Dulat Isabekov LIVE https://isabekov.live/?lang=en Sun, 08 Dec 2019 13:33:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.9.3 https://isabekov.live/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/papalogo2-150x150.png Dulat Isabekov LIVE https://isabekov.live/?lang=en 32 32 KABLAN https://isabekov.live/#038;lang=en?p=1404& Sun, 08 Dec 2019 13:33:15 +0000 http://isabekov.live/?p=1404
“It seems that dogs too can pine for the places they know, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, it does.”
“It’s strange… Do dogs really have feelings like that…? Just like human beings?!”
“It turns out they do…”
[From a conversation]
That spring drastically changed Kablan: not only did his little everyday habits change, but he even started moving differently. It seemed that his whole view of the world had altered. It was strange – after all, since the puppy had first come to our home, only four months had passed. Although his whole life had been going on in front of our very eyes all that time, a puppy had changed into an adult dog almost without our noticing it, as if he had been growing up somewhere else.
Almost until the day when spring was suddenly upon us – heralded by the tiny warbler flapping in the bushes after its long flight, until that tiny herald of spring appeared, Kablan had remained an easily astonished babe. He would lay his head with its floppy ears on his paws, lie around at the threshold of our home and his gaze would catch every single happening outside in the yard: his only movement would be when he threw back his head all of a sudden, with the wary curiosity of a child.
Probably any living creature is bound to increase in size and grow up, to start thinking and then link thoughts together to form a whole pattern under the influence of events in the outside world, which suddenly invade and change its life. Kablan would have to experience a series of upheavals, which would abruptly change his character and the way he took in the world around him.
One day – probably not a very fine day for the puppy – in the early spring, my father took Kablan and clipped off his tail and the tips of his ears in keeping with local custom. He had been robbed of everything that gave him an air of spontaneous mischief and puppyish charm. It was as if I too could feel the pain, when I heard the crunch of the cartilage under the merciless knife, when my father spread out first the ears and then the tail at the threshold of our home before he cut them off. Kablan did not make a sound though. The dog just turned his sad gaze straight at my father who, once he had finished with the ears, turned his attention to the tail. Frozen in surprise, the puppy seemed not to pay any attention to the thick blood dripping from the painful wounds.
From that moment on Kablan stopped coming indoors: the threshold had become an invisible wall for him, a sad barrier, of which he was always mindful. Although it was clear that what Kablan had been through had not changed his loyalties, for several days the puppy kept looking at my father with an air of wary bewilderment. The pain of the wounds still not fully healed had evidently made its mark. Yet his love for us began to resurface and bounced back. Not even his master’s cruel treatment could undermine that, especially now that the pain was soothed by signs of affection.
Yet that day marked the end of playfulness and innocent puppyish pranks. Kablan was no longer to be seen chasing after pieces of paper fluttering in the wind. He paid no attention to the plump frisky lambs, who had in the past aroused his surprise, as if the fluffy balls had specially grown legs so that they could play with him, Kablan.
It seemed like only yesterday that the tiny puppy had shown timid interest on encountering our cat. As soon as he had noticed our orange cat, Kablan had turned into a small comic version of a circus pony – lifting up his front paws as he pranced warily towards her with smooth steps, stretching his neck out as far as he could. The puppy’s eyes had been full of friendly curiosity and there had been a mischievous smile shining in those eyes of his.
Oh yes! Kablan was a champion when it came to laughing! When I returned home after going somewhere, I would catch the smile in Kablan’s eyes as he ran out to meet me. A happy smile!
He let his soft ears hang down nearly as far as his eyes – what could he be thinking about? If you were to try and call to him now: “Kablan!” he would quickly turn round to you and there would be sparkles of laughter in his eyes. He would be laughing…
Now though, it seemed that many things had ceased to interest him. When, as before, a lamb might roll past him like a round ball or a kid come leaping towards him or a cat creep gracefully past, he would behave as if there was nothing around him: he would be thinking his own thoughts hidden from everyone else. He would lie there, remaining motionless with his head on his paws and only his eyes would focus on something – attentive and serious.
It was his eyes, as soon as they opened, that made us realize that he would be a highly intelligent dog. We were completely sure about that. When our old dog was torn apart by wolves last year, a close relative of Father’s promised to give him the best puppy from his bitch’s next litter. Although old customs strictly forbade relatives from giving each other knives, chickens or dogs, we started waiting impatiently for news. A shepherd without a dog is like a shoemaker without his last and it would be simply unthinkable to take sheep without one up into the ravines of the Karatau Mountains, where in the winter wolves used to gather in rogue packs.
The bitch gave birth to only two puppies – a son and a daughter. She had had a good supply of milk and when our little chap had been able to stand up, I had brought him to our home.
In the evening my father had returned from the pastures and subjected the puppy to a strict examination. In keeping with old customs, my father would not usually permit himself to pick up or even stroke a puppy or any young animal. He used to say: “Human poison on the palm of a hand can rob a creature of its will, kill its soul”.
Yet the first thing he did was to pick up the puppy by the scruff of his neck and hold him hanging vertical for a long time. It was hard for me not to start crying and just stand there and wait – sure that the puppy would squeal any moment. I already felt very fond of him. Yet the youngster showed true grit: his eyes as black as coals remained calm and even had a glint of curiosity in them. The next test was even tougher: my father picked him up by his ears. This time as well, the brave little dog did not flinch and stayed silent. People always said that a test like that would forge a dog’s character so that he could stand up to wolves…
“The wolves will have met their match! He’s going to be a real wolfhound!” commented my father in a satisfied, optimistic tone. “What shall we call him?”
“With a face like that…” I said: “He’s like a snow-leopard, isn’t he? So why don’t we call him Kablan then?”
“Kablan? All right… Kablan it shall be. To make sure he’s strong, ferocious and nimble… Kablan”.
That very moment the puppy suddenly looked over towards my father, wiggled his ears and we all began laughing.
“You see, you see,” said my father happily: “He responded! So he likes his name! Let him be Kablan!”
So yet another dog was to walk this earth with the name Kablan.
From that moment on till the sad day when he would lose his ears and tail, Kablan lived with all of us as just another member of the family. That meant hard times for our spoilt ginger cat. The smooth pattern of her days gave way to constant fear: banished were the carefree games, the tranquil sleeping above the stove, placid meals and outings without a care in the world. When the cat first caught sight of Kablan she rose up on stiff, straightened legs, almost starting to dance on the spot and, hoping to avoid danger, even arched her back: it looked as if her ginger coat might burst into flame any second and she began to hiss with her eyes almost popping out of her head. In that small tense body wild hatred seethed. Meanwhile the large still wobbly body of the puppy was twitching with unstoppable curiosity. That was how they first responded to each other – each animal in its own special way…
It was only in the spring when Kablan began to remain outside our threshold that the “spoilt life” of the cat was able to resume its normal routine.
By the autumn Kablan was almost a fully grown dog. He had a real ‘bass’ voice by then and there was a harder, wilder gleam in his eyes. He would survey the sheep like a true master and roar at them, as if he meant it, if they did not obey and wandered off. Only very rarely now would he let himself be distracted by a butterfly, enjoying as it were an echo of his distant childhood.
On calm drowsy days when I was able to bury myself completely in a book, Kablan would settle down next to me and make a point of resting a thick and heavy front paw on my leg. He would soon grow bored though of lying there motionless and, after a noisy yawn, he would start pushing at my leg, trying to attract attention. I would pretend that I had not noticed anything, although out of the corner of my eye I would watch his tricks. Kablan would start trying harder and harder to move my leg and in the end I would give in and ask: “What do you want little fellow?”
His happy eyes would quickly look away from me: he was like a mischievous schoolboy who, although at fault and asking forgiveness, would nevertheless be ready to forget all that had happened and to embark on new pranks.
“Are you bored? Tell me straight…” I said. It felt as if Kablan might start talking any moment.
But no answer came. Perhaps he felt shy about his puppy-like lack of restraint. His eyes stopped shining and he looked over into the distance, towards the Karatau Mountains.
I talked to my father about the amazing intelligence to be seen in the dog’s behaviour. At first my father did not really believe me, but he soon noticed it himself, after spending long periods alone in Kablan’s company. Mama was so struck by what we were telling her that she even started praying, worried that it might presage some disaster!..
One day, when we were out with the flock, the sun was shining high and steady in the sky, the sheep were nibbling at the grass and some of them had already clustered together and were dozing. As usual I was reading away. Kablan had settled down nearby. Out of boredom he started gently biting the end of my shoe and I instinctively began waving my foot from side to side – the prelude to our next game… The faster I moved the end of my shoe away from him, the more unexpected his next moves would be: he would start trying to get his teeth round my whole foot. All of a sudden I stopped playing with him: Kablan was looking at me and watching, giving me a curious look, with his large head tilted to one side. By now I was deliberately not moving any more, knowing that he was on the look-out for any movement on my part. The next thing he did was to touch my foot gently with his paw. I turned suddenly and now I could read in his eyes: “Come on, move! Let’s play!” I felt I had to go on wobbling my foot to and fro for him as I went on reading and not really showing him any attention, but that game was soon to prove boring for Kablan. He opened his mouth wide, yawned a couple of times, lay down and, as was his habit, let his head flop down on his paws and stayed put.
As I read, the time seemed to fly by without us noticing. Suddenly Kablan jumped to his feet and stood up next to me, nudging my side a little. It was clear that he wanted something more: I was still reading but not really paying attention to my book and quietly glancing at the dog every now and then. Kablan laid a heavy paw on my knee. I did not say a word. So then he placed a second paw on my knee, but I still paid him no attention. By now he seemed to be objecting to my impossible indifference and covered my book with his paw, giving me a sideways look, asking: “Well, and now what?” By this time he wasn’t smiling any more.
“Kablan, Kablan, you clever dog!” I put my arms round Kablan and hugged him.
He cheered up at last. He nibbled gently and tenderly at my hands, pulling me into his game.
By this time his eyes shone with laughter. He grabbed at my straw hat, rushed off heaven knows where and then came running back. Then he rushed off again and this time came back with the hat. He would not give it to me though: he was waiting for me to rush after him and retrieve it, but catching up with him was out of the question! The dog was sitting some way off and waiting for me to chase over to get the ‘toy’ back. I started running so as to jolly him along – I was entering into the spirit of it all by this time. Anyway Kablan would not just hand over the hat like that and so we started tussling – almost in earnest.
An enormous striped butterfly fluttered towards us and alighted right on Kablan’s nose, slowly closing and unfurling its colourful wings. Although chasing butterflies had always been great fun for him, now the dog did not pay any attention to it, perhaps just took note for the future. The butterfly had no intention of flying away though – it flapped its wings clumsily and alighted

straight on Kablan’s paw. He sat there quietly and then suddenly let out a roar: why shouldn’t he roar at a butterfly? He came down on it with his other paw and even ground his teeth.
Now I could see that he was really angry. At a poor wretched butterfly?
Ten days later we had to say goodbye to Kablan for a time.
“A dog, if it is halfway intelligent and brave, has to live in a pack for a time, with older experienced dogs. Otherwise he’ll never be a real wolfhound, he won’t be brave enough to face a wolf” was what my father had told me.
Kablan was sent off to the shepherd Bekter, who kept two fierce dogs. Every year they would kill a wolf and it was to them that our Kablan was sent. For training.
That was when it really hit me – how much I had become attached to him. When I used to go and guard the sheep on my own, that was when I felt it most of all. At first I even found myself thinking that any moment my strong, affectionate and light-hearted Kablan might appear over the mountain pass with a mischievous gleam in his eye. Although Kazakhs do not pine over dogs – or perhaps do not admit it – everyone in our household missed him in their own particular way. We all knew that but nobody said anything.
Near the middle of the summer Kablan returned. My father brought him home and the dog stayed at the threshold, like a stranger and grown-up now – completely grown-up and rather morose. He seemed bad-tempered somehow. We ran out barefoot to meet Kablan, and I wanted to throw my arms round him. Yet he did not even pay me any attention: he looked at me gloomily, as if he was gazing right through me over to the blue shadows of the horizon.
During those months in another household his coat had turned grey, like a wolf’s. Before it had been soft but now his fur was more like wire. His once round and friendly eyes were triangular and there was a cruel glint in his pupils. His chest was wide and more rounded than before, like a yak’s, and his powerful jaws reminded me of a shark. Kablan had put everything childish behind him and every trace of youthful mischief had been left seven kilometres away, in Bekter’s yard.
Kablan had turned into the kind of dog which my father had dreamt about.
Yet I had loved the Kablan that was gone, the dog who used to flare up like an angry child and who had had a smile in his eyes… There was nothing to be done, no puppy can remain a puppy for ever. Every creature has to grow up, to change and mature and later grow old. There is nothing any of us can do about that, we cannot stop it happening. There was one small thought I could console myself with: the qualities which the puppy had acquired in his cradle would stay with him throughout his life, come what may. I felt sure that somewhere in the depths of his heart there still lay hidden those traits of Kablan’s I had loved…
Soon after that Bekter called on us.
“My friend,” he said. “That dog of yours is not just any dog, he’s a lion. I have to admit that both of my dogs pale beside yours. I won’t exaggerate – I haven’t seen how he faces up to a wolf, because he hasn’t come across one yet. You need to make him feel they are his enemies. If you find a wolf-skin – you need to stuff it with straw and tease Kablan with it. He needs to learn the smell of it,” said my father’s friend as he drank his tea.
They talked away quietly, but then at the end of a pleasant conversation and after a shared supper Bekter suddenly changed the subject out of the blue: “My friend, in keeping with our customs I want to insist on my guest’s privilege, my kalma1. We have been close friends for so many years and I have never asked you for anything… just as you have never done either. So please respect my request…”
Father looked over at him with a troubled expression. Bekter went on talking, without raising his eyes from the table and twisting his mouth as he drove home his point: “My request is for Kablan. I shall pay you handsomely, whatever you ask – my horse or camel and I shall add in both my dogs to boot. I don’t often ask you for anything… Like a good neighbour, you won’t refuse me will you…?”
An unpleasant silence hung in the air. I looked at my father out of the corner of my eye. His ordinary calm, bronze-coloured face was covered with pale patches and his eyes were dull and fixed on his tea-bowl, as if he had caught sight of something interesting in it. The heavy silence continued and gradually began to seem rude. Forcing himself to reply, my father began at last to force out his carefully chosen words:
“A true friend would not ask for something that is held so dear – that is what people have been saying for years now, Bekter. There are other ways to put a friendship to the test… Ask for anything you like, I don’t mind. But not Kablan. I have to admit, I could feel this was coming and your request is hard to listen to. They say that relations between friends sometimes depend on a pinch of tobacco. Don’t take offence, my friend, but I can’t do this. They say that when God first created the dog, he ensured that dogs should share the same fate as their masters. How do you think things should be shared now? Don’t take it amiss, but I shall have to disappoint you with a refusal”.
I felt as thrilled now, as I had been frightened before.
Bekter left the house in the blackest of moods: “The love of a friend is worth thousands. You would not part with a dog worth no more than ten roubles… Sell him to me then!” He slammed the door, without waiting to hear my father’s excuses. Once again the house was full of silence.
“After all,” said my father at last. “Good relations between people should not depend on a dog…”
I knew what those last words implied. For eleven years my father and Bekter had taken their flocks out to neighbouring summer pastures and set up camp together. Our winter and summer camps had always been within easy reach of each other. This trait of Bekter’s character was something familiar to everyone. It was all too easy for Bekter to become envious of something belonging to another person and he would not rest or let the owner of whatever had taken his fancy rest either. It did not matter whether it was a horse, a saddle or simply an attractive piece of crockery – Bekter would not give up until he had acquired what he had his sights on. He would stop at nothing, he would even remind people of favours he might have done for them years  before, but in the end he would get his way. Once his goal was reached, Bekter would be the best and most considerate of friends once more. If his request was not granted – God forbid! – then his envy could turn him into the bitterest of enemies.

There had been a similar incident the year before with a saddle, which a friend had sent my father as a gift from afar. How Bekter had set his heart on that saddle! Yet he knew it was against local custom for a Kazakh to accept a saddle as a present, while its owner was still alive and that would be seen as a bad omen. Indeed saddles were regarded as something that would be handed down within the family: a father’s saddle would be handed down to his son, an elder brother’s to a younger one and so on. Only the saddle of a person who had no descendants might be passed on as a memento and sacred pledge of friendship… That was the age-old law. Bekter left the house as if for always and it took a long time before my father could calm down from that encounter. Relations only improved when my father made Bekter a present of an ancient whip with a silver handle and invited him with all his family to join us for a feast when a sheep was slaughtered…
On this occasion we could sense that Bekter was deeply insulted and would not darken our door again.
My father could not help regretting that he had ever let Kablan go and stay in another household. After the long ‘training’, the dog no longer seemed to feel he belonged. However much affection we showed him, however much I tried to hug him and pat his head, as I had like in the old days, he would move away as if he was saying: “Leave me in peace, can’t you!” He always seemed gloomy. The worry that Kablan might leave us and go back to his temporary companions was with us all the time.
He started disappearing sometimes for the whole night.
I would lie there in the dark with my eyes wide open, knowing that nobody in the house was asleep: they would all be listening for a rustling noise outside. While Kablan was not at home, we did not notice any other noises or the oppressive stillness of the night. His low, hoarse bark now seemed like protection from any kind of misadventure. Then when that low barking woke us at daybreak, all of us – even my father – would run outside, as if we were hurrying out to welcome the head of the household returning from his travels. I was naturally the first to reach Kablan and every time I was surprised to see how in the shadows of the dawn he looked more like a calf than a dog.
“Kablan, my little puppy, home from your wanderings!” I would say in a voice full of affection. Although Kablan had long stopped looking like a puppy and hardly paid me any attention, I would stroke his stiff wiry fur.
Happily Kablan’s aloofness did not last for very long. Soon he began once again to acknowledge us as his former owners. It would seem that the time he had spent ‘growing up’ had not all been a bed of roses making him forget the home where he had spent his carefree time as a puppy. This acceptance of his ‘family’ once again made us all as happy as could be.
Yet Kablan had changed. He was more independent and more of a loner than before. This we could see from a new habit of his: sometimes he might be with us all day, watching over the sheep or lying out in the sun, but towards evening he would suddenly disappear without trace.
On one occasion I decided to run after him. I caught sight of him among tall thistles: he seemed in the grip of some inner struggle. I stopped in my tracks, amazed at what I saw in front of me. Kablan lay down, without moving a muscle and suddenly leapt into the air, curled in a tight ball and then he would hurl himself up again like a straightened spring, hardly touching the ground and letting out a hoarse growl. The grass and the flowers around him were squashed and sticking out in all directions and then he suddenly snapped up something among the flattened thistles and with a jerk hurled it over towards me. The living bundle landed heavily at my feet – a badger. Torn open and flattened like some damp old rag lay the sorry badger, motionless by this time. I could see that Kablan needed more than just a badger to rent his fury on: he was still growling when he sat down beside me and looked around him with that troubled gaze of his, as if he was challenging fate itself to a fight.
I went on standing there without a sound, reluctant to call out to him and attract attention to myself. For a moment I felt that he was capable of tearing me apart just like the badger. In the end I pulled myself together and called out in a low voice: “Kablan…”
He turned round abruptly to look at me.
“Puppy boy! Calm down”, I said in my ordinary voice, but could not recognize it as it was trembling.
I was only able to recover my wits completely, when Kablan moved his eyes away and then, looking somehow rather bashful, he leaned his head over to one side as if he felt ashamed of his wild outburst.
Together we hurried over towards the sheep, who in the meantime had moved a long way off. For the rest of that day until I reached home, I kept thinking through all the details of Kablan’s recent behaviour and decided that there was more to it than met the eye. Where was he to find an outlet for all that energy and strength? At home I spoke to my father about what I had sensed: he agreed with me and started working out what might be done.
The very next day while Kablan and I were out with the flock, Father got hold of an old wolf-skin and stuffed it with hay till it was solid. Before night fell, he positioned his dummy quite a long way from the house. At dusk we set off in the same direction with Kablan. As we walked down a nearby slope the stuffed ‘wolf’ was clearly visible and Father gave the command: “Go for it, Kablan! Go for it!”
The dog looked carefully to see the direction in which he was pointing. At last he caught sight of the ‘wolf’, the hair at the back of his neck bristled and his whole body shuddered. In the blink of an eye our Kablan was flying like an arrow towards the ‘enemy’ and, seconds later, all hell broke loose. By the time we reached him, the dummy had been torn apart and there were pieces of straw scattered everywhere. Kablan, who had not yet regained his calm, was standing amidst the straw dust and rags with bloodshot eyes. It was blatantly clear from the expression of his mouth with its bared teeth that he was put out at having been presented with an enemy who surrendered so easily…

