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Uzeyir Hajibeyov - Letter #2, 1912
Money Problems in Moscow
Editor: This is another letter by Uzeyir Hajibeyov (1885-1948) written in 1912 while he was living in Moscow. Again he wrote it to his younger brother Jeyhun (1891-1961) who was in Baku. Again, this letter reflects the extreme poverty that Uzeyir experienced in Moscow. Those were harsh years and Uzeyir had such difficulty getting enough money to live on. He ended up selling his clothes, pawning his wife's jewelry and living on credit. He explains what everyday life was like under these harsh realities.
Photo: Uzeyir Hajibeyov and his wife Maleyka Teregulova. Date not specified. Possibly 1920s. Courtesy: Hajibeyov Home Museum
Excerpted from "Adabiyyat va Injasanat" (Literature and Art, newspaper), November 4, 1988. No 45 (2336). Courtesy: Hajibeyov Home Museum, Baku. Director Saadat Garabaghli. Translated from Azeri (Cyrillic) to English by Farida Sadikhova for HAJIBEYOV.com, a Website "Celebrating the Legacy of Azerbaijani composer, Uzeyir Hajibeyov." This Website was created by Azerbaijan International magazine, Editor Betty Blair. © 2001 Azerbaijan International.
So, we had ten manats in our hands [Azeris used to call Russian rubles "manats" which was the term used in Azerbaijan]. We had to buy a pair of "rubbers" (galoshes) for Maleyka [my wife]. By the way, talking about "rubbers" reminds me of a story. Let me tell you about it.
It happened when Maleyka was still in Baku, and I was alone in Moscow. I was so lonely. So, after considerable correspondence back and forth with her, I received a telegram saying that she was leaving Baku. That telegram made me very happy. I figured that Maleyka would arrive in Moscow in two days, in the morning. So on Tuesday, I got up at 8 o'clock in the morning and even without having tea, I rushed to Kurski Station.
At the station I realized I only had six kopecks with me. I calmed down and told myself, "Don't worry, God willing [Inshallah], Maleyka would be bringing some money and then we would have enough money for the fare." And so I waited in the station awhile and then headed towards the platform. But the conductors stopped me at the entrance door and asked for a platform ticket. I didn't know there was such a regulation in Moscow. Looks like there was.
So, what could I do? A platform ticket cost ten kopecks. But I had only six kopecks in my pocket. I thought maybe I could pass through the Third Class compartments of the train so I went there I managed to get onto the platform. A conductor, standing at the door, did not say anything.
That made me very happy. But when I rushed to the place where train was supposed to arrive, another conductor stopped me and demanded a ticket. It didn't take long to just drop six kopecks into his pocket. I asked him to let me go. And he did. Finally, the train arrived, but Maleyka didn't.
I looked inside passenger-cars but there was nobody. I went back upset. There was also a student looking for someone on the train as well. He looked like an Armenian student from the Caucasus. Anyway, I went out and asked the conductors what other station trains from the Caucasus might be arriving at. They mentioned Ryazanski Station.
I left the station and after asking the direction from a policeman, I found Ryazanski Station. I asked when the train from the Caucasus would arrive. They told me, "in an hour". I saw the same Armenian student there, too. But I needed a ticket to get onto the platform, too. What could I do?
By that time I had absolutely no money at all in my pocket. Where and from whom could I borrow 10 kopecks to get onto the platform? I had to do that because Maleyka would arrive and wouldn't know what to do and where to go if she didn't find me. So, I either had to get money from somewhere or by any means possible get onto that platform. I headed towards the platform.
There were two conductors and a policeman standing in front of me. I stopped. I was looking at them when a policeman came up and asked me not block the way. So, I stepped back. I saw that the Armenian student from the Caucasus had shown his ticket and gotten onto the platform. But I couldn't. I thought for a while and suddenly an idea crossed my mind: I decided to sell my galoshes.
