Wednesday, 31 October 2007

A Turkish bath...

You are worth to people as much as they hope from you, teaches Gracian the philosopher. Not as much as they owe you. Only fools count on gratitude. If you want something, offer expectation in exchange. This reminds me of a story:

The sweaty Mullah tired by the big city felt it was time to take a good bath.

The chambers and washrooms of the old Court hammam in Konya were swarming with merry people glad to escape the sandy heat of the simoom, the poisonous wind of the summer.

As his garment was poor and his face shy, Nasrudin was given a soiled towel, stinky slippers, a tiny piece of scorched soap and, of course, no attention. Well, at least they let him in.

On his way out, he did not forget to leave an amazingly rich tip - a small gold coin.

The following week, when he went to the bath, our Hoca was pampered like a pasha: large soft towels, sandal-wood clogs, silk peshtemal, precious scented soap at the soaking pools, refreshing drinks, total massage - at the limit between heavenly pleasure and true pain - with abundant perfumed foam and even other attentions, all ended with finest soothing oils, in the relaxing half-light of the rest room.

On his way out, he threw a small copper coin to the tellaks bowing low to salute him.

You should have seen their long faces:

"Why master? Didn't you like the service? Last time you gave us gold."

"Ah, I liked it very much; but the gold was for this time, my good man. The copper is for the last time."

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

About giving and taking

You can pronounce all the right words and still not be understood. Use the talk fit to the folk you address. As the sage said, you cannot bring the people to the words, you must bring the words to the people. This reminds me of a story:

St Peter Drowning CC J. Jaritz
Kassim the taxman, the one squeezing the people each autumn for their last dime, fell into the fountain and was about to drawn.

A flock of villagers stretched out helpful hands and shouted interrupting each other:

“Your hand!”
“Come, reach out! Let me have your hand”
“Give me your hand! Quick!”

All this, to no avail. The taxman kept thrashing around, choking and splashing, more and more exhausted.

Now Nasruddin held out his arm and shouted:

“Take my hand, Kassim!”

The man instantly grabbed the hand and was pulled out of the water. To the amazed audience, the Hodja explained the obvious fact:

“Did you ever see a taxman giving? They only know taking.”

Monday, 29 October 2007

The word of a donkey

When nothing else works, get offended. Indignation, if you keep calm, can be useful in lack of better arguments. You look stiff but dignified. You may get away with it. This reminds me of a story:

Reposing peacefully under his porch, Nasreddin sipped warm sweet tea, with delight. Hassan, the neighbour, chose this moment to come and ask for a small favour.

“Please Hoça, lend me your donkey. I need to carry my wood for this winter. I’ll bring it back, healthy and well fed, after tomorrow.”

“I am so sorry," replied Hodja, "unfortunately I already lent him to my mother in law. He's away for a week to carry her water.”

As Nasreddin finished saying this, the darn beast could find nothing better to do than to bray loudly from the stable.

Hassan exclaimed: “Aaa! As I hear, Hoça, the animal is denying in his own voice what you just said.”

At this Hodja turned red with anger and yelled:

“Away with you, boor! If you take my ass's word over mine, we have no business talking to each other! Go and ask the donkey to lend me!"

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Sitting by the river

“We learn from history that people learn nothing from history” finds one philosopher. “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to live it again” adds another. Try at least to learn this: The change of kings is the joy of fools... This reminds me of a story:

Leech attack CC C. Fisher
The Mullah was sitting as usual, in his favourite spot by the watercourse under the old weeping willow, meditating deeply to the curious difficulty of bathing more than once in the same river.

As he sat, a busy fox slipped into the water.

A whirlpool almost drowned her.

Then the currents tired her.

Exhausted and drenched to the bone the poor beast was lucky enough to grab a hanging weed with her teeth. She kept afloat waiting to gather strength, enough to climb out the riverside. But she was really too weak to rise.

This is when a bunch of leeches found the occasion good to stick unto the fox and feast merrily of her blood.

Witness of such misfortune our good Mullah wished to help.

The wet fox was too heavy and too mad to pull out of the water with only one hand. Hoca was also afraid that he could slip over the muddy edge.

The best he could do was to pull the awful leaches and appease the misery of the poor fox.

