Today’s Tale of Awesomeness is actually a series of five smaller tales. They are all from the stories of Nasruddin or Nasreddin Hodja.
The real Nasruddin was a Seljuk Turk, a witty and satirical Sufi who was full of stories and used anecdotes to teach his words of wisdom. If you’re not from the Muslim world, you may not have heard of him. But he is a popular folk figure in that culture where his tales, almost always pedagogical in some way, often carry some moral lesson taught in a witty, clever, or funny way. Sometimes he is the hero, but more often than not he is the butt of the joke contained in the tales. He is the quintessential “wise fool”, like the The Fool in King Lear of Shakespeare, or even Patchface from A Song of Ice and Fire from the Game of Thrones.
The following are five of my favorite Nasruddin tales. There are literally hundreds of tales starring, about, or attributable to him. Well, maybe not all are actually by him since most likely, over time, many stories got added to his body of work. Nonetheless they all carry a lesson wrapped in a funny and witty package and are thus “Nasruddin-like” in spirit.
Tale #1: The Search for Joy
One day, Nasruddin ran into a man from another town that he had not seen before and began a conversation with him. They talked about the weather, the harvest, and the markets but before long the man began to confide in Mullah Nasruddin. He stated that we was a merchant in his home town, but now he was a traveler in search of something.
The man lamented, “I am rich, but I am also sad and miserable. I have taken my money and gone traveling in search of joy – but alas, I have yet to find it.”
As the man continued speaking, Nasruddin continued to listen. Suddenly, Nasruddin grabbed the man’s bag with his belonging and money in it and ran off with it. The man was startled, and with a look of great alarm chased after him. But Nasruddin had a head start, and he soon ran out of the man’s sight. He ran down the road and after a while he stopped. Looking to see if the man had caught up and seeing that he had not yet, Nasruddin put the bag in the middle of the road for the merchant to see. He then ran and hid behind a tree.
When the man caught up to where Nasruddin had been, he found the bag, and his facial expression immediately turned from distress to joy. As the man danced in celebration of finding his bag, Nasruddin thought to himself, “Joy was right there all along for him to find”.
Tales #2: The Missed Appointment
Nasruddin loved a good argument. And one of the people he loved to debate was a philosophy instructor at the nearby school.
One day, the philosopher made an appointment with Nasruddin to have a discussion on some scholarly topic. When the day came, the philosopher dropped by Nasruddin’s house as planned. However, Nasruddin wasn’t home. The philosopher waited for a little while but became increasingly irate as the minutes ticked by. Finally, he angrily took out a pencil from his pocket and wrote “jerk” on Nasruddin’s door. Satisfied with himself for the retort, he then left in a huff.
Nasruddin finally came home a few hours later. As he neared his door, he saw what the angry visitor had written. He quickly realized that he had missed his appointment, and he dashed off to the philosopher’s house.
“I am terribly sorry,” Nasruddin told the philosopher when he got there. “I completely forgot about our appointment today. But when I got home and saw that you had written your name on my door, I came here as fast as I could.”
Tale #3: The Crowded Home
Nasruddin was often sought out by the people of his town for advice. One day, one of his neighbors came to Nasruddin and lamented, “I’m really having trouble having my family live together in our small house. It’s myself, my wife, my three kids, and my mother-in-law-all sharing the same little cottage. Nasruddin, you are a wise man. What do you think I should do?”
“Hmmm,” thought Nasruddin for a minute. Then he asked, “Do you have any chickens in your yard?”
The man was a bit surprised by the question, but answered, “I have ten.”
“Put them in the house,” said Nasruddin.
“But Mullah,” the man exclaimed. “Our house is already cramped as it is!”
“You asked me for my advice. This is my advice. Just try it,” replied Nasruddin.
The man, desperate to find a solution to his woes, followed Nasruddin’s advice. A couple of days later, he visited Nasruddin again.
“Mullah,” he said in a pained voice, “things are even worse now. With the chickens in the house, we are even more pressed for space.”
“Do you have any donkeys?” Nasruddin asked.
The neighbor was surprised again at this question. “I have one,” he replied.
“Well then, take that donkey of yours and bring it in the house,” Nasruddin advised.
The man’s eyes widened and he bemoaned and objected. But after a while, Nasruddin convinced him to try his way.
A couple of days later, the man, now looking disheveled and more distressed than ever, came back to Nasruddin.
“Now my home is even more crowded! Between my family, the chickens, and that donkey of mine, there is barely any room to move. With all the noise and the smell of the animals, we can hardly sleep!” cried the neighbor.
“I see,” Nasruddin said after a minute of thought. “Well then, do you have any other animals in your yard?”
“Yes,” the man replied slowly, “we have a goat.”
“Great,” said the Mullah. “Take the goat in your house too.”
The man blew up at Nasruddin in frustration. He fumed and fussed and seemed anything but eager to follow Nasruddin’s advice. But once again, Nasruddin persuaded the man to try his idea one last time.
