Makhtumkuli Firagi in Turkmen Novels

by Mukhammetgurban Orazov
Candidate ofphilosophy, literary critic

   There is a legend among the Turkmen people.  A man asked a question to Mamedvali Kemine, a classical Turkmen writer: "What are you writing these days?" "What is there to write about?  Makhtumkuli has reaped the entire harvest of literature. All we can do is to gather up the remnants of grain and straw, "Kemine replied.  And, indeed, both in the 1811 Century and today Turkmen writers acknowledge his supremacy.

   The poet's life was tragic.  He was unable to marry his true love, Mengle.  His two elder brothers had disappeared, and his father, after eight years, decided to marry Makhtumkuli to his brother's wife, Akgyz.  The poet was unable to refuse out of respect for his father, and Mengli was married to a rich man.

   This is the basis on which most Turkmen scholars write about the personal life of Makhtumkuli.  There have been hundreds of books written about the poet's life.  I want to talk about a few novels based on the poet's life.

   Gylych Kuliyev published a novel in Turkmen and Russian in the late 60's entitled "Harsh Days".  Some 20 years later he published a second novel, called "Makhtumkuli" also in both languages.

   KuliyeVs approach to the topic was first to collect legends and scholarly conclusions about the life and work of Makhtumkuli, to reread carefully the poet's own verse and then to write the novel.  This seems to me to be a creative approach, since to this day we do not have any historical sources or archive material confirming the details of the poet's life.  And even the poet's manuscripts are not fully intact - some were destroyed by bandits, some were burnt and some were lost.

   In his novel "Harsh Days", Kuliyev writes that Makhtumkuli married the wife of his elder brother.  He quotes Makhtumkuli's poetry in support of this.  But the same writer, 20 years later, in his second novel about the poet, wrote that Makhtumkuli had married neither Mengli nor Akgyz, but someone called Nurtach, a daughter of his father's friend.

   What caused Kuliyev to change his mind about Makhtumkuli's personal life?  The writer himself answered this question in a newspaper article:

   "The question of the poet's family life is difficult.  Many authors assert that Makhtumkuli could not marry Mengli and she was married to a rich man, while the poet married Akgyz.  This story was at one time the most popular and probable.  That was why, in my novel "Harsh Days", that is what I wrote.  But the literary critic S Muradov says that this story is far from the truth, and he confirms it by conclusions he has drawn from Makhtumkuli's poetry.  The poet's descendants in Gyurgen (Iran) told us that Mengli was married to the son of a rich man from the village of Dzheigelan.  Makhtumkuli's father informed his son about this after his studies in Khiva.  One or two years later his father married him off.  Makhtumkuli's descendants do not say anything about whom he was married to, but in any event it was not to Akgyz.  This is clearly proved by Makhtumkuli's own verse.

   That was KuliyeVs response after visiting Makhtumkuli's relatives in Iran.  However hard Kuliyev tries to justify himself, we cannot agree with him.  In our opinion the author is mistaken in relying primarily on legends, opinions of outsiders and people's verbal assertions.  But the truth is to be found in Makhtumkuli's poetry.  It would have been better if Kuliyev, unhurriedly and using the poet's verse as his basis, had written not two, but one novel, closer to the truth.

   Tanrykul Taganov wrote a novel in Turkmen called "Makhtumkuli" published in 1992.  The novel is devoted to the poet's era.  He writes masterfully about the historical background of the second half of the 18" Century.  His approach to the issue of Makhtumkuli's private life is individual and quite different.  He writes wonderfully about the poet's love for Mengli. Indeed, the novel itself starts with the news that Mengli is getting married to Shykhym, a rich man from a neighbouring village.

   Because of his tragic life - the death of his father, the loss of his two brothers, his mother and his best friend - he acts passively in the novel.  He is not interested in marriage, he loves Mwengli and that is that.  Mengli also does not react strongly to her marriage.  The poet is weighted down with the cares and tragedies of the people.  He tries to find a way to achieve harmony, a peaceful life without banditry, wars and bloodshed.  He did not want to lose Mengli - he loves her madly, but at the same time he is helpless at this turn of fate.

   In Taganov's novel Mengli marries Shykhym, gives birth to daughters whom she manages to marry off, and then her husband dies.  But he prefers to stay silent on the subject of the poet's private family life.  So from the novel we do not know who was Makhtumkuli's wife.  Probably the author wanted to avoid such a controversial topic, but that is his right.

   In 1994 Ovezdurdy Nepesov published his novel "Firagi" in Turkmen.  In our view it is the latest and freshest work in Turkmen prose, and, what is more, it is very interesting and successful.  Nepesov, whose family comes from Makhtumkuli's home area, worked long and hard on the novel - about 15 years.  The novel was written after the ban was lifted on publication of Makhtumkuli's hitherto unknown verses, and after the opening up of previously closed ways of studying the poet's life and previously unknown work.

   These factors clearly influenced the novel, which seems to us to be more successful and closer to the truth.  Makhtumkuli's life is presented as we set it out at the beginning of this article, in the traditional way that most people believe.  The main difference between NepesoVs novel and previous ones is that he describes the characters and events, the incidents and historical background purely on the basis of Makhtumkuli's poems themselves and available archive material.  There is very little archive material on Makhtumkuli's life, but more and more of his poems are appearing; in our opinion the basic truth lies in them, the philosopher poet's cry from the soul.

   There will continue to be attempts to present Makhtumkuli in fiction.  Three new volumes of Makhtumkuli's poetry have been published or are in the stage of publication.  New manuscripts and material about the poet are being found.  They will provide the opportunity to write still more accurately about the life and work of Makhtumkuli for the people so thirsty for their philosopher poet.  The Turkmens have a saying: "Droplets make a lake, without droplets the field ;becomes a desert.  "We are left with the belief that in the near future we shall see a lake - a real and definitive, true and accurate portrait of Makhtumkuli.

      translated by Peter Hughes