Persian Folktale: Khale Suske

Contextual Data: After recounting the story of Bōz Bōze Ghandí, my friend mentioned that most of the other stories he had heard growing up had been sad, darker stories. He then mentioned this story of Khale Suske, which he said he didn’t remember too well, but he again remembers hearing it from his mother — usually before or after he was about to take a bath. Originally, he hadn’t planned on telling me this tale with me, but I asked him if he wouldn’t mind sharing it anyways. The following is an exact transcript of his story.

“This is the story of Khale Suske which literally means like ‘Madam Beetle,’ and — but she’s considered to be, like, a real person. And basically, she…Her grandmother’s sick and on her deathbed, her grandmother asks her to go out and find a husband or to find love or something. So she heads out all throughout Iran and meets all these different men and the consistent question that she asks all the men is: ‘If I was your wife, how would you beat me?’ [Laughs.] And the men respond with like different violent acts. Like the butcher says, like, ‘With my cleaver.’ [Laughs.] Like… The… I don’t know, the carpenter says, ‘With this piece of wood,’ or something. And… And all the male characters have, like, animal personas and so she meets, Alā Mooshed, which is Mr. Mouse and she asks Alā Mooshed, ‘How would you beat me?’ And he says, ‘I wouldn’t beat you, I would hit you gently with my tail.’ And she falls in love with the mouse. And, you know, as they’re I don’t know, courting or whatever, as a sign of her love, Khale Suske makes, like, a bowl of soup for the mouse. And as the mouse is drinking it, he falls in the soup and drowns. And that’s the end of the story [Laughs.]”

– End Transcript – 

My friend doesn’t quite understand the significance of this story—he said that he was always a little confused by it. But he said it was similar to many of the Persian folktales that he had heard growing up in that the ending was dark and rather depressing. He said that this might have ties back to Islam as a sort of “culture of sadness.” He said, in particular, that the love stories that he had heard tended to have these tragic endings. He laughed during parts of the story because from a modern American perspective, he found the casualness with which some of the ideas (e.g. wife-beating) were mentioned to be somewhat ridiculous.

Certainly, there may be a validity to this idea of the “culture of sadness,” but beyond this, it mainly seems as though my informant recalled this story because of the fond memories that he associated it with. He couldn’t remember all the particulars of the story, but he clearly remembered when he was told it, which hints at why he might find it meaningful.

Again, though he wasn’t sure about the origins or the significance of the story, one thought is that it is a tale meant to bring attention to the repression and abuse of women in Islamic or Iranian culture. Khale Suske attempts to find happiness by seeking out a husband that will not abuse her, and when she finally does, he dies. The story is certainly tragic, and so sharing this tale — particularly in the modern day — could be a possible way of bringing attention to these types of gender inequalities.