High in the Caucasian Mountains live the peoples of Daghestan, who comprise 36 nationalities, including the Avars. It was here, near one of the mountain passes across the Caucasian Range, that a son was born, in 1923, to Gamzat Tsadasa, People's Poet of Daghestan, who lived in the mountain village of Tsada hence his name Tsadasa which means from Tsada.

The boy was eleven years old when he wrote his first verses. After secondary school, he continued his education at the Moscow Institute of Literature. On graduating, he returned to his native parts to become one of the most popular poets of Daghestan.

Rasul Camzatov's collections of poems, and especially his brilliantly written "Octets", have been translated info many languages, both of the Soviet Union and other lands.

"My Daghestan" has been an important event in present-day Russian literature, the first piece of prose-writing by Rasul Gamzatov, the well-known Avar poet.

The life of the peoples of Daghestan has been the theme of Rasul Gamzatov's writings: "Daghestan, you are my love and my vow, my supplication and my prayer. You alone are the main theme of all my books and all my life."

This book is a kind of confession; it expresses the writer's thoughts about life and art. Couched in an original vein and aphoristic in the Oriental manner, its prose is interspersed with verses and short stories now whimsical, now sad, and instructive parables and proverbs and sayings imbued with folk wisdom.

"Rasul" is the Arabic for "representative", and indeed Rasul Gamzatov is a worthy representative of Daghestan, who has told people in all parts of the world of his land and its inhabitants.




My Daghestan






This book is the first piece of prose-writing by the well-known Soviet poet Rasul Gamzatov, who writes in Avar (a language spoken by 170,000 people) but has nevertheless won a nation-wide reputation. Indeed, he is a Lenin Prize winner and has been awarded the title of People's Poet of Daghestan. His verses have been translated into many languages and have found their way to the hearts of thousands of readers.

He was born in 1923 in the tiny mountain village (aul) of Tsada in Daghestan.

Daghestan, which means "land of mountains", is an autonomous republic (formed in 1920) situated largely on the N.E. slopes of the Main Caucasian Range, adjacent to the Caspian Sea. Its area is 14,700 sq miles and the population about 1,000,000, mostly Avars, Darghins, Lezghins and Kumyks, besides some smaller nationalities, all speaking their own languages.

The capital is Makhach-Kala, on the shores of the Caspian.

Rasul's father, Gamzat Tsadasa, was a well-known Avar poet. With this kind of background, it was, perhaps, natural for the son to follow in the father's footsteps. He has, in fact, extended the boundaries of his father's reputation. The longest journey Gamzat Tsadasa ever made was to Moscow; Rasul Gamzatov's travels have taken him to practically all parts of the world.

Trained as a school-teacher, he worked for some time in the theatre and then on a local newspaper. He brought out his first volume of verse in 1937.

His enrolment at the Moscow Institute of Literature was the turning point of his career. There he studied under the country's leading poets, and his poems were translated for the first time into Russian, their quality making them part of present-day Russian poetry.

About forty collections of poems by Rasul Gamzatov have been published in Makhach-Kala and Moscow.

I have already said that this book is his first essay into prose-writing. Its genre is unusual and somehow defies pigeonholing. The author himself calls it an introduction to a future book, but that is merely in a manner of speaking: it is, in fact, a complete book about himself, the poet's craft, love of country, and many other things the reader is sure to find of interest. It is a kind of autobiography and, in some measure, a confession. It is rich in Avar proverbs, sayings and folk wisdom, anecdotes both merry and sad, and thoughts about the meaning of life. Besides, it is, to use a well-worn phrase, full of the milk of human kindness.

An excellent Russian translation by the writer and poet Vladimir Soloukhin came out in Moscow in 1967.

I hope the reader will enjoy the reading as much as I have the translating.


Julius Katzer



Wayfarer, if you dare walk past,

Be smote by hail and by thunder's blast!

Wayfarer, if you dislike my fare,

Thunder and hail smite me then and there!

(Inscription on a door)


If you fire at the past from a pistol,

the future will shoot back from a cannon.

Said by Abutalib





On awakening do not leap out of bed as though something has stung you. First ponder over what you have dreamed.


I think that even Allah himself, before telling his entourage some entertaining story or pronouncing another dictum, will also light a cigarette, inhale leisurely, and reflect.

An aeroplane, before taking to the air, makes a lot of noise: it is pulled across the entire airfield to the runway, makes even more noise, and then begins its run. It is only after doing all this that it takes off.

A helicopter needs no run, but it, too, makes a lot of noise, roars and rumbles, and shudders convulsively before it is airborne.

Only the mountain eagle shoots upwards from its rock, towards the blue, where it soars majestically, higher and higher, until it is lost to the sight.

That is how any good book should begin, without long-winded or dull introductions. If you do not succeed in grabbing the bull by the horns when it is dashing past you, you will hardly be able to check it by the tail.

Let us say a singer has taken up his pandur[1] I know he has a good voice, but why do his fingers stray so aimlessly over the strings before he begins his song? I would say the same of a report that precedes a concert, or a lecture before a play, or the tedious admonitions a father-in-law vouchsafes his daughter's husband, instead of inviting him to the table or pouring him a full cup of wine.

