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.”

Monday, 12 November 2007

Need some money

When one comes for help, don’t give advice instead. It serves little but it irritates a lot. This reminds me of a story:

Nasrudin went to Bekir the rich merchant to ask for one gold curuş :

“Why do you need to borrow so much money?” asked Bekir, in turn.
“I want to buy a camel to work my field.”
“To work your field you need an ox, not a camel.” said Bekir.

"Excuse me Bekir,” replied Nasrudin, “I came to you to ask for money, not for advice."

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Chastity on the road

Beware the paragons of ascetism and abstinence. I am frightened of what may lurk and boil in their soul. And remember: God may forgive us for the sins we have made, but He will never ever forgive us for the sins we didn’t commit. This reminds me of a story:

This is definitely not about Mullah Nasrudin. Moslems don’t do such things with unknown women. It is about an old Buddhist monk and sage. His name was Michi Hara.

One day, Michi was walking along the muddy street, after the rain, holding his begging bowl, in company of a young novice.

They saw a ravishing young woman in a beautiful silk robe apparently hesitating to step into the mud, the puddles and the dirt as she needed to go across.

Michi, generous, stepped forth, took the lady in his arms without a word and carried her to the other sidewalk, where he left her on the dry pavement. He retired in silence, answering the ladies’ profuse thanks with a polite bow.

After this, Michi and the apprentice walked for a long while through the town. The novice was burning, itching, to ask something but did not dare to do it or did not know how to do it. In fact, they walked and silently begged the whole day long. They gathered a whole bag of food offered by the charitable believers.

Late that evening, while they headed home to the cloister, the disciple couldn’t hold any more and addressed Michi Hara:

“Master, he said, I must ask..”
“Please ask.”
“We are Buddhist monks. The Buddha said about women to Ananda: “Do not see them. If you see them, do not speak to them. If they speak to you, practise mindfulness” We are not supposed to hold women in our arms! How could you do such a thing?”

Michi smiled at the young apprentice and answered with friendly indulgence:

“Dear young brother, I left that girl on the other side of a street, somewhere in a town. Are you still carrying her?”

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Going to the souk

One advice may be good counsel but following all opinions is stupid without mistake. Listen to advice without interruption, and follow your own judgement. This reminds me of a story:

One day, the Mullah went to the market in Konya with his son. As they only had one mule the son mounted it and the Mullah walked.

A neighbour was appalled. "Now this is education! The old man walks while the lazy youngster rides!"

"I told you, father", said the boy, and they changed places.

Not far from there, a group of passers by shouted after them: "Tyrant! You, a full-grown man, ride the donkey while your child sweats and stumbles in the dust!"

This time, they mounted together.

In the next village, an angry crowd wanted to stone them: "Heartless people, do you want to kill that poor animal under your weight?"

After this, they both followed the donkey afoot.

At the gate of the town, the beggars were laughing their shirts off: "Look at these two fools! Their donkey is leading them instead of carrying them."

Friday, 9 November 2007

The wager

Circumstances are like boxes, contained in larger boxes, surrounded by still larger ones. When you rise to a wider view, some unattainable things come within reach. This reminds me of a story:

Timur was open-handed with his courtiers but somehow he would always take more than he gave. One whispered once that he would give with both hands but take with his feet too. To put it short, Nasrudin the jester wasn’t earning much money in spite of his much appreciated entertainment and advice. Because of this, Tamerlane was intrigued to find out at one time that his Hodja was throwing expensive parties with many guests and giving alms to the poor of Samarkand. The Emir had Nasrudin called to explain:

“I hear that you spend lavishly and indulge in philanthropy. Are you stealing me?”
“Certainly not, kind Master, how could I dare such a thing? I spend my own.”
“From whom do you have so much?”

Nasrudin leaned forward confidentially and muttered:

“I indulged in the sin of betting with rich people and I am winning money every time.”

