THE LEARNED DONKEY
One day the Hodja was the guest of the great Tamerlane. It being a fine day, the great man took the Hodja to his stables and amongst other fine stock, showed him a donkey he had recently acquired. The Hodja, in his eagerness to please his host, started to praise the donkey and told Tamerlane what a wonderful choice he had made in acquiring him.
"In fact," said the Hodja, "he looks so clever that he can probably learn to read."
No sooner had he uttered these words than he regretted them - but it was too late.
"So you think you can teach him to read, do you?" asked Tamerlane. "I give you a month do do it!" So saying, he ordered the stable boy to pass the donkey's lead over to the poor Hodja, and the latter was sent away to do the impossible. He knew very well what would befall him if he failed in his assignment.
Exactly a month later the Hodja arrived at the palace with a huge book under his arm. He and the learned donkey were admitted to Tamerlane's presence. After the formal salutations, Tamerlane spoke:
"Well, Nasreddin, your time is up. Let us see the results."
The Hodja placed the book in front of him and the donkey diligently started to turn the pages with its tongue. When half the pages were turned, the donkey stopped and started to bray very loudly.
Tamerlane, roaring with laughter, said "How did you manage to teach this idiotic creature to perform these antics?"
The Hodja took a deep breath of relief, and said, "Well, sir, I started off by putting a handful of straw under the first page. The donkey had to turn the page to get at it. The second day I put the straw under the third page and the donkey had to turn two pages of the book. The third day he had to turn three pages before he got at the straw, and so on. Today he brayed because, after turning many pages, he did not find any straw in the book at all."