“Kablan, Kablan! Calm down now. For Heaven’s sake, calm down”, I said as I stroked the dog’s back.
It appeared that he had only been waiting for our support so as to launch once more into wildly tearing up the remains of his enemy’s skin. It was all we could do to calm down the frenzied attacker. He only calmed down and followed us home after my father had gathered up all the upsetting remnants into a sack.
Kablan did not sleep at all that night. His usual peaceful murmur had disappeared: instead there were threatening notes to be heard in deep bass growls which were a challenge to the whole neighbourhood, growls that were sent out to an unknown opponent.
It was on that day that the old bonds between Kablan and me were broken asunder.
One day in the middle of the winter that followed, tiny snow-flakes were coming down from the low grey clouds scattered across the sky – a sign that a blizzard would follow. On days like that the temperature usually rises, even fat will not grow solid. Winter clothes were already feeling too heavy and my head would sweat under a fur cap: the thaw would bring playful thoughts with it and made you want to play snowballs, roll about in the snow and laugh out loud.
My mood had been spoilt that day and it was my father’s fault: one of my school-mates in our village was going to get married and naturally both my father and I had been invited. Any shepherd is drawn to such a chance for a social gathering and a good time like that! Out in the silent pastures it can be lonely when you are on your own, especially after the noisy rough and tumble of school… At first being on my own in the winter seemed unbearable, a real torture – enough to make me howl. Yet a man can get used to anything: to the quiet, to the isolation and to fear.
Yet when you suddenly realize one fine day that Nature is not at all deaf and uncaring, after you have learnt to listen to silence and notice the leisurely rhythms of life going on around you and are no longer scared by unexpected creaking or by your own thoughts, the noisy life back in town can even seem alien, although that too is part of human life. Yet the freedom of the steppes, the mountain ridges encircling them, the plains so rich in colour, the petals of flowers and rustling branches soon become so familiar, so much part of you, that you feel they too can speak to you and you are no longer alone…
That’s what everyone says, but – even after a whole year! – I can still not really get used to it, as other people seem to have done. I keep thinking about the houses and streets in the nearby town, friends, leisure pursuits. Once you start taking time off, opportunities to get together with friends are bound to present themselves. Anyway what reason could be more important than a wedding? I started making ready to go…
Anyone can imagine the excitement with which I took my new blue suit out of the clothes chest, the suit which had been bought for me for my school-leavers’ party. It was I who brought out the reliable old flat-iron to give it the finishing touches. The night before the big day I polished my boots till they shone and imagined myself setting off in the blue suit and the boots gathered at the knee: finally I washed and even smoothed my hair down with burdock oil. I spruced up a saddle for my horse. In a word – the young stalwart was ready! I lay down again to complete my dreams of imminent conquest. All I had to wait for now was for the sun to come up and the morning frost to start melting and then I would set off.
Yet at dawn all my efforts and sweet fantasies were shattered. I had only just got up and was on my way out to the stable when my father appeared and said: “You’re not going”. He just said it like that in a deadpan voice. “You’re staying behind, it’s me that’s going”. And what was the reason?! He had run out of tobacco. He was planning to go and buy some more himself. And me? Ever since the news of the wedding had come, I’d been looking forward to it for days and nights on end. I’d prepared everything. Even my hair was tidy! And now I was to stay all alone with the sheep! Nothing I said to try and persuade him helped. After all I could bring back the tobacco myself.
My father would hear none of it. What did I know about choosing tobacco? There was nothing to be done. Only he knew what kind of tobacco was needed and all I could do was keep my mouth shut.
I took off my best clothes, banishing them from sight for ever. I deliberately did not appear for breakfast and so, feeling more hard done by than usual, I went off to lead out the sheep. I did not set out on horseback but on foot, taking a crook with me.
I trudged along after the sheep, just listening to the dull crunching of my own footsteps, while seething with rage inside. Suddenly something hurled itself on to my shoulders out of the blue, making my heart miss a beat. I fell face downwards into the snow and, as I fell, I turned round and caught sight of Kablan’s sparkling eyes. I felt like shouting that it was hardly the best moment for fooling around. How had Kablan managed to catch up with me? I had only managed to get on to my knees when Kablan threw himself at me again, trying to push me over. He started running around me and shaking his head with his tongue hanging out – just waiting for the next opportunity.
“That’s enough! Stop it! Off you go!” I shouted in a cross voice.
Kablan refused to listen. Like a young lad all ready to go on with the game, Kablan kept knocking me over into the snow each time I started getting to my feet. I was out of breath by now, feeling annoyed and clumsy. Snow had got under my shirt and I was beginning to feel really cold. After all it was hardly summer. Each time Kablan moved away a little, he would sit watching me closely, choosing his moment. If I rose to my feet he would knock me down again straight away. The sheep were a long way off by this time.
“Kablan, come on now, come to your senses! That’s enough! Quieten down a bit!” I was sure that he would obey me after all this and I got up, pushing myself out of the snow with my hands which

were red from the cold. But no! Kablan came back like some crazy calf, his tale pointing straight upwards as he leapt!
“Get out of here!”
I swung my crook at Kablan and my blow landed right on his ear. He did not let out a sound and sat down not understanding what was going on.
“Take that! Sit still now!…If a silly child wants to cry, he pulls at his father’s beard…” I shook the snow off myself and walked on in the direction of the sheep, without turning round to look at the dog. He remained there sitting on the ground, bewildered and offended.
Half an hour later Kablan was still waiting at the far side of the flock and had no intention of coming over to me. That was how we slowly moved forward through the rolling uplands, determined to ignore each other, when suddenly the sheep at the front of the flock clustered together in fright and turned in my direction.
“Kablan! Stop it! You’ve gone mad!” I shouted thinking that he was getting the sheep all worked up so as to take his revenge on me.
It was only then that I caught sight of three dead sheep with their bodies ripped open. I could feel how my hair went up on end under my cap and I was gripped by cold fear. Some of the sheep rushed in my direction and in the middle of them I could see running wolves. There were two of them. What should I do now? I had not taken a gun with me and had even set out without a horse…
Frantic by this time, I called out: “Ai-i!”. I took fright at the sound of my own voice. Kablan had come tearing over to me by this time: he could obviously also sense that there were strangers in the flock. He had forgotten my unjustified blow by this time and his eyes had a determined gleam in them, although some of his usual confidence seemed to be missing. He rubbed his side up against my leg, as if he was about to say something or simply so as to feel me at his side. He looked at me in a rather puzzled way and suddenly, lifting his face skywards, he started to howl, several times in succession.
I realized that it was hard for this inexperienced dog to pluck up courage to hurl himself into battle. Some kind of wariness held him back, but at the same time a wave of anger was rising within him, turning his muscles into strong springs and pushing him forward. It was a moment when a dog needed his master to egg him on. I had to decide there and then. There was not a moment to lose!
I gripped my crook and with a trembling voice yelled: “Kablan! Kablan!” Although the dog had been sitting by my side, the sound of my voice now spurred him into action.
“Kablan! Don’t be frightened! Go for it! Grab them! Off you go!” It was me who ran off first in the direction of the wolves.
As soon as I dashed off, Kablan seemed to get the better of his fear and shot off like an arrow towards the wolves, who had slowed down a little at the sound of my voice. When they caught sight of the hound, both the wolves seemed to calm down and launched into the fight without the slightest hesitation. After that I could not make things out clearly any more. I could not see who was where and pick things out in the free-for-all. The sheep had scattered down the valley in a panic.
Now it was me having to hurry after Kablan. As I ran I remembered what my father used to say. Every now and again he would remind me: “Even if a man has no weapon, he is still a man and an animal will fear him…”. When she caught sight of me, the she-wolf did indeed move off rapidly, but not to any great distance. She ran up on to a hillock and looked at what was going on from there. It was as if she was sure that the other wolf would be able to cope with both me and the dog in the fight to come.
God knows, how I started to swing my crook as I approached the free-for-all, but Kablan now felt sure of support and jumped on top of the wolf, knocking him over. It was all over in a matter of minutes. I saw the wolf’s eyes looking out from underneath Kablan and I took in their doomed expression. That glance may not have been directed at me, but it was me the human being who was being accused of the outcome. A moment later the wolf did manage to tear himself away and rushed off. One of his paws was giving way underneath him and there were traces of red in the fresh white snow. He was limping. That was why Kablan did not let him get very far: he caught up with him easily, grabbed hold of the wolf’s neck and then threw him to one side, as he had with the straw ‘wolf’ that evening near our house. The wolf turned head over heels a number of times but Kablan would not let him rise to his feet, growing fiercer by the minute. In the end he buried his fangs into the enemy’s neck and his own face was soon spattered with the other animal’s blood. Hoarse gasps escaped from the throat of the vanquished wolf. The beast’s final suffering was long-drawn out. His paws tensed and tried to push away the dog and his scrawny body was shuddering, while his teeth went on and on chattering but more and more slowly.
“That’s it, Kablan, calm down now”, I whispered in timid bewilderment. I tried to lever him away from the wolf with my crook. It was only then that I noticed that all was left of the crook was a small piece of broken wood.
It took some time for Kablan to regain his composure. He stood next to me motionless and dull growls were still rumbling inside him. Nor did his coat show any signs of lying flat again. His eyes still had fire in them, kept alight by what was left of his frenzied anger. It was difficult for me to make out whose blood was on him: he was covered in it and some of it was beginning to dry and had the colour of rust.
It was only now that I suddenly remembered the she-wolf, but her tracks had long grown cold.
I went home and collected a cart. I loaded the dead wolf on to it and then I noticed how exhausted Kablan was. He could hardly stand. I had to load him on to the cart as well. The dog could not lie still near his dead prey and so I had to cover the wolf with a felt mat. I whispered words of endearment to Kablan. During those tense moments I caught a glimpse of Kablan’s youthful smile in his gaze, which I knew from his time as a puppy. There was not a trace of any hurt left over from the morning episode. In his gaze turned towards me I could read the devotion and trust I had known at the very beginning…

That was when I really felt guilty for my ridiculous blow with the crook. What had Kablan been guilty of? Of being in a good mood, of enjoying the thaw, of wanting to relish his happiness and strength in a game with me? How could he have known that I felt so unfairly treated by my father? I vowed that I would never give vent to anger against anyone.
By now we were approaching the house. I called out to Kablan who had calmed down during the ride and was now lying motionless in the cart.
“Hey, Kablan, did you fall asleep? Are you expecting special treatment? Get down now!”
I put my arms round our hero. I could not stop trembling as I thought back to the recent battle. It was only now when Kablan rose to his feet reluctantly that I noticed how badly his right side had been torn, as if it had been lashed with a knife, and there was a thick discharge from the wound. I called out to my mother and she washed her hands as soon as she saw the wound and the dead wolf. Then she quickly burnt part of a felt mat and sprinkled the pieces into Kablan’s wound.
It took a month for Kablan’s wound to heal. It was partly his fault that it took so long, although he did lick his wound all the time. He turned out to be a very restless patient: the first night he could not settle at all. So we decided to tie him up, but that did not help either: he loved his freedom far too much to put up with a chain. He tore at it and the wound opened again. I had to unfasten the hook and let him go free. Mother washed Kablan’s side several times, as she was afraid it might turn septic.
News of Kablan’s victory over the wolves quickly spread. Many new puppies started being given the name Kablan and my father’s friend Bekter, who still bore a grudge, repeated his old request to acquire our dog, but my father was not even prepared to listen to him this time. They parted company for good after that.
The following spring when the earth was only just beginning to rouse, we decided that we would seek out new pastures instead of the old ones we had been using for the last three years. This time we moved over into the Bakanas ravine. It was an ideal spot sought after by all the sheep-breeders in the neighbourhood. The abundant water meant there was plenty of lush grass. In the dry season we would see hardly a drop of rain in the Karatau Mountains, but here in this ravine enough water collected in the winter and spring to see us right through to the first snows. The soil was very fertile as well: people used to say that you would try and pick a blade of grass here and end up with a haystack.
Of course, there was not room for everyone to camp there and there would often be arguments. That year though it was decided by the authorities that we would have a turn in the ravine. We would be there in the gentlest season, when the earth had been washed by the rain, grass was abundant and the May beetles were just beginning to fly about in the sun. The grass was so long that, if you sat on the ground, it would hide you from sight. A few seagulls could be seen flying over the small pure mirror of the nearby lake.
By a strange coincidence Bekter’s flock appeared on the other side of the lake after we had already set up camp. The lake was like an uncrossable barrier between our two families: misunderstandings and deep-rooted quarrels made sure that each family kept to its allotted site. Human failures at mutual understanding did not apply to the dogs, however: Kablan, who had grown up in Bekter’s pack, met up with his old friends and soon relished their company again.
Yet Kablan did not really seem his old self after we moved to these new pastures. Whether he was out with the sheep or by the threshold of our yurt, he would lie motionless and out of sorts, with his head resting on his outstretched paws. He was noticeably thinner than before and his fur, which had not yet finished moulting, was hanging in tufts on his concave sides. We were worried that he might be ill, but every now and then he would indulge in a bit of wild fun and his playfulness would prove irresistible… I drew my father’s attention to his behaviour, but my father was not able to understand it either.
In addition to everything else, Kablan started disappearing at night again. Just as before, when he was an ‘unpredictable teenager’, we would listen out at night for any rustling sounds as we waited for him to come back.
One day when I went outside early in the morning Kablan was standing right on the threshold. It was not clear if he wanted to come in, or whether he thought he ought to step back: he was clearly wrestling with an urge to step across it. I could sense his wish to be with us and only painful memories from the past held him back from crossing the wretched threshold. I understood all that and tried to caress him at least with words: “Kablan, dear fellow, where have you come back from?…”
Kablan’s belly was wet and it was obvious that he had come back from somewhere far away. When he caught sight of me he went running over to the tent, where we kept grain and salt and then he came straight back to me again. I could not believe my eyes: he was holding my old fur cap in his teeth. My cap which had been forgotten back home when we had set out for the new pastures. Kablan was standing there proudly: his eyes were shining with their old smile, as if he could sense my surprise and happiness. Yet he really was able to sense the moods of everyone in the family. I accepted the cap from him as if it was a very special gift.
“You clever dog, a dog like no other!” I stroked his forehead and scratched him behind his ears. I put on the cap and asked: “Well, does it suit me?”
Kablan gave me a good-natured look and then turned his eyes away. Did he really understand that the cap was mine and no-one else’s? I did not get round to asking those questions because Kablan, who now considered the matter closed, ran off nimbly to the sheep without a care in the world. He was like a little boy proud after successfully carrying out an errand.
It was after the cap episode that we realized where Kablan used to disappear at night.
I asked my father: “It seems that dogs too can pine for the places they know, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, it does”.
“It’s strange…Do dogs really have feelings like that… just like human beings do?!”