Tamerlane was known to drink, lie and kill people. He was also possessed by the secret urge of gambling. He took the Mullah aside and asked in a low voice:

“You know my luck. What would you bet against me for a thousand silver akce stamped with my own sign?”
“If your pleasure is to lay a wager with me, I dare say for this money that tonight your Greatness will grow that blue spot - the mark of Genghis Khan - in form of a full moon, on, (forgive me to mention the place), your upper left buttock.”
Tamerlane, who was certain to win, and who also liked any allusion to Gengis was very pleased:
“Agreed!”, he said. “Tomorrow, keep your money ready!

That night Timur checked at least five times – with a silver mirror – that there was no sign on his backside.

At daybreak - having said his prayers - the great ruler honoured in person Nasrudin’s modest dwelling and claimed the money:
“You lost, worm. I win, as I always do.”
“A bet is a bet, Master. Let’s see together.”
Tamerlane rose his tunic and let down for an instant his salwar. It was obvious that there was no mark of Gengis. The Mullah handed over the sack of one thousand acke. The Emir left very pleased with this easy win.

Later at court Nasrudin looked so curiously happy that Timur had to ask:
“Do you still have money left to look so satisfied?”
“Three times what I had before O, Lord of the fortunate conjunction of the stars!”
“How is that possible?”
“I lost one bet, with you, but I won another, Master. I bet with your Vizier, four thousand silver acke, that your Highness will let down his trousers in my presence.”

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Turn your other cheek

Critique is a gift. Be careful when you criticise. Friends deserve it but often take offence. Enemies get free lessons from your critique to strengthen their wrongdoing. A wise man must be a fool indeed to teach lessons to his own enemy. Don’t fix the wrong thing.

For quite a while now, at the teahouse, as he sat at his favourite table sipping the sweet brew of the afternoon, a cheeky brat would pass and knock down Nasrudin's turban.

This happened again and again but Nasrudin, as angry as he must have been, didn't say a thing. His face got red but he remained silent. The baker even asked him:

"Hoca, how can you allow this impertinence? Why don't you stand up and teach him a lesson?"

"Teach him?" said Nasrudin. "My scolding could make him more cautious so that later he may do more harm. As I dislike him, quite a lot, I will rather let his impertinence grow every day. I will take the advice of the prophet Issa and turn to him the other cheek. If I keep sipping my own tea Allah will teach him."

And so, the shameless jest went on.

One day, a cold-eyed janissary from the troops of the Padishah was sitting at the mullah's usual place. The wicked boy, by force of habit, ran by and knocked down his turban. The soldier swung up with his sword and before thinking cut the boy's head off.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007


Success has many parents but failure is always an orphan. Similarly, insolvency has no descendants, but wealth finds many inheritors. This reminds me of a story:

The richest man in Aksehir, owner of several houses, shops, vineyards, and fields, died. At the funeral, among the numerous family members present, arrived in haste from the four corners of Anatolia, you could see Nasrudin, eyes in tears, moaning and exalting the good deeds of the deceased, with all the signs of deep regret and pain.

Noticing this, a relative of the departed came to appease him and ask him:

“Why do you suffer? You never met him and you aren’t even a distant relative of the deceased.”
“This is precisely what I regret so much.”

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

What will I say?

In little time and with effortless agreement you can build up other peoples’ knowledge. For this, cause them to put their minds together and teach each other while you keep silent. The little they know will come up like oil on the water. Then, if you still have something left to say, add your own, without fear of repeating the obsolete. This reminds me of a story:

Nasrudin was now a reputed philosopher.

The day came when he decided to walk back and bring a tear of remembrance to native Horto, the village of his first childhood slap.

The news was fast to spread over the fences. The elder of Horto, flattered by the visit of the great man hurried to bid him:

"Pray, master, do come and share your wisdom with the people!"
"Be it" he answered.

At the heart of the market, duly mounted on a huge festive barrel Hoca addressed the crowd:

"People of Horto" he started, "do you know what I will say to you?"
"Yes we do", shouted some impertinent youngsters.
"You do!" Hoca grew red in the face and left shouting: "As you cannot add a drop into a full cup, I have nothing to say to people who know. Arrogant fools!"

