How many stars in the sky?

There is an anecdote attributed to various giants of jesterdom, including the Indian Gopal, (`So exquisite was Gopal’s wit that he violated the laws of the domain and defied the Rama’s pride with impunity’), along with the Central Asian folk fool Nasrudin, in which his master has to find a way to count how many stars there are in the sky. 

In one Gopal version the jester promises to take over the onerous task and asks for a lot of money and a year in which to do it.  He spends both the year and the money in riotous licentious delight (in one case then asking for another year and another million rupees to complete his `research’), and finally turns up with some sheep, claiming there are as many stars as the sheep have hairs.  As the king had asked how many without demanding a specific number, he cannot argue.

One day the Nawab sent news to Maharaja Krishnachandra that he wanted the whole earth measured, from side to side and from end to end, and that he would greatly appreciate it if the Maharaja would take it upon himself to count the stars in the sky as well.  Maharaja Krishnachandra was astouned:

‘I don’t want to seem uncooperative, but this is an impossible thing which you have commanded me to do.’

And the Nawab said:

‘But do it you will’ …

Source: Rajani Bannerji trans., Gopal the Jester (New York: Library of Facetious Lore, 1928), p. 129 and Edward Dimock, The Thief of Love: Bengali Tales from Court and Village (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), pp. 183-85.  The Nasrudin version is in The Turkish Jester; or the Pleasantries of Cogia Nasr Eddin Effendi, trans. by George Borrow (Ipswich: Webber, 1884), p. 28.

Photo credit: Felix Mittermeier at Pixabay

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