Now what do you think?

Through her clenched teeth the fox yelped:

"Stop doing this, fool!"

"Why?" asked Nasruddin, "I'm trying to lessen your ache"

"Why! Why! Don't you see that the leeches on my back are already full? If you take these away, new, hungry ones will come to tax me and suck my blood with fresh appetite, all over again."

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Point of view

You gain great freedom in the mind when you multiply your points of 
view. Most people are slaves of only one - and proud of it. poor creatures, little do they know that you are a host today and a stranger tomorrow, and then the world, the same world will look quite different. You may need to find a simple way to make them understand that they are not the navel of the Universe. This reminds me of a story:

Hoca was sitting by the river, enjoying a small pot of halwa, when a horde of mounted archers thundered onto the other bank in a cloud of dust.

It was led by one of Timur's captains, who shouted across the waters:

"Ho! Stranger! How do I get to the other side?"

To this Nasruddin - who felt no hurry to get in touch - hollered back promptly:

"Why bother? You are already on the other side!"


As he hastened away, out of arrow’s shooting distance he added:

"Besides, I m no stranger, I live here!"

Friday, 26 October 2007

How many sparrows are we worth? (A Handful of Sparrows)

If you have a gift of doing things with words, learn to keep your mouth shut. When you feel witty remember that a good joke never won over an enemy but often lost a friend. The right word can save a life but a bright one can put it on the line. Treasure then the clever word and use it sparingly, at the time of need. This reminds me of a story:

Nasreddin was at one time a hermit high on the mountain, where no tree endures, where his peace of mind was preserved from renown by the sharp wind and the rolling stones. In silence, he understood everything, and his wisdom grew so vast that he even knew that which he did not know.

Two young princes thought to mock this notorious sage.

"Let's go to him and try him. When we get there, you will hide a sparrow in your hands, behind your back. We will ask him what we brought. He will guess, maybe. But then we will ask, "Does it live?" If he says yes, you wring its neck. If he says no, we show it alive.""

As they said, they did.

They travelled for a long while and tired often and almost renounced. At last they arrived. When he saw them panting at the entrance of the cave the old man greeted them with a pleasant smile:

"Welcome young blue-blooded princes! So you came with the sparrow.“

The two pranksters blushed angrily.

"Yes, yes, but does it live?"

Nasreddin, suddenly worried, looked at each of them in turn, humbly, scratched his head, then smiled with that deep, unbearable sympathy for all sentient beings and whispered very, very carefully:

"It's in your hands! it's in your hands!".

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Seven monkeys

They cannot cheat everybody, all of the time. They can only deceive some of the people, some of the time. And that is sufficient for staying in business. This reminds me of a story:

The Hodja had seven monkeys. One morning he told them:
"I will give each of you three figs in the morning and four in the evening. That will feed you for the day and there is no more."

The angry monkeys started to scream.

"All right", he said, "I will give you four figs in the morning and three in the evening."

With this, the monkeys were appeased.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Charity is easy (Sharing is good)

Breughel, The Seven Acts of Charity
Agreed, those who have should give to those who don’t. To do this freely is charity and goodness. But who has right to receive, to take what, from whom, is a conversation that overthrew empires. Tread with care! This reminds me of a story:

It so happens that one autumn Nasreddin was appointed qadi of Aksehir. With the eagerness of the new broom, the fresh judge was impatient to clean the town of all the wrongs.

Khadija, his wife came from the market and told him,

“This morning I saw a man in rags falling down in a faint by the melon stall. So meagre he was! This is not right. The poor get poorer every day and the rich get richer.

"Why let some people hungry and angry with envy while their neighbours lie sick with fatness? And what good is heaping up coins on top of other coins? You must go and tell everybody to share like real brethren and true believers."

Hodja loved the idea. He was out the whole next day to talk with people, man to man, one by one, house by house, market, bath and caravanserai, not forgetting the mosque. He explained the moral duty of sharing, to everyone, until his throat got sore.

Late evening Nasreddin returned home exhausted but satisfied.

“Woman," he said, "half of the work is done. In only one day I convinced all the poor of the town, without exception, that all riches must be shared."