Tatars whom Russians, for some reason, called "knyaz" [Russian word meaning "prince", or "duke"] were famous for buying old stuff here in Moscow. Sometimes it so happened that these Tatars stopped me on the street saying, "If you have old stuff, we'll buy it." And so it was that while I was living in a hotel there, I had sold some of my old clothes to one of Tatars for six manats. But later I so much regretted what I had done.
If I had only kept those clothes, I could have given them to a specialist to dye black. Then, at least I would have had a couple of suits, whereas now I wear the same suit everywhere and that tires everybody's eyes.
It's because we don't have good enough clothes that we haven't been to any theater or concert yet. For example, when all of Moscow was rushing to the concert of the famous conductor (Artur Shalyapin), and the mounted police were pushing people who wanted to get tickets to hear him, we were deprived of all this simply because we didn't have appropriate clothes to wear to the theater. You have to have appropriate theater clothes or they won't let you in.
One of my schoolmates plays contrabass in Bolshoi Imperatorski Theater. He offered us a free pass. Also my piano teacher gave her ticket to me but I couldn't use them because I didn't have a proper suit!
But, I'm wandering from the main point. So, I decided to sell my galoshes. I walked down another street, back and forth, to see if there were a Tatar some place around.
As if the luck came from God, I saw a Tatar coming. I stopped him as he was passing by and asked, "Hey, are you a Tatar?" He replied, "Thanks be to God, I am Moslem. Are you Moslem, too?' I told him, "Yes, I am."
After such a poetic introduction, I told him that I was selling my galoshes. "Would you like to buy them?" Not surprised at all, the Tatar said, "Well, OK, take them off. Let me see them."
I took off my galoshes there in the middle of the street. He inquired about the price. I said, "One sum", meaning one manat. He replied, "No, I'll pay you half a sum!" If a Tatar had known about my urgent need for ten kopecks, he would have used this opportunity and not offered more than ten kopecks.
But I hid my situation from him and started bargaining. But since my galoshes were old ones that I had brought from Baku, I decided not to argue further and just sell them for half a manat. I took the money and immediately rushed to the station.
I got a platform ticket and again saw the Armenian student there. His Caucasian face caught my attention. I remembered the Motherland. I missed the Caucasus. For the first time in my life, here in Moscow, I long for the Motherland. I not only miss Baku or Karabakh, but I miss all of the Caucasus.
That's why whenever I see anything here related to the Caucasus, say, a Caucasian store or whatever, I stop and look at it. When I see a Caucasian face, I just look at it. Actually, Moscow is not that attractive. The streets are full of people, and you cannot take a step because of trams and horse carriages.
It's so noisy here. Plus if you imagine the sound of bells ringing from the countless churches that are here, you wouldn't be surprised to find yourself going deaf. A choir of beggars, and horse carriage drivers, street vendors selling newspapers, apples and so on, shop owners, and salesmen. They all follow you saying, "Sir, sir" and begging you to buy their stuff.
Beggars vary. Some are healthy, some crawl on the ground, some have no legs, some have a bunch of kids with them. It surprised me one day when I heard a beggar speaking our Turkish from the Caucasus. Also, one day, when I was sitting in my room, I heard a woman in our courtyard, telling the Russian women, "Gadayu, gadayu", meaning in Russian, "I tell fortunes."
But the Russian women did not pay attention to her. Then the woman said, "gadayu" again and then added, "Gadayu, a jiyarin yansin (3), gadayu." ["A jiyarin yansin" in Azeri is a curse that means literally something like, "May your liver be burned up."]. I jumped to my feet, looked through the window and saw that it was a beggar. Later I discovered that there were a lot of beggars from the Caucasus in Moscow. The only thing I love about Moscow is its crows. Their squawking reminds me of valleys of Karabakh, and of all the Caucasus.
Anyway, I went up to the student and asked, "Are you from the Caucasus?" He replied, "Yes, I'm from Baku." And so we got acquainted.
