During the summers, Nasruddin sometimes worked as a ferryman, taking people back and forth across a wide river in his very small boat. "Come, Birbal," he said enthusiastically, "and I will teach you about life on the river!"
One day, it was their honor to ferry an illustrious scholar across the river. The scholar's fame reached far and wide, and Nasruddin was eager to engage him in conversation, hoping to learn from the renowned gentleman. Birbal, too, had heard of this great man, and he was sure that the scholar could enlighten them both with his insight and wisdom.
"Good sir," said Nasruddin, "perhaps you could explain to my friend Birbal and I the most important lessons you have learned in your travels."
The scholar only scoffed. "To my friend Birbal and ME," he said in an exasperated tone; "me, objective form, complement of the preposition, to. In other words: to me; to my friend Birbal and ME." The scholar then gave Nasruddin a withering look. "Have you studied no grammar at all, sir?"
"No, sir, I haven't studied no grammar at all." When Nasruddin thought about school, the only thing he could remember was the taste of baklava. So much so that his mouth began to water. The honey sweetness, the delicate pastry...
The scholar's words interrupted Nasruddin's reverie. "Not any grammar at all. I see. Indeed."
Nasruddin glumly looked down at his feet, afraid to say anything to the great man lest he be rebuked once again.
"I venture to say," continued the scholar, "that your whole life has been wasted. What a pity."
And with that, the scholar turned away and gazed out at the river's expanse.
Nasruddin, now feeling quite dejected, adjusted the sails in silence, hoping to reach the other side of the river as quickly as possible. Birbal, too, felt dismayed.
Then, without warning, a great storm began to blow. The winds and waves tossed his little boat back and forth, and the boat began to fill with water. There was no hope for it: the ship was going to sink; they would have to swim for shore!
Birbal had already leaped into the water and was swimming quickly away from the sinking ship when Nasruddin turned to the scholar. "Good sir," Nasruddin shouted, struggling to make his voice heard above the wind and the waves, "I must sadly inform you that our little boat is now sinking. Have you studied how to swim?"
The scholar shouted back, "No! I haven't studied swimming at all!"
"Well then," replied Nasruddin as he jumped into the river, "I would say that your whole life is about to be wasted. What a pity."
Nasruddin and Birbal reached the shore together, wetter and wiser. As for the scholar, he was never seen again.
What a pity.
Notes: I included this story in Witty Tales, version 1 (December 2019): 58. School and Swimming.