Several murids[2] were once boasting to one another about the temper of their sabre blades. They spoke of the superb steel their blades were forged from, and the splendid verses from the Koran that were engraved on them. Among the murids was Hadji-Murat, naib[3] to the great Shamil. He said:

"What are you arguing over in the shade of the cool plane-tree? In the battle that will be fought tomorrow at dawn, your sabres will speak for themselves."

EVEN SO, I believe that Allah will unhurriedly light up before beginning to speak.

EVEN SO, it is not the custom in my native mountains for a horseman to leap into the saddle at the threshold of his saklia.[4] He will rather lead it by the bridle until they are out of the aul.[5] The reason probably is that he will give fresh thought to what he is leaving behind and what awaits him on the road ahead. No matter how pressing his affairs, he walks his horse thoughtfully and unhurriedly through the aul, and only then, hardly touching the stirrup, leaps into the saddle, bends low over the pommel, and disappears in a cloud of dust.

I, too, walk meditatively before leaping into the saddle of my book. I lead my steed by the bridle, walking by its side. I am deep in thought. I tarry before saying a word.

A word may be slow in leaving a man's tongue, not only if he is a stammerer but also if he happens to be seeking the most apt, necessary and wise word. I do not hope to amaze anybody by my wisdom, but neither am I a stutterer. I am seeking after the right words, so at times I may falter.


SAID BY ABUTALIB: A preface to a book is like the straw a superstitious woman holds between her teeth while she is mending her husband's sheepskin coat. It is a popular belief that if she does not hold a straw between her teeth when engaged in such work, the sheepskin coat may turn into a shroud.


ALSO SAID BY ABUTALIB: I am like a man who is fumbling for a door in the dark, or one who has chanced upon that door but is not sure whether it is possible or worth while to enter. Meanwhile he knocks: tap-tap, tap-tap.

"Hi, you there, beyond the door: if you intend to cook some meat, it's time to be up and about!"

"Hi, you there, beyond the door: if you intend to pound oatmeal, there's no need for haste! You may go on sleeping!"

"Hi, you there, beyond the door: if you intend to have a good drink of buza[6] don't forget to invite your neighbour!"

Tap-tap, tap-tap!

"Well, shall I join you, or can you get along without me?"


It takes a child two years to learn how to speak; it takes a man sixty years to learn how to hold his tongue.

I am not a two-year-old; neither am I sixty. I am half-way through my life span, yet I am closer to the latter mark, which is why a word unsaid is more precious to me than all the words that have been spoken.

A book I have not yet written is more precious to me than all the books that have come from my pen. It is beyond price, the closest to my heart, and the most exacting.

A new book is like a gorge I have never entered but whose walls are already falling back on either side before me, beckoning me into the hazy distance. A new book is a steed I have never saddled, a dagger I have never drawn from its sheath.

The mountaineers say: "Never draw your dagger without good cause, but if you do have to, strike so as to kill outright both rider and mount."

How right you are, men of the mountains.


EVEN SO: Before you unsheathe your dagger, make sure it has been well sharpened.

O book of mine, you have dwelt within me for long years. You are like a well-beloved woman you see from afar, one you have dreamt of but never dared touch. At times she has been quite close, almost within reach, but I have been timid and shy, blushed, and drawn back.

All that is over and done with. I have decided to approach her boldly and take her by the hand. From a timid lover I wish to turn into a bold and experienced man. I saddle my horse, and quirt it thrice. What will be will be!


EVEN SO, I first roll myself a cigarette of our mountain home-grown tobacco, and take my time over it. If the rolling is so enjoyable, how much more pleasurable will the smoking be!

O book of mine, before I begin work on you, I would like to say how you burgeoned within me, and how I hit upon the title, and why I am writing you, and what aims I pursue in life.

I let my guest into the kitchen, where a carcass of mutton is still being dressed; and the smell is as yet not of kebab,[7] but of blood, flesh, and the freshly removed sheepskin.

I conduct my friends into my work-den where my manuscripts lie, and let them rummage there.


THOUGH MY FATHER USED TO SAY that one who rummages in other people's manuscripts is like a man who slips a hand into the pockets of others.


FATHER WOULD ALSO SAY: a preface is like a man with a broad back in a big and tall fur hat -who is sitting in the row in front of you in a theatre. One should feel grateful if he sits upright, without leaning to the right or the left. That kind of man causes a lot of inconvenience to me as a member of the audience, and ends up by simply irritating me.


FROM MY NOTEBOOK: I often have to address audiences at evenings of poetry in Moscow or other Russian cities.

The public there do not understand my native Avar tongue. I begin by telling them, with my accent, something about myself, after which my Russian poet friends read translations of my poems. Before they begin, I am usually asked to recite one of them in the original. "We would like to listen to the music of the Avar language and the music of the verse." I recite, and my recital is nothing but strumming on the strings of a pandur before the commencement of a song.

Is not the preface to a book something like that?


FROM MY NOTEBOOK: when I was a student in Moscow Father once sent me some money to buy a winter-coat with. It so happened that I spent the money and bought no coat. I had to go home to Daghestan for the winter holidays wearing the clothes in which I had left for Moscow in the summer.

When I got there, I began to think up all kinds of excuses, each more lame and ridiculous than the previous one. When I had got myself tied up in knots, my father interrupted me and said:

"Stop, Rasul. I want to ask you two questions."

"Go ahead."

"Did you buy yourself a coat?"


"Did you spend the money?"


"Now everything is quite clear. Why did you have to say so many useless words and make such a long introduction, if the gist can be expressed in two words."