“It turns out that they do…”
“People are drawn back to the places where they grew up and dogs to places where they were properly fed”. Perhaps that saying applied to all other dogs, but Kablan was different.
It has to be said that living creatures sooner or later do grow used to the conditions they live in. After all, out here in this new setting Kablan still had us and his familiar work. Gradually he grew accustomed to the new pasture and he also had his furry neighbours for company, despite the bad relations between the two families: that meant that there was always a good deal happening around him and plenty to do. Despite the strength and cruelty Kablan had displayed in the fight with the wolves, he remained a trusting dog and probably regarded Bekter’s yurt as his second home: he would sometimes wonder over there to pay that family a visit.
We had been out in the new pastures for more than a month when suddenly a marked change came over Kablan. The disaster struck without any warning and we could not understand where from. A dog, who had been healthy and full of life the day before, came over all forlorn in the space of a single day. His eyes turned dull and his sides seemed to cave in. When it was time for him to go out to the flock, Kablan rose to his feet but was out of breath and flagging.
“My God, what’s the matter with him? He’s like a helpless child!” cried my father in a wretched voice, as he surveyed Kablan.
“Kablan, darling dog, what’s the matter with you? Tell us what it is”, I said as I went up to him.
Kablan did not make a sound. He just turned his head to the left with a little yelp we could hardly hear. My father and I looked at each other, really worried by now: for as long we could remember Kablan had never made a fuss about trifles.
“My God, something’s up with him” said Father, his face pale with fear by now. “Kablan, are you in pain? Tell us, let us know, my friend…”
My father stroked the dog, scratched him behind his ear, but Kablan did not respond at all to that caress. He just moved his head away.
Things got worse with each passing day. Kablan started refusing food. We did not prepare anything separately for the dog. We fed him from the family pot. You cannot say that he was fussy, but sometimes in the past if there had not been enough salt or something else in his food, he might have raised his head from his bowl and looked at us reproachfully, as if to say: “The food you give me nowadays is no good at all!” That was the Kablan we all knew: his good appetite and sleek coat had shown how healthy he was.
Now Kablan was not paying any attention to his food, although we picked out the best pieces of meat specially for him. Everyone was walking around miserably. Nobody dared voice the fear out loud that he might die despite everything.
During those worrying days of his illness we set up a little shelter of branches for him and tied up Kablan so that he should not go off and stay out too long in the sunshine. We took his food over there and it made me desperately sad to see how thin Kablan was, unrecognizably so. As I looked at him, I could hardly imagine any more the dog he had been just a few days before. Meanwhile he was wracked with coughing fits as if he was choking over something that was stuck in his throat.
I quickly ran back into our yurt and told Father about his coughing. His eyes almost popped out of his head and he slapped his knee in horror:” What? What are you saying?”
Without waiting for an answer, he hurried over to the shelter. Kablan was again wracked by coughing, as if he was dragging the cough out of his stomach. My father turned blue with fury and his face was distorted, as if gripped by a spasm: “Damn them!” he shouted. He passed the palm of his hand gently across the dog’s belly, first pressing and then letting go. Kablan, meanwhile, whined in distress and shook his head.
“Son of a bitch! Who could have done that! And where?! How could he be such a heartless devil?”
My father’s lips were shaking and I felt my blood run cold.
“What’s happened, Father?” I asked quietly.
“Those devils have put a needle in his food. He’s swallowed something…”
Surely not? Surely that could not be true?! My hair stood on end and a cold shiver ran through my whole body. So that was why the poor dog was fading away before our eyes: they’d given him food with a needle in it! Who could have done it? We knew everyone out here and there were no other dwellings nearby. But nobody would admit anything like that unless they were caught in the act… Poor Kablan, the innocent victim caught up in human feuds!
The next day around twelve o’clock Kaban grew agitated and started to whine plaintively, in despair. He began to gnaw clumsily at his chain. Listening to that whining and squealing was more than we could bear…
“Let him go,” said my father. “He’s a free dog after all, why should we tie him up… let him stay free”
Those words made me turn cold all over.
“What…what d’you mean? Is he going to die?”
My father did not reply. He just made a determined movement with his chin in Kablan’s direction – telling me to unchain him.
I walked over to Kablan. He whimpered as I approached. I could read a question in his eyes: “Well master, kind master, tell me… Tell me what’s happening to me? D’you know where the pain’s coming from? Surely it’s not the end… I’d only just started living…”
The poor dog did not know that he had become the innocent victim of black envy. That was something he would not understand. What can Nature know about human envy and hatred. Nature does not distinguish between beloved children and step-children. Nature does not mete out revenge…
I had hardly released Kablan from his chain before out of old happy habit, he tried to run round the shelter, but after a few steps he lay down again and rolled over on to his side, weakly stretching out his paws and yelping pathetically. By evening he seemed calmer. Every now and was wracked with coughing fits as if he was choking over something that was stuck in his throat.

I quickly ran back into our yurt and told Father about his coughing. His eyes almost popped out of his head and he slapped his knee in horror:” What? What are you saying?”
Without waiting for an answer, he hurried over to the shelter. Kablan was again wracked by coughing, as if he was dragging the cough out of his stomach. My father turned blue with fury and his face was distorted, as if gripped by a spasm: “Damn them!” he shouted. He passed the palm of his hand gently across the dog’s belly, first pressing and then letting go. Kablan, meanwhile, whined in distress and shook his head.
“Son of a bitch! Who could have done that! And where?! How could he be such a heartless devil?”
My father’s lips were shaking and I felt my blood run cold.
“What’s happened, Father?” I asked quietly.
“Those devils have put a needle in his food. He’s swallowed something…”
Surely not? Surely that could not be true?! My hair stood on end and a cold shiver ran through my whole body. So that was why the poor dog was fading away before our eyes: they’d given him food with a needle in it! Who could have done it? We knew everyone out here and there were no other dwellings nearby. But nobody would admit anything like that unless they were caught in the act… Poor Kablan, the innocent victim caught up in human feuds!
The next day around twelve o’clock Kaban grew agitated and started to whine plaintively, in despair. He began to gnaw clumsily at his chain. Listening to that whining and squealing was more than we could bear…
“Let him go,” said my father. “He’s a free dog after all, why should we tie him up… let him stay free”
Those words made me turn cold all over.
“What…what d’you mean? Is he going to die?”
My father did not reply. He just made a determined movement with his chin in Kablan’s direction – telling me to unchain him.
I walked over to Kablan. He whimpered as I approached. I could read a question in his eyes: “Well master, kind master, tell me… Tell me what’s happening to me? D’you know where the pain’s coming from? Surely it’s not the end… I’d only just started living…”
The poor dog did not know that he had become the innocent victim of black envy. That was something he would not understand. What can Nature know about human envy and hatred. Nature does not distinguish between beloved children and step-children. Nature does not mete out revenge…
I had hardly released Kablan from his chain before out of old happy habit, he tried to run round the shelter, but after a few steps he lay down again and rolled over on to his side, weakly stretching out his paws and yelping pathetically. By evening he seemed calmer. Every now and then we would go out to his shelter to see how he was. When night fell, I went out once more to check that he was there.
But Kablan had disappeared.
“Papa, Kablan’s gone…” I said as I came back inside, hardly able to get the words out.
“What d’you mean – gone?” By this time my father was talking to himself in a tone that was almost calm and slightly irritated, as if he was accusing himself.
“We shouldn’t have let him off the chain. I hope to heaven nothing happens to him. Take a horse and go and look for him”.
I searched the whole area as far as Kablan could possibly have gone. I even went over to see Bekter, despite everything. Kablan was not there either.
As dawn broke, Father set off to search as well. I stayed at home. When the sun was overhead, Father returned. When I heard the thud of hoofs, I hurried outside, but my father had already dismounted and was laying Kablan down on the ground by his shelter.
He did not need to tell me what had happened. I could tell by the way he was holding the dog by his paws. Kablan now seemed such a long and pathetically thin dog. He looked like a rubber toy with all the air let out of it. Once more, confronted by that body, I felt so guilty and I froze over inside.
The Kazakhs have a saying that “A good dog never shows you his corpse”. Kablan probably did not want us to see him in his pathetic state and he had taken himself off – to the old pasture, where Father had found him. That last journey of Kablan’s amazed everyone who heard about it. What memories had driven the dog forward, what had he remembered?
By midday we had buried Kablan at the very top of the hill south of the Bakanas ravine. It was not customary to bury dogs there, but we chose to ignore that superstition because we were saying farewell to a friend…
1967
3 Kalma – the request of a guest for something which has taken his fancy, which would normally be granted (a request for a knife, a saddle, a horse, a household utensil or the like) not be refused.
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THE CONFRONTATION https://isabekov.live/#038;lang=en?p=1175& Fri, 22 Feb 2019 17:00:37 +0000 http://isabekov.live/?p=1175 The final fight between Erezhep and Elemes took place on August 7, 1986. It was only at a casual glance that it appeared to have erupted suddenly. In actual fact the fight could – with good reason – have started at any moment of the day or night over several years. It was just that the circumstances had not been right, as the saying goes. Whereas today they were perfect… Naturally it did not suit Erezhep at all that everything happened on this particular day, but there was nothing to be done: as they say, Fate has the last word. In this case, as with every fight, the roots go back a long way.
Two years previously Erezhep had been in an accident as a result of which he had lost his front teeth – top and bottom. Without them it turned out that his mouth was no longer worthy of the name: it was just an empty black hole, like an abandoned wolf’s lair. Erezhep lived with that mouth – if you could call it a mouth – for two years. Everything he might have heard in the way of abuse from people of his own age or children, he had already heard. The jokes and jeers were one thing. What was unbearable was something else. He could no longer enjoy either talking or eating in front of other people and as for laughing that was out of the question. It was not, of course, difficult to get some new teeth, but he wasn’t prepared to have just ordinary ones and he could not afford gold ones. All he could do was simply open his mouth less often and work more – in silence.
Within a year Erezhep was already seen as one of his state farm’s model workers. He was even entered in the list of those prepared to take part in debates at the district conference. Five days before the conference was due to take place the farm director remembered that Erezhep had no teeth and he broke out in a cold sweat.
“It’ll be a disgrace! What can we do?” he gasped, throwing a desperate look at the Party organizer and the head of the workers’ committee.
“We’ll have to call him in for a chat,” suggested the Party organizer.
“For a chat!” shouted the chairman. “We’re not talking about a cosy chat for two people! He’ll be lisping gibberish in front of a whole room of people…!”
“They’ll say that in our state farm we failed to find anyone with a proper set of teeth,” said the man from the workers’ committee. “They’ll say that we don’t pay proper attention to the medical care of the population…”
“The health of the working people is our direct concern,” the director reminded him in a loaded voice. “We need to take immediate steps! We can’t send him to the district conference with a gob like that! The men in charge won’t understand a word he has to say about our achievements!”

“Perhaps we should send someone else instead of Erezhep? His double, for instance,” suggested the head of the workers’ committee timidly. After noting the expression on the director’s face, he refrained from making any other suggestions. The director was still determined to “take immediate steps”.
“He needs to be given a new set of teeth, at least for those three days. Where’s our dentist?”
“He’s not around. He’s gone to Alma-Ata for a course.”
“When’s he coming back?”
“He only left today. This morning.”
“You idiots!” shouted the director casting a furious look at his comrades. “How on earth did we land ourselves in this jam! Call Erezhep over: we need to hear what he thinks about it himself.”
Fifteen minutes later Erezhep had been delivered to the office by the director’s Volga. On entering the room he sat down slowly, as befits a champion of production.
“How’s the preparation for your speech going?” asked the director. Erezhep said nothing.
“I’m asking you a question!” insisted the director emerging from behind his desk. “How’s your speech going?”
Erezhep started, as if he had just woken up from a bad dream and said: “Velly well!”
As he spoke, the end of his red tongue briefly appeared in the dark cavern of his mouth and then disappeared again.
The director and his right-hand men looked at each other, as if they had only just been informed of a terrible accident.
“All right then, just be quiet and listen,” said the director with a long sigh. “The conference where you’re due to speak is in three days’ time. We’ll help you with your speech but what are we going to do about the other problem?” he asked tapping his index figure against his own teeth. “Listen, we don’t have time to waste on mere talk. I shall make a call to the neighbouring state farm.You’ll drive over there and just make sure that by tomorrow morning your new teeth are in place. Understood? That’s all there is to it. Take my car and be off with you!”
Erezhep shook his head.
“Haven’t I made myself clear?” the director shouted, standing there dumbfounded in the middle of the office. “What’s up with you? Don’t you want new teeth?!”
“I don’t want iron ones,” spluttered Erezhep. “I need gold ones…”

“We haven’t got any gold in the farm’s counting-house at the moment to sort out your mouth,” the director informed him with a sarcastic sneer. “You’re going over to the other farm now, d’you hear? They’ll fix you up with teeth, there’s no going back?! Any old teeth!”
Erezhep rose from his chair and walked over to the door, but the head of the workers’ committee blocked his path.
“Where are you off to?! What are you putting on airs for?” The director had difficulty stopping himself from counting up the number of teeth Erezhep still had left. “You want to bring disgrace on our state farm in the eyes of the district authorities?!.. You wr…wr… wr…etch!”
“If they put metal ones in now, it’ll mean endless tlips to dentists afterwards. I haven’t got time for that. I want gold ones light from the start!”
“Come on now, calm down,” said the director, flopping down helplessly into his chair. “I don’t mind if they’re diamond ones, but when…?
“As soon as I’ve collected the money… I’ll put them in straightaway…”
“And when will that be, my friend?”
“In six months.”
“But the conference is in three days’ time,” said the director, winding himself up again. “So, he hasn’t ‘got the time’. And we’ve got plenty I suppose?!”
“I understand,” said Erezhep, looking at the floor, but he didn’t give in. “But I haven’t got any money at the moment…”
“Your teeth are private property and the state farm is not going to pay for them. They’re not provided for in the budget!” There was no end to the director’s sarcasm… by this time he was boiling over with indignation. “Borrow from someone…”
The director looked round at all those present, glowering as he did so: “Who’ll lend him some money?”
The Party organizer and the head of the workers’ committee, ‘failing’ to grasp the point of the question, both stood there in silence.
“Have a look in the counting-house… who’s out there waiting to be paid? Whoever it is, bring them in here!”
The director’s two subordinates leapt to their feet, but it was the head of the workers’ committee who turned out to be the nimblest and to skip out of the office first. He soon came back dragging in Elemes behind him – the driver of the farm’s Kirovets tractor. The poor fellow plodded in behind the head of the workers’ committee, not showing any enthusiasm: he seemed to sense that something far from pleasant was about to befall him.
The director got to the point straightaway.
“How much pay did you get?”
“Four hundred and fifty…”
“And how much d’you need…” asked the director with a glare full of hatred at Erezhep.
“Four hundred… Three hundred for the teeth and a hundred for oddments…”
“Listen, Elemes… Give this lisper four hundred… as a loan. How shall I put it – at the request of the farm administration… He’s going to go and have his teeth fixed!”
“And my wife?!” Elemes realized by now that his sixth sense had not let him down. “What am I to say to her? And to the children?”
“That’s enough!” By now the director realized his problem was solved and he could take heart. “Hand over the money and that’s dealt with. You’ll have it back in a month. I’m your witness! Don’t argue, a question of politics is at stake!”
Gold teeth could only be had in the district centre and the director himself took Erezhep there, so as to be sure that the money was spent as intended and to listen to how Erezhep would sound at the conference. Then, if everything turned out well, he would bring him home again.
Not just a month but a whole year passed without Erezhep paying Elemes back the money he owed. It was not until three years later that Erezhep put four hundred roubles into an envelope, told his wife to lay the table for a celebration and invited Elemes and his wife to his house, to make up for what he had done. During the meal when the guests had already had plenty of time to mellow and a suitable atmosphere reigned, Erezhep solemnly placed the envelope in front of the tractor-driver. It was addressed as follows: Elemes Estaevich Nuraliev, “Baizhan River” Section, Karaspan State Farm, Bugenskii District, Chimkent Region.
Elemes opened the envelope and – much to everyone’s surprise – began to count the money there and then. After carefully counting the notes, he put them back into the envelope and declared: “I’m not taking them.”
“Why?!” Erezhep gasped, looking at his guest in astonishment. “It’s not enough.”
“What d’you mean, not enough?!”
“There’s not enough money. I’m not taking this.”
“What d’you mean! There’s exactly four hundred!” With his gold teeth flashing as he spoke, Erezhep was about to count the notes all over again, but Elemes stopped him in his tracks.
“You needn’t overdo things. There are four hundred there. But when you took money from me, one tooth cost fifty roubles, while now one tooth costs a hundred.”
Erezhep looked at his wife in bewilderment, but she seemed just as lost as he did. Then he turned his gaze to Elemes’ wife. She was sitting there with a face of stone. By this time Erezhep was at a loss for words.

“So, what you’re trying to say… is that you think I owe you…”
“Spot on. You owe me eight hundred and that’s the amount I want back.”
“But I only took four hundred from you…”
“You didn’t just take them but grabbed them from me with the bosses’ help! I haven’t forgotten how I was dragged into the office like a lamb led to slaughter. You’re going to give me back eight hundred.”
“What are you on about? What’s it got to do with me? It was the head of the workers’ committee who dragged you in…”
“That doesn’t change anything. You had these teeth put in with my money, didn’t you? My money. Have teeth gone up in price? They have. You should have given the money back straight away, before the prices went up. I’m not going to take four hundred now. Only eight hundred.”
“And what would you have said if I’d spent the money on something else? Prices have gone up on everything…”
“Back then I would have accepted four hundred. To cut it short, whether you feel hard done by or not, you must return me either eight hundred or the teeth.”
“What d’you mean, ‘return the teeth’!”
“Very simple. Eight teeth!”
“I had to put six in, not eight.” Erezhep opened his mouth as if to display his teeth for proof. “I gave a hundred to the dentist so that he did the job straightaway…”
“That’s of no interest to me. You can decide – either eight hundred or eight gold teeth. I said…”
Elemes rose from his chair, making it plain that the meal was over. After that his wife eased her way out from the table as well. But then they froze halfway to the door, because Erezhep suddenly exploded.
“Have you lost your wits?! I thought you were joking, but no! What on earth got into your head to go as far as this nonsense?! To demand teeth back! What the Hell! Here’s your money – take it! If you don’t want it, you can be sure there won’t be anything else coming your way!”
Erezhep threw down the envelope in front of Elemes, but before it landed on the table, Elemes had swiped it back in his direction. The money spilled out of the envelope and one ten-rouble note even landed in a tea-bowl with half-cold tea in it. With lightning speed Erezhep scooped it out of the bowl, tucked it back into the envelope and then put the envelope into the inside pocket of his jacket.
“It’s up to you. It was for me to offer you the money. I did my duty. Now, you’re going to find it as hard to see these roubles again as if they were your own ears!” By this time he was spluttering with indignation. “Anyone would think I had those teeth fixed because I had nothing better to do with my time! You heard them say that I had to give a speech at a conference! You’re just politically illiterate…!”

