Preface to Extraordinary Adventures, part 2

Preface, part 2

An excerpt from Extraordinary Adventures of Mullah Nasruddin

XNS frcoverLamfinalsealby Ron J. Suresha

Concluded from previous week

While researching the topic of taboo humor I discovered, in The Horn Book by folklore and humor scholar Gershon Legman, his stark condemnation of folk story and joke collections with all the bawdy or “objectionable” material expunged, which he calls “fakelore.” Despite my earnest efforts to locate such risqué stories with limited success, I naturally cringed at the implication that I had unwittingly committed some sort of literary and folkloric misdeed by excluding the naughty and nasty tales of my old friend, Mullah Nasruddin.
Given the immense volume of this character’s folklore, I was perplexed by the conspicuous absence of adult-themed stories among the hundreds I had indexed. The dearth of racy, earthy, profane, or ethnic material in the existing published folklore available to me seemed due in part to its exclusion from popular children’s presentations of the often-moralizing Mullah. My theory was that these “naughty Nasreddin” narratives were expurgated from popular representations of Nasreddin in an effort to “reform” the character, according to the moral codes imposed by both Islamist and Turkish nationalistic influences.
German Nasreddin scholar Ulrich Marzolph’s 1998 analysis, “What Is Folklore Good For?” asserts that “Early Turkish manuscripts comprised a large amount of sexual, scatological, and otherwise disputable material” about the “vigorous and vulgar” Mullah (1998, p. 7). With that concept in mind, I delved even deeper into scholarly texts in search of this taboo material.
Though the character’s Ottoman-Turkish name is Nasreddin Hoca, cognates such as Mullah or Sheikh Nasruddin, Djuha, Joha, Hodja, Abu Nuwas, and so on populate the folklore of many Asian, African, European, and other lands worldwide and share their narratives, so there are diverse cultural sources contributing to this collection. I refer to the character throughout the text as Mullah Nasruddin because that is how I first came to know him.
The most readily accessible bawdy Nasreddin stories employ scatological, ethnic, racial, and sexist humor. Tales involving Nasreddin’s wife and marital affairs are most prevalent, and many feature her as the sexual aggressor. The “young Nasruddin” tales often portray his pubescent sexual explorations and cunning sexual exploitation of women. Sexual stories involving Nasreddin’s donkey make up a third recurring theme. Oddly, storylines with overtly homosexual themes were most difficult to unearth: even putting out a call for such jokes among today’s Istanbul’s gay and bisexual men’s “bear” community yielded no results.
Other critical essays affirmed that these stories existed, although apparently not in contemporary English texts. Turkish scholar Seyfi Karabas observed that “erotic elements in Nasreddin Hoca narratives fulfill several important functions. To begin with, they point to various early stages in the development of Nasreddin Hoca as a trickster figure. Secondly, they serve to create humor in several ways” (p. 303). Aside from the issue of the trickster archetype, it is clear that examples of racy tales existed in the Nasreddin folklore corpus: the question was where.
A breakthrough in my research occurred with a fortunate connection early in 2014 with Hakkı Gűrkaş, a Nasreddin Hoca and Turkish Studies scholar teaching at Kennesaw College in Georgia, U.S.A. In his brilliant, wide-ranging dissertation, he refutes the characterization of Nasreddin as a trickster figure, namely due to the lack of any sort of shape-shifting powers ascribed to him. That point aside, Karabas sagely concludes that “awareness of the importance of sexuality in the life of human beings is one of the more persistent themes that help unify the whole corpus of the Nasreddin Hoca narratives. Hence, Nasreddin Hoca should not be laundered” (p. 305).