He was Armenian. His last name was Hagnazaryan. On discovering that my last name was Hajibeyov, he asked if I were related to the composer of "Leyli and Majnun", "O Olmasin, Bu Olsun" who lived in Baku. I said, "Yes, I'm related." He asked, "What is your relation to him?" I told him, "It's me." The Armenian guy got very happy. He immediately started to sing, "Tell Me Now."
Anyway, I found out that he had been expecting grapes from the Caucasus. The train arrived. But Maleyka wasn't there. Instead of Maleyka, a conductor by the name of Goldschmit from Jeleznovodsk came. On seeing him, it reminded me of the wonderful days we had spent in Jeleznovodsk. The grapes for the Armenian guy didn't arrive either. We both got on a tram and returned to the city. I invited him to my place to have tea. Anyway, I'll write you about Makeyka's arrival later.
Back to the subject. So, the heels on Maleyka's galoshes were worn out, and one of her boots had a hole in it. That's why whenever Maleyka went out someplace, she would put her shoes in a place where nobody could see them. When it was time to leave, she would rush to get her shoes and put them on herself before the servants could bring them and put them in front of her.
But when the servant of our apartment saw the hole in Maleyka's rubbers, she suggested that we repair them. She said that there were a lot of shoe repairmen there. But instead of mending old rubbers, we decided to go to "murmurliz" to get new galoshes. There, for two mantas, ten kopecks we bought a pair of galoshes. Then we decided to go claim back Maleyka's earrings from the pawn shop, where we had put them in hock for two manats.
Otherwise, Maleyka's ear holes would knit back together without earrings. Unfortunately, we could not do that. We were afraid that we wouldn't get money. Then we would have no money at all in our hands. We had known before what it was like not to have any money. So, we bought the galoshes and went out to eat. We hardly ate anything and returned back home.
On seeing us, the doorkeeper said that a postman had come twice and brought to the money. I asked how much money he brought. He said, "150 manats". I can't describe how happy Maleyka and I were. Now we could be relieved of our landlord's unhappy face (Maria Timofeyevna).
We went to bed. Early in the morning, the servant awakened us. She said that a postman had brought the money. So I got the money. Then we dressed and had tea. Suddenly the landlord walked in and said, "Congratulations. Right away I took the bill from her and handed her a 100-manat note. I asked her to take the money that was owed, and return with the change. Being a Jew, she took the money and asked me if she could borrow 10 more manats.
I realized my mistake and regretted having given her the 100-manat note. I refused to lend her money and explained that I needed it myself. She said, "OK" and replied that she would bring the change back right away. She left and soon came back only to tell me that she had borrowed 5 manats anyway. She promised to return it to us the next day. Unwillingly, I consented. She charged us 52 manats for two months, and also borrowed 5 more manats and gave the remainder back to us.
I put the money in my pocket. Maleyka and I went to her elder uncle's place. Maleyka has uncles here: Kheyraddin, Mahammad, Dovlatyar. They all have wives: Latifa, Marjub and Zuleykha. I'll write you about them later. From the money that we received, we paid 57 manats to the landlord, 40 to the place where we eat, 12 manats for piano, two manats to our doorkeeper, one manat to the servant, half a manat to the doorkeeper of the house where we eat, one manat and a half to the servant of that place, half a manat to the postman, 10 manats were spent for paying debts and buying some small stuff.
So that left us with only 25 manats left. I had to pay 35 manats to the school, where I went because I paid only 110 manats there, whereas you have to pay 75 manats each semester. I had a conflict with the director of the school. I'll write you about it later. But I couldn't pay him anything from 25 manats.
That's why I missed a few classes and then holidays began. Maleyka and I decided not to eat in the same place that we had been eating before as we couldn't afford it. In spite of the fact that the bread was good and we were satisfied with it. What could we do? We couldn't afford paying 40 manats for the meals. So, we let them know that we wouldn't be eating in their place any more. Well, now we have to think where we can eat.