That is what Father taught me.


EVEN SO: a new-born babe does not begin to speak at once. Before uttering a word, it babbles. When sometimes it cries because something is hurting, even its own mother cannot make out what is causing the pain.

Is not the poet's soul like that of a babe?


FATHER USED TO SAY: when a flock of sheep are expected from the mountain pastures, the first thing people see is the horns of the goat which always marches in front, then the goat itself, and only then the flock.

When a wedding or a funeral procession is expected, the first thing people see is the messenger.

When a messenger is expected in a mountain village, the first thing people see is the cloud of dust, and then the horseman.

When the return of a hunter is expected, the first thing people see is his dog.




Even little children have big dreams.

(Inscription on a cradle)


A weapon that will be needed only once has to be borne throughout one's life.

The verses you will repeat throughout your life are written at a single sitting.


A spring bird flew over the spring aul, looking for somewhere to alight. Spotting the broad, flat and clean roof of a saklia, and a stone roller on the roof, the bird descended from the blue and perched on the pin for a rest. A dexterous woman caught the bird and carried it into the saklia. The bird saw that all in the household were kind to it and stayed on. It built itself a nest on a horse-shoe that was nailed to an old smoke-blackened beam.

Is not my book something like that too?

How many times have I looked down from my poetical blue upon the valley of prose, my eyes searching for a landing place to rest on.

No, it would be better to make the comparison with an aircraft about to make a landing on an airfield. I am making a banking turn prior to touching down, but the control tower does not permit me to land because of the bad weather. From my broad turn I go over to straight flight, and fly on, the land of my desire again remaining there below.... This has happened on many an occasion.

So, I thought, I am not fated to have a firm stone support under me; my feet are fated to trudge and trudge the earth, my eyes to have no respite from seeking for new places on the planet, and my heart to know no rest from bringing forth new songs.

Like a ploughman who, after admiring a cloud that has floated past overhead, or a wedge of cranes that has flown on, grips the handles with fresh strength, I would resume a poem I had stopped work on half way through.

Indeed, no matter how much I have compared it with the firmament above, my poetry has been to me my cornfield, land awaiting the plough, uphill work. Till now I have written no prose.

One day I received a letter. In the envelope was a message from the editor of a magazine I hold in high esteem. Incidentally, I hold the editor in esteem too. The editor began his letter with the words, "Esteemed Rasul". On the whole, the profound esteem was all-embracing.

When I opened the letter, it seemed to me like a buffalo skin our mountaineers stretch out to dry on their flat roofs. After I had read through them, the pages crackled no less than a buffalo skin does when it has dried and is folded in four to be carried into the saklia. The only thing absent was the acrid smell of the skin. The letter smelt of nothing at all.

The editor wrote: "We have decided to give coverage, in the next few issues of our magazine, to the achievements, the good works and the day-by-day labour of Daghestan. Let it be the story of our ordinary working men and women; their exploits and their aspirations, the story of the radiant 'tomorrow' of your mountain land, its age-old traditions, but more about its wonderful 'today'. We have decided that nobody can write such material better than you can. It is for you to choose the genre-short story, article, sketch, or notes. The length should be about nine or ten pages of typescript and the deadline is within twenty or twenty-five days. We hope... and thank you in advance...."

There was a time when a girl was given in marriage without her consent, simply by confronting her with the fact, as people would put it today. She would be told everything had been settled. But even in those days nobody in out mountains would have dared to arrange his son's wedding without his consent. They say a certain man from Gidatli once did so. But did my esteemed editor come from the mountain village of Gidatli? He had arranged everything for me. But had I made up my mind to tell the story of my Daghestan on nine pages and within twenty days?

In my anger, I threw the letter that had offended me so as far away as I could. Some time later, my telephone began to ring insistently, as though it were not a telephone but a hen that had just laid an egg. Of course, the call was from the magazine office.

"Hullo, Rasul. Did our letter reach you?"

"It did."

"So where's the material?"

"Well, you see ... all kinds of things to attend to.... I haven't had the time."

"Listen, Rasul, you can't let us down like that. We have a circulation of close on a million. Our magazine is read abroad. If you are really very busy, we'll send a man along. You just give him a few ideas and details and he'll do the rest. You'll only have to run over his stuff, make your adjustments, and add your signature. The chief thing is your signature."

"Anyone who is not glad to see a guest deserves to have all his bones broken. If anyone meets a guest with displeasure written large on his face or a frown on his brow, may he never have elders in his house to give wise counsel or young people to hear that counsel. That is how We look upon guests in Our parts. Only for Allah's sake, don't send Salikhalov[8] to me. I can tune my tambourine without any help from him. I'll add the handle to my jar myself. If my back itches, nobody can scratch it for me better than I can."

Our talk ended on that note. Wa-s-salam, wa-1-qalam.[9] I took a month's holiday and started out for my native aul of 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 toof 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 waj 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[10] 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[11] 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[12] 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" dazaled 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.

This time I went into every house. At each hearth whether a fire was burning, or the embers still glowed, or the ashes lay dead and cold, I bowed my head, which too was powdered with the cold white ashes of time.

I stood besides cradles in which future men and women of the mountains were crowing, besides others that were unoccupied but still warm, and yet others in which the blankets and pillows had long grown cold.

At each cradle it seemed to me that it was myself lying there and that everything in life was still ahead: the mountain paths, the broad roads of Russia, and the motorways and aerodromes of far-off lands.

