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A stream of fresh air comes pouring into the room. In the bluish paling half-light I pore over the sketches for my new picture. The sketches are many, for I have had to begin at the very beginning again and again. But it is too early to see the picture as a whole. I pace the floor in the silence of the waning light, thinking, thinking, thinking It happens every time. And every time I realize that my picture remains no more than a vague idea.
I do not believe in talking about my paintings before they are finished even to my closest friends. This is no mere whim. I cannot act differently, because I feel that it is too big for me to handle along. The story that has gripped me, the story that prompted me to take up my brush seems so overwhelming that I simply cannot embrace it alone.
I seem to be holding a brimming cup, and I am afraid of spilling it. Come closer, do not grudge me the warmth of your hearts, it is my duty to tell you this story Our Kurkureu village lies on a broad plateau at the foot of the mountains, with noisy little streams rushing down to it from the many gorges.
Below the village spread the Yellow Valley, a huge Kazakh steppe, hinged with the spurs of the Black Mountains and the dark line of the railway running away to the horizon, to the west, across the plain.
And on the hill behind the village there are two great poplars. I remember them since I remember myself. From whatever side you approach our Kurkureu, the first thing you see are the two poplars, standing on that hill like beacons for all to see.
Tall though they are, I could hardly expect to see them from that distance, but to me they are always visible and tangible. Will I ever reach home? All I want is to go up that hill and stand under the trees for a long, long time, listening to the murmur of their leaves. They stand on a rise, open to all winds, the slightest motion of the air affects them, and their every leaf responds sensitively to the tiniest breeze.
The discovery of this simple truth did not disappoint me in the least, nor did it rob me of my childish attitude towards them, which I retain to this day. And to this day I think of those two poplars on the hill as wonderful, living things. There, at their foot, I left my childhood, like a broken piece of green magic glass And the giants, swaying from side to side, seemed to be murmuring an invitation for us to come into their cool shade.
The birds would take wing and wheel above our heads with loud cries. What was it to us? The grandeur of that world was staggering. The collective farm stables, which we had always thought the biggest building in the world, appeared no grander than an ordinary woodshed. And beyond the village stretched the virgin steppe, floating, it seemed, in a shimmering haze. Peering into the bluish distance we would see more land whose existence we never suspected and rivers we knew nothing about, glimmering silver threads in the distance.
And clinging to our branches we would wonder: is that the end of the earth, or is there a sky like ours, are there clouds, steppes and rivers like ours beyond that too? We would listen to the haunting music of the winds, and the leaves all whispering together would speak of the enchantment of those mysterious lands hidden behind the bluish haze. I would listen to the swish of the leaves, my heart hammering from fear and excitement as I tried to picture those distant lands.
I remember now that it never occurred to me to wonder who planted those poplars. What did that unknown person dream about, what did he say when he placed the roots of the young trees into the soil, with what hopes did he tend them and watch them grow? Once upon a time there was a school on this hill, people said. No trace of it was left that I ever saw. As a child I went looking for some signs of the building, but though I searched and searched I never found anything.
It was all a long time ago; Duishen was a Komsomol member then. There was a tumbledown shed on that hill, and Duishen started a school in it. He taught children, he did. Some school that was, it was not worth the name! Ah yes, those were queer times! In those days it was catch a horse by the mane and put your foot in the stirrup, and then you were your own boss. He had a crazy idea and carried it through.
His house was on the other side of the river. Years later, I remember someone mentioning that Duishen was now the village postman. And I simply could not imagine this docile, bearded old man as a Komsomol member and, more amazing still, teaching school when he himself could hardly read and write. To be quite honest, I was sure it was one of those many tall stories circulating in our village. However, I was wrong Last autumn I received a telegram from my home village.
It was an invitation to the opening ceremony of the new school built by the collective farmers with their own hands.
I immediately made up my mind to go; how could I miss a great day like that in our village? I arrived a few days early, because I wanted to walk about and make some new drawings of my native district. Academician Sulaimanova had also been invited, I was told. She was expected to spend a couple of days in the village and then go on to Moscow. I knew that this celebrated woman had left our village when she was no more than a child.
I met her when I too, became a townsman. She was already past middle age, a statuesque woman with plenty of gray in her glossy black hair. She headed a chair at the university, lectured on philosophy, worked at the Academy and often went abroad. Academician Sulaimanova was a very busy woman and so I was not able to get to know her well, but whenever we met she invariably asked me for news of our home village, and never failed to say something, even if only a few words, about my new paintings.
True, I have no relatives in the village. She arrived when the ceremony was about to begin. The people gathered in the new school building saw her drive up, and all poured out of doors.
Friends and strangers, the old and the young, they all wanted to shake her hand. Hands pressed to her breast, she bowed right and left as she made her way through the crowd to the presidium table on the stage. Altyani must have attended a great number of meetings and ceremonies in her life, and the welcome accorded her must always have been cordial and warm, but the welcome she was given here, in the village school, was so moving that it brought tears to her eyes.
They gave her the place of honor, where the rugs were the most gorgeous, they lavished attention on her to show how much they respected and admired her. It was noisy and jolly, as such gatherings usually are, with everyone talking animatedly and proposing toasts.
A young village lad came in and handed the master of the house a batch of telegrams. The telegrams were passed around. He says he whipped his horse all the way to get here before the meeting closed, so the telegrams could be read out for all to hear.
Tell him to come in. Altynai, who was sitting next to me, started nervously as though suddenly remembering something, and asked me what Duishen they were talking about. I thought her manner and tone were very strange. Duty comes first with him. After the war he came out of hospital, in the Ukraine it was, and stayed there.
That man never married in his life There was both amazement and sarcasm in his expression. There was general laughter. And we were fine ones too--we seriously regarded him as a teacher! Altynai Sulaimanovna is an academician, known throughout the country.
Practically all of us have a secondary education, and many a higher education. Today we have opened a new secondary school in our village, and that alone shows how greatly our life has changed.
May the sons and daughters of Kurkureu always be among the best-educated people of their day! Let us drink to this. Altynai alone appeared disturbed and ill at ease, and took no more than a sip of her wine. No one noticed it though everyone was in high spirits, talking and laughing. Altynai glanced at her wristwatch again and again. And afterwards, when the whole party came out for a breath of fresh air, I saw her standing apart from the rest, her intent gaze on the hill where the yellowed poplars were swaying gently in the breeze.
The sun was sinking where the sky met the blurred lilac line of the steppe. Its waning light stained the crowns of the poplars a dull, sorrowful purple. I went up to Altynai. She was gazing at the poplars with a very feminine sort of regret. The academician had vanished; this was just an ordinary, unsophisticated Kirghiz woman, guileless in both sorrow and joy.
She seemed to be lost in memories of her youth, which, as our songs say, cannot be called back even if you call from the tallest mountain.
I believe she wanted to tell me something as she stood gazing at the poplars, but changing her mind she hastily put on the spectacles she was holding in her hand.
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Taular I cannot act differently, because I feel that it is too big for me to handle along. There was a Russian man on it. He had a crazy idea and carried it through. They gave her the place of honor, where the rugs were the most gorgeous, they lavished attention on her to show how much they respected and admired her. That autumn, after the wealthier sheep-farmers had moved up into the mountains for the winter, a stranger wearing an army greatcoat came to our village.
Guru Geethaya – Chingees Aithmathawu
Guru Geethaya – Chingees Aithmathawu