“Don’t you confuse teeth and politics, d’you hear!” said Elemes, cut to the quick by this time. “Don’t you remember what caused the accident? You were drunk, in case you’ve forgotten? I’m prepared to declare that wherever necessary and make sure you have your back against the wall! What makes you so politically aware! You model worker you! Don’t forget that those six teeth sparkling in your jaws are MINE! I have the right to bash them out any time. Cheerio!” With his arm carefully tucked under his wife’s elbow, Elemes walked out of Erezhep’s house.
“You scoundrel! You wretch!” Erezhep shouted after him. “To think that you cooked meat for them! Throw it out for the dogs. It’s only for them!”
Making it clear that no insult – even the drastic one meted out to her husband – would make her throw out meat – Erezhep’s wife said to him in a deliberately calm, voice: “That’s enough shouting so that the whole aul1 can hear. You deceived us all! I suspected that the accident must have happened when you were drunk. And it turns out that’s how it was. My sixth sense told me… You’ll give him back the eight hundred roubles. Eight hundred d’you hear!”
The rumour about that evening in Erezhep’s house quickly spread through the village and soon everyone in the state farm was rolling about laughing. The louder the laughter grew, the more relations between the two men soured. Everyone was expecting a fight, saying it would start any moment… Despite all the excited anticipation, everything ended peacefully. Amazed at Elemes’ ingenuity, the director gradually came to realize that if the two men did start fighting, it might not look so good for him either and so he sent the local militia-man round to Elemes. After two visits from the militia-man Elemes agreed to take the four hundred roubles and this meant that Erezhep’s teeth were no longer under threat.
The resolution of the financial misunderstanding did not, however, bring about any change in their relations. Elemes hated Erezhep for the fact that pressure from their superiors had been applied to make him lend Erezhep the money. Erezheo felt bitter towards Elemes for exploiting the rise in gold prices to pursue his own ends: as he saw it, the tractor-driver had engaged in extortion and on top of that had blurted out to the whole village what the real cause of the accident had been. This meant that the feud between them had gone beyond the limit where reconciliation might still have been possible.
Not long afterwards another wedding was due to be celebrated on the state farm. As was always the case on such occasions, a complicated and intricate order of seating had to be strictly observed at the table without fail, rom the seat of honour at one end to the seat nearest the door at the other, according to the degree of authority and influence the individual guests enjoyed. For a Kazakh, one of the hardest issues to resolve is where he should sit at a festive table: next to whom, higher or lower in the pecking order; whose name would be mentioned more often and whose less often. All these were unavoidable components of the respect an individual guest enjoyed: only in the Middle East would still more importance be attached to these nuances. It was almost impossible to please absolutely everybody…

It was at this solemn occasion with large numbers of guests that Elemes was assigned a place ‘lower’ in the hierarchy than that of Erezhep. This meant that from that day onwards Erezhep would automatically be regarded as more worthy of respect than Elemes. It meant that Erezhep would be given the opportunity to try delicacies before Elemes, that he would be served tea earlier and given the chance to make a toast earlier as well… At table each of the guests was expected to know his place and his status but, despite that, it was always possible to detect beneath the surface a silent battle for supremacy. From the very beginning of the gathering a contest of this kind – naturally under a veil of tact, kindness and generosity of spirit – immediately took off between Erezhep and Elemes.
The first couple of hours were uneventful. In the old days that was quite long enough for a few little tiffs to have broken out at the ‘bottom’ end of the table and for a few half-hearted fights to have taken place. This wedding feast was a no-alcohol affair though – the third such wedding that had ever been held in this state farm – and throughout the whole of that time the guests had demonstrated their superb manners and restraint, drinking bowl after bowl of tea with grim determination, although none of them was feeling thirsty. Throughout those two hours Elemes had gone out of his way to annoy Erezhep. At an occasion of this kind it was customary to serve tea from the bottom up – in other words starting with the guests by the door and then passing tea-bowls towards the place of honour. It meant that Elemes needed to pass a bowl of tea to Erezhep, who then had to pass it along to a still more respected guest and so on… Each time Elemes should have passed a bowl of tea to Erezhep, however, the tractor-driver – with an utterly innocent look on his face – would pass the bowl of tea to someone else or, what was more outrageous still, would place it on the table in front of himself. This happened every time during the first two hours of the celebrations… Just before a tea-bowl should have been passed to Erezhep, Elemes launched into a very intense conversation with someone and, using the absorbing conversation as an excuse, he put Erezhep’s bowl down in front of himself and even went so far as to sip tea out of it!
“Bastard!” shouted Erezhep to himself. “Don’t try and kid me that you’re listening so attentively! You haven’t got the brains to follow an interesting conversation!” Then he grabbed his tea-bowl straight from Elemes’ grasp, as he lifted it to his mouth and put it down on the table at his own place, with a bang for good measure. “Anyone would think you were watering horses! There are three tea-bowls in front of you by now!” Elemes heard what his enemy had to say about horses perfectly clearly, but did not even raise an eyebrow.

“I’m a modest man,” he hissed through his teeth. “I’ve never owned a horse. I wanted to water a donkey but then you took the bowl of your own accord. Thank goodness…”
Erezhep, as he savoured his tea, thought for a long time about what Elemes was getting at… When it dawned on him, he took a mouthful of tea, but forgot to swallow it.
“You son of a bitch!” he thought to himself as he politely wiped the dripping tea from his mouth with a handkerchief. “If we were anywhere else I’d have bashed you in the… You just wait, you’ve got it coming!”
Not having witnessed any reaction on Erezhep’s part, Elemes bent down to whisper in his ear: “D’you know why Kazakhs need guts?”
“Why? What a stupid question!” said Erezhep looking at the tractor-driver as if he was out of his mind.
“So as not to burn their backside, when they drink hot tea.” The guests sitting nearby burst into raucous laughter.
“So why aren’t you laughing?” inquired Elemes. Erezhep pressed his lips tight, indicating he was not going to rise to the bait.
“Your jokes wouldn’t even make an idiot laugh.”
“You’re right there. That’s why you’re not laughing…”
That meant he was being called an idiot. “I need to whack him one,” thought Erezhep, working himself up into a fury. “We’ll have to fight it out. How could he say all that in front of these honest people! In front of the director! Oh well, let him rant. My honour is what matters! It’s disgraceful, of course, but there’ll have to be a fight. It would be better for it to be somewhere else… I don’t want to insult my host.”
“M-mm, it seems people have completely forgotten what a fight is. There’s no excitement nowadays,” commented one of the elders.
“That’s true. We do nothing but flourish…,” said a second elder, backing him up.
“We’re sitting here, as if it was a cemetery,” said an old man praising the wedding. “In the old days, whenever there were celebrations, there were always fights and militia-men being called out.” He looked round at their only representative sitting contentedly at the head of the table, as a highly respected guest.
“Yes, that’s true,” said the Senior Lieutenant and nobody could tell from his tone, whether he was glad or sorry.

“There’s no fighting, no other disturbances of the peace,” chimed in the warehouse supervisor, glancing over towards the puny-looking militia-man: “So, I wonder what’s going to keep you busy then…?”
“We’ll find something!” said the militia-man with a loaded smile, to which the warehouse supervisor responded immediately.
He commented to the director: “You need to phone district HQ and ask for the militia-man’s salary to be cut…”
This idea seemed to appeal to the supervisor so much that he started guffawing with delight, but soon went quiet again when he saw that nobody else was joining in.
Senior Lieutenant Seksenbaev, after hearing the warehouse supervisor laugh, gave another disdainful smile. The guests began fidgeting in their places: after hearing the supervisor’s joke they all, to a man, put on a mild well-behaved expression.
“Who’d have thought it, butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths….,” thought Erezhep grimly. “But you only have to start digging and every one of them’s got something to hide. Just look at the militia-man, sitting there like a damsel in the bath-house, but the way he behaved back then after my accident…!”
After the accident Erezhep had thrown himself at the feet of the militia-man and started telling him that he had driven not into a person but a pillar, which for some reason was sticking up in the middle of the road and so there was absolutely no reason to call him to account. But Seksenbaev had proved adamant: without saying anything he had drawn a diagram of the road-traffic accident involving Erezhep, tucked it away in his file and walked off. Forgetting all about his knocked-out teeth, Erezhep had dragged himself round to Seksenbaev’s house, but the militia-man would not let him even enter his yard. That same day, in the evening, Erezhep went round to the house a second time, but Seksenbaev was out. His wife muttered that he had gone to the district office and Erezhep clutched at his head in horror.
“That’s it, I’m done for. He’ll report the accident, it’ll be recorded and I’ll end up inside.” Then Erezhep had a brainwave and asked himself, why would the militia-man set off to the district office as night was falling…? While he stood there thinking this over, Erezhep caught sight of the militia-man’s five-year-old daughter looking for her cat by the porch. He brought three crisp one-rouble notes out of his pocket and held them out to the small girl.
“Tell me, where’s your Papa ridden off to – and you can have this money. You can buy yourself some chewing gum tomorrow.”
“He’s gone off over that way,” said the little girl pointing towards the granary with one hand and taking the money with the other: “He got into his cart and drove off.”

Erezhep took up position near the granary at the place where the road ran closest of all to the old cemetery. An hour later the squeak of cart wheels broke the dark silence. The militia-man was not making a sound: riding along at night past the cemetery was not very jolly and he was not keen to bump into anyone. When the cart drew near, Erezhep leapt out into the road and shouted: “Your name!”
“Seks… Seks…,” after falling down on to the floor of the cart, the militia-man was struggling with all his might to keep control of his donkey, which was frantic with fear by this time.
“That’s enough sex!” shouted Erezhep. “Answer the question!”
“Seks… Seksenbaev…”
“How many sacks have you got in there?”
“Eleven…”
“So that’s it, Citizen Seksenbaev.” Erezhep lowered his voice but kept up the official-sounding tone. “Your crime is even worse than mine. Either you tear up all the paperwork about my accident or I’ll hand in a complaint at the district office. Good night!”
Now that very same Seksenbaev was here sitting at the table with his gaze lowered as if there was no being on earth more honest and modest than he was…
“As for that warehouse supervisor,” thought Erezhep to himself, sniffing loudly: “He must have known about all those goings-on… To hell with them, there’s no denying that the only people with nothing to hide are infants…”
At last August 7, 1986 dawned… It marked the end of a rare week in Erezhep’s household, a week of lyrical celebration. His wife’s younger sister had come to visit them with her friend: they were both students at Moscow’s Shchepkin Drama School. Both of them were pretty, shapely and full of smiles, as if they had stepped straight out of the poster in the state farm’s social club calling on citizens to “Keep your Money in the Savings Bank!”
After waiting for the cool of evening and for the dust to settle on the central road in the aul, the girls would come out for a stroll and it would be hard to find a single person oblivious of those shapely figures in tight-fitting jeans and clinging tops that mesmerized all who glimpsed them. It meant aesthetic pleasure for the middle-aged residents of the aul, while the younger ones, particularly the bachelors among them, looked the girls up and down in a rather different way… Even the most inveterate of woman-haters would make a point of turning into the road where Erezhep lived, even if they needed to be heading in the opposite direction. Erezhep’s house was a magnet which kept pulling the whole of the aul’s male population towards his porch apart, of course, from the frailest of the old men. During that week Erezhep would hurry home after work, have a shower (which he used not to do before) and sprinkle himself all over with eau de Cologne – in short make sure he looked like a “townie”. Then he would emerge with one of the girls on each arm and take them over to the social club. Erezhep felt like a prince on those evenings! Even for those young men in the aul, who numbered among the most irresistible of heart-throbs, just walking over to those students from the Shchepkin Drama School remained an impossible dream, while Erezhep, a mere driver of the farm’s old tip-up lorry complete with oil under his nails, could walk about arm in arm with the girls – both of them at once – and lead them off wherever he liked! And that wasn’t the whole story either! There were moments when the girls, caught up in ripples of laughter, would tenderly rest their little heads on Erezhep’s shoulders as hard and gnarled as saxaul trees… The Creator does indeed move in mysterious ways: some people have all the luck, while others are left with nothing…

A special trait of the men in our aul – as indeed in auls all over the planet – is that they can’t forgive and forget any other man’s success with a beautiful woman. Elemes and Erezhep, who had grown up together in this aul ever since taking their first breath – an aul where nobody had ever known anything about the Shchepkin Drama School, or indeed about Shchepkin himself – were nevertheless experts in every nuance of relations between the sexes and in ways to spite a rival when the situation demanded it. Erezhep had felt triumphant all week. Every evening he would steer the girls with gentle touches at their elbows past Elemes’ house, well aware how each time he was undermining and humiliating his mortal enemy.
But now the day had come round when the girls, who had been true ornaments of the village for a whole week, were due to set off home. It was decided that Erezhep should take them to the stop near the state farm, where they could catch the long-distance bus to Chimkent and from there they would fly back to Moscow. “There’s a life for you,” thought Erezhep to himself, full of selfpity by this time. “Just look at me, squabbling here with that stupid Elemes and driving dung about in my tip-up lorry… while they’re going back to that far-away life where they have Shchepkin drama schools…!”
To ensure they were seen off properly Erezhep asked the shepherd Metesh to lend them his Lada. He could not possibly take the girls to the bus on his tip-up lorry. Even his neighbour’s Lada was not up to much – the side windows had long since been jammed in the doors and the treads of the tyres gleamed like close-shaven heads.
“You be careful,” warned Metesh. “If traffic policemen stop you, they’ll confiscate the car. With tyres like mine I don’t even dare drive out of my yard.”
The first half of the day Erezhep spent scrubbing down the Lada, paying special attention to the inside of the car, which Metesh had recently used for taking sheep he needed to sell into town. In the evening he opened the doors with a grand flourish, helping the girls settle into the back and his wife into the front seat next to him. Almost all the inhabitants of the aul came out to see the girls off. Flattered by all this attention, the girls were almost in tears. It was all so touching…

Yet they had hardly left the aul, when Erezhep caught sight of the Kirovets tractor complete with trailer ahead of them. Whipping up clouds of dust sky high as it went, the tractor was racing towards them without a care in the world and with the trailer swaying from side to side. There was no doubt that it must have been Elemes at the wheel. The very next second Erezhep’s mouth fell open in shock: the Kirovets, instead of veering left to let the oncoming vehicle pass, as it was supposed to, deliberately occupied the right side of the road, probably to make sure that the clouds of dust would fall on to the Lada. Erezhep, who had pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine, was desperately groping over the doors in the hope of finding handles to raise the windows, although he knew full well there was no glass left in the windows or handles left to close them with. Elemes made a sharp turn round the passenger vehicle and stopped at a mere arm’s length the other side of it. In an instant it was impossible to make anything out inside the car: it was as if a sack of cement had been emptied into it. Erezhep turned round but all he could see was a thick wall of dust.
That was the last straw. He couldn’t bear to go on like this any more. As soon as the dust began to settle, Erezhep began racing after the tractor. Despite the efforts of his wife and the girls to make him slow down, he roared along in the Lada to catch his deadly enemy. Catching up with the unwieldy tractor was no problem at all for the Lada… When he drew up alongside, Erezhep hooted twice, after which Elemes leaned out of the tractor cabin and asked with a smile: “Has anything happened?”
Erezhep signalled to him to get down from the tractor. Elemes appeared to have been waiting for those very instructions. Without hesitation he jumped down on to the ground and stood there in front of Erezhep with a beaming smile on his face. Erezhep had spent several years deciding to himself how he needed to hit out at Eelemes, if fists were the last weapon available to him in their showdown. This was why he lashed out immediately with a quick and cold-blooded blow. Nor did Elemes waste any time. At almost the same instant his fist came crashing into Erezhep’s cheek-bone.
In the time it took the women to run over to the tractor, Elemes and Erezhep had plenty of time to lay into each other. They had been training seriously at home and both of them were managing to aim fairly and squarely where they intended. By the time the women managed to pull them apart, neither of them could see properly out of his eyes any more. Soon after that Seksenbaev emerged from out of the dust-cloud and things took a very different turn. The dust, the fighting, the militia-man’s intervention and report – weak maidenly hearts were not prepared for anything like that and on top of everything else there was now the girls’ loud crying to reckon with. It was, however, precisely the tears of the students from the Shchepkin Drama School which filled Elemes’ heart with a deep sense of satisfaction. He assumed that they were only crying because they had seen what a good thrashing he had given Erezhep.

