Gamzatov’s Daghestan

by MG

How can this not resonate with me? Rasul Gamzatov in his book, My Daghestan writes about his village, Tsada.

Tsada! Seventy warm hearths. Blue smoke rising from seventy chimneys into the clear mountain sky. White saklias standing-on black soil. Flat green fields facing the aul and the white cottages. Beyond the village rise the mountains. Grey cliffs overhang our aul like so many children who have gathered on a flat roof to get a view of the wedding in the courtyard.

When I arrived at Tsada, I recollected a letter Father wrote home on his first visit to Moscow. It was always hard to say when Father was joking and when he was in earnest. Moscow was a surprise to Father.

"It looks as though here in Moscow people do not light fires on their hearths to do their cooking, since I do not see any women kneading kiziak on the walls of their dwellings, or smoke rising above the roofs, like Abutalib’s shaggy fur hat. Neither do I see the stone rollers we use to tamp down the earth on our roofs. I do not see people here drying hay on their roofs. But if they do not dry hay, what do they give their cows for fodder? I haven’t seen a single woman making her way with a faggot or a load of grass. I have not heard the strains of the surna or the sounds of the tambourine. One might think people did not get married here or celebrate weddings. No matter how long I have walked the streets of this strange city, I have not seen a single sheep. Now the question is: what do Moscow people slaughter when a guest crosses the threshold? How, if not with a slaughtered sheep, do they greet the arrival of a valued friend? No, I do not envy this way of life. I want to be back home at Tsada where I can eat khinkali to my heart’s content, after telling my wife to use plenty of garlic…."

Father found many other faults with Moscow when he compared it with his native aul. He was, of course, joking when he expressed surprise at seeing no kiziak drying on Moscow walls, but he was not joking when he said he preferred his little aul to the great city. He loved his Tsada and would not exchange it for all the capitals on our planet.

My beloved Tsada! I have returned to you from that vast world Father found so many "faults" with. I have travelled all over that world and seen much to marvel at. My sight has been" dazzled by an abundance of beauty, unable to settle on any one object. My glance has passed on from one splendid temple to another, one fair face to another, but I have known that, no matter how lovely what I now see is, I shall see something lovelier tomorrow…. The world, don’t you see, is boundless.

I crave forgiveness of the pagodas of India, the pyramids of Egypt, and the basilicas of Italy; I also crave that forgiveness of the motorways of America, the boulevards of Paris, the parks of Britain, and the mountains of Switzerland, as well as of the women of Poland, Japan and Rome. I have admired you all, but my heartbeat has remained steady; if my pulse has become a little faster it has not done so sufficiently for a feeling of dryness in my mouth or for a sense of momentary dizziness.

So why is it that the sight of seventy saklias hugging the foot of the rocks can make my heart throb so that my ribs ache, my eyes grow misty, and my head dizzy as though I were ill or drunk?

Can it be that a little village in Daghestan is fairer than Venice, Cairo or Calcutta? Is the Avar woman I see treading a footpath with a load of faggots more comely than a tall fair-haired Scandinavian woman?

Tsada! I wander in your fields and the cool morning dew bathes my tired feet. I lave my face, not even in mountain rivulets but in the waters of springs. They say that if you are thirsty, drink from a spring that wells up from the earth. It is also said-and Father said the same-that only in two cases should a man fall to this knees-to drink from a spring and to pluck a flower. Tsada, you are my spring. I fall to my knees and drink deep draughts of you.

I see a stone, and seem to make out a shadowy figure on it-myself as I was thirty years ago. I am sitting on the stone, watching a flock of sheep. There is a shaggy fur hat on my head, a long staff in my hands, and dust on my feet.

I see a path and see the same shadowy figure on it-myself as I was thirty years ago. I am making my way to a neighbouring aul, probably on an errand for Father.

At every step I meet myself, my childhood years, with their spring seasons, their rains, flowers, and the falling leaves of autumn.

I strip and stand under a sparkling waterfall. As it falls from a rock, the stream breaks into eight cascades to gather together again and again until it crashes on to my shoulders, arms and head. Compared with my cool waterfall, the shower-bath at the Palais Royal Hotel in Paris is a plastic toy.

Among the boulders a pool has been formed by a side-trickle from a mountain rivulet, and warms up during the day. The bluish bath-tub at the Metropole Hotel in London is merely a hand-basin compared with my mountain bathing-place.

Indeed, I am fond of strolling about big cities, but after five or six long walks, a city becomes familiar, and all desire to continue with my walks is dulled.

But here I was walking along the little streets of my aul for the thousandth time but there was no sense of satiation, no loss of desire to tread them.