After this unhappy event, the notables came again to the Hodja and insisted with their humblest apologies:

"Have patience Maulana, have patience with the simple in spirit! Come again to serve the victory of Religion and impart your wisdom to the people!"

Nasrudin, generous, accepted.

It happens that the next day, a pleasant afternoon perfumed by a gentle breeze, when Hoca mounted to his improvised pulpit, he asked again:

"People of Horto, do you know what I will tell you?"
Better prepared, some voices rose:

"No, we don't know a thing."
This appeared to be just too much for the teacher:

"Ignorants! Nothing can be built on nothing! You are hopeless!" And he left.

That evening the delegation came again to intercede with the angry Mullah:

"Wise one" they said "have mercy, don't live your people in the darkness! Please, please try a last time, come to the mosque and let us see the light!"
And he accepted.

Next day, when Hoca rose to the minbar, a silence fell upon the crowd. And he asked:

"People of Horto! Do you know what I will tell you?"

Now the villagers were puzzled on how to deal with this difficult master. Shyly, some voices advanced:

"Well, some of us do but some of us don't."
"Aha!" exulted the Mullah. "Then, let those of you who know, tell those who don't!" And he left.

Monday, 5 November 2007

The goat

Bad is never good until worse arrives. This maxim – reversed - is useful in unpromising situations. You could make things even tougher and then, get back to what was before. This reminds me of a story:

Nasrudin the Mullah was dispensing much respected wisdom to the gent of Aksehir. The needy and the perplexed found light in his simple, deep words and the rich preferred to listen to his sermon rather than feel the bite of his sharp tongue.

A man came to complain about his terrible poverty:

“It is unbearable” he said, “I live with my wife, five kids, grand mother and grandpa in the one and only noisy room of a small hut and we must feed, all of us, mainly on the milk of my unique scabby goat. I am desperate, something must be done! What to do Mullah?”

Nasrudin listened with his usual compassion, pondered for a while and then said:

“This is a serious situation; we shall do one thing at a time. Go home and take the goat into the house. Feed it carefully and keep it there day and night. Come back to me in one week from now.”

The man did as he was told. He returned after one week of misery:

“Mullah, this is the bottom! The goat munched my slippers and soiled everything. It sleeps in grandfather’s lap with its hooves on my wife’s pillow. We all got bruised. The stink keeps us awake at night and we can’t even talk to each other, such is the racket. This must end before we run away, all of us.”

“I see,” said Nasrudin. “This will stop right now! Take the goat out of the house and come to me again in one week to advise what happened.”

Another week passed and the poor man came again.

“How is it now?” asked the Hodja.

“I must say that after taking the goat out of the house we felt much better”.

“Excellent!” congratulated Nasrudin. “Go on like this. You can see things are improving.”

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Half your life

Modest places require vital skills. If you are well educated, beware of the simple people. They may give you a lesson. This reminds me of a story:

Now Nasrudin was a ferryman. One day he took a scholar in his boat. As he listened to the Hodja's chatter the learned man - a scholar equal to Rumi himself - observed some errors of speech and asked:

"Tell me Hoca, did you ever study grammar?"
"What a shame! You wasted half of your life."

Nasrudin grew silent.

After a while he asked:

"Wise one, did you learn to swim?"
"No", said the professor.
"What a pity! You wasted your entire life, Master. We sink. "

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Imam Bayildy

Tyrants deserve hypocrisy. Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's. And what is yours, keep for yourself. This reminds me of a story:

Nasrudin presented to Tamerlane a dish of eggplant. It was the authentic Imam Bayıldı, the delicate dish that had an Imam faint with pleasure, prepared - as they do it at Konya - in honour of the Great Emir and in sign of the profound love and respect of the Turkish people for the generous conqueror and destroyer of their country.

The cooks were lucky. Timur, who happened to be hungry, liked this course very much. He ate a second serving and said to the Hodja:

“Worm, this is delicious. How come I did not know it before?”
“Indeed, Master, said Nasrudin, it is the best thing we can eat in this world, a gift from Allah the All Beneficent. You did not savour it before because aubergines, the Indian “brinjal” were never cooked properly until we prepared them with Turkish skill and spice.”
“Let this be served as a standing dish for all my meals” decreed Timur impetuously.