“You can draw up another ten reports as far as I’m concerned,” said a gloomy Erezhap, “but you mustn’t delay me now. The girls’ plane is not going to wait for them if they’re late.”
Seksenbaev let the Lada passengers go and then he concentrated on his written account of where and when the fight had taken place.
“He’s learnt to put up a good fight,” said Elemes, watching the Lada as it drove off. “We should have had it out a long time ago, then he would have stopped putting on airs…”
“Come along now, sign here,” Seksenbaev handed his pen to Elemes, who was already climbing back onto his tractor.
“What am I putting my name to?”
“The fact that you were fighting and disregarding the rules of the road.”
Elemes looked pensively at the report and the pen being handed to him and then said: “Listen, it wasn’t a fight. It was…”
“What, a friendly hug? I saw everything. Just sign!”
“But it wasn’t a fight! You’ll never understand!” He did climb out of the tractor again though, but as he jumped down on to the ground he felt something fall on to the toe of his boot. He looked down at his feet and saw two of his teeth lying there.
“So there we are!” said Elemes, carefully picking up out of the dust part of his personal property now lost forever. “At last, Comrade Seksenbaev, the conflontation is over.”
“What’s over?!” asked the militia-man with a pained expression on his face. He was obviously trying to imagine how someone would feel who had just lost his two front teeth.
“I said that our conflontation was over,” replied Elemes, stumbling over his words. He had just realized that he was unable to come out with that impressive foreign word “confrontation” properly, because he couldn’t say the letter ‘r’ any more.
When he heard about Elemes losing his teeth, Erezhep sent him a note, in which he wrote that he was prepared to pay for both the gold teeth now required at the new price and that he would immediately pay back the eight hundred roubles Elemes had been asking for. Rumour has it that when he received the note Elemes blushed in shame.
1 Aul – Kazakh village.
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BONAPARTE’S WEDDING https://isabekov.live/#038;lang=en?p=1147& Sat, 02 Feb 2019 09:26:20 +0000 http://isabekov.live/?p=1147 When it comes to giving children names, nobody can outdo the Kazakhs in their ‘audacity’. It is as if they owned names from all corners of the globe, because once a name has taken someone’s fancy, nobody worries his head about what or whom a name might relate to. Whatever name happens to occur to them, that’s the one they’ll stick to the child. Whether it’s a pleasant name or not does not enter into it. Whether it seems appropriate in a Kazakh setting or not and, if it does, whether it’s appropriate for the child concerned does not matter. They do not even tie themselves up in knots wondering who the person was whose name they’ve come to respect, what he did, what his ethnic origins were and whether he had anything to do with Kazakhs. A name is a name. Was there a person by that name? There was. Is it a name that will be used in the future? Yes… and nothing else bothers them. Even if the man in question had devoted his whole life to fighting Kazakhs, that would still be no reason for the head of the household not to give the name to his child. If you had the opportunity to check out all and every Kazakh, I am perfectly sure you would find names from every tribe or people inhabiting the planet. This habit among Kazakhs of taking over names from every imaginable country was especially widespread in the 1930s and 1960s – starting with the first President of America and ending with Okap, the wheeler-dealer in charge of the bazaar in Karaspan. Attention was drawn to such names far and wide like a campaign for cultivating virgin and abandoned lands. Measures to promote the adoption of names from all over the world were, like all major events, conducted in different ways in different places and sometimes the gatherings involved went on late and only finished just in time… Like living reminders of the political events of the distant past, children would be running up and down the roads of our auls1 with names like October, Social, Aurora, Potemkin, Revolutsiya, Commune, Stakhan2, Chapai3, Rolland4, Maxim5, Marx, Engels, Tito, Roosevelt, Isaac (for which read – Newton), Gandhi and so on. There were even plenty of lads with swarthy complexions with names of whole states and capitals. This meant that when a whole crowd of us was running around kicking a ball about, we were in the company of great men and great cities from all over the planet – Baghdad, Madrid, Teheran, Kabul, Rome, Berlin, Rabat… The whole republic was peppered with foreign names wherever possible and when the rest of it, after having absorbed all those international names, began to calm down, this “great” drive had only just reached as far as our collective farm by the name of “Berries”. In general any kind of news would always reach our aul later than everybody else’s. Indeed, when two years had passed since the October Revolution, the new Soviet system, after crossing the Syr-Darya River, had still not succeeded in reaching all the remote auls where Allah still held sway. It was only by chance that our aul had discovered what “Soviet rule” was. In front of a dark five-winged yurt sat a little old woman with a shrivelled weather-beaten face calmly combing wool, when all of a sudden out of nowhere two horsemen appeared. After this unexpected appearance, they proceeded to ask the old woman her name, her father’s name, where she had been born, who her mother was, who else lived in the yurt, what her political views were and then all about her children. After the long list of questions the men told her: “You are a Soviet citizen now” and after mounting their horses they went on their way. The old woman had not understood a word. She went on sitting there, not thinking about anything but still combing her wool – work she had started in the feudal era and was continuing in the socialist one. She had not even noticed that during her work on the wool she had leapt in an instant from one era into the next. Nor did she start thinking about all that the next day because nothing had changed which might have made her aware of the leap: the aul was the same, the people were the same, her yurt was the same and so were her wool and her existence, the laughter and the sorrow she saw all around her. It was not until six weeks later that one of the yurts lived in by a poor family was singled out as the “Red Yurt” with a strange notice by the entrance. At about the same time an ‘educated’ Kazak with a large moustache appeared on the scene who knew how to swear like a trooper in Russian. After another three days he collected together about a dozen people and explained to them what was written on the red cloth serving as a banner. It turned out to be a rallying call and, what’s more, one that was enough to make your hair stand on end: “Banish the bais6 and long live the poor peasants!” So that was where the catch was! They had been getting on with their lives as if nothing was happening for three whole days in the shadow of a rallying call like that!
Getting together afterwards, people duly responded to the rallying-call and set to work. Six days later the bais had been banished and only poor peasants were left.
A month later the first half of the rallying-call was removed, just leaving the second: “…Long live the poor peasants!”
This was how the new life for the peasant poor began in that part of the world.
Today’s generation of the old woman’s family is represented in the village by Abdashim: he has eleven children – five girls and six sons. When his sixth and youngest son was born, the whole village to a man decided to call him Bonaparte. Given that today’s descendant of the Kazakh with the big moustache and eloquent Russian curses had decided to call the baby Bonaparte, everyone decided straightaway that it was an excellent idea. Some of the Kazakhs wearing haphazard collections of garments hesitated, looking rather indecisive, not understanding who Bonaparte was. The man proposing the idea explained: “Bonaparte is the czar of the land of the Prensh. They have a strong army and he’s their commander.” To underline the point, he added: “Surely it’s a good thing if your son grows up to be a fine man like Bonaparte?”
“Yes, of course, it’s a good idea,” muttered Abdashim, the infant’s father. “But the name sounds very foreign. Surely we’ve got someone like that in our Soviet state?!”
“Yes, we have,” went on the descendant of the man who had been the first to teach the village to swear in Russian. “There’s Kotovskii7, Shors8 and Chapai… but their names are widely used in lots of other places. So we chose a name that’s brand new, which you won’t find anywhere else. When your son grows up he’ll be grateful to us all.”
“But it’s so foreign…”
“So what! You need to take a wider view and not just stick to narrow local ideas. Foreigners use our names as well…”
“Which ones?”
“Take the Germans and the English… wherever you look you find the name Konrad.”
“Konrad?”
“Yes, Konrad! The name of our common tribe!”
“D’you mean Konyrat?”
“Of course… Konyrat! Countries far away from ours, out of respect for us, have taken the name of our tribe to use instead of a surname. Isn’t it shameful if we can’t look further than our own backyard! They also have peoples and states. Bonaparte was a brave horseman leading a whole country. If they hear about it, his family will be glad and if they don’t, his spirit will still be grateful to us!”
Today’s descendant of the Cossack with the big moustache used logical arguments to get the better of all opposition and Abdashim’s son was duly named Bonaparte.
The birth was celebrated, the name bestowed and made official and prayers recited.
When news spread that Abdashim’s sixth son was planning to wed, the men of the small aul could not help but feel excited. Not because they hadn’t seen a person who was planning to marry before or because Bonaparte was now a fine young fellow, but simply because there would be plenty to drink at the party.
By this time the messengers had long since been sent to the bride’s family, the match-making and the ritual of rubbing each other’s face with flour completed and also the actual day for the wedding celebrations named. There were no idlers in the aul, everyone had their work to do, so it was important to give everyone plenty of advance warning.
It had been decided that Bonaparte should bring his betrothed back to the village in precisely a month’s time.
When the wedding was exactly a month away, as evening drew in, everything became agitated in Abdashim’s house. The women began whispering, driving the children outside and making sure the dogs were tied up in their kennels.
Five or six of the old men from the aul, who would usually gather when something extraordinary happened, and four or five prominent individuals made their way into Abdashim’s house and engaged in long discussions.
“What a disaster!” exclaimed one of the middle-aged men, Dorzhan, soon afterwards, as he flicked ash from his half-finished cigarette out of an open window. “He’s been unlucky ever since he was born, disasters have been following him ever since.”
“It’s a disgrace!” commented old Khalfe, closing his eyes in horror.
“What are we going to say to people now!” shouted Dorzhan in a rage, as if he was about to explode. Dorzhan was one of his relatives twice removed, so he was regarded as Bonaparte’s cousin, although he was only five years younger than Abdashim. His father was older than Abdashim’s father though, so he saw himself as more important and would dispense advice. If he thought it necessary, he would raise his voice and even saw it as his citizen’s right to mete out physical punishment if any disobedient relative began to cross the line.
“Our God is a just God!” announced the elder by the name of Rem9, looking up at the ceiling as if seeking advice from above.
Around the tablecloth spread out on the floor, people sat in silence once more. They were all prey to gloomy thoughts and none of them attached any importance to the fact that the tea in their tea-bowls had long since grown cold.
While the “special commission” was discussing the finer points of this particular case which had come to light in Abdashim’s house, the whole aul – from the members of the collective farm board to the teachers’ council from the school – was growing more and more alarmed as they waited for the outcome.
So what was it that had brought the whole aul to its feet and left everyone agog?
The trouble was…
To cut a long story short, Bonaparte, who was due to bring his bride back to his village in a month’s time, turned out not to have been circumcised.
That news had come as a shock, like a bolt from the blue.
“Oh dear!” sighed Dorzhan again, unable to contain all the bitterness burning inside him. “Abdashim only had six boys and couldn’t look after them properly!… Anyone, not to mention his six sons, knows everything he needs to about all 600 sheep if he has to take them out to pasture. What was the matter with you, were you out of your mind, when your sixth son was born?”
“Well… yes, there were the usual everyday worries, just surviving. We just forgot. I don’t really know how it happened,” said Abdashim, sounding rather unsure of himself.
“Everyone has day-to-day cares…” said Dorzhan making a sweeping gesture with his arm as he looked round at all the others. “The elder over there has nine daughters and sixteen grandchildren. He has more to worry about than you do. But he didn’t forget about any of his sons and bring disgrace down upon them, like you have. Isn’t that right, old man?”
“God forbid!” said old Rem, angrily stroking his beard.
“But you did forget… your children forgot and what was your wife doing?”
“She did as well… She has a lot of work with all the children…a hard lot…”
“It’s not just a hard lot… it’s a disgrace! You’ll soon grasp that!” shouted Dorzhan, who felt he had the moral right to accuse them and, if necessary, to give them a good hiding. If this news gets as far as the match-makers tomorrow, just imagine what a disgrace that will be!”
However angry and incensed they became, they kept it all to themselves, but as soon as Dorzhan lifted the lid of the cauldron, the steam that had been so hard to keep in soared upwards as if threatening to drift over to the far-away match-makers, who for the moment were just keeping a close eye on their future relatives. Those sitting waiting for their meal, already at a loss to know what to do and well aware that their simple conversation was bound to reach the bride’s village in the end, felt helpless, as if the earth were about to swallow them up.
“So, what way out do we have?” asked Dorzhan, looking round at them all and then staring hard at Abdashim, as if to say it was all his fault. “Well then, out with it!”
“What is there to say…? We’ve brought shame on ourselves. The devil’s tripped us up…” Once more you could cut the silence with a knife. It lasted a long time, weighing heavy on all those present. It was Masakbai who started up all of a sudden: “Didn’t you know anything till today and how did it happen that this has only now come to light… this very day?” The way he spoke made it sound as if he was accusing everyone.
“What?” asked Abdashim, deep in his own thoughts and not understanding at first what was being asked of him.
“What d’you mean – what? I’m talking about the disaster which is happening with your son! He’s been walking around without a care in the world all this time and then suddenly – Bang! Just before the wedding…” He looked to one side with a bitter laugh. “Given that you’d forgotten, it would be better if you’d gone on forgetting. But now, you’ve got everyone worked up. If he’d gone on as before… nothing would have happened to him. Over there beyond the railway there’s a whole load of Russians. No noise, no disasters and they’ve produced fine little lads. As for their daughters, they’re all real beauties…”
“Come on now, Masakbai, what are you wittering on about!” Dorzhan interrupted. “Has anyone asked you to say who’s pretty and who’s ugly?”
“What – am I not to say anything, just because I haven’t been asked?”
“Come on now, what are we going to say to the match-makers? That’s what we’ve got to think about.”
“What should we say to them? Nothing! What have they to do with our internal affairs? D’you think they’re going to inspect him?” He had been about to swallow down some cold tea, when he remembered something and without meaning to, spat it out again. The tea splashed all over the face of Dorzhan, who had been lying on his side and the most venerable of the elders – Rem. Dorzhan, who had been about to say something, and Rem who had been stroking his beard as he tried to find a way out of the tricky situation which had arisen, were like wet cats shaking themselves and immediately trying to put themselves to rights. The elder pulled a handkerchief out of the inner pocket of his thin coat and began to wipe his face. Abdashim, the head of the household, looked over towards the door and yelled as if a fire had broken out: “Water! Bring water, quick!”
A swarthy, nimble little boy – as if he had been waiting for that command all day – came flying into the house with a copper jug and a copper basin. His quick actions and shining eyes showed that he had not been waiting there to pour water on the flames but rather expecting that he would have to remove someone’s severed head. Masakbai, deciding that he needed to make up for the damage he’d caused, made a sign with his chin so as to send the over-excited boy in the direction of Rem and Abdashim.
The two men started washing down their faces which had been splashed with tea.
“Sinful filth!” muttered the elder as he wiped his face with a towel: “The tea that infidel splashed over us has the smell of a sinful drink…”
“So that’s what you’re up to!” shouted Dorzhan, casting an angry glance at Masakbai: “You had been wondering why he had got so worked up over nothing, but it turns out there was a reason. How did you manage to find the time to start drinking before it was hardly light, eh?”
Masakbai just sat there like a statue, without saying anything.”- Go on then, where did you start drinking this morning? There wasn’t a single drop of vodka in the whole aul…”
Masakbai still said nothing.
“Don’t play the partisan with us!” shouted Dorzhan angrily. “I’m asking you again – where did you manage to get hold of vodka?”
“Yes, where were you drinking?” Abdashim asked, joining in the fray. “Is there really some for sale?” He pointed with his chin in the direction of the shop.
Masakbai gave such a small nod that you could hardly see it and said: “It only came in a little while ago,” he whispered.
All the men, apart from the elder, Rem, suddenly began to appear agitated for some reason and they began to fidget.
“We need to decide what to do straightaway and not talk round and round in circles,” said Dorzhan and in the light of the recent news he began hurrying everyone else. “This isn’t the moment to waste time chattering because the circumcision’s got to be done and, if not, then let him walk around as before.”
So it came about that Bonaparte had to undergo circumcision in keeping with the decision of the village’s “emergency commission”. There was no room for delay. That very same day if possible, he would be called in from work and the whole thing would be dealt with by lunch-time. The reason for the haste was that weather conditions were far from favourable, it was the middle of a heatwave. The members of the “commission” had calculated that a body after undergoing circumcision, even in a heat-wave like the present one, would take at most 10-12 days to heal and then Bonaparte would be up to setting out on his mission. They all said a prayer before the deed.
Elder Rem, now highly satisfied with his decision, stayed at home to drink tea and the middle-aged men, making Masakbai lead the way, hurried off in the direction of the collective farm’s shop.
There were two motor-bikes with side-cars in front of Abdashim’s house by this time: one set off in a hurry to bring over a sheep from out in the pasture for a sacrifice and the other was sent to fetch Bonaparte.
The summer yurt, where the small children of the family used to sleep in the hot weather, was emptied and made ready for Bonaparte’s exclusive use.
Within the space of less than two hours “Operation Bonaparte” was underway. Inside the yurt with a roof and walls made of felt rugs, Elder Rem carried out the circumcision while, under its canopy, Masakbai and Dorzhan skinned a black sheep.
Bonaparte, as we all know was not a free agent: like everybody else he was involved in the creation of the material and technical basis for communism and he was employed in the farm work-shop as an assistant mechanic. Not just for one day but two, there had been no sign of him at work and so the man in charge there, Espanalia, and mechanic Vietnambek turned up at Abdashim’s house on Day Three. As soon as they appeared in the yard, Abdashim grabbed hold of them straightaway, as if he had been expecting the visitors and, refusing to listen to any objections, he pushed them into his house.
A tablecloth had been spread out and on top of it there was an unopened bottle of “Pshenichnaya” vodka and Georgian cognac. At the sight of those bottles the air of stern formality disappeared from the faces of the visitors.
“Let him stay in bed and recover,” muttered Espanalia well after midnight, on his way out of Abdashim’s yurt, hardly able to keep upright.
“Let him lie down till he’s completely better,” commented Vietnambek, noting with his own eyes the state Bonaparte was in. “When you’re older it’s quite a job…Difficult…but …never mind!” He ruffled Bonaparte’s hair while he lay there, his eyes popping out of his head. “In my family…my wife’s brother went through the ritual after his wedding… You on the other hand… you’re only planning to get married…” Vietnambek remarked on his way out.
The next day Doctor Oscar came by. He too only left at dawn, together with his wife. He also said as he left: “Let him stay in bed. I can write a sick note for as long as you like. He can even stay in bed for two months as far as I’m concerned.”
The doctor’s wife had her piece of advice as well: “If anybody turns up for an inspection, tell them that he’s only just been discharged from hospital…”
After that the collective-farm chairman came round.
By this time Abdashim and his wife were totally worn out by all these guests: their savings set aside for the wedding began to dwindle away.
For all the guests who were arriving for the wedding there was just one request: that they should not mention what had happened to a single soul.
Everyone gave their word.
Bonaparte was in bed for a week but did not recover: nor did he do so after a second week. Abdashim’s family was getting worried by this time. Every day, on his way home from work, Dorzhan would look inside the yurt, where Bonaparte was lying.
“How are you?” he would ask gently. Bonaparte did not reply: his wide staring eyes fixed on his cousin were like those of a madman. Dorzhan came by the next day as well.
“Well, how are things?” he asked once again.
Bonaparte just shrugged his shoulders.
Two days later, Dorzhan asked: “How are you getting on?” By the day after that he was sounding angry: “How are you in there, you miserable wretch? Why isn’t it healing up?”
“How should I know…?”
“Who else is going to know, if you don’t? Not me, you stupid?”
“What d’you all want from me? I’m not lying here because I’ve got nothing better to do!”
“You damned idiot, you’re just lying there to get out of working. The longest it should have taken for you to get better is ten days”
“Don’t you believe me?”
“But of course! A nice soft bed, food whenever you want it. Aha, what’s that you’ve got there?” asked Dorzhan pulling a bottle out from under his pillow, where it had been sticking out for all to see.
“Boiled water…” muttered Bonaparte.
“What d’you mean, boiled water? What d’you need that for?”
Bonaparte hesitated, not knowing what to say. Dorzhan turned out to be persistent. After taking out the cork, he sniffed the contents. As if he did not trust his own sense of smell, he tried a few drops on the tip of his tongue. Then, as if he wanted to make quite sure, Dorzhan drank a mouthful, and then another. Finally he knocked back several long gulps.
“But it’s vodka!” he shouted at Bonaparte. “What’s that meant to mean?”
“The lads suggested it would help me get better faster…”
Dorzhan sat down, deep in thought and then took another two mouthfuls. The night before he had been up till dawn drinking with the livestock foreman and, filled to the gills with alcohol after four or five samples from Bonaparte’s bottle, he was back on form.
“It’s not right for you to lie around here like this” he said looming over Bonaparte. “Tell me, what d’you think you’re doing? In a month’s time there’ll be celebrations and in a fortnight it’ll be time for you to go and fetch the bride. Your empty head has forgotten about all of that…”
“What d’you want me to do?! You yourself…”
“Lazy good-for-nothing. As far as I’m concerned” he said, taking another swig: “I was up and about after three days, d’you understand?”
“That was in your day. It’s a different world now. Times are different, there’s all this pollution…”
“You brainless idiot, times can change but human nature doesn’t! Your skin’s no good! Make sure you don’t blame it on your mother’s blood!”
“But they say – “the origin of a young horseman depends on his mother’s blood…”
“You just lie there, you’ve done enough arguing!”
“So you’re going to stop me even talking, are you?”
“Don’t talk, concentrate on getting better as fast as you can. Oh God, what are we going to say to the match-makers if they get to hear of all this. You’ll bring disgrace down on the whole of our tribe!”
“Tell me what I’m guilty of!”
“Your father’s stupid and you’re a scoundrel!” exclaimed Dorzhan, drowning in despair by this time. He took two large gulps of vodka and appeared by now to have decided that it would be wrong to put the bottle back on the ground so, still holding it, he began to hold forth: “You’re all a bad lot! You go on walking about without a care in the world and only remember the problem when there’s a month left before the wedding! You’ve said enough, be quiet!” Dorzhan didn’t even give Bonaparte the chance to open his mouth. “Tomorrow I shall come round again. Pull yourself together. You don’t even have the slightest wish to recover.”
After spilling what was left in the bottle, he put the empty bottle away in his breast pocket. “You need to pray for God’s help! Bonaparte! What kind of Bonaparte are you?
Then he began to laugh out loud: “If those poor Frenchies could hear the state that Bonaparte’s in out here, on “Berries” collective farm, how d’you think they’d feel about it? If they not only heard about you but saw you, if they were to turn up here?! Oh dearie me! That’s what you deserve, Bonaparte!”
On reaching the door, Dorzhan turned back one last time: “And don’t drink vodka! Look what it’s done to you!” After that he went out, swaying as he walked.
By now Bonaparte’s condition really was a cause of concern for his relatives. When there were only ten days left before he had to set off to his bride’s home, the “emergency commission” came together again for a meal in Abdashim’s house. The commission decided that Bonaparte had to be looked over by the mullah. In the evening they walked around him with a white hen to ward off evil spirits and a black ram was slaughtered. Its meat was then distributed to the neighbours. Bonaparte was taken to spend the night by the grave of a saint and outside his yurt several rifles were fired up into the air. Yet none of this produced any results whatsoever. The relatives and neighbours discussed it all in detail and sat there helpless. Then Masakbai came round…
He announced “In an hour’s time they’re going to broadcast a sance with Kashpirovskii. He’s a real saint! He made an old man rise to his feet who had been bed-ridden for forty years and made thick wavy hair appear on heads of men who were completely bald. We need to bring the TV set into the yurt where Bonaparte’s lying.” “There’s no socket in there” said Abdashim’s youngest daughter, who always had the latest information at her fingertips.
“If there isn’t one, we’ll have to help Bonaparte walk as far as the room with the TV set, one of us supporting him on each side.”
And that was what they did…
When there were only 10 minutes left before the beginning of the sance, Dorzhan and Masakbai brought Bonaparte in and laid him out in front of the television set. The children, old men and old women, who had been longing to see Kashpirovskii for ages, were dispatched to a neighbour’s house.
At last the sance began. Whether it was the effect Kashpirovskii had on them or just the strain of the circumstances was not clear, but soon both Masakbai and Dorzhan began to doze off. Usually when someone was under the spell of a sance like that, he shouldn’t wake up till a special command is given, but those two were twitching and kept on looking first at Kashpirovskii and then at Bonaparte and every now and then they’d say something.
“What?” asked Dorzhan, when he woke up for a brief moment and looked over towards his great-nephew.
Bonaparte didn’t say anything.
“Is there any response?” asked Masakbai all of a sudden, hoping for pleasant news.
Bonaparte didn’t utter a sound.
Kashpirovskii continued his address to the audience. “I shall not mention the types of illnesses. The magic power, within my words will itself find all the types of diseases. In the human body there is an energy unknown to us. I believe in this energy. We shall never be able precisely to understand what it really is. After I have spoken, this mysterious force will awaken in you. It will rouse itself and, of its own accord, combat all the disorders in your body. During the sance do not think about anything, forget your diseases. Whatever happens, the great power of the sance will find your disease of its own accord. You are entitled to think about me what you will. I do not let this upset me, because all I do is wish you well…!”
“Why aren’t you sleeping?” called out Dorzhan, feeling cross with his younger brother, when he opened his eyes and started as he came to.
“You’ve been wrapping yourself up tightly, open the covers up a little, come on!” requested Masakbai, pulling Bonaparte’s thin blanket down as far as his waist. “Don’t be shy. We’re all men in here. Come on now, further down… That’s the way… So that Kashpirovskii can have a look…”
By this time Bonaparte was almost stark naked.
“During the sance you can go about your ordinary business. If neighbours come in or the kettle on the stove starts boiling, or your child cries, you can get up and move away from the television set. The power of the sance will still reach you. Now you can wake up. I shall give the command. I shall count to ten. One. Two. Three. The fact that you are in thrall to a dream and in the grip of a power you do not understand is a good sign… Four. Five. Now you may wake. Six. Seven…!”
When the sance was over, Dorzhan and Masakbai took Bonaparte back to his yurt.
“Now you’re sure to recover,” they said in one voice.
Dorzhan pushed his hand under Bonaparte’s pillow and was shattered when he didn’t find what he had been looking for.
“Is there really no bottle or have you hidden it?” he asked, while his young relative was settling back to bed.
“Over there, by the door, look at the hot-water bottle…”
“Good lad!” said Masakbai happily, as if his wife had just given birth to a son.
“You boozer!” said Dorzhan as he screwed the top off the hot-water bottle. “If you go on like this, you’re never going to get better. When your skin’s full of vodka, not even a Kashpirovskii would be able to help you, not even ten of them would be enough. D’you understand?”
When the children and the old people, who had gone over to the neighbours, came back again, making plenty of noise, Dorzhan and Masakbai, who had hidden the hot-water bottle under his shirt, scampered out of the yurt and were off.
However hard all the members of Abdashim’ s dynasty tried not to say anything to anyone about what had happened, rumours began to spread very quickly, because little by little the news of the bridegroom’s condition reached the match-makers. At first they couldn’t believe it but, when they noticed how the rumours were getting stronger by the day, the bride’s father sent a man under cover to Abdashim’s village, as night was falling. He came back the next day and people clustered round him, asking: “Well…?”
“They’ve brought shame on themselves… It’s all true!” he replied in a bewildered tone.
The women began to pinch themselves, the men sighed without saying anything and the bride went inside and burst into desperate sobs.
That very same night a meeting of an “emergency commission” took place in that house as well.
The bride’s father, unable to bear such an unprecedented disgrace, promptly moved with all his closest relatives to a new state farm which was being set up beyond the Syr-Darya river.
Meanwhile Bonaparte was starting to recover and he was already able to ride a horse again. Abdashim’s family and his close friends were extremely happy to see Bonaparte getting better and after Friday prayers they gave thanks to God and celebrated by sacrificing a black ram. “First we need to thank God for his help and then Kashpirovskii!” insisted Masakbai. “If we don’t send Kashpirovskii a telegram, people will think we’re ungrateful wretches.”
A telegram was duly sent to Kashpirovskii.
So that people could see that Bonaparte had recovered, Dorzhan and Masakbai helped him mount a steady black horse and then ride all the way round the village in the evening. On their way back they turned off towards the collective-farm office and placed flowers in front of the monument to Dzerzhinsky10. When they approached the monument, Marken, who was in charge of the water-lorry, after he’d washed the monument clean and sworn at someone for good measure, was now reeling in the hose.
“Who are you swearing at?” asked Dorzhan, hoping to frighten him.
“What d’you mean ‘who’. It’s not you anyway.”
“But who then?”
“Everyone.”
“That has to include me as well.”
“Why shouldn’t it, you’re no holier than the rest, are you?”
“If it’s everyone, then the more the merrier and I’m off,” muttered Dorzhan, displaying the wide sweep of his soul on such a happy day.”
“Why did they have to go and put up a monument to a long-dead head of the police?” fumed the indignant driver of the water-lorry: “He never came to our aul and people here don’t know him. But no, they have to go and put up a monument to him. They go and put it up, but nobody troubled his head about how it was to be cleaned. What’s more, he’s wearing a greatcoat, and just try getting the mud out of all of those folds!”
“What are you worried about? Just spray him down with water and off you can go…”
“There’s nothing to it, but it takes a lot of time. The farm chairman doesn’t give me even a kopeck for it, but I have an extra journey to do and for nothing.” Rounding off what he had to say with a string of Russian and Kazakh curses, the driver climbed back into his lorry.
“Marken, our Bonaparte’s recovered,” blurted out Masakbai as he looked the young rider up and down, sitting there with an innocent look on his face like a young virgin. “It wasn’t as if he had AIDS that you can’t cure. He’s going to be all right again.”
“What about a drop to drink?”
“No, I’ve still got another trip to make. I have to account for all the time I spent on the monument,” he added, looking over towards Dzerzhinsky.
“The day after tomorrow we’re setting off to fetch the bride. If you want to, you can come with us.”
“Which bride?”
“Haven’t you heard?”
“Yes, but you won’t be going anywhere.”
“Why? What are you on about?”
“You won’t be going. Your match-makers have moved. They went two days ago. The whole tribe of them set off beyond the Syr-Darya, saying: We don’t have a daughter to entrust to a madman who gets circumcised a month before his wedding!”
After that Marken slammed the door of his lorry and drove off.
Masakbai and Dorzhan stood frozen to the spot, as if struck by lightning, looking at each other in silence.
That very same night Abdashim sent off a secret messenger to the village in question to find out if the information was correct. The next day he came back and said in bewildered tones: “They’ve brought disgrace upon us, it’s all true!”
A quarrel broke out among Bonaparte’s relatives. They all poured scorn on Abdashim, calling him a donkey, a swine and brainless. There wasn’t a single animal they didn’t compare him to. After tearing a strip off the father, they then turned on the son. He was called a dog and a pig and they said that his skin was not the human kind but a pig’s. Insisting that they were no longer his relatives, they started cursing Bonaparte’s mother and her family.
Once more the “emergency commission” assembled as night fell. The commission duly decided that the shame and disgrace were clear for all to see. They gave Abdashim seven flocks of sheep and together with his relatives he moved off into the wide open spaces of Suzak, after deciding he would stick with sheep-breeding.
As they were setting off they decided to leave behind the yurt, where Bonaparte had lain while recovering, because it was the yurt they saw as responsible for everything.
Not long afterwards another programme with a Kashpirovskii sance was shown on the television. During the sance Kashpirovskii read out Bonaparte’s telegram along with a whole pile of others, surprised at its flowery and incomprehensible contents. The text of the telegram read as follows:
Most honourable Anataolii Mikhailovich! You are the greatest man on earth. Every household in the world should erect a monument to you in front of its door. I, Bonaparte, due to my parents’ lack of foresight had to be circumcised a month before my wedding. It should have only taken me ten days to recover and then celebrate my wedding, but circumstances turned out differently. Perhaps my skin was of poor quality or perhaps the razor-blade used by the elder, Rem, had not been disinfected, because after three whole weeks I had still not recovered. I was already expecting to be disgraced before the match-makers and my bride, but you then rescued me from disaster. After a single sance of yours I could already ride a horse again. In two days’ time I shall set off for my bride. Thank you a thousand times. If you have some free time do come and visit us in our aul. I kneel before you in gratitude, Bonaparte.
During the sance Kashpirovskii himself seemed bewildered for a moment, not really understanding what it was all about.
“Astonishing!” he said, after a pause. “The planet we live on is indeed full of wonderful phenomena. May happiness be yours,
Bonaparte! I am very glad to have helped you on your way to married bliss.”
Ten days later some of the young men in the village put up a board by the yurt, which Abdashim had left behind: “In this yurt Bonaparte underwent circumcision and its consequences from July 8th to July 23rd, 1989!”
Anyone who walked past the inscription was bound to laugh.
So, as you can see, Kazakh life is far from dull…
1 An aul is a Kazakh village.
2 Short for Stakhanovite or ‘shock-worker’.
3 Short for (General) Chapaev (1887-1931) – famous commander in the Russian Civil War (1917-1922).
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SOCIALIST SKYSCRAPERS https://isabekov.live/#038;lang=en?p=1131& Sun, 27 Jan 2019 07:49:11 +0000 http://isabekov.live/?p=1131 No sooner had any resolution been passed in Moscow, than it was usually responded to straightaway in Alma-Ata. Ever since the establishment of Soviet power, decisions taken by the numerous congresses and plenary sessions – of which there were a great many – after flying over Russian villages and the territories of other Union Republics without lingering in the wide expanses of the state, would come to rest here and take root precisely in our Republic. While Russian villages and the other republics were still not really sure what the decisions they were hearing about actually meant, here in Kazakhstan we would be rolling up our sleeves and putting them into practice. We all know that he who starts out first on a task will be the first to finish it as well: so while Russian villages and other Republics were thinking through what they had heard, careful not to be in too much of a hurry, and others might be scratching their heads wondering what the implications were, Kazakhstan would already have informed Moscow that the new tasks were completed and be champing at the bit, impatient to carry out the next resolution.
One of the most important such political decisions of those times was the removal of distinctions between town and country. As soon as this particular resolution, duly passed by the powers-that-be, reached Alma-Ata and made its way from there to regional capitals, then to district ones and finally to the auls, the men in charge at local level – who were used to implementing resolutions of high-ranking Party leaders without delay – got to work immediately.
“So how, by what means can we wipe out the distinctions between town and country? What differences exist between them? What needs to be done to get rid of these differences quickly and effectively?” These were the questions over which local leaders were wracking their brains in many parts of Kazakhstan, as meetings were held to study the opinions of conscientious, well-informed activists?”
We do not know how these questions were resolved in other places, but in the “Socialism” sector of the well-known “Communism” collective-farm, it was agreed that the main difference between town and aul was that auls could not boast any multi-storey buildings. “What makes a town a town? Multi-storey buildings… What makes an aul an aul? Single-storey mud huts. But if we take down the mud huts and build multi-storey houses, then we should have done away with the main difference between towns and auls,” concluded the sector head, Pashat Barakatov: “So tall buildings will appear in the aul. They shall be our skyscrapers, “Socialism Heights”.
Pashat enjoyed well-deserved authority, not just in his own sector but throughout the collective farm. According to some people, Barakatov at one time had been about to be appointed to a post in the Timiryazev Agriculture Academy in Moscow. He was well-versed in current politics, used to read the newspapers and even knew something about literature. A year ago Pashat had been seen in the aul shop purchasing Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. At that time when people in the aul had not only never heard of such a writer but could not even pronounce his name syllable by syllable, he impressed many of them by exclaiming in front of other people: “Oh, to think that Hemingway’s appeared in our shop…” That made people’s jaws drop in astonishment. The leaders of the collective farm and the general meeting, after adopting Pashat’s suggestion as the basis from which to start, passed a resolution to build as an experiment two multi-storey blocks of flats in the “Socialism” sector of the collective farm. The meeting called upon Sepentai, the foreman for construction work in that sector, to travel to the regional capital so as to acquire from architects the technical specifications and plans for multi-storey buildings and calculate the average costs for building such blocks.
“This task is more than one person can manage, let Barakatov the sector head be involved as well…” he proposed initially, but Sepentai was first subjected to merciless criticism by Pashat and then the collective farm’s chairman laid on the criticism thicker still.
“Running away from difficulties is not worthy of a communist. What do they say about that in the Party charter? You’re shirking responsibility,” they all maintained to a man. Now that two people had voiced their opinions, what was there left to do for the others but agree? Party activists subjected Sepentai to harsh criticism and some people even went so far as to suggest that his Party card should be confiscated and he be excluded from the collective farm and sent packing. Ospan, the vet in charge of artificial insemination for sheep, expressed his regrets at having to work in one and the same collective as this two-faced and cowardly party member. There had been twenty-one people at the meeting – all Kazakhs, who naturally spoke very poor Russian and even those who could manage would pronounce the word “vodka” as “wodka”. Despite all this, Ospan said everything he had to say in undiluted Russian. As he was speaking in Russian, everyone listened attentively to what the vet was saying. Soon they all felt that Sepentai was a dishonest communist, that he was a reactionary element going out of his way to undermine the cause of advanced socialism, that he opposed the policy advocating the eradication of the differences between town and country and the general view that the work of promoting socialism was a truly creative endeavour. At that meeting Sepentai was obliged to apologize to all present for his ideological retreat and deviationism: he admitted his mistakes and also promised that he would rapidly – no, immediately – put things right. He assured everyone that he would fulfil every task assigned to him by the Party, however difficult it might be, any task at all.
After all that a vote was taken and it resulted in a unanimous decision to pardon him: there was only one abstention.
*    *    *
The next day Sepentai took the first bus to the regional capital. Since he had never crossed the threshold of such important institutions before, it was only after a long and difficult search that he managed to find the building of “Regional-Construction-Project”, which happened to be in the building next to the “Regional-Projects” and “Kazakh-Fisheries” offices. He succeeded in tracking down the man he needed to see in order to discuss his objective. The people he found were unable to take any decisions on their own. It was only on the fourth day that he achieved something: in a distant corner office where four men had their desks, he found someone who said that he knew an architect working for “South-Kazakhstan-Elevators-Milling-and-Construction-Equipment-Sales”, who had at the ready plans for two multi-storey buildings. If Sepentai agreed to meet him, the architect could be invited over for a discussion and it might well be possible to persuade him to sell the plans to the “Socialism” sector of the farm at an acceptable price. Sepentai was beside himself with joy and he used every argument he could think of to bring round the architect, before he finally left the office.