I crooned over the babes and sang lullabies to them until they fell asleep to my simple songs.

I also wandered about in the Tsada cemetery where the old grass-covered graves are intermingled with fresh graves smelling of freshly turned earth.

I sat in silence at homes where obsequies were being held, and danced merrily at weddings. I heard many tales and stories I had never heard before; much that I had known but forgotten came back to me, rising to the surface from the bottomless and dark depths of the memory....

I could see with my own eyes that which was new; I listened to the old, and recollected, and my thoughts were like threads of various colours that are wound about a spindle. In my mind I pictured the many-coloured carpet that could be woven out of these threads.


Only yesterday, together with my playmates

I ransacked birds' nests with a hue and cry.

Then all at once I turned into an adult

When, blue-eyed and exacting, love came by.


Only yesterday I thought myself an adult,

Stolidly respectable and sane,

Then love came by and smiled upon me coyly

And all at once I was a boy again.


Yes, I have an unfinished poem of love. He and She. I am that He; the main heroine is my love. I should get down to completing the poem, but I feel as though I have just received an alarming telegram and must drop all my affairs and make for the airport.


OR IT MAY HAPPEN THUS, when a woman of the mountains is making a fire in the hearth early in the morning. She is about to warm what is left of yesterday's dinner, which will suffice for the whole family. However an unexpected guest appears on the threshold, and the pot with yesterday's food must be taken away and a fresh meal prepared.


OR IT MAY HAPPEN THUS at a wedding that the young men sit down by the side of the bridegroom, their friend and companion, but unexpectedly have to rise and give up their seats because their elders have entered the room.


OR IT MAY HAPPEN THUS in the guest-room when the elders are in assembly, while children are at play there. Suddenly the children are sent out of the room because the elders wish to discuss some important matter.

It sometimes seems to me that I am like a hunter, a fisherman, or a horseman. I hunt after ideas, catch and saddle them, and apply the spur. At other times it seems to me that I am a deer, a salmon or a horse, and that, on the contrary, ideas, thoughts and feelings are seeking me out, catching me, saddling and controlling me.

Indeed, thoughts and feelings come like a guest in the mountains, uninvited, and without warning. Just as with a guest, you cannot hide from them or run away.

With us, in our mountain parts, there is no division of guests into important and insignificant ones, superior and inferior. The most insignificant of guests is important to us just because he is a guest. The most insignificant guest is held in higher esteem than the most elderly of hosts. Without asking what pacts he comes from, we meet a guest at the threshold, lead him to a place of honour closer to the fire, and provide him with cushions to sit on.

In the mountains a guest always appears unexpectedly, but he is never unexpected, and never takes us by surprise, because we are always awaiting a guest, any day, at any hour, and at any minute.

The idea of this book came to me in the way a guest in the mountains does.


OR IT MAY HAPPEN THUS, that you lazily take the pandur off the wall, because you have nothing better to do, just to see whether it is tuned, and begin to strum on it, when a melody arises in your mind, the sounds flow smoothly and you begin to sing, without noticing that the night is at the end and the break of day is at hand.


OR IT MAY HAPPEN THUS, that a youth sets out for a neighbouring aul on some trifling matter, and returns with a wife sitting behind him in the saddle.

Dear Editor, I shall comply with the request contained in your letter. I shall soon begin a book on Daghestan. But you will forgive me if I do not meet the deadline you have fixed. There are too many footpaths for me to tread, and the paths in our mountains are tortuous and steep.

My mountains gleam mysteriously in the distance, like so many uncut gems. My courser needs wide expanses, and does not wish to gallop into the narrow gorge you have indicated.

I cannot wrap up my Daghestan even in your nine or ten pages. Neither shall I be able to write "coverage to the achievements, the good works, and day-by-day labour", "ordinary working men and women, their exploits and their aspirations", and "the 'tomorrow' of my mountain land, its age-old traditions, and also and more about its wonderful 'today' ".

My weak pen cannot carry such a heavy load. The little drop of ink on its nib cannot take in the big sedate rivers and the tumultuous mountain torrents, the destiny of the world and the fate of one man.

In a big bird there is much blood; in the little bird there is little blood. The amount of blood depends on the bird.


IT HAS BEEN SAID: the stone of a fruit was once thrown away. It happened to fall on a deer's head, from which splendid antlers sprang.


IT HAS BEEN SAID: If there had been no Ali in the world, no Omar would have appeared. If there were no night, the morn would have nowhere to appear from.


IT HAS BEEN SAID: "Eagle, where were you born?" "In a narrow gorge." "Eagle, whither are you flying?" "Into the wide skies."




I usher in a holiday at times,

Yet, also, grim alarm may echo in my chimes.

(Inscription on a bell)


True and brave was his father; he'll grow up the same

This child will not sully his father's name.

With his father's own dagger the wall is adorned,

While lullabies sing of the feats he performed.

(Inscription on a cradle)


The mountaineer should cherish two things-his papakha[13]-and his name. Only he who has a head under his papakha will keep that hat on; only he with fire in his heart will keep his name unsullied.

The ceiling above the close confines of our saklia bears the scars of many bullets. My father's friends would fire their pistols at the ceiling for the eagles in their eyries high up in the surrounding mountains to know that a brother had been born to them, that there was another eagle in Daghestan.