But changing social forces of eight hundred years has taken Nasreddin Hoca’s dirty laundry to the river and thrown it religiously against the rocks. This character purification began with linguistic and cultural changes brought in the transition from the Islamic Ottoman era to modern secular Turkish nationalism, and continued through the advent of printing and selective exclusion of objectionable material from published story collections. Over the centuries, Nasreddin “transformed into a charming and subtle philosopher,” according to Marzolph, “whose major preoccupation would be to confront his surroundings with apparently strange questions or unconventional solutions to common problems” (p. 7).
Gűrkaş explains the significance of the censored material: “These stories bring back into discourse what the official culture has marginalized and repressed. These stories are anti-hegemonic. The grotesque imagery deployed in these stories mocks and ridicules the absolutist morality and degrades the official culture that relies on it” (p. 178).
In the spirit of intellectual freedom and restoration of the adulterated folklore, presented here are more than 265 authentic Nasreddin Hoca stories, many of which appear here in an English trade publication for the first time. From the first volume, I rewrote over a dozen tales, according to verified alternate sources: for instance, the long tale “Four brays of the donkey” here is “Four farts”; this version of “God’s arrears to Nasruddin” has a Jewish protagonist; the sexual overtones in “The hens in the hammam” here are stated more fully. Some stories are not particularly naughty, but come from reliable sources newly available and are worth including here among the first and final sections of the Mullah’s adventures.
All narratives herein are based on published texts listed in the Sources; none of the tales presented in this or the first collection are my original or creative invention. Whenever multiple tellings of a joke or anecdote were available, they were incorporated into this work. However, for some stories I had to rely on a translation of one or two versions and my ability to interpret its cultural context and narrative arc. I have tried to convey the bawdy wit and folk wisdom of the Mullah as may have been presented and received, centuries ago, halfway around the world, by the original storytellers and listeners.
As in the previous collection, here I employ the literary device of naming the Mullah’s family, friends, neighbors, and donkey as a way to situate him in his community. Readers may take issue with the intensity and frequency of the colloquial profanity and slang invective in some dialogue; the foul language, however, is comparable to that as translated from authentic sources, albeit adapted to contemporary usage.
As exhaustive as this work may have been, this sequel and its predecessor do not represent the entire Nasreddin corpus. There are dozens of stories untranslatable from Turkish, German, Arabic, and other languages that remain inaccessible in English. Additionally, a handful of stories effectively translated, but requiring overlong cultural, religious, or wordplay explanations, must be left for another’s work.
This collection leads with “The learned and the ignorant,” a tale that proclaims its moral imperative, “Those who know should teach those who don’t know,” which represents a common creed of folklore and literature. In researching, collecting, translating, and publishing these stories, I have acquired not only the authority to disseminate the work but also a keen sense of duty. For far too long the social forces that repress sexual and other “undesirable” story elements have hidden this cache of some of the most amusing, witty, and outrageous folklore in the world.
I close this introduction with the words of the great American poet, Walt Whitman: “The dirtiest book of all is the expurgated book.” Doubtless the Mullah would agree.

