Eating His Money is a compilation of the jokes of Mulla Nasruddin, or Hodja, as some call him, and an attempt by the author to 'decipher the enigma'. This book tries to uncover the layers of wisdom embedded in the seemingly absurd situations that Mulla thrusts us into. In my childhood, I read many Mulla jokes in popular children's publications. Like Mulla Nasruddin, there are many characters, historic and otherwise, who don the clown's attire in every civilization. In India, we find stories of Tenali Raman and Birbal, who use their wisdom to impart philosophical wisdom to the king they serve, all the while helping them out of seemingly complex situations. In Kerala, we have Tholan and Muttassu Namboori, who wisecrack their way out of life, though most of their jokes and short poems are borderline vulgar. Avanti is the Chinese equivalent of Mulla. But the popularity that Mulla Nasruddin enjoys in all corners of the world ascertains the imparted wisdom and timelessness of his stories.
The origin of Mulla is widely debated, with different ethnic groups trying to hijack him. But it is doubtless that he is a Sufi invention and was used by saints with the intention of spreading wisdom among the common folks of the time. According to Murthy, Mulla stories have the capacity to produce a state of mind that is receptive to spiritual wisdom. It changes our thought process and makes us aware of a transcendental realm. Though the Mulla of folklore wears several hats, Murthy concentrates on three of his personas: the philosopher, the spiritual master, and the psychotherapist.
The author retells one story in a page or two and then proceeds to interpret it layer by layer, explaining its philosophical and metaphysical implications and what lessons the reader can imbibe into their daily lives and enrich themselves in the process. The lucidity of these explanations is amazing, and equally commendable is the effort the author takes to use commentaries from varied sources to corroborate his explanation. He quotes from the Vedas, Buddhist texts, the Bible, the Quran, Sufi saints, epics, Gitanjali, writers like Tolstoy, and philosophers like Gurdjieff, Krishnamurti, and many more. It gives the feeling that the bare essence of wisdom all over humanity is basically the same, though different systems of thought use different lexicons and processes to disseminate it to their followers.
I believe that the deceptively simple stories featuring Mulla Nasruddin appear to be painted with broad strokes, but a close inspection reveals the finer details. The closer we look into them, the more meaning we find. After reading a few chapters of the book, I started an interesting game. After reading a Nasruddin joke, I tried to identify the finer, unrevealed thoughts that are buried inside it. Then I went on to read the author's interpretation of the story and compare notes. It turned out to be a very intellectually stimulating exercise.
There were several instances where I matched his observations, but many times there were deviations too. This is probably due to the different spiritual levels that the thought processes of different people inhabit. For example, the takeaway for a five-year-old kid from the famous story of Nasruddin searching for a key under a street lamp would be that one should always search for a thing where he missed it. But the kid will surely enjoy the absurdity of Nasruddin's action and laugh at it. It will surely motivate him to hear more of these jokes and climb the spiritual ladder eventually.
The book attains more value thanks to the mindful illustrations of Nandini Mukherjee. The simplicity of the drawings accentuates the pleasant humour of the book and simultaneously mirrors the social, historical, and geographic setting of the stories, thereby imparting an individuality to them.
For my readers, I would describe a Mulla story that isn't recounted in this book. You are free to interpret it and post a comment. I would love to hear from you.
Mulla Nasruddin bought a fine donkey. A very healthy and active one. The seller advised feeding it 10 kilogrammes of food—vegetables, leaves, and boiled grains—every day. Mulla fed it 10 kilos for a week and then reduced it to 9 kilos. He fed only 9 kilos for another week and then reduced it again to 8 kilos. Progressively, he reduced the daily food quota of the donkey, and by the time it was fed only 2 kilos, the donkey had become very weak. It totally stopped running around like before and just lied down in the stable. Bones jutted out of its frail body, and its face showed clear signs of despair. Then it died. Neighbours gathered after hearing Mulla screaming with sorrow. They tried to console him and offered him help to buy a new donkey. He replied, "You can't fathom my disappointment, my friends. If I had two more weeks, I would have made it the first donkey in all of Turkey to survive fully on air."