Of course, a shot, a bullet, will not produce a son, but a bullet must always be found to mark the birth of a son.

One of Father's friends fired two shots in my honour-at the ceiling when I was born, and at the floor when I was given my name.

Mother told me how I came to be given my name. I was the third son in our family. There was also a girl, my sister, but we are speaking of the males, the sons.

The name of the first-born was known long before his birth, since according to custom, he is given the name of his late grandfather. Every inhabitant of the aul remembered this, and all said that another Mahomet would soon appear in the Gamzat family.

No four-footed animal ever entered my grandfather's courtyard, except perhaps cats or dogs. He hardly ever slept under a blanket, and probably did not know what underwear meant. No doctor in the world could boast of having ever examined his teeth, felt his pulse, made him breathe deeper or less frequently, or having seen his body in general. Neither did anybody in the aul know exactly the dates of his birth and his death. If credence can be given to a statement written to besmirch Father, Grandfather Mohamet knew some Arabic. It was his name that Father gave to his first-born, my eldest brother.

Father had an uncle too, who died shortly before the birth of the second son. The uncle's name was Akhilchi.

"So another Akhilchi has been born," the inhabitants of the aul exclaimed joyfully when a second son appeared in our family. "Our Akhilchi has been re-born. May it be a good omen, not a sign of ill fortune, if a crow alights on his humble saklia. May the boy grow up with a nature just as noble as his whose name he now bears."

When the time for my delivery drew near, Father had no more names to draw upon or relatives or friends who had recently died or were missing in foreign parts, any one whose name could be conferred on me for me to bear with dignity. When I was born, Father invited the most venerable people of the aul to his house for the naming ceremony. They seated themselves sedately and unhurriedly in the saklia as though called upon to decide the fate of a whole country. Each of them held in his hands a rotund drinking-cup, the work of our Balkhar potters. Of course the cups were full of foaming buza.- Only one man, the oldest of them all, with snow-white head and beard, an ancient who looked like a prophet, held nothing in his hands.

It was to this elder that Mother handed me when she entered from the adjoining room. As I struggled in the old man's arms, Mother addressed him as follows:

"At my wedding you sang your songs, playing now the pandur. now the tambourine. Your songs were good. What song will you sing now, as you hold my babe in your arms?"

"O woman! It will be you, as his mother, that will sing him songs as you rock his cradle. Later it will be the birds and the rivers that will sing to him. Sabres and bullets too will sing to him, but let it be his bride that will sing him the finest of songs."

"Then choose a name for him, so that I, his mother, all our aul, and all Daghestan may hear the name you will give him now."

The old man raised me high towards the ceiling, and said:

"A girl's name should be like the shining of a star or the fragrance of a flower. A man's should embody the clanging of sabres and the wisdom of books. Many names have I learnt from books; many too are the names I have heard in the clash of sabres. My books and my sabres are whispering a name to me. It is RASUL."

Then the old man, who looked like a prophet, bent over me and whispered "Rasul" in one of my ears, and shouted "Rasul" in the other. He handed the crying baby over to his mother and, addressing her and all those seated in the house, he said:

"Here is Rasul."

The silence in the saklia provided confirmation of my name. The elders emptied their cups, wiped their whiskers with the backs of their hands, and grunted their approval.

The mountaineer should cherish two things-his papakha and his name. The papakha may prove too heavy for the head. So may the name. It appears the white-haired elder, who had travelled much and read much, put a special meaning and purpose into my name.

Rasul is an Arabic word that means "messenger" or, more exactly, "representative". Whose messenger, whose representative am I then?


FROM MY NOTEBOOK: Belgium. I was attending a gathering of poets from all over the world, representatives of various nations and countries. Each one who took the floor spoke of his people, its culture, poetry, and future. But there were also such representatives as a Hungarian from London, an Estonian from Paris, and a Pole from San Francisco.... That's how it was: their fate had scattered these people in different lands, over seas and beyond the mountains, far from their native soil.

I was most of all surprised by a poet who proclaimed: "Gentlemen, you have come here from different countries. You are representatives of different peoples. I alone represent no particular people and no particular country. I represent all nations and all countries. I represent poetry. Yes, I am poetry. I am a sun that shines for the entire planet; I am the rain that waters the soil, without giving thought to its nationality; I am a tree that can blossom equally well in all corners of the world."

With these words he left the platform. Many of those present applauded. I thought to myself: he is right, of course, we poets are responsible for the whole world, but he who is not attached to his native soil cannot represent the whole planet. To me he is like a man who has left his native parts, settled down and married in another land, and calls his mother-in-law Mother. I have nothing against mothers-in-law, but there is no Mother but Mother.

When you are asked who you are, you can produce a document, your passport, which gives all the particulars about you. When a people is asked what it is, it produces, just like a document, its scientists, its writers, its artists and its statesmen. From early youth one should realise that one has come into the world so as to become a representative of one's people, and should be prepared to assume that role.

A man is given a name, a papakha and a weapon; from the cradle he is taught the songs of his people.

No matter to what parts my fate takes me, I always feel a representative of the soil, the mountains and the aul where I first learnt to saddle a horse. Wherever I may be, I consider myself a special correspondent of my native Daghestan.

However, when I return to my native Daghestan it is as a special correspondent of human culture as a whole, a representative of all our country and even of the whole world.


About my country, as I wish

I cannot tell, though hard I try.