"Now there only remains, for tomorrow, to do the other half, and to convince the rich.”

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

The right place for halwa

Do not deny yourself the little pleasures you can afford now. Let life test your abstinence with the many desires you cannot fulfil. Is it not true that having a strong will means obtaining what you want rather than abstaining from what you want? This reminds me of a story:

Hodja’s wife bought some halwa. As it was the holy month of Ramadan, Nasreddin only had some of it, his preferred sweet, after sundown. The evening was too short to swallow it all. Quite a lot remained on the plate.

They went to sleep but the Hodja couldn’t close an eye, half of the night. The remaining halwa, in the kitchen, spoiled his sleep.

“There is halwa left” moaned he after a while.

“Don’t worry, it’s safe in the kitchen, covered with a napkin, the flies won’t touch it” said Khadija.

Soon Nasreddin started again,

“I didn’t finish the halwa!”

“Never mind, you’ll have it tomorrow night”

After another while Hodja jumped out of the bed and run to the kitchen. He ate the whole lot, to the last crumb and went back to bed with a full belly and comforted at last.

“Why this gluttony” said Khadija “the halwa was all yours, safe in the kitchen”

“No, woman, it was in my head. The right resting place for halwa is not in the head, but in the stomach where it belongs.”

Monday, 22 October 2007

Duck soup

When you need to talk with many, don’t forget that your words get thinner as they pass from person to person, until there is nothing left. Likewise, when you give to everybody do not expect much from individuals. This reminds me of a story:

They say that Mullah Nasreddin, the shameless thief of wisdom and jester of the kings, was, once upon a time, a poor but hospitable man, humble teacher in the town of Aksehir.

One afternoon a man from Horto - one of his several native villages - paid visit to him and brought a fat duck as a present. The Mullah was exceedingly happy. Without delay he plucked the duck and prepared a delicious soup, which he shared with his guest.

The day after, another man came to see the Hodja. He brought no present but he explained: "I am the brother of the man who offered you the duck."

"Be welcome" said Nasreddin and invited him to share dinner.

Another day passed and another empty-handed visitor knocked at the door. "May you only know youth, prosperity and good health" he said, "I am the cousin of the brother of the man who brought you the duck." The Hodja asked him in and offered him hospitality.

Now it happens that one week after that, yet another man came to say: "Be blessed Hodja, I am the neighbour of the cousin of the brother of the man who brought you the duck, and I bring you more greetings".

Nasreddin sat him at the guest table and they had a pleasant chat while dinner was prepared. Then, he carried to the table a big pot of boiling water from which he served a large bowl for the visitor.

"What is this, Hodja?" exclaimed the man.
"This, my friend, is the soup of the soup, of the soup, of the soup, of the duck."

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Early bird…

The false wisdom that working long and hard is all you need for success was invented to make the many toil for the few. As for the few, they know that arriving at the right time to the right place will take you much further. This reminds me of a story:

Nasrudin used to sleep late. His neighbours woke up at the first break of morning. One day, at sunrise, one of them was lucky enough to find a gold coin in the dust of the road. That evening he gave a lesson to the lazy mullah.

“Look at this Hoca! Allah provides reward for the early bird. Yesterday evening I was heading home tired on the empty road and I promise you, there was nothing in the dust. But rising early was rewarded in full. I was paid with this shining coin. Meanwhile, the late sleepers find nothing. There is some justice in the world.”

“You are silly” answered Nasredin, “What justice? The one who’s mourning that coin was on the road earlier, even before you. And he still lost his money.”

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Seeking and finding

Some rare people find new meanings for old things. Others give old explanations to new things. This is sad but so normal; for the man with the hammer, everything looks like a nail. This reminds me of a story:

It was a dark autumn night. The Mullah, down on his elbows and knees, was searching assiduously in the dust, under the street light.

A belated neighbour asked him:
"What are you doing Hoca?"
"I am looking for my key."

The helpful neighbour got down on his knees to give a hand. They searched at length, without result.

Tired, the man finally asked:
"Tell me Hoca, are you certain that you lost your keys here?"
"Of course not," replied Nasrudin, "I lost them in my cellar."
"Then why on earth do you look for them in the street?"
"For there is more light here."