The very next day, the man, now fuming and angry, came up to Nasruddin and exclaimed, “My family is really upset now. Everyone is at my throat complaining about the lack of space. Your plan is a terrible one and is making us nothing but miserable. If you can’t come up with an alternative idea, I’m going to let them come here themselves and have their way with you!”
“Perfect,” Nasruddin replied, “it is now time to take all of the animals back outside.”
With a big sigh of relief, the man followed Nasruddin’s final advice.
The next day, as Nasruddin was going on his daily walks, he ran into the neighbor.
“So, how are things now?” Nasruddin asked.
The neighbor was beaming. “Mullah, your plan has worked like a charm! With all the animals out, my house is so spacious that we can’t believe we complained about the cottage before. We’re all living so happily now!”
Tale #4: What in the World Were You Smuggling?
Nasruddin the Mullah (and sometime smuggler) was leading a donkey that had bundles of straw on its back on a road that ran through the border with a neighboring province. An experienced border inspector spotted Nasruddin coming to his checkpoint.
“Halt,” the inspector said. “Who are you and what is your business here?”
“I am a Mullah from the neighboring town. And I am an honest smuggler!” replied Nasruddin.
“Oh, really?” said the inspector with one raised eyebrow. “An honest smuggler? That’s a new one. Well Mullah Honest Smuggler, let me search those straw bundles. If I find something in them, you are required to pay a border fee!”
“There is nothing in those bundles. You will not find anything in there,” replied Nasruddin.
“Sure, that’s what all smuggler say,” the border inspector chuckled.
“I am a Mullah to my people and I do not lie,” Nasruddin sniffed.
“Nonetheless, I think I’ll trust my own eyes,” the inspector replied.
“Do as you wish,” Nasruddin replied, crossing his arms.
The inspector intensively searched and took apart the bundles, but could not find a single thing in them. He turned to Nasruddin and said, “Well, Mullah Honest Smuggler, I suppose you have managed to get one by me today. You may pass the border.”
Nasruddin crossed the border with his donkey while the annoyed inspector looked on.
The very next day, Nasruddin once again came to the border with a donkey that had bundles of straw on its back. The inspector saw Nasruddin coming and thought, “I’ll get him for sure this time.”
He checked the bundles of straw again, and then searched through Nasruddin’s clothing, and even went through the donkey’s harness. But once again he came up empty-handed. With a frown and a growing sense of annoyance, he let Nasruddin pass.
For months, and then years this same pattern continued, and every time Nasruddin came by he wore fancier clothing and more jewelry, indicating that he was getting wealthier.
Eventually, the inspector retired from his longtime job, but even in retirement he still wondered about the man with the straw-carrying donkey.
“I should have checked that donkey’s mouth more extensively,” he thought to himself. “Or maybe he hid something in the donkey’s rectum.”
Then one day while walking in a nearby city he spotted Nasruddin’s face in a crowd. “Hey,” the inspector said, “I know you! You are that man who came to my border checkpoint everyday for all those years with a donkey carrying straw. Please, I must talk to you.”
Nasruddin greeted him and came towards the inspector. “My friend, I always wondered what you were smuggling past my border everyday. I am now retired and no longer have a post with the government. But I have a question I must ask you. Just between you and me, what in the world were you smuggling for all those years? I must know!”
Nasruddin simply replied, “Donkeys.”
Tale #5: Avoiding Criticism
Nasruddin and his son were traveling with their donkey one day. Nasruddin preferred to walk while his son rode the donkey. After traveling down the road for some time, they passed a group of people by the roadside.
They looked at the traveling pair, and one exclaimed, “Look at that selfish boy, riding on a donkey while his poor old father is forced to walk alongside! That is so disrespectful. What a spoiled and horrible child!”
Nasruddin and his son overheard this and looked at each other, red with embarrassment. They had not thought about how what they did would appear to other people. So, they switched places. The son got off the donkey to walk while Nasruddin got on the donkey.
Feeling satisfied, they soon passed another group of people a little further down the road.
“Oh, that’s terrible!” one of them cried out. “Look at that poor young boy walk while his abusive father rides the donkey! That detestable man should be ashamed of himself for the way he’s treating his son. What a heartless parent!”
Nasruddin was upset to hear this. He didn’t like other people criticizing him and wanted to avoid their scorn. He decided to have both himself and his son ride the donkey at the same time. Now, he was sure, no one would be able to criticize them.
As they both rode, they passed another group of people. “Look at those two! That man and his son are so cruel,” one bystander said. “Just look at how they are forcing that poor donkey to bear the weight of two people. They have no shame for how they mistreat that animal. What scoundrels!”
Nasruddin heard this too and sighed. He turned to his son and said, “I guess the only way we can avoid the criticism of others is to both walk.”
“I suppose you are right,” the son replied.
So they got off the donkey and continued on foot. By then it was afternoon and getting warm. Soon enough they passed another group of people and heard yet more comments. They heard the crowd laughing.
“Ha, ha, ha,” the group jeered. “Look at those two idiots. They are so foolish that both of them are walking under this scorching hot sun and neither of them is riding the donkey! What morons!”