This book of folktales was a gift brought back for me from Uzbekistan with a couple of other items:
The booklet is not a top-quality production, and has some flaws and errors. By far the worst error is that one of the stories was accidentally split into two parts, the second part printed on an earlier page and the first part printed on a later one! Still, the translation is accessible, the introduction is informative, and the folktales are entertaining.
The stories are a mix of humor, wisdom, and foolishness. The central character, Mulla Nasreddin or Nasrudin, is known by a variety of names with a variety of spellings. He is sometimes clever and sometimes obtuse.
See below for some examples of his shenanigans.
Mulla Nasreddin Folktales
The Pot (page 15)
Upshot: You can’t cheat an honest man. (If you pretend to believe a pot can give birth to another pot, then you also have to credit that a pot can die!)
The Weight Lifting Contest (page 16)
I love this one. The essence of humor is the violation of expectation. We laugh at something because we are surprised. We are surprised when we expect one thing, and something else happens. In this story, we feel sure that Nasrudin will be able to lift the pillar precisely because it seems unlikely. We laugh because in the end, the actual outcome is the likely outcome… and yet we expected the opposite!
How to Become Wise (page 17)
Life is full of chicken-and-egg problems. Sometimes a circular definition, in this case, of wisdom, is the only definition that can make sense.
The Doctor (page 17)
This one reminded me of a scene in an episode of Jeeves and Wooster where Wooster tells Jeeves to send off a telegram, receives some new information, and then tells Jeeves to send off a telegram cancelling the first telegram… even though Jeeves has been standing there all along. When Jeeves points out that he hasn’t sent the first telegram off yet, Wooster tells him to hurry up and send both at once.
Yogurt Analysis (page 24)
Nasrudin lists several benefits of yogurt, learns that there isn’t any in the house, and says it’s just as well, and lists several drawbacks of yogurt. The meaning of this parable is broader than the one about the fox and the sour grapes… You should endeavor believe yogurt is good or bad entirely according to whether you have it or not. There must be a name for this kind of flip-flopping cognitive bias… or maybe it’s just called being content with what you have.
Man Waits for an Hour (page 33)
This joke must be universal. I’ve seen a Dilbert version of it. The most concise form might be:
“How do you keep an idiot in suspense?”
“I dunno, how?”
“I’ll tell you tomorrow.”
Your Eyes Are Very Red (page 36)
This joke is so random that I couldn’t have seen it coming if I’d had binoculars.
Grammar (page 37)
I acknowledge that in-depth knowledge of grammar is likely to be neither life-saving nor particularly useful, though the same could be said for my hard-won swimming skills…. It amuses me that the story about grammar has a grammar error. The traveler should say: “You who wear a turban and call yourself a Mulla…”
Across the River (page 37)
Ah, a parable about the difference between sense and reference… For me, “across the river” might be the north bank of the river. But for someone already on the north bank…
I Only Think of Others (44)
I think the parable is saying that most people are selfish, even those who attempt or claim to be selfless, and Nasrudin is unusual only in that he is aware of and proud of his selfishness. However, the message of the parable might be deeper: Even though other people are fundamentally unknowable, our instinct is to try to understand and respect others by assuming they are just like us. This approach perhaps gave rise to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would be done by. Doesn’t it seem that seeing ourselves in others is kind, and seeing others as other is cruel?
When and Why I Read Mulla Nasreddin Folktales
This small booklet was purchased for me recently in Uzbekistan.
Date started / date finished: 12-Jun-19 to 13-Jun-19
Length: 46 pages
Originally published in: 2018