doublestar-crescent smile

Works cited
Gűrkaş, Hakkı. Nasreddin Hodja and the Akşehir Festival: Invention of a Festive Tradition and Transfigurations of a Trickster, from Bukhara to Brussels. Ph.D dissertation. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University, 2008.
Karabas, Seyfi. “The Use of Eroticism in Nasreddin Hoca Anecdotes.” Western Folklore 49: 3 (July 1990), pp. 299–305. Long Beach, Calif.: Western States Folklore Society.
Legman, Gershon. The Horn Book: Studies in Erotic Folklore and Bibliography. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1964.
Marzolph, Ulrich. What Is Folklore Good For? On dealing with undesirable cultural expression. Journal of Folklore Research, 35: 1 (Jan.–Apr. 1998), pp. 5–16.
Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. New York: New American Library, 1980.

Preface to Extraordinary Adventures, excerpt 1

Preface, part 1

An excerpt from Extraordinary Adventures of Mullah Nasruddin

XNS frcoverLamfinalsealby Ron J. Suresha

Coming from an ethnically diverse family with strong oral and literary folklore traditions, I became well acquainted early on with the stories of the famous Turkish folk character, Mullah Nasruddin; a simple man of renowned humor and inscrutable wisdom, known for more than eight centuries in his native land as Nasreddin Hoca.
Sometimes my mother would tell a joke or story about the “wise fool” Mulla Nasaruddin (as he is called in Jewish folklore), usually to make a point about my contrary behavior. She would often ask, for instance, “Why do you always answer a question with another question?” to which I could be reliably predicted to retort, “Oh really, do I‽”
In my twenties, while living in several ashram (residential yoga center) communities in the U.S.A. and India, my teachers would often tell, with great relish and humor, Sheikh Nasruddin “wisdom stories” as part of their regular lessons and lectures on spiritual life.
For more than two decades, Sufi writer Idries Shah’s collections of Mullah Nasruddin stories were my only sources in English. Then, in 1999, while on my first trip to Istanbul, I acquired five Turkish-published volumes of Mullah stories in English, which were illustrated with cartoon tableaux depicting the adulterated punch-line moments from the most popular stories. Shortly after, I began to discover additional Nasreddin Hoca folklore sources online.
While compiling the first book, The Uncommon Sense of the Immortal Mullah Nasruddin, I volunteered to help reorganize the storybook collection of the Connecticut Storytelling Center in New London, where I encountered several antiquarian Nasreddin volumes in various languages. Since then I have continued to gather and collate printed books and manuscripts in English, Hebrew, Spanish, German, French, Turkish, and Hindi, as well as material published online, all of which are included in the Sources following the text of this work.
The revised 2013 edition of Uncommon Sense is an anthology of more than 365 authentic individual stories, anecdotes, jokes, jests, and quips arranged biographically into seven parts with seven sections of seven stories each. While certainly many pieces could be considered bawdy, abusive, or ethnic, the material was generally suitable for a collegiate adult readership, including hundreds of stories entirely appropriate for children. Sgott Mackensie’s watercolor cover illustration of the bewhiskered, turbaned Mullah, happily riding his beloved donkey backward in a rural setting, reflected the book’s broad appeal and presented it as a “PG-13” collection appropriate for teenagers with parental guidance. The positive critical reviews to the first book made it absolutely clear, however, that a second volume featuring the X-rated material would be a welcome addition to world literature.
While researching the topic of taboo humor I discovered, in The Horn Book by folklore and humor scholar Gershon Legman, his stark condemnation of folk story and joke collections with all the bawdy or “objectionable” material expunged, which he calls “fakelore.” Despite my earnest efforts to locate such risqué stories with limited success, I naturally cringed at the implication that I had unwittingly committed some sort of literary and folkloric misdeed by excluding the naughty and nasty tales of my old friend, Mullah Nasruddin.
Given the immense volume of this character’s folklore, I was perplexed by the conspicuous absence of adult-themed stories among the hundreds I had indexed. The dearth of racy, earthy, profane, or ethnic material in the existing published folklore available to me seemed due in part to its exclusion from popular children’s presentations of the often-moralizing Mullah. My theory was that these “naughty Nasreddin” narratives were expurgated from popular representations of Nasreddin in an effort to “reform” the character, according to the moral codes imposed by both Islamist and Turkish nationalistic influences.
German Nasreddin scholar Ulrich Marzolph’s 1998 analysis, “What Is Folklore Good For?” asserts that “Early Turkish manuscripts comprised a large amount of sexual, scatological, and otherwise disputable material” about the “vigorous and vulgar” Mullah (1998, p. 7). With that concept in mind, I delved even deeper into scholarly texts in search of this taboo material.
Though the character’s Ottoman-Turkish name is Nasreddin Hoca, cognates such as Mullah or Sheikh Nasruddin, Djuha, Joha, Hodja, Abu Nuwas, and so on populate the folklore of many Asian, African, European, and other lands worldwide and share their narratives, so there are diverse cultural sources contributing to this collection. I refer to the character throughout the text as Mullah Nasruddin because that is how I first came to know him.
The most readily accessible bawdy Nasreddin stories employ scatological, ethnic, racial, and sexist humor. Tales involving Nasreddin’s wife and marital affairs are most prevalent, and many feature her as the sexual aggressor. The “young Nasruddin” tales often portray his pubescent sexual explorations and cunning sexual exploitation of women. Sexual stories involving Nasreddin’s donkey make up a third recurring theme. Oddly, storylines with overtly homosexual themes were most difficult to unearth: even putting out a call for such jokes among today’s Istanbul’s gay and bisexual men’s “bear” community yielded no results.

 

Concluded next week

Works cited
Gűrkaş, Hakkı. Nasreddin Hodja and the Akşehir Festival: Invention of a Festive Tradition and Transfigurations of a Trickster, from Bukhara to Brussels. Ph.D dissertation. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University, 2008.
Karabas, Seyfi. “The Use of Eroticism in Nasreddin Hoca Anecdotes.” Western Folklore 49: 3 (July 1990), pp. 299–305. Long Beach, Calif.: Western States Folklore Society.
Legman, Gershon. The Horn Book: Studies in Erotic Folklore and Bibliography. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1964.
Marzolph, Ulrich. What Is Folklore Good For? On dealing with undesirable cultural expression. Journal of Folklore Research, 35: 1 (Jan.–Apr. 1998), pp. 5–16.
Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. New York: New American Library, 1980.