For two days he held discussions with the architect from “South-Kazakhstan-Elevators-and-Construction-Equipment-Sales”. The discussions were conducted in a secluded corner in one of the town’s parks – in the “Aral” restaurant on a small island in the middle of a lake in a cordial atmosphere of complete mutual understanding.
A month later results of Sepentai’s sojourn in the town began to appear. Dozens of lorries from the regional capital started pouring into the farm delivering building materials and these were followed by countless building workers: plasterers and masons, architects and bulldozer drivers, surveyors and concrete-mixer operators. Sepentai could not possibly have known that the plans sold to the collective farm for 20,000 roubles were plans which had been gathering dust in a forgotten cupboard of the institute: they had been turned down by the planning authorities at every level.
Rumours started spreading like wild fire through the district to the effect that the farm’s “Socialism” sector needed workers and unemployed men from the whole area turned up in droves. More and more people came out on to the main road to thumb lifts.
The drivers would ask: “Where are you off to mate?” “Which way are you going?”
“To ‘Communism’ farm. I’ve been waiting here for a good hour. I’m ready to pay you for your trouble, but do give us a lift.”
“No go, my lorry’s on the blink. If I get as far as ‘Socialism’. I’ll be lucky!”
“But that’s exactly where I need to get!”
*    *    *
Before even a fortnight had passed, the small office in the “Socialism” sector was bursting at the seams with all the would-be builders who had appeared on the scene. Sepentai’s and Pashat’s heads were spinning and they had no idea how to escape from the men who were besieging the farm. Having assigned the main tasks to the farm’s team-leaders and foremen, they turned all their attention to the newcomers. When they had taken on the necessary numbers of men, they sent all the rest of them packing. Initially they had not known how many workers they would need to put up two seven-storey buildings. Like a flock of sheep rounded up in a pen, the men crammed into the room and then started talking loudly and shouting. Which ones should they keep on and which ones should they send back home…? The organizers didn’t know where to start so as to bring order into the chaos.

