Friday, February 27, 2009

The Tales of Mullah Naseeruddin continues.....this time a score!

The legend goes that, Mulla Nasreddin was asked why he sat backwards on the donkey. Depending on the place where one heard the story (Turkey, the Middle East, Central Asia or India), the explanation would vary. Needless to say, all the answers would be sardonic, witty and full of wisdom.

Strangely, there is a similar character in "Taoism" - Elder Zhang Guo or Zhang Guo Lao (Wikipedia) - one of the Eight Immortals (Wikipedia) of "Tao" (the word "Tao" - or "Dao", depending on the romanization scheme - means "path" or "way") - who always travelled sitting on a white donkey - facing backwards. The explanation that strikes me is that this was probably a simple way used by the ancients - to depict the idea that "the journey is the reward." The destination is often your goal, but everything that happens on the way is the payola.

Note on Taoism: A principal philosophy and system of religion of China based on the teachings of Lao-tzu in the sixth century B.C. (604-531 B.C.) and on subsequent revelations. It advocates preserving and restoring the Tao in the body and the cosmos. Also spelled "Daoism" - it refers to a variety of related philosophical and religious traditions and concepts that have influenced East Asia for over two thousand years and some have spread to the West as well. The philosophy founded by Lao-Tzu, and expressed in the book sometimes called by the same name, and also known as the 'Tao Te Ching' ('Classic of the Way'), a combination of mysticism, philosophical reflection, and poetry. Unlike 'Confucianism', Taoism stresses the unity of humanity and the universe. It is the loss of that unity that is responsible for desire, competition, and the unsuccessful attempts to regulate the resulting strife by means of ethics and moral law (see also Rousseau). Lao-Tzu considered that 'When Tao is lost only then does the doctrine of virtue arise'. As a practical philosophy Taoism is therefore based on the suppression of desire in favour of natural simplicity and tranquillity. Taoist propriety and ethics emphasize the Three Jewels of the Tao: Compassion, Moderation, and Humility. Taoist thought generally focuses on nature, men-cosmos correspondence, health, longevity, wu wei (effortless action), liberty, immortality and spontaneity. Reverence for ancestor spirits and immortals are also common in popular Taoism.

........Continuing with Mullah Naseeruddin, here are a few more of his tales. Infact, a 'score' of them!

1) In Mullah Nasiruddin's home town some construction work was undertaken, the financing of which, and the way the contract was awarded not being the subjects of this story. After the work was completed, a big pile of dirt was left behind. Inexplicably, it was not removed, and the builders turned out to be out-of-towners who could not be located. Discussions undertaken by the neighbourhood association, the permit agencies, and eventually the city council produced no result. The dirt pile remained. During the normal drought that summer the dirt blew all over the place. People complained. Eventually the Mullah decided to take matters into his own hands. Early one morning he showed up at the dirt pile with a shovel and started digging a hole next to it. Operating with his usual trance-like intensity, he soon had dug a pretty big hole. Not too many days later, the hole he dug was deeper than the pile of dirt next to it. The Mullah next attacked the pile, enthusiastically shoveling the dirt into the adjacent hole. How a person of his age accomplished this without wrecking his back - I do not know. But a child, idly observing the show, asked one of those standard questions that are constant elements of these stories, to wit: "Mullah, what are you going to do with the pile of dirt that you dug out of the hole after you fill up the hole with the old pile of dirt?" "Do I have to think of everything?" shouted Nasruddin.

2) The Mullah's donkey ran into the square - at the center of the town - and stopped short. The Mullah fell off. Some young good-for-nothings hanging around pointed at him and laughed. "Why are you laughing? I intended to fall off! This was foreseen and planned for. It is plain to see that I am making progress. Just think about it. I used to be there. Now I am here," retorted Naseeruddin. That shut them up!

3) One day Mulla Naseeruddin and his friend was talking - at the latter's home. Suddenly, there was a power outrage. His friend told the Mulla, "Please light the candle, both the match box as well as the candle are to your right." The Mulla replied with anger, "Idiot! This room is very dark. How can I find out which is right and which is left?"