This order was strictly followed for a couple of weeks, after which the Master of the Lucky Constellations felt that he could not take another bite of it, nor see it nor – worse – smell it.

“Enough!” roared he. “Never serve this again!”
“ I have heard an do obey Master, hastened Hodja. Indeed, for a monarch of your taste aubergines is an unworthy nutriment. Rather leave it to our enemies and to the poor.”

The Ruler turned a suspicious look towards Nasrudin:

“Aren’t you speaking one and other thing like a serpent with a forked tongue? A fortnight ago, did you not praise eggplants as the supreme food?”

“That is true. But I am serving the Emir, not the aubergines.”

Friday, 2 November 2007

Stone soup

The best way to teach and to convince is to act like Socrates. Be a midwife not a schoolmaster. Come with seemingly empty hands, armed with discrete wisdom. Cook new knowledge from the ingredients everybody has and do not know how to value. When the skilled adviser did his work, people believe they are the ones who made it. This reminds me of a story:

The wind and the looting hordes had blown away even the little hospitality a pilgrim might have expected. The farmers shut themselves behind their walls, with relatives, servants, cows, sheep and poultry, all hoping to forget the world outside. Nobody would offer this poor traveller the charity of some food and a sheltered corner for a night.

After a good dozen of frozen doors slammed into his nose, Nasr Eddin tried a different way...

He knocked on the tall wooden gate of a rich household on the hillside.

"Allah help you!" said a servant, "we have nothing to give today."
"A master cook of the kings doesn't need much," Nasrudin replied, "Only a cauldron of water to prepare my stone-soup."

At that time the evenings were long and people eager to be amused with curiosities. They let him in.
"Pray let me have a cauldron of fresh water on the fire," said the Mullah.
They gave him the water.
The Mullah took out of his bag a carefully wrapped river stone.
He washed the stone thoroughly and put it in the water to boil.
The whole household gathered to see this.

After a while the Hodja borrowed a large spoon and tasted the broth:
"Umm! Very good! It needs just one pinch of salt while it simmers."
They passed him the salt.

Soon, the Mullah tried the soup and said:
"Good indeed!"
All this looked amazing and people grew very interested.
Nasr Eddin tried another sip and repeated:
"Good indeed! What we should add now is some herbs and vegetables to round everything up with a most savoury result."

At this time everyone was so curious. They brought him spice and vegetables of the season.

When the vegetables were also well boiled the Mullah licked the broth from the spoon and exclaimed:
"This is one delicious stone soup, of the kind you eat once in a lifetime! It is really worth adding to it some meat. Do you happen to have a fat bone at hand?"

The hosts were quite excited with this stone-soup and someone brought a big meaty marrow bone.

The Mullah placed the bone by the stone and everybody waited. In due course the soup was ready.

The Mullah served the soup to his merry hosts an did not forget to help himself with a large dish and, of course, with the bone. Everybody was pleased to have such a delicious meal prepared from so little.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Walking on water

“Occam’s razor” principle teaches us to shave away the useless complications. Keep it as simple as possible (but not simpler – would say Einstein). This reminds me of a story:

Tired of so many years of travel and danger, Nasrudin was wandering back home. On his way he met a Sufi saint. They walked together for many days, in silence, heading for Konya.

At the muddy banks of the Kizilirmak not far from Karalar, the large expanse of the waters halted their progress. For a while, they looked quietly at the peaceful settlement on the other side of the river.

Unexpectedly, the saint spoke: "I can walk on water. It took fifty years of meditation, and now I am light enough. But I can’t take you with me."

The Hodja raised his eyebrows:
"Fifty years? That's a long time…"

Followed another long moment of peaceful silence. Then Nasrudin added:

"Concerning me… why not stroll over to that man with the boat and pay two coppers for the passage, both of us?"