Friday, 19 October 2007

Thief in a box

If you want to really learn something, do it. You cannot swim on the shore. This reminds me of a story:

This is the meaningful tale of the son of a thief, as the Mulla learned it in far away China and then told it as his own, many times:

The son of a thief saw his father growing older and resolved to start helping him.

“If you become too old, I will have to be the breadwinner of the family.” said he. “It’s time to teach me your craft of stealing, if you please.”

The old thief agreed and took him the same night to rob a rich house.

The thief cut a hole in the fence and they tiptoed into the house. Then he opened a large chest and pointed his son to go inside and look for jewels.

As soon as the young man got in, the thief shut the lid, locked it, and left. He also threw a stone in the courtyard to wake up the family while he quietly slipped away through the fence.

The people of the house lighted candles but found nothing. The son froze frightened, confined in the chest.

After a while, as his heartbeat decreased but his despair grew he had an idea. He scratched the wood to imitate the gnawing of a mouse.

The lady of the house told a maid to take a candle and look into the chest. Once the lid unlocked, the captive leaped out, blew out the light of the maid’s hand and fled. Everybody caught arms and charged after him.

The boy ran for his life. Through the bushes, the party was getting closer. Then he saw a well.

He threw in a boulder and hid in the thicket. As his hunters lost time to fish out his drowned body the boy crawled away and got safely to his house.

His father looked at him with interest and asked him how he got off.

“Why did you act so cruelly?” reproached the son.

“Well my son, isn’t this what you wanted? Here you are, now you learned the art of burglary.”

Thursday, 18 October 2007

The right perspective

Bare truth is a sharp knife. As Balthasar Gracian said, you should seize things not by the blade, which cuts you, but by the handle to use them. Among people, clothe naked truth with good sense and politeness. This reminds me of a story:

As everybody knows by now, Timur the Lame was not only limping but also one-eyed and crippled in one wrist. At one time of leisure, in Samarkand where he sat court and erected his sky-blue palaces, dream gardens and lavish imperial tents, the mighty Emir fancied his painted image to be made for the wonder and joy of generations to come. A portrait to last across the ages to show who he used to be.

The court painter, who was sent for in China, displayed his finest art. For thirty days he ravished into a spitting image, a perfect reflection, the very twin of the living Timur, the incomparable emir, looking straight at you from the canvas.

The thirty-first day, the ruler ordered the portrait to be uncovered, looked at it and grew angry: "This is true, but it is ugly. Take this worm out and bring me back his head on a platter, to rest my shorter leg and my blind eye on it!"

The second painter of the court tried his luck. With shaking limbs, he presented his own work to the brow rising emir. Timur admired the picture for a while before he decided,

"This image is beautiful but it is not true. Take this cheap flatterer out of my presence and let him be beheaded! You can leave his head outside, by his feet."

No third painter gathered enough courage to try again, so that it was, as often before, Nasreddin's time to be summoned and offered to choose between brush and blade. Hoça chose the brush and worked hard (with some help from paid artists, too shy to claim their merit at that time).

After six months, when the spring came, the day of showing could not be delayed any more.

Timur uncovered the portrait with his own hand.

He looked, and looked, scratched his head, frowned, turned his eye skywards, smoked a whole narghileh and then allowed a large smile to spread on his imperial face.

"Not so bad", he said. "I'm not handsome but seen from a reasonable distance among my troops I look proud. On horseback, who could notice that I'm lame? From one side, nobody sees that I have only that good eye. As I am holding my side quiver, my deformed wrist is hidden . Let this witty painter be showered with a thousand gold dirham. He knows how to show the truth to the people."

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

One famous strike of scimitar

Wisdom is constantly fitting your actions to your means not to your dreams. This reminds me of a story:

At the coffee-house, everybody was bragging of their military exploits.

“And you?” asked one turning to Nasreddin.

“I? One day, on the battlefield, I cut an enemy’s leg with one strike of scimitar.”

“Why not the head, as other people do?”

“That was impossible. Someone else had already cut the head.”