Swimming instructor

A Mullah Nasruddin / Nasreddin Hoca story

 

Swimming Instructor

Mullah Nasruddin
Mullah Nasruddin

One day Mullah Nasruddin was walking along a riverbank when he decided to do a necessity.

Once he’d cleaned himself, he stood up and watched his buoyant pile float away by itself, meandering down the stream.

Nasruddin gasped with disbelief, and exclaimed, “Ai vai! Undoubtedly the end of the world is nigh! Surely Judgment Day has come upon us! For this unclean thing teaches us how to swim and stay afloat in the water!”

 

Excerpted from

Extraordinary Adventures of Mullah Nasruddin
by Ron J. Suresha

now in print from Lethe Press

doublestar-crescent smileOrder the book from Amazon here.

Why the sky has no poles

A Mullah Nasruddin / Nasreddin Hoca story

 

Why the sky has no poles

Mullah Nasruddin
Mullah Nasruddin

One day as Nasruddin was preaching on the rostrum, he declared, “O true believers! We must give thanks to Allah for His infinite wisdom. For example, praise be to God that He created the sky without poles.”
The congregation was confused.
Nasruddin explained, “If He had, imagine what it would be like. In order to make a pole stand sturdy enough to hold up the entire sky, all the trees and rocks in
the world would not be sufficient.”

Excerpted from

Extraordinary Adventures of Mullah Nasruddin
by Ron J. Suresha

now in print from Lethe Press

~

Accept and adjust

A Mullah Nasruddin / Nasreddin Hoca story

 

Accept and adjust

Mullah Nasruddin
Mullah Nasruddin

One day while walking near Lake Aksehir, Mullah Nasruddin encountered a huge turtle. Seeing the Mullah, the turtle tried to beat a hasty retreat. However, Nasruddin noticed how agilely the creature moved and exclaimed, “What a strong and sturdy steed you would be for me, if only such an ugly and wild beast such as you can be tamed!”

Acting decisively, he leapt at the turtle, seized its shell and sat down on its back. The turtle, however, struggled mightily to throw him off.

Nasruddin yelled, “You can shake all you want in a vain attempt to dislodge me, but mark my words: sooner or later, you’ll get accustomed to carrying your new master!”

 

Excerpted from

Extraordinary Adventures of Mullah Nasruddin
by Ron J. Suresha

now in print from Lethe Press

~

White halvah

A Mullah Nasruddin / Nasreddin Hoca story

 

White halvah

Mullah Nasruddin
Mullah Nasruddin

One day, Nasruddin was walking in the market with his son, Ahmet, when he pointed to a white halvah and asked, “Boy, do you know what that is?”

Ahmet answered, “That is a pot with white onions.”

The Mullah said, “If I taught that to God, surely He would deny me His grace!”

Excerpted from

Extraordinary Adventures of Mullah Nasruddin
by Ron J. Suresha

now in print from Lethe Press

~

Third thief’s a charm

A Mullah Nasruddin / Nasreddin Hoca story

 

Third thief’s a charm

One day, three thieves broke into Mullah Nasruddin’s house. They grabbed him and demanded, “Tell us where you hide your money.”
Nasruddin denied having any cash hidden, but the crooks didn’t believe him. “Until you confess the location of your treasure, you will stand on one leg.”
So they made the Mullah stand on one leg. After several hours, the thieves became sleepy, so they decided to take turns keeping watch over Nasruddin. Two of the men fell asleep while the third stayed awake with Nasruddin, threatening him with a large knife from escaping.
Halfway through the night, the third thief felt a wave of compassion for the Mullah and whispered to him, “Okay, my friend, you can switch legs. Just don’t tell the other guys.”
Relieved, the Mullah thanked the third thief and told him quietly, “My son, you seem like a decent fellow. So I’ll tell you this: my money is buried in the backyard behind the mulberry tree. Without waking your friends, quickly go now and take the money all for yourself. Then scram and don’t look back.”

Mullah Nasruddin and his donkey, Karakacan. Portrait by Jaxinto.
Mullah Nasruddin and his donkey, Karakacan. Portrait by Jaxinto.