Full bags behind my saddle hang;

Try as I might, they won't untie.


A new song in my native tongue

About the world, I couldn't write.

I found a trunk with treasure filled;

It won't unlock, try as I might.


As my fellow-villagers and I seat ourselves on the flat roof of my saklia, I reply to their numerous questions.

"Did you meet any of our fellow-countrymen in distant parts?"

"Are there mountains like ours anywhere in the world?"

"Did you feel homesick in foreign parts? Did you recollect our aul?"

"Do people there, in other lands, know anything about us and that we, too, live in the world?"

I make reply:

"What can they know about us if we do not know ourselves properly? There are about a million of us, gathered in the rocky grip of the Daghestan mountains. One million people speaking forty different languages...."

"Then tell us about ourselves, and tell others who live all over the world about us. Throughout the centuries our history has been written with sabre and dagger. Translate these characters into human language. If you cannot do that, you who were born in the aul of Tsada, nobody will do it for you.

"Marshal your thoughts into choice studs, each courser worthy of the other, any of them second to none. Drive these herds into the pastures of your clean pages. Let your thoughts gallop over the pages like frightened horses or a herd of buffaloes.

"Do not keep your thoughts under cover. If you do so, you will forget where you have left them, in the same way as a miser sometimes forgets the cache where he has hidden his money, and loses it because of his greed.

"Do not, however, give your ideas away to others. An expensive tool should not be given to a child to play with. It will break the tool, or lose it, or simply cut itself.

"Nobody can know the ways of your horse better than you."


A PARABLE ABOUT THE PATH MY FATHER TROD: A motor road runs from our little village of Tsada to the important aul of Khunzakh, which is a district centre. Whenever Father went to Khunzakh, he did so, not along the common road but on a footpath of his own choice. He had found it, laid it, and used it every morning and every evening.

Father had a knack of finding wonderful flowers there, which he arranged in even more wonderful bouquets.

In the winter he would fashion out of snow, on either side of the path, little figures of people, horses, and horsemen. People from Tsada or Khunzakh would go there to admire these figures.

The bunches of flowers have long since withered and the little snow figures have long melted away, but the flowers of Daghestan and the images of the mountaineers live on in Father's verses.

Once, when I was a raw lad as yet and Father was still alive, I had occasion to go to Khunzakh. I turned off the highway and was about to follow Father's path. An old man who saw me stopped me and said,

"Leave the path your father has made. Find one of your own."

I took his advice and went to look for another way. The road of my songs has been long and tortuous, but I am still following it, picking the flowers for my own bouquet.

It was along that path that the idea of writing this book occurred to me.


The coming of such an idea is like the act of conception. Of course birth will take place in due course, but the unborn child must mature like the foetus in the womb of a woman so as to be delivered in the sweat of the brow and in the anguish of travail. That is how a book comes to be written.

A child's name can be chosen before it is born. What name shall I give my book? Shall I choose the name of a flower? Or of a star? Can I find it on other books of wisdom?

No, I shall not place another man's saddle on my steed. A name borrowed from an outside source can be only a by-name, a nickname, never a real name.

All that is so, but if you are looking for a title, you are tied down to the content you wish to give your book, and also by the aim you are pursuing. You choose the papakha to fit the head, not the other way round. The length of the strings is determined by the size of the pandur.

My aul, my mountains, my Daghestan! You are the nesting place of my thoughts, my feelings and my aspirations. It Was from that nest that I took to the air as soon as I became a fledgling. All my songs come from that nest. Daghestan is my hearth, my cradle.

Then why all this seeking? In the mountains a son is usually named after his grandfather. The book will be my brainchild, and I am a son of Daghestan. So I shall call it "DAGHESTAN". Can there be a title more befitting, fairer or more accurate?

The country an ambassador represents is recognised by the flag on his motor-car. My book is my country, and the title will be its flag.


With the writer, ideas, enter into argument on every page, on every line and for every word. My thoughts too have entered into argument on the title of this book; like so many ministers at an international conference, they engage in a war of words, starting even with the agenda.

Thus, one of these ministers proposes that the future book should have a one-word title - "Daghestan". Another minister takes exception to the idea. Arranging his papers on the table in front of him he says:

"That won't do. It won't do at all. How can you give a booklet the name of a whole country? If the father's papakha is put on a child's head, the head will simply be lost in it."

"Why won't it do?" the author of the proposal objects. "When the moon floats in the sky above and is reflected in the waters of the sea or a river, we still call the reflection by the name of 'moon', and by no other word. Is there any need to invent a special name for that reflection? True, there is a story of the fox convincing the wolf that the moon's reflection was a piece of fat, at which the stupid wolf jumped into the river to get hold of the fat. But then, the fox is known for its wiliness and cunning."

"It still won't do. It's no good," the other minister insists. "Daghestan is first and foremost a geographical concept. It consists of mountains, rivers, gorges, springs of water, and even seas. When I hear the word 'Daghestan' I first and foremost picture a map to myself."

"Oh, no," I put in. "My heart is simply brimming over with Daghestan, and my heart is certainly no map. My Daghestan has no geographical or any other boundaries in general. Neither does my Daghestan flow smoothly or consistently from one century into another. If I do write it, my book will not be a guide to Daghestan. I will make the centuries merge into one another, and then extract the very gist of the historical events, the very gist of the people, and the very gist of the word 'Daghestan'."