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Smuggling common sense

It is most difficult to see things that are not there but the obvious is even harder to observe. Do fish notice water? No, it is all around them. Is water important for fish? Certainly, it is. This common difficulty to notice the evident makes detecting the obvious  a vital art of masters: learn to marvel why some long held belief is so certain and look at it otherwise. Such trifles can change the world. This reminds me of a story:

 It used to happen when Nasreddin was still forever young and his beard was still black and cheeky, before his pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.

Season after season, day in day out and even three or four times a day, he would ride his donkey through the toll gate up the valley. Time after time the customs officers would check his load, saddlebags and even his turban.

They never found more than loads of hay. They knew there had to be something but just couldn't find what.

This ploy continued under the nose of the border guards, for several years, to the despair of the captain.

Forty years later, the retired captain leaned over the table at the tea house in Aksehir, closer to the Mullah's now respectable white beard and asked,

"Just tell me Hoça, before we die in our old age and your smart trick gets lost. What were you hiding? I checked you so many times, with my own hand, and your donkeys never carried anything other than hay. What was it that you smuggled?"

The Mullah stared at him with his round innocent eyes.

"Donkeys, what else my good man?"

Monday, 15 October 2007

A time for asking

Some simpletons, too busy with what they want will importune you and then ask for a favour. To do better than this, when you petition think people! Care to understand them if you need their understanding. This reminds me of a story:

Nasreddin was repairing the roof. 

Not easy when you are beyond your first youth. A neighbour called him from the street.



Come down, I have something important to talk with you.”

“Can’t wait?”

“It’s urgent!”

The Mullah climbed down from the roof with some pain.

“What is it?”

The neighbour whispered into his ear, confidentially:

“Can you please lend me five silver akce?”

“Come up with me.” said Nasreddin.

The man worked his way up a creaky ladder after  the Hodja. This took some time, as Nasreddin was old and not so quick. Finally on the roof he asked again:

“Can I have the money now?”

Nasreddin leaned over and whispered confidentially into his ear:

’m so sorry, I do not carry my purse with me when I'm repairing the roof.”

Sunday, 14 October 2007

When the whole world smells of fish

When the whole world smells fish.. you better clean your nose. Understanding these words will spare you much trouble and danger in your life. This reminds me of a story:

How will be the people in the next town?
Nasreddin was on his way home from saint Mecca.

Midway on the sandy road between two cities he met a man. They greeted each other and sat down to chatter, as lonely travellers are so happy to do.

"Tell me Hoca," asked the pilgrim, who looked tired and worried, "since you came that way you must know. How are the people in the city from where you come and where I happen to go?"

The mullah inquired:
"First tell me how were the people in the town you come from?"
"They were despicable evil people. They were out to get me. I was lucky to escape them."

"Well, my friend, they will be all the same in the city where you go."

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Filial piety

Beware; nothing is impossible for the man who does not have to do it himself. Dictators, theorists, politicians gone astray from reality will come upon you with utopian nowhere places and reckless orders and doctrines, without care for your life or for the realities you live. But as an African proverb goes, "when the great lord passes, the wise peasant bows deeply and farts in silence".

When faced with lunatic, dangerous commands, survive with unashamed make-believe. Under tyranny, public delusion is a way of life. This reminds me of a story:

Some learned people say this story was about bright Birbal, the Hindu sage at King Akbar’s court. But I say for my purpose that it was about Nasreddin, at Tamerlane’s palaces in Samarkand.

At that time Nasreddin still had the ear of Emir Timur, and enjoyed the luxury of speaking some truth from time to time. From the gold thrown to him by the master, our Mullah had built for himself a nice house, with a nice little green garden and even his own nice, deep, stone well with fresh water. This prosperity filled the royal barber and other flatterers with envy.

Now everybody knows that for Timur, other people’s sons and fathers did not count more then chaff, but he was much attached to family values when it came to his own. He would keep a close eye on his sons and heirs, throw a palace here and a garden or a mosque there for his wives and most of all cherish the memory of his late father Taragai of the Barlas. His father had been unquestionably a saint. The proof was that Timur said so and nobody in their right minds ever contradicted him to his face.

To the royal barber, whom Nasreddin had fooled a couple of times, this filial piety seemed to offer a smooth path to getting revenge on Nasreddin.

