Across the Muslim world, stories and anecdotes attributed to or about Nasreddin Hodja are as much a part of the collective consciousness as the Grimm’s Fairy Tales in Europe and North America.
Nasreddin was probably a real man who lived in Turkey in the 13th century. Some sources say he was born in Turkey, others that he moved there from Iran. In any case, it seems agreed that he lived and worked as a judge and teacher in Aksehir, near the city of Konya in central Turkey. He is known for his sly wit, appreciation of the absurd, optimism and genial nature. The honorific Hodja refers to a wise teacher.
The One String Wonder of Aksehir
One day Nasreddin Hodja joined his friends at the coffee shop. Actually, most every day, he joined them there, but on this particular day, one of his friends asked him if he played the saz. “Indeed!” he replied. “I’m very good at it, virtuosic. People weep when I play, they are so moved.” It just so happened that a saz was present, which wasn’t surprising. Finding a saz in a coffee shop in Turkey is like finding neighborhood men in a coffee shop in Turkey.
Someone handed the saz to the hodja and requested a tune. Everyone waited in anticipation as their friend nimbled his fingers and cracked his knuckles in preparation for his recital. Then he took up the saz and began by plucking one string in the same spot, his face full of concentration. Then he continued by plucking the same string in the same spot, clearly enraptured by the sounds he was producing. He paused for effect, one, two, three beats, and then, with a flourish, went on plucking the same string in the same spot. After several minutes of this performance, one of the friends pointed out that most players of the saz moved their fingers from string to string, up and down the neck of the instrument. “Yes,” replied Nasreddin Hodja. “The strumming and picking you see from less accomplished players is all in pursuit of one thing, the singular, sweet spot that I discovered long ago and am plucking for you now.”
The saz is a long-necked, stringed instrument related to the lute, which has been prominent in traditional Turkish music for centuries.
Here’s a sweet video of a little girl playing the saz, accompanied by her papa on the guitar: