The Song of the Bakhshi

"Attention, folks!" the collective-farm loud­speaker blared. It was Mergen-agha, a cotton-grower, speaking over the farm's radio. "Listen carefully, so you don't complain later that you didn't hear. There is a great rejoicing in my family. My youngest son, Meret, the agron­omist, is to marry the daughter of Murad, Dzheren, the teacher. Do you hear, folks? The whole village is invited to the wedding feast tonight, young and old, men, women and children."
Such is the custom of the Turkmen. When a family has a toi (a feast), the whole village helps celebrate it, bringing crockery, sweets, fruits, a lamb or a kid. Every passerby or stranger is welcome. When misfortune befalls anyone, the whole village will pitch in and help or comfort the luckless one. It is an ancient tradition with the Turkmen to lend a helping hand, to face difficulties and misfortunes together and also to rejoice in one's successes together.
...The farmhouses framed in the emerald-green of the orchards made a beautiful picture against the background of yellow dunes. On the collective-farm race course dzhigits (skillful horsemen) were caracoling on fiery thoroughbred horses. Trails of smoke rose from the fires under the bubbling cauldrons set up in the yard of a big farmhouse. In front of the house were parked Volga, Moskvitch and Zhiguli cars be­longing to the guests, the collective farmers,
I arrived on the scene when the games and the dancing were in full swing. Dzhigits were showing off their skill. The strongest and the most agile were engaged in yaglyga (ovusmak, jumping for scarves hanging high overhead, and in goresh, a Turkmen form of wrestling.
The large courtyard, the orchard and the six-room house were crammed. On the veranda, decorated with carved woodwork, sat Nobat Odeniyazov, the famous bakhshi (singer) well known all over the republic and a universal favourite. He sat with his legs tucked under him in Turkmen fashion on a bright-coloured rug. He wore a red silk gown with a scarlet homespun sash. On his head he wore a shaggy hat of snow-white sheepskin. That is how the Turkmen dress for a feast.
Watched eagerly by those who had gathered to hear him, Nobat doffed his hat to reveal a skull-cap under it. Then he undid his sash and took his arms from the sleeves of his gown. Sitting there in his white, collarless, embroidered native-style shirt he took up his instrument, the two-stringed dutar.
A hush fell on everyone. The bakhshi tuned the strings and, as though performing a solemn rite, tested them with strong supple fingers. He started playing slowly uncertainly it seemed, then faster and faster until it was impossible to follow the movement of his fingers. A song poured forth, resonant and swift, long-drawn and melodious by turns. The dutar echoed it with an eagle's cry and the murmuring of streams, the whistle of arrows and the moaning of the wind in the steppes, with a war cry and the whispers of lovers, the cry of a new-born babe and the thunder of cavalry. These melodies took me back to the turbulent and ancient past. It might well be the ancient earth remembers that five thousand years ago irrigation canals stretched along the foothills of the Kopet Dagh, that the well-watered fields were covered with luxuriant growth and picturesque oriental cities flourished in this region...
The bakhshi fell silent. He was tired. He removed his skull-cap and wiped the perspiration from his face and shaven head with a large coloured handkerchief. There was a deep silence, then exclamations of ad­miration were heard on all sides:
"May you live a hundred years and then another twenty-five!"
"Sag boll Good health to you!"
"May you, bakhshi, sing at the weddings of your great-great-grandchildren..."
"We'd like to be around then to hear you, too!"
The audience looked fondly at the singer and handed him small bowls of cooled amber-coloured tea.
"Nobat-dzhan, sing our favourite, please," the host asked. The bakhshi nodded, struck the strings of his dutar and started to sing...
Far into the night the house of Mergen-agha rang with the music of the dutar and the voices of bakhshis who took turns to entertain the guests. It seemed as if the gay melodies were flying straight to the silent slopes of the Kopet Dagh, which was blue in the distance. The songs sounded an appeal to travel to the hospitable land of Turkmenistan.