One morning, while busying his hands in the Emir’s beard, the barber related to the ruler an amazing dream he had the previous night:

“Great emir, he said shamelessly, I dreamt I was in heaven last night. Lo, there were martyrs everywhere, taking delight, as they pleased, in the company of innumerable virgins, the honey was flowing like rivers and the people of times past, few of which I knew, were enjoying themselves, each according to his merit before the all knowing face of Allah the Merciful.”

“Did you meet my father the saint?” asked Timur suddenly interested.

“Certainly I did, even as I see you now, Master! And he honoured me by allowing me to bring you his best wishes. Barber, he said, tell my son that I am well here, in great health, all ailments past. Nothing wrong ever befalls me. In fact, nothing ever happens in this blessed place. Except, perhaps that I am so bored. Could my son please send to me his jester to amuse me with his silly stories? Would he do this much for his departed father?”

Tamerlane allowed himself to be very touched by this testimony. He sent for Nasreddin and told him of the wonderful dream:

“Be happy", he said, "my father wants your company in Paradise. Your troubles are ended. I have no doubt, you will be cheerful to leave this world for the better one.”

 Nasreddin had only the briefest moment of hesitation before replying:
“I will be glad and greatly honoured, Master” he said shyly, while whipping the cold sweat from his nape with a large handkerchief. “But I am so surprised that I can hardly speak. May I consider till tomorrow and be allowed to choose the manner in which I will pass away?”

“You may”, answered the Emir, generously.

Early next morning, after a night of deep thought, Hodja proposed:

“Kind Master, I need the month of Ramadan to clean myself of all sinful thoughts. Then, I would like to depart by means of jumping into the well in my own garden. I hope your Majesty will deign to be my witness. After I leave, I wish the well to be covered without delay with a stone slate and never be used again. Is this allowed by your greatness?”

“It is. Go and prepare.”

Nasreddin went home and worked the whole month in the well, day and night, digging a long tunnel that started hidden under water level and ended in the secret basement of the house. He also amassed ample provisions and some secret company, which we will mention soon. At the end of Ramadan the Hodja came into the exalted presence of the Emir and said:

“I am ready, Master. What message do you send to your saintly father?”

“With my greetings, bring him my excuses for the worthless gift of your person. And do your best to amuse him with witty stories.”

Later that day the Mullah jumped into the well in the presence of the Emir surrounded by a large assistance. A huge slate of heavy stone was at once placed upon the well and in a few days the whole matter was forgotten.

Meanwhile, Nasreddin, landed in the water, got soaked, swam and crawled safely into his basement and hid there like in a comfortable nest. 

For six dark months, at the perfumed light of oil lamps, he relaxed,  ate delicacies and drank sweet wine in the company of two charming dancers, pampered with pleasures we cannot mention here in detail, for fear of hurting young ears. For all this time he left his hair unkempt and his beard untrimmed, notwithstanding the well known advice of the Prophet (pbuh).

When the six months were over, he came out and presented his scruffy self to the presence of Timur.

“Nasreddin!" exclaimed the Emir. "What are you doing here?”

“I’m back from Paradise. Your noble father was pleased with me and  let me to serve him for long months. After I ended all my stories he sent me back to enjoy my days on Earth, inch Allah. He sends you word that he is very well and proud to learn about your great deeds. But he has one annoyance: as you can see, barbers seldom get to paradise. After having listened to my hair-rising stories, he would now like to have his white beard and his hairdo cared for. He wishes you to send your own barber to him for a short while.”

This was done promptly, as Timur knew how to appreciate pitiless humour.

Friday, 12 October 2007


There is nothing new in the world but for a newborn all the stories are new. For the newcomer to Nasreddin Hodja, the 111 stories that follow promise a discovery. As for Nasreddin’s old friends, they are a modest aide-mémoire.

This booklet was mainly written for my imaginary grand children. I collected the traditional Hodja fables under this title because, to advise or teach, I do not like to tell one directly how to think or what to do. Instead, almost everything “reminds me of a story”. Often, it is a Nasreddin story.