“How many people do we need? Which one of those noisy wretches should we keep on?” asked Palat, ready to vent all his anger at Sepentai. “How many workers would be needed to put up houses like that in the town?”
“The town’s one thing and we’re out here in the steppe. In the towns they’ve got more machines than people and all we’ve got are one crane and three tip-up lorries. That’s it…”
“I’m not asking you what we’ve got and what we haven’t got. Tell me, how many men do we need to build one of the houses?”
“If we don’t count the machines…we-e-ell,” Sepentai’s lips moved up and down as he tried to count them up. “Mm-m… We’ll need twenty for the ground floor, twenty-five for the first floor… the second floor… the third floor… the fourth floor. For one of the houses we’re going to need 120 people.”
“But we’re not going to be putting up five floors all at once. First of all we build the ground floor, then we start on the first floor. Isn’t that right? Or are your people going to be laying bricks in thin air?” “You’re right… Of course – we can’t start the first floor until the ground floor’s built, because the first floor has to be built on top of the ground floor…”
“Precisely, Comrade foreman! If things aren’t spelled out for you, you’d never work it out for yourself. So how many people are we going to need in total?”
“Two heads are better than one. Let’s take on 150 people and send the rest of them home. If it turns out to be too many, we can cut the numbers back later on, however many will be necessary.”
“All right, organize work teams! Make sure that each one contains people from different ethnic groups.” At that very moment the posts of the old door, up against which the crowd of men trying to see into the room was pushing, caved in and came away from the mud-brick walls, so that the door fell right into the office. The ten people who had been at the front of the crowd, so as to get in first, somersaulted over the threshold and landed on the office floor, crumpling and squashing their straw hats in the process. Two or three of the poor fellows managed to crawl out of the pile and hurl themselves towards the desk, but they were overcome by shyness halfway and stopped in their tracks. Sepentai glowered sternly at a thin, weather-beaten man, who had been floundering under the heap of bodies and asked: “Your surname?”
“Kamysbaev”
“Line of work?”
“Mason”
“Ethnic group?”
“Konyrat.”
“I’m not asking what clan you’re from but your ethnic group?”
“Kazakh… I said that because I was told you were a Konyrat too…”
“These Kazakhs!… Even when they’re squashed under a crowd, they’ll still divide themselves up into clans. All right, we’ll take you on.” Sepentai then turned his gaze to a bald fellow, lying at the top of the heap.
“I’m Kopbergenov.”
“Line of work?”
“Mason.”
“Ethnic group”
“Kazakh. I’m a Konyrat as well…”
“He’s lying, he’s from the Naiman clan…” blurted out a pockmarked fellow with ears that stuck out, who had been floundering in the pile next to Kopbergenov.
“First one Kazakh, then another…” said Sepentai, deep in thought, realizing it would be good if there was a Russian among them. If they all turn out to be Kazakhs…
“Are there any Russians among you?” he asked, but was met by silence.” “Are there any Russians among you masons?” shouted Sepentai into the corridor that was buzzing like a beehive.
“Yes!” answered a fair-haired fellow wearing a sombrero.
“What’s your surname?”
“Bekturov”.
“Bekturov? What kind of a Russian name is that?”
“My father’s name is Viktor, but when Kazakhs registered his birth, they wrote down Bektur instead of Viktor.”
“I’m not sure I believe you, but never mind… the Devil will sort you out in the end. You’re taken on and now off you go!”
While Sepentai was shouting out one by one the names of all the ethnic minorities populating Kazakhstan, it began to get dark. Unable to carry on any longer from sheer exhaustion, he turned to Pashat and said: “They’ve been writing in the newspapers that there are a hundred and thirty ethnic groups living here in Kazakhstan in peace and harmony. I’ve only got a hundred and twenty-seven so far. Where can I lay my hands on another three? What do I still need?”
“Have you got a Kurd?”
“Yes.”
“A Nogai?
“Yes.”
“A Chinese?”
“I’ve got one of those too.”
“And a Shurshite?”
“What’s that for heaven’s sake? What kind of people are they?”
“Have you got a Shurshite?”
“No”
“Have you got a Pashtun?”
“No, they live in Afghanistan.”
“We definitely need one of those and a Shurshite… And what are you?”
“What d’you mean – ‘what’? Kazakhs.”
“We don’t need any more Kazakhs. You can set off home.”
“Perhaps you think that a house built by a Kazakh will fall down? Wherever we go, Kazakhs are getting turned away. Where are we meant to go and where can we earn a living?”
“That’s none of our business. To the ends of the earth for all I care! We need a Shurshite or at least an Eskimo.”
“And if such people don’t exist, what are we meant to do? Kick the bucket?”
“Just get on and find some…!”
However hard the leadership summoned them, not a single Shurshite, Eskimo or Pashtun came forward. The list was checked through carefully once more and the farm’s officials, realizing there was nothing to be done, started looking at each other anxiously.
“So what do we do now?” asked Pashat sadly. Sepentai thought long and hard.
“What if we were to assign eight people from the list of surplus Kazakhs to the ethnic groups still missing: we could list one as a Pashtun, another as a Shurshite and so on. The people out of work have got little choice. They’re bound to agree. We’ll explain to them that if there’s any checking, they’ll need to say they belong to the groups we allocate them to.”
“If they don’t look right, then what?”
“Who’s going to worry about looks? Anyway what kind of looks does a worker have? When they’re all up to their eyes in heavy work, they’ll all just be looking like members of the proletariat…”
Pashat looked hard at Sepentai for a moment and then exclaimed with a happy smile: “That idea will save the situation! Well done, Sepentai! You’re really on the ball! Every now and then at least…”
As if someone had been tickling him, he burst into a fit of giggles. Then he abruptly began to cough so as to mask his laughter.
“All right then,” he said: “On you get. Even so, don’t just write down whatever comes into your head. Pick people who look right for the ethnic group you choose.”
“Of course I will. When it comes to it though, among Kazakhs you can find people with looks that would suit any ethnic group, if you look hard enough.”
“That’s true. Anyway, I’m off home now. You can finish the rest on your own.” With that, Pashat made people move back to let him through the crowd in the corridor, so that at last he could get out of the building. Sepentai was keen to round things off as well. He picked out three people in the crowd of Kazakhs, whose appearance – in his eyes – were right for the three missing groups and then persuaded them to accept his conditions, so that he could take them on without delay. None of the Kazakhs wanted to lose the work opportunity and they all fell over each other in their eager enthusiasm to accept his conditions.
“But of course, that’s fine by us! If that’s all you want, you can list us all not just as Pashtun, but even earthworms – we won’t mind! Nothing’s going to happen to us. We’re not going to be any the worse off. If in the future anyone starts asking about our ethnic group – we shall answer as you told us to. But we just need to write down who we are, so that we don’t forget…”
*    *    *
Not long after all of that, on the building site in the “Socialism” sector of the “Communism” collective farm, work began in earnest on the construction of the two seven-storey blocks of flats. Before the foundations appeared, two banners were set up at the edge of the plot of land. There had been a fair number of banners gathering dust in the store-room of the “Socialism” sector. Sepentai had brought out two of them and after scratching out the faded, out-dated slogans, he replaced them with new ones. In place of “Let’s overtake America” or “We shall all help to build communism by 1980!” he wrote “Our hard work will eliminate the differences between town and country!” and “Thanks to the Party we are living in the age of Advanced Socialism!” Then he attached each banner to two tall poles so that they were visible from a long way off. Pashat, who was in charge of the “Socialism” sector, reported back to central HQ every Monday on his walkie-talkie that the building work was proceeding at an unprecedented pace and, if they managed to keep it up, the two buildings would be ready not just within the year but after a mere five months. He pointed out that his sector would once again be among the leaders for the financial year, having achieved the goals set by Party and Government ahead of schedule in order to eliminate the differences between town and country.
Against all the odds Pashat and Sepentai kept their promises: the five months sped by like wild horses and families in the aul started preparing for the move. Part of the planning involved making sure that the residents of the new blocks should represent not just one but several ethnic groups and the two men managed with great resourcefulness to achieve that objective. Most of the residents would be Kazakhs, but there were five or six Russian families, three Uzbek ones, two families from Azerbaijan, one Turkish, one Georgian and one Armenian one, which had turned up from Iran for some reason or other the previous year. There was also one Kizilbash family, one Dungan family and one Korean one. Pashat distributed the housing certificates first of all to the non-Kazakh householders and to the Kazakhs, who were prepared to be listed as belonging to other ethnic groups living in the Republic, and then he named the day for the move. Living in his sector were 84 families in total and the enormous seven-storey blocks were able to cater for them all straightaway. There were only two or three old women left behind, who preferred to stay on in their one-storey mud huts rather than live high up, and there were a few peasants who did not want to leave their plot of land and outbuildings behind.

On the day of the move the Chairman of the collective farm arrived and various local officials and a special rally was held in front of the new blocks of flats. Pashat Barakatov delivered a fiery speech for the occasion. He said that an event like the construction of wonderful seven-storey blocks in a mere five months, as opposed to the year scheduled for the project, was only possible in the context of advanced socialism and that working people in capitalist countries would not only be unable to aspire to such a feat but would not even be able to imagine it. He reduced the viability of capitalism to dust and ashes in no time at all. After accusing America – the flagship of the capitalist world – of all possible mortal sins, he reduced its President Reagan to a laughable scarecrow.
He was eventually interrupted by an old man standing in the front row, who asked: “Dear Pashat, haven’t you gone too far by building two great blocks like this in the middle of the steppe? Why go on about distant America? Wouldn’t it be better to talk about what’s going on in your own aul?”
Pashat nearly exploded giving vent to a wild burst of anger: “Who said that? Was that you, Elder Meldesh? So you didn’t like my criticism of American imperialism? By viciously distorting our words you come over as an extremist all the time, instead of setting a good example to our young people. If you’re so fond of America and take their side, why don’t you set off there? We shall not waste a moment holding back people with evil intentions here. Or was the criticism directed at you last time not enough?”
People were getting restless by this time and turned round to take a look at the old man who couldn’t sit still. A good number of angry eyes homed in on him for trying to protect distant America, the main enemy of the “Socialism” sector, for interrupting such a solemn event. There was indeed a good deal of truth in Pashat’s question as to whether the criticism directed at him last time had not been enough. Eight months previously, Elder Meldesh had spent his pension on two barrels of beer in the nearby town, which he had then brought back and handed out to people free of charge near the farm’s social club. Enormous numbers of people had gathered round the building to enjoy the beer they didn’t need to pay for and in the end the pressure from the crowd had ended in a free-for-all. The old man’s cart had been broken and the two barrels crushed to bits. News of the event had first reached the ears of the head of the sector and in the end the farm chairman heard about it. After calling Meldesh into his office, the chairman asked:

“What is the meaning of all this? Why are you stirring people up?”
“Why am I at fault? My only crime was to treat people worn out by their labours to some free beer.”
“Why?”
“What d’you mean why? You maintain every day that under communism we should not need money for anything. I’m already old and my days are numbered, so I’m unlikely to live long enough to see this communism which you talk about so much. This led me to spend two months’ worth of my pension on a couple of barrels of beer and hand out free drinks to people. How was I to know that it would all end in a fight?”
“Take note!” the Chairman shouted at his deputy, who was sitting beside him. “A formal reprimand!”
That day old Meldesh calmed down, after being issued with a strict reprimand for disrupting the peaceful lives of the working people with his opportunist intentions. Pashat, for his part, was reminding him once more of this episode. Heaven knows how things might have developed, if the Chairman had not calmed him down with the words: “All right now, you just continue with your speech.” After a solemn cough or two, Pashat continued to read his speech from his prepared notes.
“Don’t just think of these two buildings which stand before you simply as houses. They are a model for the future, a model for communist living. They represent yet another outstanding achievement of the Soviet working people. These houses were built by representatives of all the ethnic minorities living in Kazakhstan and this explains why they were completed seven months ahead of schedule. Today families of many different ethnic groups are making ready to move into new accommodation. Not just Kazakhs, Russians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Moldavians and Byelorussians took part in the construction and fitting out of these buildings, but representatives of all the other ethnic groups resident here in Kazakhstan as well. Some of those who attracted the most attention as shock-workers were the Eskimo, Sagyntai Aibaltaev, the Pashtun Ergeshbai Sarmoldaev and the Shurshite, Temirbek Sikymov. And now let us return to today’s celebrations…”

“What d’you mean Eskimo? Who’s the Pashtun around here?” shouted people who worked in the sector and soon their shouts were drowning out Sepentai. The men whose surnames Sepentai had called out were standing there with their wives, children and other relatives. When one of them was referred to as an Eskimo, another as a Shurshite and a third as a Pashtun not to mention certain others, also lumped with a false identity, their wives filled the air with ear-splitting shrieks.
“You there, Comrade sector head,” shouted the wife of ‘Shurshite’ Temirbek. “Don’t you disgrace my husband like that: not only is he not a Shurshite, but he’s never seen any Shurshites in his life! He’s a Kazakh! Not only is he a Kazakh, but his ancestors were from the Konyrats of Otrar, who fought alongside Genghis Khan: within that tribe he was from the Kulshygash clan, within that clan he was a Taz…”
“Don’t you start dividing Kazakhs into clans and tribes,” interrupted a Pashat rendered hopelessly confused by this time, biting his lip. The solemn gathering had already been reduced to a riot led by the wives of the ‘Eskimo’ and the ‘Pashtun’. The Chairman of the collective-farm, well aware that this chaos could last forever, took centre stage: “Patience, Comrades, patience!” he said, raising his hand. “Let the men singled out by name step forward and we shall see with our own eyes who they really are.”
“They all work here and we see them every day. Why do they need to step forward?”
“Let them step forward, even so. Where are you fellows? Come on, step forward!”
When Eskimo Saguntai, Pashtun Ergeshbai and Shurshite Temirbek did in the end step forward, everyone broke into uncontrollable laughter!
“Traitors!” called out one of the men, rather worse for wear after drinking, who started brandishing his fist. “They were ready to sell out their people for a few kopecks. I stuck to my guns and said: ‘Even if I have to lose my job and collect beetles out in the steppe, I’ll still remain a Kazakh!’ Now you’ve seen and heard it all for yourselves! I’ve no idea what they’re up to, because those people were smiling fit to burst when they came out of Sepentai’s office…!”
The meeting was getting out of hand by now like an agitated henhouse. Heaven knows how it might all have ended, since they were all out of control, if it had not been for the Chairman who took a grip on things at last: “Stop all this noise!” he roared angrily. “What are you all so excited about? If someone’s down as a Shurshite, what of it. Let things be, nobody’s any the worse off, are they? Any Soviet citizen today can register with whatever ethnic group they choose.”

He made a short pause, waiting to see what effect his words had had on the crowd and when the noise started to die down he began talking in a quieter, calm voice. In a reassuring tone he told them all about what had been planned to improve life for people in their aul and then – moving on from the aul – he talked about the country’s domestic and foreign policy, touching on the attention focused on ethnic issues. Finally, when he realized that people had forgotten why they had grown so excited in the first place and had calmed down, he turned to those who were about to move into new flats: “Welcome to your new home! May you live here happily!” and proceeded to cut the specially prepared red ribbon.
Once everyone had caught sight of the ribbons in the Chairman’s hands, the impatient crowd rushed into the two seven-storey blocks. It was only then that he could wipe the sweat from his forehead and walk over to his car. Before he finally left, he found time to hurl angry curses at Barakatov, head of the “Socialism” sector.
The next morning, straight after breakfast, the Chairman, Pashat and Sepentai sat down to compose a report for the District Party Committee:
“Report to the District Committee of the CPSU1
The working people from the ‘Socialism’ Sector of the ‘Communism’ collective-farm in the Zhetisai District, who support in every possible way the policies of the Party and Government with regard to the elimination of the differences between town and country, took upon themselves the honourable commitment of building two seven-storey blocks of flats. In the plans drawn up locally it was duly laid down that the construction work would be completed over the course of a year. Thanks to the heroic labour of the local work force and workers recruited from outside, two blocks – each consisting of 64 flats, i.e. with a total of 128 (one hundred and twenty-eight) flats – were ready for farm workers to move into seven months ahead of schedule. Yesterday, i.e. on September 21, 1981, new residents moved into all the flats. We should like to assure you once again that, in the future as well, we are ready to carry out without delay or deviation all tasks entrusted to us by our Party and Government.
Chairman of the Collective-Farm General Assembly: B. Zhalmuratov
Secretary of the Farm’s Party Committee: S. Kereibaev
Head of the ‘Socialism’ Sector: P. Barakatov
September 22, 1981”
So as to submit the report as quickly as possible, Kereibaev, the secretary of the Party Committee left straightaway for the district centre. Before going their separate ways, the three men had agreed that that they would hold a meeting in Barakatov’s house to inform all the farm foremen about how the important project had been completed ahead of schedule. Pashat, who never liked to waste any time, immediately sat down with his walkie-talkie in the farm office and rang through to the sector to give instructions for a calf and two sheep to be slaughtered and skinned by the time he re-appeared. Since he had already sent the report to the District Office, it was decided that, without calling in to see the Chairman on his return, he would go straight back to the “Socialism” sector and that his family would make their way there with everybody else.

At that point in time the open space in front of the two new blocks of flats had turned into something resembling a cattle-market. There was a frenzied bellowing, bleating and mooing going on. There was a cluster of carts drawn by horses, camels and donkeys, not to mention overloaded “ZiL”, “KaMaz” and Belorus” lorries, tractors with caterpillar wheels and combine harvesters for the cotton crop. In a word, whatever vehicle the collective farmers might have to hand they had brought along to the yard outside the new blocks. All the new residents were busy hauling loads from the vehicles into their new homes. Given that they had all been told to move in as a group on one particular day, the agitated and perspiring residents were bound to bump into each other in the porches, to start cursing and swearing and even descending to physical violence.
It was close on midnight when the exhausted new residents began to calm down, deciding to leave all unfinished tasks till the next day. In the new flats, however, just as everywhere else in the district, there was no gas supply. This meant that all the new arrivals, resorted to crafty tactics to find a solution, each one as best he could. Some just made do with tea from the thermoses they had brought with them, others sought comfort for their stomachs from pieces of cold boiled meat, while still others switched on electric hot-plates and old Meldesh and his wife boiled their kettle for tea after lighting a small bonfire on the balcony of their second-floor flat. Many of the Kazakhs, used to wide open spaces in front of their dwellings, embarked on setting up hearths outside the block, making a good deal of noise as they set about lighting fires. For any outsider it would appear that these new blocks were not so much examples of socialist community spirit as sinking ships in a sea of flames. People were scurrying about between the blocks and the hearths: some were grinding corn, others hammering nails into walls, while fires were burning merrily on the balconies and the stoves out in the yard were spitting showers of sparks right, left and centre. In short the inhabitants of the seven-storey communist blocks for communal living were shortening the days allotted to them as best they possibly could.
The next day those families would be celebrating their house-warming and the residents – representatives of the 130 ethnic groups living in Kazakhstan – would be singing songs, dancing and revelling for days and nights on end. The people who had moved into the new blocks were in the main drivers, tractor-drivers, mechanics, farm labourers, combine-drivers, builders and they would be bound to park their vehicles and tractors nearby. When thirty tractors belonging to the heads of the 128 households start turning engines on all at once as dawn breaks, then it might seem to some people that the end of the world is at hand and it will be difficult to guarantee that nobody will take fright and leap from a balcony in terror.

There now followed the first morning of communist communal living. The dawn broke and it was one of those bright mornings such as the newspapers love to describe: a gently serene morning filled with pure radiant light. The sun peeped forth and in the light of that new day there was no hint of the storm which was brewing in that world of slumber. That sun was ushering in future events for the residents of those new blocks who suspected nothing and were gradually coming to after celebrating their house-warming.
Since these were communist flats, naturally toilets had been provided in them. If there is a toilet to hand, naturally anyone would be keen to try it out. Temirbek, one of the ground-floor residents, like anyone anywhere, would start his new day with a visit to the toilet. His flat had not yet been cleared up after the party from the night before and he started climbing over plates while still half awake, winding his way through chests and boxes large and small: when he reached the toilet door, however, his feet landed in something liquid. Out of habit he started grumbling at his wife, assuming that she must have spilt some water on the floor. Yet by now his nose had encountered a suspicious smell and realizing he had trodden in something other than ordinary water, he froze to a standstill. Now that his feet had already hit liquid, it was a quite natural reaction for him to pull the door towards him. That was when the liquid which had been building up in the toilet burst upon him in a torrent.
Temirbek jumped back into the corridor and woke his family; soon he found himself in the middle of a noisy riot. Inside the toilet filth was pouring out of a big black pipe with joins between its sections which had not been fixed together tightly enough and there was no end to the cascade. This all made it look as if the residents of the upstairs flats had happily made the most of their chance to use communal facilities. Temirbek lost no time before rushing up the stairs and banging with his fists on the door of a Tatar one floor up, as if he was announcing that an enemy had surrounded them. A thin old woman, bespectacled and with a yellow face opened up for him.
Ni kirak siage?2
“Stop your nikirak-ing, Granny. God has cursed us!”
He pushed the old woman to one side and rushed into the flat shouting: “Who’s in the toilet?”

