

“What should I tell him, Master?”

“Nothing, my deeds speak loud enough. Just make a good impression, seeing that he is my ally now. Entertain him nicely. These crazy Christian emperors always want to discuss religion. You will be the right person to debate with him as you don’t speak his language and he doesn’t understand yours. Go!”

Nasreddin went to Constantinople and was introduced with great pomp at the Byzantine court. And indeed, emperor Emanuel desired to dispute religion with the envoy of the scourge of God – who happened to also be his temporary saviour - as an enemy of his enemy, sultan Bajazet. Since his host did not speak Greek, the Emperor suggested a silent debate, with gestures. In fact he was very excited to argue with a heretic monkey in the language of signs. Hodja – who had no idea of what to discuss - explained through the dragoman how honoured he felt.

The reception hall was glittering with jewellery, porphyry, mosaics and sculptures, like a huge bazaar. Basins were replenished with exquisite fruits. Fifteen immaculate columns of Phrygian marble, walls plated with silver, a gold tree of natural size, with leaves and branches made of jewels, artificial chirping birds, two massive gold lions that actually roared... The Hodja was about to faint in the odour of incense. In the middle of all this the Emperor, like a sun of purple. His head was so heavy with jewellery that he could hardly hold it straight. He had to lean it on a side, on his right hand and that gave him an air of modesty and thoughtfulness. Nasreddin, gathered his courage and stepped forward with dignified humility. This, after having been several times thrown to the floor, in sign of respect dictated by the ceremonial.

The emperor descended from his throne. In all his majesty he silently pointed the index towards the sky.

Nasreddin bowed and pointed his finger downwards to his feet.

The Emperor paused thoughtfully. Then, with a decisive, movement of the hand, he lifted one finger and presented it to Nasreddin.

There was an awkward pause, and the Hodja seemed to make a great effort to compose himself. His face serious and calm, he then finally presented two trembling fingers slightly curved to the Emperor.

Emanuel didn't hesitate at this, smiled and stretched three fingers back towards Nasreddin.

Nasreddin's nostrils flared imperceptibly, and his hand balled up into a fist that he held forward.

There was a long moment of silence. The courtiers stuck in respectful attitudes. Their eyes glittered as so many precious stones. The innumerate candles and their threads of perfumed smoke seemed immobile themselves, in expectation.

At last, the emperor turned in full majesty to a fruit-basket, plucked a sweet grape and ate it with intent.

Nasreddin, after observing quietly the imperial chewing, put unexpectedly one hand under his garment. The courtiers froze with alarm. There was no danger though. Hoça produced a smoked fish. He ate up a whole herring with bones and everything, ignoring the amazement of the noble audience.

At the sight of this, the emperor crossed himself. Then he rejoined his throne and Nasreddin was led to the door, backwards, with many signs of respect.

Later, the courtiers begged the emperor to let them understand the meaning of the silent disputation.

“How could you miss the meaning? This man is a skilful theologian. I must confess that he won the debate.” said Emanuel. “First I pointed to the sky to affirm that God is above us, in Heaven. He retorted with his finger downwards, that He also reigns here on earth. Then I showed with my finger that there is only one god as even the Musulmans agree. He reproached with two fingers that for us Christians there is also His Son. I hastened to complete, with three fingers, that we should not forget the Holy-Ghost. To this he replied shrewdly with his closed fist that he is aware of the three being one. I did not want to hurt his faith with this subject anymore. So I ate a grape to remind that life is sweet. But he observed, by swallowing a whole herring that we must take life as it is, good and bitter, altogether. Yes, he is a wise man and a friendly emissary.”

A few days later, back at Timur’s tents, in the steppe, the Emir wanted in his turn to know how things happened.

“I was forced to speak without words. The ghiaur king is a rude person... He pointed upwards to threaten me that, at any moment, I am at risk to be lifted and hanged if I don’t behave in his presence. I pointed downwards that, whatever befalls me, the whole world is at my master’s feet. Then he advanced one finger to say: “Yes, but your master has only one good eye” I showed him with two fingers that Timur’s one eye is worth both his. He insisted that all this only makes three eyes between you two. To such an insult I showed with my fist that he will end up badly beaten. He made threat by picking a grape that this is how he will pluck and bolt our eye balls. I impressed him finally by eating a whole herring with bones and all so that he understood what awaits him and his little kingdom. Finally he gave up and let me go with due honour.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

The finger

When you dream, dream big! In need, don’t beg for trifles! The smart pauper looks for changing his condition, not for alms that keep him another day as he is, a beggar. Additionally, mind the old proverb: The man who gives you fish, feeds you for a day. The one who teaches you to fish feeds you for a lifetime. All this reminds me of a story:

At one time Nasreddin was a beggar. Worse, as a timid mendicant, he was seeking charity - sweating and itching in his miserable rags, on his knees, with a look that would have broken even a tax collector’s heart – but in a lonely place where no one could have ever seen him, at the side of a deserted road by the shallow salt lake of Tuz Golu.

Most unexpectedly (Allah is the giver of all) a Sufi saint or, perhaps, kind-hearted djinn in dervish disguise – you never know for sure – came by, walking and whirling on the waters.

Compassion made him pause in front of the ragged Hoça. The immortal considered the starving beggar with pity and silence, for a while. Then, without a word, he pointed his finger at a stone and lo, it turned at once into gold! He gave the nugget to the Mullah.

Nasreddin didn’t look excessively satisfied with the alms.

The saint raised his eyebrow but touched another stone bigger yet, with the same munificent finger, and lo, it turned into solid gold too!

This time the Hodja appeared to be quite frustrated.

“What a funny mortal this one!” thought the miraculous being. He tried charity once more. This time his finger transmuted a whole heavy boulder into shining, precious metal.

Nasreddin pulled a long face in obvious disappointment and stared the saint in the eye with impertinence.

“I want more!” he said eventually.

“What on earth do you want more than this?”

“I want your finger.”