As I am a shameless thief of wisdom, my last concern is to be original. Of late, I care to plant some good seed, not to boast as when I was young: “Me! Me! Me!” These stories belong to the world, they were told for centuries and only the narration is mine. I worked hard to rewrite the folkloric gems in my own words, in this language which is not mine, in order to avoid the tyranny of other people’s copyrights. I want everyone enjoy freely - as all knowledge should be - an honest version of the Nasreddin treasury, careful to bring back astute ideas often lost in the “joke” variants so abundant on the Net and in the chap-printings.

I re-tell the Nasreddin tales from the point of view of Western civilization willing to learn some subtlety from the East. I hope that such rendering builds bridges among cultures in times when mutual understanding and respect are more than needed.

As you will find in innumerable sources, Nasreddin the Hodja or Hoça or the Mullah was born in Turkey but also in other many countries of the East and his mule was – and still is - loaded with many hundreds of stories of disparate kinds and origins: Turkish, Jewish, Persian, Indian and Afghan, even Chinese. The Balkans, North Africa and Asia swarm with avatars of Nasreddin. At present, European and American stories also claim their place in the Nasreddin treasury of wit. At times I made the mullah's mule carry stories from other traditions, in all good faith; today the Hodja stories are, I am convinced, a living folklore of the World.

People imagined the Nasreddin that fitted their needs and fancy. There are sage Sufi-flavoured Mullahs that teach us wisdom and stupid Effendis that make the stupid feel clever. There are bold subversive Hoças ridiculing tyranny and fanaticism at the whiskers of the tiger and, if one likes so, sheepish little nasruddins ready to sell their soul (as my late much-loved dog Tao would have done) for a plate of mutton. Some people even enjoy a paedophile Hoça, the scatological Hoça, or an evil, idiotic, “Beavis and Butthead”– like Nasreddin. You will find those collector items in “complete” academic anthologies but certainly not here. We have the right to select.

My chosen Hodja is wise and bright, maybe somewhat cynical with experience, but certainly a good person. He lived long years under tyranny and his wisdom is the one of the intellectual subverting oppression while surviving under it. He can bite, if needed. He would play the fool and make a fool out of himself if that is the price, to make other people discover how silly they are, but he is no fool. He is a sage worth listening to. So I hope...

There are good reasons to use Nasreddin fables for teaching: The attention-grabbing anecdotes of the Mullah make us learn as children learn – from examples; the unquestioned common places used as arguments cause us to absorb paradoxes without resistance. Once assimilated, the dissonance provokes minds to open. How is this possible? Nasreddin’s intuitive playing with obviousness, slippery words and challenge is ceaselessly testing the top, the borders and the bottom of everyday thinking. He reveals received ideas and exposes the nonsense we utter everyday.

In my opinion, these stories smuggle a crash course in critical thinking. And critical thinking means freedom to think with your own head, more choices in the mind. This makes a big difference in one's life…

Such innocent looking stories are deeper than amusement; as you leaf through this booklet, it assays you: you go on reading or you lose interest. If you choose to read the whole book, it reads you in its turn: What you understand depends on who you are but you discover more of what it means. In the end, once you know the stories you cannot unknow them any more. You may even be somewhat changed.

Ioan Tenner  2007 - 2017

Now, to cut short, writing this, reminds me of a story that may apply to myself - a Nasreddin story, of course:

Educating the donkey

Wisdom is a treasure that grows as you give it away; it helps you do more and more with less and less. 

This is wonderful, but giving away does not make you rich, only wiser;  Folks even believe they do you a favour when they listen and accept your advice (remember that people value only what they pay for). Accordingly, I warn you: do not offer unasked counsel and do not hand it out free, as I do so often. This reminds me of a story:

The wiser the Mullah grew, the less food there was on his table. The more he taught the less he got.

Something had to be done to make both ends meet. Lack of better ideas, Nasreddin thought that he could at least teach his donkey to eat less. So, he will spare some money.

Day after day, little by little, he would give the animal less and less barley.

The donkey did not seem to mind so much, on the contrary its temper improved, he became tame and slower, careful to keep on the road.

Seeing such good progress, Nasreddin went on with the diet until the donkey only had a handful of fodder and some water for the day. The villagers were impressed.


One morning the Hodja looked into the stable and run to see his neighbour, lamenting:

"Misfortune! Everything was going so well and now, just when I taught him not to eat at all, the donkey died.