It might seem that Daghestan means one and the same thing to all Daghestanis. Yet each of them sees his own Daghestan.

I too have my own Daghestan, the only one I can see and know. Her warp and her woof have been woven out of everything I and all Daghestanis past and present have experienced, out of her songs and rivers, her proverbs and her rocks, the eagles and the horse-shoes, the paths and even the echoes in the mountains.


FROM MY NOTEBOOK: I am sharing a room at a Kislovodsk health-resort with a man from Uzbekistan. At the break of day and at sunset, we can see through the window the twin peaks of Mount Elbrus.

It occurs to me that the two peaks are very much like the shaven and battle-scarred heads of two friends who were fearless murids of Shamil. Suddenly my neighbour remarks: "The two peaks remind me of a hoary-headed ancient from Bokhara who was proceeding with two dishes of pilau and stopped in his tracks, enchanted by the morning vista of the valley before him."


FROM MY NOTEBOOK: During my visit to Calcutta I went to the house of Rabindranath Tagore, where I saw a drawing of a bird that has never existed anywhere in the world. It was born and lived in Tagore's soul as the fruit of his imagination. Of course, had he had no knowledge of actually existing birds, he would never have been able to create the image of his fantastic creature.

I, too, possess such a wonderful bird-my Daghestan. That is why, to be more precise, the title of my book should be "MY DAGHESTAN", not because it belongs to me but simply because my concept of Daghestan differs from that of other people.

And so, the matter is settled. The cover of my book will bear the title "MY DAGHESTAN".

For a while there is silence at the conference of ministers, and no objections are forthcoming. Suddenly one of the ministers rises from the table and mounts the platform.

"My Daghestan. My mountains. My rivers. H'm, that may be not so bad. But it is only when you are young, at the student age, that you enjoy living in the midst of people. Later on, a man wants to have a room or even a flat of his own. It is not enough to say 'my hearth' - there must be a fire burning in that hearth. Nor is it enough to say 'my cradle' - there must be a babe lying in that cradle. Then, it is not enough to say 'my Daghestan' - there must be some idea behind these words: the destiny of Daghestan, Daghestan as it is today. You have all heard of the wisdom of Suleiman Stalsky, our national poet. He understood what I would like to express now. Here is what he said, 'I am not a Lezghin, or Daghestani, or Caucasian poet. I am a Soviet poet, and a master of all this vast land.' That is what this white-haired sage Suleiman said. And you keep on harping on one and the same theme - my aul, my mountains, my Daghestan. One might think that for you the whole world begins and ends with Daghestan. Isn't it the Kremlin that marks the beginning of the world? That is what I fail to see in your title. You have created a thorax but forgotten to put a pulsing heart within it. You have created two eyes but forgotten to endow them with the lustre of thought. Lifeless eyes look like two grapes, nothing more."

After handing down this vivid simile, the third minister descends from the platform with a consequential air, and returns to his seat, carrying under his arm a sheaf of papers with quotations from thick and very serious volumes. His glance seems to say that there is nothing that others can add to his words, just as nothing can be added to a judgement from the Bench.

At this point another member of the conference mounts the platform, a lively and merry man who looks somewhat more youthful than the others. His address differs from the others in being in verse:


While a person is sitting, no one can tell if he's lame.

While a person is sleeping, no one can tell if he's blind.

While a person is dining, who'll say if he's bold or tame?

While a person is silent, no one can tell his mind.


"Now here's what I would like to say," he goes on. "It's fine when an idea exists, especially of the kind mentioned by the previous speaker. But it sometimes happens that people may have not only too many ideas but too much ideology, which may be harmful to the idea in question."

The title of a book is like a papakha. Which is more impor-tant-the papakha or the head under it? I want to tell you a story of how three hunters caught a wolf.



Three hunters learnt that a wolf was lying low in a gorge near their village. They decided to catch and kill it. Many stories are told among the people about the way they set about it. Here is one heard in my childhood.

Trying to escape from the hunters, the wolf sought refuge in a cave. There was only one entrance to it, which was very narrow, sufficient only to admit a man's head but no more. The hunters took up positions behind a rock, their rifles pointing towards the entrance, and began to wait for the wolf to emerge. The wolf, however, was nobody's fool, and lay snug in his refuge. The duel would be lost by the side whose patience gave out first.

One of the hunters grew tired of waiting, and decided to squeeze his way into the cave and start the wolf. He approached the mouth of the cave and put his head in. For quite a while his companions watched him and could not make out why he made no effort either to get in or at least to withdraw his head. When at last they grew tired of waiting and dragged him out, they discovered that his head was lacking.

They began to ask themselves whether he had had a head on his shoulders when he had tried to enter the cave. One of them said that he had seemed to have a head, while the other asserted that there could not have been one.

The headless body was brought to the aul and the inhabitants learnt of what had happened. One old man said that, judging from the way the hunter had crawled into the cave to get at the wolf, he had had no head on his shoulders for a long time, perhaps since his birth. The matter was taken to his widow for her to provide an answer to the question.

"How am I to know whether my husband had a head? I only remember that he bought himself a new papakha every year."

An idea should find expression in deeds, not in words. It should be contained in the book itself, not cry out raucously from the cover. A word that can be pronounced at the end of a speech should not be spoken at its beginning.

A talisman is often hung around the neck of a new-born babe to ensure it a good life and keep away illness, grief and anguish. Let us not surmise whether indeed a talisman does all these things, but we all know that it is worn out of sight, next to the body, and not displayed....

