Saturday, 13 October 2007

Filial piety

Beware; nothing is impossible for the man who does not have to do it himself. Dictators, theorists, politicians gone astray from reality will come upon you with utopian nowhere places and reckless orders and doctrines, without care for your life or for the realities you live. But as an African proverb goes, "when the great lord passes, the wise peasant bows deeply and farts in silence".

When faced with lunatic, dangerous commands, survive with unashamed make-believe. Under tyranny, public delusion is a way of life. This reminds me of a story:

Some learned people say this story was about bright Birbal, the Hindu sage at King Akbar’s court. But I say for my purpose that it was about Nasreddin, at Tamerlane’s palaces in Samarkand.

At that time Nasreddin still had the ear of Emir Timur, and enjoyed the luxury of speaking some truth from time to time. From the gold thrown to him by the master, our Mullah had built for himself a nice house, with a nice little green garden and even his own nice, deep, stone well with fresh water. This prosperity filled the royal barber and other flatterers with envy.

Now everybody knows that for Timur, other people’s sons and fathers did not count more then chaff, but he was much attached to family values when it came to his own. He would keep a close eye on his sons and heirs, throw a palace here and a garden or a mosque there for his wives and most of all cherish the memory of his late father Taragai of the Barlas. His father had been unquestionably a saint. The proof was that Timur said so and nobody in their right minds ever contradicted him to his face.

To the royal barber, whom Nasreddin had fooled a couple of times, this filial piety seemed to offer a smooth path to getting revenge on Nasreddin.

One morning, while busying his hands in the Emir’s beard, the barber related to the ruler an amazing dream he had the previous night:

“Great emir, he said shamelessly, I dreamt I was in heaven last night. Lo, there were martyrs everywhere, taking delight, as they pleased, in the company of innumerable virgins, the honey was flowing like rivers and the people of times past, few of which I knew, were enjoying themselves, each according to his merit before the all knowing face of Allah the Merciful.”

“Did you meet my father the saint?” asked Timur suddenly interested.

“Certainly I did, even as I see you now, Master! And he honoured me by allowing me to bring you his best wishes. Barber, he said, tell my son that I am well here, in great health, all ailments past. Nothing wrong ever befalls me. In fact, nothing ever happens in this blessed place. Except, perhaps that I am so bored. Could my son please send to me his jester to amuse me with his silly stories? Would he do this much for his departed father?”

Tamerlane allowed himself to be very touched by this testimony. He sent for Nasreddin and told him of the wonderful dream:

“Be happy", he said, "my father wants your company in Paradise. Your troubles are ended. I have no doubt, you will be cheerful to leave this world for the better one.”

 Nasreddin had only the briefest moment of hesitation before replying:
“I will be glad and greatly honoured, Master” he said shyly, while whipping the cold sweat from his nape with a large handkerchief. “But I am so surprised that I can hardly speak. May I consider till tomorrow and be allowed to choose the manner in which I will pass away?”

“You may”, answered the Emir, generously.

Early next morning, after a night of deep thought, Hodja proposed:

“Kind Master, I need the month of Ramadan to clean myself of all sinful thoughts. Then, I would like to depart by means of jumping into the well in my own garden. I hope your Majesty will deign to be my witness. After I leave, I wish the well to be covered without delay with a stone slate and never be used again. Is this allowed by your greatness?”

“It is. Go and prepare.”

Nasreddin went home and worked the whole month in the well, day and night, digging a long tunnel that started hidden under water level and ended in the secret basement of the house. He also amassed ample provisions and some secret company, which we will mention soon. At the end of Ramadan the Hodja came into the exalted presence of the Emir and said:

“I am ready, Master. What message do you send to your saintly father?”

“With my greetings, bring him my excuses for the worthless gift of your person. And do your best to amuse him with witty stories.”

Later that day the Mullah jumped into the well in the presence of the Emir surrounded by a large assistance. A huge slate of heavy stone was at once placed upon the well and in a few days the whole matter was forgotten.

Meanwhile, Nasreddin, landed in the water, got soaked, swam and crawled safely into his basement and hid there like in a comfortable nest. 

For six dark months, at the perfumed light of oil lamps, he relaxed,  ate delicacies and drank sweet wine in the company of two charming dancers, pampered with pleasures we cannot mention here in detail, for fear of hurting young ears. For all this time he left his hair unkempt and his beard untrimmed, notwithstanding the well known advice of the Prophet (pbuh).

When the six months were over, he came out and presented his scruffy self to the presence of Timur.

“Nasreddin!" exclaimed the Emir. "What are you doing here?”

“I’m back from Paradise. Your noble father was pleased with me and  let me to serve him for long months. After I ended all my stories he sent me back to enjoy my days on Earth, inch Allah. He sends you word that he is very well and proud to learn about your great deeds. But he has one annoyance: as you can see, barbers seldom get to paradise. After having listened to my hair-rising stories, he would now like to have his white beard and his hairdo cared for. He wishes you to send your own barber to him for a short while.”

This was done promptly, as Timur knew how to appreciate pitiless humour.

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