Nasruddin and the Earnestness of Being Important

by Modaser Shah

Once, while traveling during his younger years, the Mullah found himself empty-handed, penniless, and unable to return home. He managed to obtain part-time employment at an inn. His job was to keep track of the number of beds and rooms available and to welcome guests at the entrance. He was instructed  on various aspects of the work, including how to adapt his welcome and greetings to the social and financial station of the guests, so that it could not be said of him that he was not conscious of class and not aware of the expectations of his employer.

One late night, exhausted after taking care of all  his chores, he was ready to retire. He did not expect his services would be needed, as there was only one vacant bed, and not a very desirable or attractive one, left at the inn. He fell asleep, worn out, and found himself immediately in the midst of dreams of better days, places, and circumstances.

His  pleasant, dream-filled sleep was interrupted by loud noises; someone was knocking at the front gate. His bed was located, conveniently, not far from the entrance. He woke up, annoyed at the inconvenience, and mumbling some unpleasant words, walked to the gate, not in a mood to welcome anyone, even a personage of high status. With a voice permeated with ennui and gruffness, he asked who was outside the gate.

A loud, booming response came piercing his ears, “You must have heard of me, whoever you are. Call the owner at once.” Taken aback, the Mullah became a bit more alert, fumbled, and again asked who it was so he could tell the owner. The man said, “Certainly, I am none other than the well known Ibn Sahar Abu Hayat Mohyiuddin Khan Khorasani…” The man was not about to stop without giving a full account of his importance. The Mullah, still not fully awake, tired, sleepy, cut him short, “Sir, I am very sorry, but we have a bed for only one person and couldn’t possibly accommodate so many people.” He went straight back to bed to resume his pleasant dreams.

The next morning, while on his way to the market, the place was abuzz with rumors and gossip. It seemed that the town had been visited by two extraordinary men. One was a notorious robber, who had wrought a great deal of damage on some residents. And a holy man, a Dervish, had also passed through, curing a number of people of their maladies and bestowing other baraka on a number of others. Some even wondered if, God forbid, the two were one and the same person. Perhaps, some opined, it was Khadhir, a friend of God, who had, according to tradition that the Mullah had heard while listening to Friday sermons, admonished even a prophet like Moses, the only man who had had the privilege of a direct conversation with The Almighty,  for  bragging about his eloquence.

What happened next remains uncertain, but it is said the Mullah laughed loudly and hysterically. Then, abruptly, he cried and wailed equally loudly, as he left the market place muttering to himself like a man transported and transformed. Something extraordinary, clearly, had taken place. He was, in short, a different man.

Written by Modaser Shah

Photo by Ali Hammad

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