4) The Mullah's wife sent him to buy some bread. When the Mullah arrived at the bread shop - he found a long line of people - waiting to buy bread. He thought he would do something to get to the head/front of the line. He shouted, "People, don't you know that the Sultan's daughter is getting married tonight and he is giving away free bread?" The multitude ran towards the Palace - as the Sultan was generous to a fault and loved his daughter more than his life. The Mullah was now the only customer - and was about to buy bread - when he thought to himself, "Mullah, you are truly a fool. All the citizen's are getting free bread tonight and you are about to pay for it. Thereafter, he ran towards the Palace and on reaching there was thoroughly beaten up by the disappointed people!

5) Tit for tat: Nasruddin went into a shop to buy a pair of trousers. He then changed his mind and chose a cloak instead - at the same price. Picking up the cloak he started walking towards the exit. - - - "You have not paid," shouted the merchant.

- "I left you the trousers, which are of the same value as the cloak," said Nasruddin.

- "But you did not pay for the trousers either."

- "Of course not," said the Mullah; "why should I pay for something that I did not want to buy?"

6) More useful: One day Mullah Nasruddin entered his favourite tea-house and said: "The Moon is more useful than the Sun." An old man asked, "Why Mullah?" Nasruddin replied, "We need the light more during the night, than during the day!"

7) Promises kept: A friend asked the Mullah "How old are you?" "Forty," replied Nasrudin. The friend said, "But you said the same thing two years ago!" "Yes," replied Nasruddin, "I always stand by what I have said."

8) When you face things alone: "You may have lost your donkey, Nasruddin, but you don't have to grieve over it more than you did when you lost your first wife," said the villagers. "Ah, but if you remember, when I lost my wife, all you villagers said, 'we'll find you someone else.' So far, nobody has offered to replace my donkey," replied the Mullah.

9) Obligation: Once, Nasruddin nearly fell into a pool. A man who was his acquaintance - was nearby, and managed to save him. Thereafter, every time he met Nasruddin, he would remind him of the great service he had performed. When this became a trend, Nasruddin took him to the pool, jumped in, stood with his head just above the water and shouted, "Now I am as wet as I would have been if you had not saved me that day! Now, leave me alone!"

10) One evening, while walking along a deserted road, Nasruddin saw a troop of horsemen - rapidly approaching towards him. His imagination ran wild; and he visualized himself being captured or robbed or killed - terrified by these thoughts he bolted, climbed over a wall into a graveyard, and lay down in an open grave - to hide. Puzzled by his bizzare behaviour, the horsemen - honest travellers - followed him. They found him stretched out, tense, and shaking.

- "What are you doing in that grave? We saw you run away. Can we help you? Why are you here in this place?" they asked.

- "Just because you can ask a question does not mean that there is a straightforward answer to it," replied Nasruddin, who by now had realized what had happened. "It all depends upon your viewpoint. If you must know, however, I am here because of you - and you are here because of me!"

11) One day, some people saw Mullah Nasruddin - pouring the remains of his yogurt (from a bowl) into the lake.

- "Mullah Nasruddin, what are you doing?" a man asked.

- "I am turning the lake into yogurt," Nasruddin replied.

- "Can a little bit of yeast ferment the great river?" the man asked while others laughed at Nasruddin.

- "You never know, perhaps it might," the Mullah replied, "but what if it should!"

12) Once Nasruddin was made a magistrate (judge). In his first case, he agreed with both the plaintiff and the defendant.

When a case came up and the first party described the case, Mulla Sahib said, "You are right." Then the other (opposing) party pleaded the merits of the case in their favour. Mulla sahib was again very impressed. He said, "You are right". There was a third party (some people) present there. They complained, "Sir, how could it be possible that both the litigating parties are right?" The Mulla said, "Yes, you are also right." When the Court Clerk objected - that both parties cannot be right, Nasruddin said, ''I believe you are right.''

