Tuesday, 6 March 2012
Turkish Nonsense Tales
Turkish Nonsense Tales
By Stephen van Rensselaer Trowbridge
From Everyland magazine, August, 1916. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, Dec 2011.
These tales have been told to the children in Turkey for many generations. Mr. Trowbridge, who grew up in a missionary home in Turkey, heard them from his nurse when a little boy.
In these tales the central character, Nasr-ed-Din, is said by some to have been the court jester of Tamerlane. According to other traditions, he was a local schoolteacher (Hoja) in Eskishehir during the early part of the fifteenth century, when the Ottoman Empire was in its making. His grave is shown to this day, and in front of it a large gate standing alone, with neither fence nor wall anywhere in sight, as though there ought to be something humorous even in his burial. The title Hoja, or more correctly Khoja, is almost invariably prefixed to his name.
The Tar on the Donkey’s Back
While on his way from the mountain where he had worked hard cutting firewood, Nasr-ed-Din, trudging along behind his loaded donkey, came to a level place by the riverside. Some men had a boat out of the water and were smearing its sides with tar.
"What are you doing that for?" he asked.
"To make the boat go faster through the water." they replied.
"Oh," said he, "if I had only known, I could have put tar on my donkey's sides and we would have been home long before this." And then, after a moment's reflection, he asked, "Would you be willing to put some on now?"
"Certainly," they said.
So one of them dipped up a ladleful of the hot, black stuff and began pouring it on the donkey's back. Up went his heels and away he rushed at a gallop, braying as he ran. Pieces of wood from his load flew here and there as he went tearing up the opposite hillside. Meanwhile, his master stood still like one stunned. If I do not do something quickly, he thought, I shall never see my wood and my ass again.
"Pour some of that wonderful liquid: down my back," he begged, "and maybe I can catch up."
The moment he felt the touch of the boiling tar, he shouted with the pain and started off. On and on he raced, but the donkey seemed just as far ahead as ever. His house came in sight, just off the main road, but he could not stop.
His wife came out, calling to him as he raced by.
"If you ever expect to catch up with me," he shouted, as he went over the top of the next hill, "go down to the river and get the boatmen to put some tar down your back."
IT happened one night that Nasr-ed-Din Hoja was wakened up by his wife who felt sure there were burglars in the courtyard. Very cautiously he peered out into the darkness and listened. He heard some slight sounds and as he looked closely he felt sure he could see a robber moving about at the other side of the court.
So he raised his gun and fired. His wife, who had been watching at the window behind him, burst out laughing, "Why, that is nothing but your shirt! I myself hung it on the line at sundown."
At once he dropped to his knees and exclaimed with deep emotion, "Thank God I wasn't in my shirt when I shot it!"
THE Hoja's wife being of a very religious disposition the conversation one day turned on the question of saying, "In Sha Allah" (God willing), whenever speaking of any future event.
"You don't say this in making your plans, and I wish you would.” she complained.
"I fail to see any use in always saying 'If God wills,' " he replied. "For instance, if tomorrow is fair I shall go out to my farm and enjoy the open air, and if the weather is foul I shall go down to the coffeehouse to sit with my friends. It is bound to be one or the other. Why should I say 'God willing'?"
"Do as you like, but some day you may regret your bravado."
The words were scarcely off her lips when the front door was thrust open by soldiers from the pasha. They laid hold of the Hoja and began dragging him off, saying that he was under the sultan's displeasure. Just as the soldiers were disappearing with their prisoner into the street, his wife called after him: "Don't you wish now you had said it?"
He had no chance to make any retort, but thought over his doleful plight all that night while he lay sleepless on the damp floor of the prison cell. Toward morning he remembered that he had a mejidiye (about equal to a dollar) in his pocket. With this he succeeded in bribing the jailer, and away he went, homeward, just at dawn. He knocked loudly at his front gate, and at last a voice that he knew very well called from behind a latticed window on the upper floor, "Who's there?"
"God willing, it's myself," said Nasr-ed-Din.
There was certainly the sound of gentle laughter from behind the lattice, and in a few moments the gate was unbarred and he was home again.
One cloudy night, Nasr-ed-Din Hoja climbed over a neighbor's wall by means of a ladder. He left it leaning against the inside of the orchard wall and went in among the trees to gather as many pomegranates and pears as he could carry away. Just then the neighbor appeared and ran down through the orchard, calling out, "What are you doing here? How did you get in? What do you want?
"I came to sell you a ladder," calmly said the Hoja. "And here it is by the wall.
"You impertinent poacher!" growled his neighbor, "Have you the audacity to tell me that you came here to sell me a ladder?"
"If you had studied philosophy," replied Nasr-ed-Din, "you would know that a ladder may be sold by its owner wherever it is. But since you don't know philosophy, I'll have to take it back again."
On another occasion the Hoja had taken an empty sack over his shoulder and had stealthily entered a neighbor's vegetable patch. Finding some very nice artichokes and cucumbers, he began filling the bag as fast as he could. Suddenly he was discovered.
"What have you come in here for?" angrily demanded the neighbor.
"That is the very question I was thinking over before you spoke," said Nasr-ed-Din. "Is it not strange how sometimes two people think of the same thing at once?"
His answer so pleased and amused the neighbor that a quarrel was averted and the trespass was overlooked.
The Friday Sermon
The imam who conducted the Mohammedan Friday prayers and preached to the people was once taken very ill, and Nasr-ed-Din being the schoolteacher, was invited to take his place. He accepted, but try as he might, he could not think of a sermon. Friday noon he entered the mosque with great dignity and mounted the stairs to the pulpit. He had not yet thought of a subject. After gravely surveying the congregation, he rose and asked them, "O ye people, do you know what it is that I am going to say unto you?"
Naturally they responded, "No."
"Well," he said, "if I should tell you, you would know, and what would be the use of my preaching to you about a thing you would already know? The best thing is for you to say the Fatiha (the opening chapter of the Koran) and go to your homes."
The people went away very much annoyed. And during the week they agreed that they would not be caught in this way again. So next Friday, the imam still being ill, Nasr-ed-Din was once more commissioned to deliver the sermon. He cast about in vain for a subject, but he was resolved not to let the people know his predicament. So when he stood in the pulpit he solemnly asked the same question. "Yes," said the people, "we know." For they did not think he could discover anything new to preach about.
"Very good," he replied. "Since you know, all you need to do is to go home and think it over."
You can imagine how indignant they were. After the service they met in the courtyard and decided that if he should try this silly question again, they would catch him in a trap: some would answer, "Yes, we know," and some would say, "We don't know."
The days passed and when the third Friday came, he had not yet a subject. So he propounded the old question: "Do you know, O followers of the Prophet, what I intend to declare in my sermon?"
Some said "Yes," and some said "No," and they felt sure that he would have to preach this time.
"Very well," he replied, "let those that know tell those that don't know, and then you can go home and think it over."
"Did you really have no subject in your mind?" said some one to him afterwards.
"If I should be called upon again," he answered, "I would speak on the gratitude we should feel toward God because when he created storks he did not make them as large as camels, for if he had, our chimneys would come tumbling down upon our heads."
More of these Turkish Tales will be published in an early issue.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.