“Oh, God help us, what are you on about?”
“Who’s in the toilet?”
“Ibatulla’s in there.”
Temirbek pulled at the handle of the toilet door, shouting: “Ibatulla, you can go to Hell!”
“Ibatulla, come out here!” demanded Temirbek. “Hurry up!”
At last Ibatulla’s strained voice made itself heard: “All right, all right, just a minute!”
“Forget about your ‘minute’. My flat’s being washed away in a flood. Don’t just sit there in your toilet. Whether you’ve finished or not, you just come out here, NOW!”
Out came Ibatulla, highly embarrassed, his face covered in red blotches.
“You Kazakhs don’t even let anyone sit quietly in his toilet,” he said, with an attempt at a joke. “Well, how are things?”
Temirbek quickly explained to him what was happening. After that Ibatulla opened the toilet door again and, seeing that a pipe was dripping in there, he shouted at the top of his voice. The two of them ran up to the second floor, where an Uzbek by the name of Islamzhan lived. They explained to him what was up.
“That can’t be!” he said, shaking his head. “The shit-house can’t break down on the very first day.”
“What d’you mean it can’t, if my flat’s already turned into a filthy pond. It won’t be long before shit’s floating into your flat…”
The three of them ran up to the third floor, where a Georgian warehouse supervisor by the name of Gamrakeli lived. He had clearly only just come out of the toilet, because he was busy fastening his flies, when his neighbours appeared.
“Oh, Gamardzhoba!3” he exclaimed, very happy to see them.
“That’s enough of your Gamardzhobas, just make sure you don’t use the toilet any more!”
“Why?”
“Well, you see… it’s all very…”
On the fourth floor all was calm. That was where the electrician Ivan Krivonosov lived. When he had realized what was going on, he simply shrugged his shoulders and asked: “What d’you want me to do about it?”
“We must go and see the people in charge. We must lodge a complaint saying that before we’d hardly moved in, liquid sewage was pouring into our flats.”
“I haven’t got time for that today,” said the electrician, drinking some very cold water out of a tap. “I’ve got to fetch my wife from the town today. You’ll have to go without me. Whoever caused the flood, let him go and see about it. It’ll take a long time before it gets as far as the fourth floor.”

“That’s very mean of you!” yelled an indignant Temirbek back at him, “It’s not like the old days any more. We all live one above the other now, we’re all in the same boat. If a neighbour upstairs gives no thought to the people down below, what kind of life are we all going to have? If you go and have a look at my flat, it’ll make you want to run a mile…”
They came down to the ground floor again and went into Temirbek’s flat. His wife and children, now pinching their noses and wearing rubber boots, had by this time rustled up a dam out of rags and old clothes in the path of the liquid. Their last efforts were devoted to steering the unending stinking torrent over their threshold and outside the building. The Georgian, Garmakeli, broke down the doorstep so that the international flood that was building up more and more could finally surge past the last step of the stairs and into the yard.
It was only then that the inmates all realized that the residents on the other staircases were facing the same problem, which they too had been wrestling with for over an hour, with thoughts for nothing else but how best to contain this unexpected evil…
Not long afterwards all the residents of both blocks came out into the yard.
*    *    *
All those responsible for running the collective farm had gathered in Pashat Barakatov’s house, where it was announced that the report had been sent off to the district Party office and they finally went to bed in the small hours. In accordance with an unwritten ‘special category’ rule of the party leadership, beds had been laid out on the floor in Pashat’s office so that the chairman, Party secretary, chief agronomist and sector head could sleep there on the floor. Snoring happily, they had just sunk into a deep sleep when ten people came into the house all covered in mud. Pashat’s mother, who had been sitting there working her spindle, called out in a fright: “What the hell are you doing?!”
“Where’s Barakatov?” asked Temirbek, after greeting the old woman.
“He went out … a little while ago… What a surprise, Temirbek, is that you? What’s the matter – you look as if you’ve seen a ghost, as if Satan’s been chasing you… Are you feeling all right?”
“I’m fine, just fine,” rattled off Temirbek to reassure her, anxious not to lose any time. “We need the men in charge!”
“They… went off a long time ago.” “Where to?”
“How should I know, they never tell me where they’re going.”
“To hell with them all!” swore Ivan, beside himself by now. “Everyone’s about to drown and they’re out and about heaven knows where!”

At that very moment the snores of the blissfully unaware male quartet started seeping through the tightly closed door. Guessing where the snoring might be coming from, Temirbek and Ibatulla despite the squeals of the old woman, opened the door and pushed their way into the office. Inside it looked as if there were enormous carcases of recently slaughtered livestock laid out and the men were snoring so loudly that the walls were shaking and the ceiling heaving from side to side.
Even when another three ‘visitors’ came in, pestering them from all directions, it was all they could do to wake up the snorers and get them on to their feet. The collective farm’s leaders looked round at the intruders with their heads wobbling as if about to fall off their necks and with bleary eyes as if they were being confronted by Munkir and Nankir, the Angels of Death, demanding answers to challenging questions. They were quite incapable of understanding what was happening. When they had eventually grasped the gist of what was going on, they muttered: “All right, be on your way and we’ll be over in a minute.” As soon as their indignant visitors had left the office, they flopped down again on to their beds.
When the men in charge eventually turned up near the seven-storey blocks, still clutching at their heads as they walked along, it was already midday and the crowd was losing its patience. Anger was boiling over, as the first inspection began.
“You’re all just ignorant!” declared Pashat, after listening to the infuriated new residents. “You’re just savages who can’t get used to urban life! Even before you’d finished moving in, you started slaughtering sheep, cleaning offal in the toilets and then flushing all the rubbish down the pan. You ought to be fined for violating the rules of communist communal living!”
“Is that all you have to say? Before we’ve even settled into the new homes, we have to pay fines!?” exclaimed old Meldesh, screwing up his eyes in horror. “We’re not going to be treated like fools! You’re the ones who have plenty to answer for!”
Suddenly he lent over the railings of his own balcony and looking up to where a small girl was leaning over a balcony on the third floor, he shouted up to her: “Tell your stupid father not to use the toilet, not to flush it. Are you all deaf up there? Do we have to take an axe to your door, to make you open it?” The small girl slipped back into her flat without a word.
After a long and stormy discussion, the men in charge went into all the flats. Everything they had been told turned out to be true. They decided to invite a commission over from the district Party office. They agreed that nobody would use a toilet, have a bath or turn on a kitchen tap until the commission had been.

The commission turned up a week later, but it did not stay for long. Its conclusions were announced immediately. It turned out that the “Socialism” sector of the collective farm had made a sensational discovery of international importance regarding the construction of multi-storey residential blocks: nobody on the farm had thought of laying pipes for main drainage to link in with the sewage system for the blocks, which had been built precisely so as eliminate the differences between town and country living.
“So that’s what it was and I kept wondering how had they managed to do all that in just five months!” said the chairman, casting a threatening look at Pashat and Sepentai, after he had listened to the commission’s findings. “You two had better be prepared for a spell inside! There’s no other way out.”
“If we get put inside, then everyone else will have to go too,” said Pashat in a mournful tone, as if he drew at least some comfort from that thought.
News of this extraordinary event soon got as far as the district Party office as well. A meeting was called and the Party officials issued a Strict Warning. No warning is going to get a house built though, or main drainage laid. After long discussions, the district-level officials all agreed that work had to start on the main drainage for the new blocks. Before rumours about what had happened spread far and wide, machinery of the best possible kind available was sent to the “Socialism” sector of the farm and work began the very next day.
A few kilometres away from the aul a large trench was dug and from that a ditch one and a half metres deep all the way to “Socialism’s” multi-storey blocks.
In the meantime the residents of the two new blocks were living in hellish conditions. Some people went back to the mud huts they had been living in before, while others, submitting to the harsh new ‘rgime’, started cooking their meals on hearths set up in the yard around the blocks, relieved themselves in the steppe and came home only to sleep at night.
Old Meldesh’s grandson was due to get married: the family had specially postponed the wedding till after the move but the appointed day still came round all too rapidly. Everyone begged the grandson to wait, but he insisted on keeping to the original plan. While they were preparing for the wedding, Zhaparkhana, the mother-in-law of Meldesh’s neighbour, died and this meant that her family gathered in the new block for its first wake. It resulted in the most shocking mix-up for the inhabitants of one of the new blocks: family members who had come over to take leave of their relative shouted out the ritual greeting for a funeral gathering – “Bauyrym!” – as they came into the flat, where the wedding festivities were in full swing, while wedding guests turned up in a flat where the loud wailing of mourners was underway. After that the inhabitants of the aul, who had in the past enjoyed the freedom of wide open spaces, now began to feel ill-at-ease with each other: quarrels and conflict became much more common features of their day-to-day lives than before and people started having far less to do with each other than in the old days.

At first work on the new drainage system began enthusiastically, but gradually the pace slackened. Ten weeks later the pipes were laid and the earth under the new blocks began to dry out. Whether it was all because the calculations of the engineers had been inaccurate or because the earth had dried out and subsidence had set in, it was difficult to say, but the two blocks now sloped towards each other.
This led the men in charge to call a halt to the work immediately and oblige all the residents to leave. Those who, in their excitement over the chance to move into a new flat, had destroyed their former humble dwelling, now had to put up tents and move into them as temporary accommodation.
Once again people started complaining: although they had seen many trials and tribulations in the past, this latest upheaval had left them indignant. Once again the key officials at district level came together for a meeting, so as to decide what they ought to do. In the middle of the hectic summer season they all found it hard to concentrate on the harvest which needed bringing in: each and every one of them was thinking about how cruelly Fate had treated him.
1 Communist Party of the Soviet Union
2 “What d’you want?” in Tatar.
3 “Hello” in Georgian.
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The Kazakh culture festival has ended in London https://isabekov.live/#038;lang=en?p=957& Wed, 18 Jul 2018 18:04:40 +0000 http://isabekov.live/?p=957

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Song Of The Swans https://isabekov.live/#038;lang=en?p=956& Wed, 18 Jul 2018 17:59:17 +0000 http://isabekov.live/?p=956 Song Of The Swans is story about purity that transcends all the riches, power and aggression in this world. If your love is pure – you will find true happiness, beauty and freedom, if you are driven by blind passion and cruelty – you will be forever captured in your own barbarous creation. Based on a medieval legend by an award-winning Kazakh playwright, Song Of the Swans, is a unique art theatre performance. Set against beautiful animation projected on stage, its an immersive, interactive experience that will captivate your imagination and transport you into an enchanting fairy-tale where pure love survives against the will of men in another form… that of a beautiful Swan. Written by an acclaimed Kazakh writer, Dulat Issabekov, featuring projected sand animation by an award-wining Sand Artist Alyona Voynova, directed by Alexia Mankovskaya.

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Song of the Swans https://isabekov.live/#038;lang=en?p=903& Wed, 06 Jun 2018 11:02:49 +0000 http://isabekov.live/?p=903 This is a timeless play that transcends culture, language and religion. A young boy and his grandfather sit together admiring the scenery and pondering life and love, good and evil.

The story that evolves is a fairytale designed to answer the question, “where have all the swans gone and why did they leave?” The fairytale is based around two young lovers, Zhibek and Tolegen. The lovers were about to wed when a local evil ruler decided he wanted Zhibek for himself, he kidnaps the fair maiden and gives her forty days to agree to his proposal. There is of course consternation and Zhibek’s parents are horrified and Tolegen, her soul mate, is made prisoner by Bekezhan. As with all good fairy tales and fables the characters face perils, battles and frightful moral choices.

Desperately unhappy and refusing the proposal from her capture, Zhibek in her desperation manages to summon a fairy godmother/spirit. This spirit comes to her aid and gives her a choice; if she truly loves Tolegen she will turn into a white swan and she can escape from Bekezhan and search for her beloved however if her heart is not pure she will be turned into an ugly grotesque vulture for all eternity. As in all good tales, Zhibek decides their love is worth the risk and as she spreads her arms, her love is declared to be real and she transforms into a magnificent swan with a golden amulet around her ankle free fly off into the sunset.

Upon hearing that Zhibek has escaped Bekezhan becomes hysterical and immediately decrees that all swans must be culled. As he is one of the most accurate and fierce hunters in the territory they release Tolegen from his cell to hunt and kill as many swans as he can hut particularly the whitest swan with the golden amulet around her ankle. Tolegen was not told that his betrothed was the whitest swan obviously had he known he never would have agreed to participate. The resulting slaughter of swans is heart-breaking and although Tolegen does not release one arrow from his quiver he is feeling responsible and ill at ease. Zhibek the swan swoops down to see Tolegen alive and is overcome with relief; however he does not recognise her as a swan and sends her away. Zhibek tries in vain to convince him that she is in fact his beloved but he cannot conceive of the notion that she has taken the form of a swan.

Bekezhan’s ruthless nature again presents itself, insisting if he wants to live Tolegen must shoot Zhibek. Unsurprisingly, he cannot, he insists he has not shot one swan and that he could not possibly shoot the most beautiful swan he has ever seen. Surrounded by soldiers, Zhibek escapes and Tolegen is injured, realising brawn might not win this battle. Zhibek decided to outwit Bekezhan. In order to rid the territory of this evil man Zhibek suggests that if like her his love was real he would be turned into a swan and they would be married but if his heart possessed malice and evil he would become a vulture. As he was possessed almost entirely by evil, Bekezhan became a dark vulture and flew off into the night. Zhibek flew down and saved Tolegen’s life and they are the other swans flew off into the sunset, never to return to the territory until it was rid of evil and kindness, compassion, humanity and love was restored. In response to where did all swans go and when will they be back, I think the answer is simple. The swans return when they feel welcomed, cherished, protected and valued. A will sentiment that I am sure is understood and recognised all over the world.

 

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SONG OF THE SWANS https://isabekov.live/#038;lang=en?p=898& Wed, 06 Jun 2018 10:53:04 +0000 http://isabekov.live/?p=898  

 

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Association of World Writers https://isabekov.live/#038;lang=en?p=887& Wed, 06 Jun 2018 09:44:07 +0000 http://isabekov.live/?p=887

My Lord, Ladies and Gentlemen, honoured quests!

I am deeply touched by the interest you have shown in my work and for the invitation I was sent, enabling me to join you here in this splendid hall at the House of Lords.

When I appeared on God’s earth, the world was in the grip of the cruelest, bloodiest war that mankind has ever known – a war in which according to the official statistics over 26 million Soviet citizens lost their lives. My father was one of those who died in the mass-scale slaughter that was the Battle of Stalingrad. Hundreds of miles away, women, children and old people toiled away to supply the army with the food, clothing and technical equipment so sorely needed, while being paid only a handful of kopecks in return. The children of my generation never really knew what childhood was… Bullets fired in faraway battles flew over countless towns and villages aimed, as it were, straight for our homes, obliterating our childhood. I wrote about those terrible events in my novella We never knew the War and it came out in an English edition here in London. I would never have imagined in those days when I shivering at my desk in an unheated school-house, in ragged clothes and desperately hungry, I could never have thought that I would reach the age of 75 and be able to celebrate that milestone in a country well-known for its subtle humour and noble culture.

I am eternally grateful to our neighbour, a little old woman who had lost her husband and four sons in the war and who had been given the sad task one morning of handing the village grave-digger a small bundle. My mother was sure that her emaciated 18-month-old child had fallen victim to a serious disease and she had wrapped me in a felt rug and placed me out in the cold porch the night before. The old neighbour as she picked me up had decided to take one last look at the dead child entrusted to her and lifted a corner of the felt rug. Cheeky as ever, instead of lying there calm and quiet as befits a child about to embark on his last journey, I suddenly opened my eyes and smiled at the sight of another human face. The old woman almost collapsed from fright but managed to call out to my mother for help. Seeing that I was alive and smiling into the bargain, my mother burst into violent sobs, which were almost the death of me. The grave-digger, who had come to collect me, walked off looking disgruntled :  I had not even had the good grace to lie quiet for at least another hour so that after a quick ceremony there would been a chance of tea with a little food to mark the occasion. I feel sorry to this day that I robbed them of the chance of that wake and that they to go hungry!

If we take a serious look at world events at this time many of them seem to have stemmed from chance beginnings.  If the Bolsheviks led by Lenin had not overcome autocracy in Russia, often resorting to terror, had not established Soviet power and incorporated my homeland into the Soviet Union by force, my father would not have died defending Stalingrad, a city which he had even known existed. I have devoted so much space in this address to the Second World War, because once again mankind is faced by the risk of another world war breaking out, a war t could be the last to devastate our planet. Once again the lunacy of adults could inflict suffering on children. When I watch the new on Russian television channels, I see hundreds of rockets being fired day in, day out, while the Russians accuse the Americans of bombing the civilian population in Syria. It is reminiscent of a carefully choreographed pas de deux. After one of those `peacekeeping’ bombing raids, a tiny toddler was shown still sucking at the breast of its mother, whose head had just been blown off. That terrible image still haunts me, it is enough to reduce anyone to tears. That child was also a tiny part of the human race, whom Fate had brought into the world in Syria.

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The Transit Passenger by Dulat lssabekov https://isabekov.live/#038;lang=en?p=868& Sun, 03 Jun 2018 12:19:23 +0000 http://isabekov.live/?p=868  

Translated by Robin Thomson

The Transit Passenger is a sophisticatedly simple play.  Issabekov has managed to create a play that unfolds around the two main characters, Zeуnep and Aytore in an unlikely intense and short-lived friendship.

Zeynep is a mother who is waiting at home for visit from her son, Ertay who instead gets a very unexpected visit from a stranger, Aytore. The writer Issabekov paints a wonderfully realistic picture of mother pacing her apartment, impatiently worrying about why her son might he late, what food she should prepare, what delays could have befallen him and where she may have gone wrong raising him.

The play combines the similarities of  Zeуnep and Aytore who while strangers both share a love of the apartment where Zeyneр lives and intense love and longing that people feel for an their country and culture, particularly when they have spent time abroad. Both characters share their joys and woes in a way that seems surprise then as well as the reader. It does not seem a stretch to believe that woman would allow a stranger into her home, several times, to share food, memories and the most intimate details of their lives. The play unfolds quite seamlessly with the two main characters cooking, chatting and discovering events that characters have moulded their lives into what they now are. Zeynep and Aytore have both struggled with personal relationships, marriages, tragedies and all the ingredients of a life that has lasted to middle age.

This play portrays beautifully the need for people to connect. Clearly showing that it is often easier to talk to and to be completely honest with a stranger, for what do you have lose? Issabekov delicately shows Zeуnep as a mother and woman who is very strong and as a resilient but who is also vulnerable and lonely. Aуtore is also portrayed as a man who is proud and buoyant but who has suffered tremendous loses and has needed to share his thoughts, feelings worries and longings with another person. The play allows this short intense relationship to develop quickly but naturally owing to the talent and understanding Issabekov has of his countrymen and the human condition in general.

 

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