13) One day Nasruddin saw a man sitting in a pall of gloom. When asked for the reason behind his sorrow, the man replied that his life had become so miserable - that he had collected all his life's savings and was wandering about seeking happiness. All of a sudden, Nasruddin picked up the man's purse and dodging him disappeared from his sight. After some time, Nasruddin kept the purse at a place where the frantic man could see it - and then hid himself behind a tree. When the man found his purse, he forgot his grief and began dancing with joy. The Mulla murmured, ''Isn't there another way to bring happiness to a sad man?''

14) One day Nasruddin was taking a walk in his village, when several of his neighbours approached him.

- "Nasruddin Hoja!" they said to him, "you are so wise and holy! Please accept us as your pupils and teach us how we should live our lives, and what we should do!"

Nasruddin paused, then said, "Alright, I will teach you the first lesson right now. The most important thing is to take very good care of your feet and sandals; you must keep them clean and neat at all times."

The neighbours listened attentively - until they glanced down at the Hoja's feet, which were in fact quite dirty and shod in old and tattered sandals.

- "But Hoja," said one of them, "your feet are terribly dirty, and your sandals are torn! How do you expect us to follow your teachings if you don't carry them out yourself?"

- "Well," replied Nasruddin, "I don't go around asking people how I should live my life either, do I?"

15) "How come you never got married, Nasruddin?" asked his friend one day. "Well," said Nasruddin, "to tell you the truth, I spent my youth looking for the perfect woman. In Cairo, I met a beautiful and intelligent woman, with eyes like dark olives, but she was unkind. Then in Baghdad, I met a woman who was a wonderful and generous soul, but we had no interests in common. One woman after another would seem just right, but there would always be something missing. Then one day, I met her! She was beautiful, intelligent, generous and kind. We had everything in common. In fact she was perfect." "Well," said Nasruddin's friend, "what happened? Why didn't you marry her?" Nasruddin sipped his tea reflectively. "Well," he replied, "it's a sad thing. She was looking for the perfect man."

16) Once upon a time, Nasruddin went to the marketplace and put up a sign that read, "Whoever has stolen my donkey, please return it to me and I will give it to them."

- "Nasruddin!", exclaimed the townspeople, "Why did you put up such a sign?"

- "There are two great gifts in life," replied Nasruddin. "One is to find something that you've lost and the other is to give something - that you love - away."

17) "Pain," Nasruddin told a respected doctor, "is something one can get used to and live with, without too much trouble."

The satisfied physician nodded gladly - in agreement.

- "There is, however, one exception" continued Nasruddin.

- "Oh? and what is that?" asked the doctor.

- "When it hurts YOU" replied Nasruddin.

18) A man came up to Nasruddin and said, "Nasruddin, I was looking for you to tell you something, and now I have forgotten what it was I wanted to tell you....." "Never mind," said Nasruddin, "you can tell me something else....."

19) Once Mulla Nasruddin found a discarded mirror. On closely examining the object, he saw his own face/reflection, threw the mirror away as far as he could and shouted, "No wonder, this thing’s been thrown away. Who would keep something as ugly as that!"

20) Mullah Naseeruddin, the sardonic sage, once decided that he could make his donkey survive without fodder because it was proving expensive and troublesome for him. In spite of the objections raised by others, he began reducing the fodder daily - by a fistful. This continued for quite sometime until one day the dejected Mullah told people - that the foolish donkey died just as it was getting used to living without fodder. He opined that - had the donkey survived one more day without the last fistful of fodder, it would have got used to living without food and he (Naseeruddin) would have been spared a lot of trouble and expense.

The Nasreddin/Naseeruddin stories are unique. Some tales of Nasreddin are also adapted and used as 'teaching stories'. This is such a common practice that, given the nature of many of Nasreddin's jokes, multiple interpretations (or several 'layers' of meaning) are to be expected.

Photograph: At the Ankara Amusement Park: The ever smiling Hodja Nasreddin - riding on his 'bronze' donkey - backwards, no less.....!

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