Dreams of an Uzbek author and artist in the time of globalization

Dreams of an Uzbek author and artist in the time of globalization

A short essay by Azam Abidov

On a rainy spring day in Tashkent, to observe quarantine rules, I am staying in my small two-room flat I used to host my foreign poet, writer and artist friends.  Oh my God, the moving world has become completely different in a month with this pandemic! Was that not recently that, fed up with so many quarrels and hatred, and unable to seriously promote peace and tolerance, I was dreaming to leave the Planet Earth?

Where is your forehead,

Mother Earth?

My Facebook friend

From Vietnam

Is taking me to his

Space Station

He has built in his blissful childhood.

With the same creation,

The same flesh

And even the same God

We are not working enough

To promote

The Exchange of Love:

My tears cannot extinguish

Big fires in Australia,

I cannot keep breathing anymore

Because of dying humans,

Animals and birds all over.

My friend told me

I will be the first poet

In his station,

So I can take some fellows to join

From elsewhere,

Including from Iraq,

North Korea,

Iran and U.S.

To foster our poorest exchange

And be able to cast

The Shadow of Peace

Over you –

Mother Earth.

You deserved all

Wonderful things

Existence could offer!

But I don’t deserve you.

So where is your forehead?

I want to kiss and thank you,

And say good-bye.

 No gatherings at all. No movement. What will happen to my exchange program now? This is the question that comes to me as I try to say a word about Uzbek writers and artists at this moment. Both wise and arrogant human beings are too weak to fight a tiny virus.  But I believe that everything in this transient world happens for good.  So let me concentrate on what modern Uzbek creative minds dream about nowadays.  I must confess that with a new and better government in Uzbekistan, people started thinking and moving freely.  We can express our opinions and put forward ideas, but yet we are not there to fulfill our wishes as quick as we want. We need active and courageous poets and writers, cartoonists and artists to uplift the minds and hearts, as well as encourage and inspire millions of people in the country.

I am always asked to translate a poetry collection, short stories or novels.  I understand when such a request comes from an older poet or writer.  However, it kills me if the requester is a young person.  I politely reject them and try to explain that it is better for him or her to learn a foreign language, especially English, and start translating their work by themselves.  Otherwise, no one will take this task to do for them in the time when one can hardly find an Uzbek writer or painter who is being widely read or observed by foreigners.  So, one of the Uzbek poets and writers’ dream now is be heard and read globally. This is same for painters.  And my message is: Learn English and be ready for exchange!

I tried to promote this message with the help of tens of foreign friends of mine, who came to our Writer/Artist Residency Program, a unique initiative for Uzbekistan (for more information please see: http://azamabidov.uz/?cat=29.)  We have never had such program before, the purpose of which is to help Uzbek creative minds join the circles of their colleagues from other countries, by making friends, mingling and interacting face to face in their homes and creative institutions.  So we are bringing creative people from throughout the world to Uzbekistan to prepare Uzbeks to go on global literary and cultural and stages.  Do you think we are doing success in this?  The answer is both yes and no.  It is Yes, because we could create a group of a couple hundred volunteers, including host families, students, teachers and parents, to help with the program.  It is No, because there are not many poets, writers or painters among the volunteers.  Moreover, those Uzbeks who would like to be translated into foreign languages or be exhibited abroad, especially those who really worthy of being part of global cultural movement, are not very much interested in this important engagement, or simply are not aware of the initiative because of ignorance.  I believe that an Uzbek writer or poet with good English proficiency will be much more successful and be also welcomed by the foreign audience if he or she will go on stage to read his work or to speak with people without a translator.  Isn’t that a big issue for us to work hard on our target audience?

Another issue is that, men of letter and painting in Uzbekistan are not yet free in expressing themselves and thinking out of box.  A lot of good authors and artists have no enough means to live a normal life and have to rely on pro-governmental institutions’ help with housing, healthcare and food (maybe like in many places around the world).  In a recent interview with a member of Uzbekistan Writers’ Association, I proposed to free literature and art from the government subsidy and instead to adopt a law on promoting philanthropy and supporting businesses who help literature and art succeed, by giving them certain privileges, for example, in the form of tax reduction.  Knowing the situation, I doubt that this proposal will soon find way to legislators.

Once I wrote in my poem:

I am not alone

In being ignored

By those who envy me

And my passion to Life,

To Change

And Exchange.

It’s my dream to see Uzbek poets, writers and artists as ambassadors to foreign countries and even as foreign ministers.  In our long history, there were many rulers and ministers who wrote poetry and compiled very beautiful poetry books.  One of them was Alisher Navoiy (1441-1501), whom we call now the father of Uzbek literature.  In contemporary Uzbekistan, tens of schools, universities, museums and even a whole big province are called named after Navoiy.  However, we have not done enough to promote his work abroad.  The English translation of his famous epic poem, Farhod and Shirin, has recently appeared in English in my own translation.  It is actually a droplet from the ocean of his work that has ever been translated into English.  Here is my poem called I wish I Could Cry With Navoi:

Lost in the paths of time – the body – the beau,
I will move to the past,
With my body captured by the unaware
I will spread my wings to fly.

Where is my place, my own – that belongs to me?
I miss Yassawy so much,
The other day, I came across Mashrab,
He was peeking through my room’s glass…

My heart, do not grieve in despair,
Embrace yourself in the past- the golden cradle.
I wish I could cry with Navoiy,
Placing my head on his chest!

(translated by Muhtor Adashev)

 “I see you have rich culture and literature, but why do you not promote it, why the world does not know about it?” one of our resident poets from Israel, Tsippy Levin Byron, asked me during the October program last year.  “Could you help me communicate with foreign painters?” an Uzbek artist asks me.  “How can I be part of Iowa Writers’ Program or an international writer’s festival?” ask me Uzbek authors.

Early this year, I started free English Club for only creative people at the Yudakov Museum.  We used to meet twice a week, but with the pandemic now, we moved to online learning.  I am looking through the window now and enjoying how the drops of rain are watering the flowers and saplings I planted last week with my sons.  The sun will shine tomorrow.  I am hopeful the dreams of Uzbek poets, writers and artists will come true and flourish one beautiful day.  They only need one mission: participation.  Participation in the global creative challenge to make Planet Earth a lovely place after the COVID-19!

A bat could smile,
Bear a child and breastfeed
and also menstruate.
The bat really wanted
to laugh and weep
like a human being.
So the bat summoned a man
In a market fair
For a feast
And have an affair.
The bat treated the man
With a piece of her flesh.
And now
The bat knows
how to laugh and weep.
Her laughing sounds
Like a mourning
Her weeping sounds
Like a laughter
And is heard and spread
All over the world.
The cursed friendship
Sparkles in the sun.