There should be such a talisman in every book, somewhere out of sight, for the reader to divine what it is.


OR, when urbech is made, a little honey is added to it. The honey dissolves in the sweet and fragrant beverage, but you can neither see or feel it.


OR, there is in the city of Bombay a garden which is always fair to look upon. It never withers or dries up despite the oppressive heat all around it. That is because beneath it is a subterranean pool, concealed from the view, which supplies the trees with cool and life-giving water.

An idea is not that kind of water which comes hurtling down amid the rocks, throwing up a cloud of spray, but the kind that, unseen to the eye, brings moisture to the parched soil and feeds the roots of plants and trees.

"What do you mean to say by all that," exclaimed the minister, who sat surrounded by books and other sources of quotations, banging the table with his fist. "Is it all the same what adorns a papakha - a white turban, or a red ribbon, or a five-pointed star? Is it all the same what a man wears on his chest - a red Order or a black cross? So you think the most important thing is the milk of human kindness? No, no, and again no! An idea is like a banner, which should not be concealed from the sight. It should be held high and carried in such a way as to be seen and followed by people."

"Ah, may his wife be unfaithful to him who will object to such words," countered the younger minister, "but what you want is for the banner to be apart from those who are looking at it. In other words, you want an idea to exist apart from human souls and hearts. You would put them in two separate bullock carts. But suppose the two carts take different roads? You say that a man should consider himself, not an Avar or a Daghestani but simply a Soviet citizen. But I, for instance, consider myself, at one and the same time, an Avar, a son of Daghestan, and a Soviet citizen. Surely these concepts do not exclude one another.

"It is common knowledge that the world begins at the Kremlin. I, too, think so. But for me the world also begins from my native hearth, the threshold of my saklia, the aul I live in. The Kremlin and my aul, the ideas of communism and a sense of patriotism are like a bird's two wings, the two strings on my pandur.

"Why should one hobble on one leg? That's why you will have to think of a second title for the book, one that will express its inner essence."


I sought for it everywhere. I thought of Daghestan during my travels in India. In the ancient culture of that land and in its philosophy I heard the echo of a mysterious voice. My Daghestan's voice is something very real to me, for it can be heard far throughout the world. There was a time when the word Daghestan could evoke an echo only in empty gorges and bare rocks. Today it resounds throughout the whole land, the whole world, and evokes a response in millions of hearts. I also thought of Daghestan in the Buddhist temples of Nepal, a country with twenty-two curative springs. But Nepal is as yet an uncut diamond and I cannot compare it to my Daghestan, since the diamond of Daghestan has cut far more than one glass.

In Africa, too, I thought of Daghestan. That land reminded me of a dagger drawn out of its scabbard only a quarter of the length of its blade. In other lands too-in Canada, Britain, Spain, Egypt, or Japan - I thought of Daghestan, seeking for similarities or dissimilarities to it.

Once, during a visit to Yugoslavia, I found myself in the wonderful city of Dubrovnik on the Adriatic coast. The houses and the streets in this city resemble gorges and rocks, granite cliffs with numerous ledges and platforms. The entrances to the houses sometimes look like the mouths of caves carved in solid rock, but next to them tall modern edifices stand cheek by jowl with survivals of mediaeval and even older times.

The city is encircled by a wall, just like our Derbent is. I ascended to the wall along steep and narrow lanes, and stone steps. Stone towers stand along the wall at regular intervals, each of them with twin loopholes like severe eyes. These towers are like an imam's murids standing constantly and devotedly at their posts.

When I reached the top of the wall, I wanted to look through the loopholes inside a tower, but was prevented by a crowd of tourists from getting a closer look. From where I stood, the only thing I could see through the loopholes was small patches of something blue. The patches were just the size of the loopholes, which were no larger in size than the palm of one's hand.

But when I drew close to one of the loopholes I was amazed at the sight of a vast sea that lay irridescent under the January sun, balmy because, after all, it was the Adriatic, and severe because, after all, it was January. The sea was not blue but of many colours. It hurled its waves at the rocky shore, which the waves struck with the roar of thunder and rolled back. Ships were sailing the sea, each of them the size of our aul.


[1] Pandur a musical instrument like the ancient pandura, used in the Caucasus. Tr.

[2] Murid in  Islamism:   a  disciple,   especially  a  Sufi  disciple. Tr.

[3] Naib a deputy or lieutenant, as a deputy governor or viceroy. Tr.

[4] Saklia a cottage or hut in an aul. Tr.

[5] Aul (pronounced  a-ool) a mountain village  in  the  Caucasus. Tr.

[6] Buza an acidulated  and  fermented  drink  made  from  millet  seed and various astringent substances. Tr.

[7] Kebab (cabob, also  known  as  shashlik) mutton  roasted  in  small pieces on a skewer and seasoned with garlic, etc. Tr.

[8] When things  are  going  fine,  the Avar  says,  "It's just like  Salikhalov's tambourine."

[9] Peace unto your house.

[10] Kiziak briquettes of dried cow-dung, used as fuel. Tr.

[11] Surna an Oriental variety of oboe. Tr.

[12] Khinkali a kind of highly seasoned meat dumpling. Tr.

[13] Papakha a tall shaggy Caucasian hat, usually of sheepskin turned outwards. The flat top is cloth-covered. Tr.



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