 

Excerpted from

Extraordinary Adventures of Mullah Nasruddin
by Ron J. Suresha

now in print from Lethe Press

~

Putting out roots

by rjs
Categories: Announcements
Comments: Comments Off
Published on: November 24, 2014
A Mullah Nasruddin / Nasreddin Hoca story

 

Putting out roots

Mullah Nasruddin
Mullah Nasruddin

Once Nasruddin observed a grove of trees and thought, Since those trees bear fruit, why shouldn’t I?
So the Mullah went to the field and buried himself up to his belly in theground. When night fell, the Mullah became cold and so he dug himself out and returned home.

The next day, when Fatima asked him how it went, he said, “It was okay at first. I was just about to put out roots when the cold killed them.”

 

Excerpted from

Extraordinary Adventures of Mullah Nasruddin
by Ron J. Suresha

now in print from Lethe Press

Thanks to the following folks for hosting readings of EAOMN:

~ Saints + Sinners Literary Festival

~ OutWrite Literary Festival, Washington, DC

~ Matt and Provincetown Public Library

~ Donnie and Greg at Bureau of General Services / Queer Division

~ Vanessa and Bank Street Book Nook

~

 

 


Stuck in the mud

A Mullah Nasruddin / Nasreddin Hoca story

 

Stuck in the mud

Mullah Nasruddin
Mullah Nasruddin

One day, Nasruddin came home and said to Fatima, “My dear, why don’t you cook a nice pilaf. I feel very good today. Let’s have a nice evening.”

Fatima made a lovely pilaf for dinner, which they enjoyed greatly. After they cleaned up and were getting ready for bed, there was a knock at the door. Fatima answered it and discovered her neighbor, Setare, standing there, anxious to gossip about the news of the day.

“Our donkey had twins this morning,” shared Setare, walking right in. “But one of the little ones was born without a tail or ears. It seems so peculiar.” The women continued chatting for a while about this and that, and eventually the neighbor left.

When Fatima returned to bed, Nasruddin asked, “So what’s up with our neighbors, Setare and Hussein?”

Fatima replied, “Oh, don’t even ask. Their jenny-mule had twins this morning, but one of the little donkeys was born without a tail or ears. How weird.”

Hearing this, the Mullah became enraged, growling, “Oh, that’s just fucking lovely. Maybe twice a year, we decide to have a pleasant evening together — and then the neighbor’s donkey gives birth to twins, and it’s all ruined!”

“Mullah, calm down,” said Fatima, “it’s hardly of any consequence. Why should you get all bent out of shape about the neighbor’s deformed baby donkey?”

Nasruddin fumed, “Is it possible not to be upset about such a thing? Just think about this for a minute. Three years from now, the animal will be three years old. It’ll be taken by Hussein to the mountain to haul firewood, and one day the animal will likely get stuck in the mud of a swamp, and he won’t be able to move it. So naturally, Hussein’ll come to me to ask for help, and then since the donkey won’t have ears or a tail, there will be nothing at all to hold on to, to pull him out of the mud. What a horrid predicament we’ll no doubt find ourselves in then!”

Excerpted from

Extraordinary Adventures of Mullah Nasruddin
by Ron J. Suresha

now in print from Lethe Press

~

 

 


No time to be sick

A Mullah Nasruddin / Nasreddin Hoca story

 

No time to be sick

Mullah Nasruddin
Mullah Nasruddin

Fatima was quite ill for several weeks, and the Mullah devotedly cared for her.
But after he had nursed his wife for all that time, he felt his strength fading and said to her, “My love! Stand up, or let me go eat something and wash myself!”
She started to cry, but the Mullah went away. She thought, This is no time be sick! Once he was gone, she rose hastily, swept the house, cooked the food, and prepared the beds. Finally Fatima, after having put everything in the house in order, finally collapsed back in her own bed.
When the Mullah returned and saw her passed out in bed, he clasped his trembling hands and ran to his wife’s side. Laying his head upon her abdomen, he shouted, “Oh, now she’s dead! My dear little boy, my dear little girl! Now you can no longer be born!”

 

Excerpted from

Extraordinary Adventures of Mullah Nasruddin
by Ron J. Suresha

now in print from Lethe Press

~

 

 


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