Thursday, 15 April 2010

Soup of the Soup of the Bones of a Rabbit (1)

I love the stories and anecdotes of Mullah Nasr-ed-Din Hodja, the thirteenth century philosopher from Ak Shehir, Anatolia. The Mullah Nasr-ed-Din stories are known throughout the Muslim world and form an important part of the folklore and oral story-telling traditions. They began to appear in English print during the 19th century and can now be found in the public domain. (Click this link to download the set known as the Turkish Jester.) Here, I share the first part of an edited version of a story that appeared in Alice Geer Kesley's compilation from 1943. I've used this in class as part of a programme on World Literature and it never fails. Enjoy.

Soup of the Soup ...

"What a fine rabbit!" Nasr-ed-Din Hodja smiled as he took the plump rabbit that Hussein, the villager, held out to him. "I caught it especially for you!" Hussein's smile was as broad as the Hodja's own.

"Fatima! Fatima!" called Nasr-ed-Din Hodja. Pulling her scarf over her face, Fatima came bustling in from the kitchen.

"See what a feast Hussein has brought us!" the Hodja chuckled in anticipation of the good meal, as Fatima held out her hand for the limp rabbit. "I am asking him to stay and eat it with us. Cook it your very best!"

Left alone, the two men sat cross-legged on the floor and talked – at least, the Hodja talked and the villager listened. The Hodja knew it would be nearly two hours before the meal was ready, but what better way to pass two hours than to have a quiet listener. Nasr-ed-Din Hodja's voice droned on contentedly. There were stories of his childhood, of his school days, of his great exploits at the court of Tamerlane the Great, of the everyday news of his own city of Ak Shehir. There were his views of this, and that, and the other. Hussein, the perfect listener, knew just when to shrug his shoulders, to click his tongue, to wag his head, to rub hands together. The pungent fragrance of roasting rabbit floated about them.

At last the door opened and in scuffled the veiled Fatima with a huge tray of rabbit and pilaf and a big plate of thin bread. She set the food between the two men and went scurrying back to the part of the house where a woman belonged when there were guests. Breaking off bits of bread, the men curved them into spoons and scooped up great mouthfuls of the steaming pilaf and rabbit. "What a cook!" sighed Hussein. There was just the right touch of garlic, just the right sprinkling of pistachio nuts, just the right dryness of the rice.

"What a rabbit!" mumbled the Hodja, his mouth full to dripping. They ate until their loose girdles were as tight as drumheads. They polished their plates with their bread to get the last succulent bit. "There are still the bones left!" Nasr-ed-Din Hodja's said, rubbing his stomach. "Fatima's soups are as good as her pilafs."

They sat and had the soup until they could eat and drink no more. Hussein, drowsy and content went home to his village reporting to his neighbours how royally he had been treated at the home of Nasr-ed-Din Hodja.

The next morning, the Hodja was called to the door again. There stood two villagers - strangers. "Salaam, dear strangers ... What is your errand?" began the Hodja.

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