One day in the madrasa as the village schoolmaster Halil was starting class, one student’s parent brought Halil a pan of baklava. Everyone’s mouth watered at the sight of all the sweet, rich pastry, but Halil put the pan away in the drawer of his desk.
Shortly afterward he was called out on urgent business. Before he left, he gave his students a complicated assignment to finish within the hour. “And I shall expect you to get everything right,” he said, “or there will be trouble.” He glared at them. “Big trouble.”
“One thing more,” Halil said as he made for the door. “I have enemies. Many despicable enemies. I keep being sent poisoned meats and poisoned sweets. Even,” he added fiercely, “poisoned baklava. I have to test everything before I eat it. So be warned. If you hope for a long life, don’t touch anything that has been sent to me. Especially baklava.”
As soon as Halil was gone, Nasruddin went to the desk and took out the pan of baklava.
“Don’t eat that!” Hussein cried out. “They may be poisoned!”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course they aren’t poisoned,” Nasruddin grinned, picking up a piece of the delicious sweetmeat. “Halil just wants to keep them for himself.” And he started in on the baklava. “They really are quite delicious,” he said, grinning widely. He ate another one, and another.
When Nasruddin’s friends saw that he didn’t fall to the floor in a writhing heap, they gathered round the desk and gobbled up the baklava. The pan was completely clean in a matter of seconds.
“But what will we tell teacher when he finds it all gone?” Hussein said, wiping the crumbs from his mouth.
Nasruddin just smiled.
A while later, when Halil returned, he went right to his desk and looked in his drawer. He glared at his students.
“Someone,” he said, “has been at my desk.”
There was a long silence.
“Someone has been in my drawer.”
Still more silence.
“And someone has eaten the baklava.”
“I ate it,” confessed Nasruddin.
“It was you who ate it! After what I told you?”
“Perhaps you have some explanation,” said Halil, “for disobeying me and risking your life. If so, I would like to hear it before you die.”
“Well,” said Nasruddin, “the assignment you gave me was far too hard for me to complete. Every problem I’ve started, ended up wrong. I knew you would be very angry and tell my parents, and they would be very disappointed and punish me. I felt so ashamed at my ignorance that I decided my only option was — forgive me, teacher, for I know it is a sin — to end my life. So that’s why I ate all your poisoned baklava. It was the only way I could think of to save myself from shame. But the weird thing is, nothing’s happened yet. I feel perfectly fine. I wonder why that is.”
Halil examined the boy’s innocent expression. “I suspect it is just a slow-acting poison,” he said, “and your imminent death is just delayed — in which case, I ought to take a look at the schoolwork you have done.”
In this famous story, young Nasruddin cannot resist his urge to eat his teacher’s baklava, so he bravely tastes the poisoned sweetmeat — seeming reckless and dangerous to his gullible classmates.
Of course the baklava isn’t poisoned. The whole class saw the parents offering the pan to the teacher. And heard Halil lie about it as if they hadn’t all already seen this, simply to scare the class from eating any.
But Nasruddin steps forward as the class leader and shows his friends there is nothing to fear. In fact, the truth is so sweet.
Some versions close the story with Nasruddin asking Halil why he hasn’t died from poisoning, but several have Halil foiling the boy’s victory by demanding his class assignment. Which ending makes the best sense to you?