The very embodiment
of the wise fool
Nasruddin became known to Richard Merrill through the stories collected by Idries Shah, as a Persian Sufi folk character. This incredible personage come to life as a direct-manipulation puppet in the hands of puppeteer Richard Merrill of Brooksville, Maine.
History break: In Turkey, he is known as Nasreddin Hodja of Anatolia, a historical character from the days of Seljuk rule in what we in the West know as the Middle Ages. Nasreddin, Nasrudin, or Nasruddin is claimed as well by Afghans, Iranians, Uzbeks, and Arabs, as well as the Turkic Xinjiang area of western China. Since the Seljuk empire of 1000-1400 stretched from Turkey to the Punjab in India, as did the Achmaenid empire a thousand years earlier, carrying enlightening stories (along with war) from east to west and back again, such a personage as Nasruddin can well be shared by all, whether as Nasreddin Hodja or Mulla Nasruddin.
We return now to Nasruddin.
His Venerable and Outrageous Holiness Mullah Nasruddin, originally Nasr ud din, has returned to modern life with a thing or two on his mind. One of those things is the proper spelling of his name. Nasreddin, Nasrudin, Nazrudin, and Nazrudeen are all popular. The most honored Mullah indicates that all spellings are acceptable when they are on invitations to dinner.
No one knows exactly how long it's been since anyone actually saw him, and his return in 1996 was not widely heralded. Richard Merrill, a puppeteer from the little town of Brooksville, Maine, where Nasruddin made his triumphant (if quiet) return, says, "He arrived in the middle of things, which is typical of him, and immediately started throwing his intellectual weight around. Despite what you may have heard, this is considerable."
A wide swath
Nasruddin's new style is fresh and vibrant, says one movie critic, who heard Nasruddin chatting in the grocery checkout line. It's true that his new stories cut a wide swath through traditional spiritual tales of many faiths. Of course, no one knows what his old style was like; it is probable that the present behavior is a continuation of long-standing proclivities.
The Venerable Mullah, may he be prosperous all his days, was never one to hold back from saying the right thing, and he hasn't changed a bit.
One of his favorite stories, The Sweetest Strawberry the World Has Ever Known, is actually a Nasruddin-ized version of a beautiful zen Buddhist tale. In Nasruddin's hands it is filled with danger, humor, excitement, absurdity; the audience is not aware they have just imbibed subtle and valuable esoteric teachings!
Says the Zen monk credited with first telling the classic tale several hundred years ago, "We don't mind too much if Nasruddin tells it. As long as his heart is in the right place, we just wince and avert our eyes."
Puppetry for those in wheelchairs
Under urging from Nasruddin, and at the further suggestion of his wife Susan, puppeteer Richard Merrill created a puppet theater that mounts on a wheelchair, so those for whom this is a necessity may engage actively in the art of puppetry with greater mobility.