"Oh, that's easy to remember. . ."
This story made me laugh out loud. It was in a paper delivered by Armand D'Angour last October. It is the bittersweet story of Abu Hasan told in the One Thousand and One Nights, a compilation of Arabian and Indian fables that go back to the 8th century AD but were first translated into English in 1706.
Abu Hasan was wealthy, clever and generous, and the most eligible bachelor in Baghdad. When his friends would reproach him for remaining single, he would reply: “I am free, why must I become a slave?” But eventually he agreed to wed and everyone rejoiced. A fabulous ceremony was prepared, the greatest Baghdad had seen in years. Tables were laden with chickens stuffed with pistachios, whole roast goats with fresh dates, pastries with walnuts and cream, and sherbets and sweets of all varieties. Abu Hasan and his friends reclined on silk cushions smoking pipes of honey tobacco. The bride came forth wearing the first of seven dresses, a turquoise gown dripping with gems and silver, and each following dress was more lovely than the last. She retired to the chamber to await her husband, who entertained his guests with a great store of wit and fable. At last, when his duties as host had been fulfilled, Abu Hasan bid his guests good night. But he had eaten and drunk so heavily that as he rose from his cushions he released a thunderous fart that echoed from wall to wall and silenced every voice in the room.
The guests at once began talking, pretending they hadn’t noticed, but Abu Hasan was covered with unbearable shame. He slipped out of the house, saddled his horse and rode to Basra, where he boarded a ship bound for India. There he soon secured himself a position in the services of a Rajah, and came to be loved and respected by all in the court. But he was never seen to smile, and every evening he would climb to the highest tower to gaze in the direction of his homeland. After ten years had passed, he packed up his belongings and set sail back to his native country. Once on land, he rode to Baghdad and paused at the outskirts of the city, hoping to find out whether anyone remembered him any more. Eventually he passed a hut where a mother was putting her daughter to sleep. He heard the girl ask: “Mother, what year was I born?” “Oh, that’s easy to remember, dear,” her mother replied, “You were born in the year that Abu Hasan farted.” Hearing these words, the shame returned and all hope died in Abu Hasan’s heart. He fled the country, never to be seen again.