Otabek and Kumush: A Classical Tale in the Turco-Persian-Arab Tradition, with one caveat.


Otabek and Kumush Meet by Qahramon Shohislamov and Kamoliddin Mirzaev– All Rights Reserved.

The Uzbek Modernist will provide ongoing commentary and chapter summaries for those interested in knowing more about the themes and ideas evident throughout Qodiriy’s work.

In his prologue, From the Author, Abdullah Qodiriy addresses his readers regarding his abiding concerns over the loss of Central Asia’s rich cultural heritage, namely Turco-Persian-Arab literary classics. While acknowledging the innovations of the novel and the short story, he feared that the work of the 16th-18th century Dastanchilar– the Uzbek name for those who created epic poetry of love and adventure in the classical tradition– would fade into history thus consigning his own generation to ignorance of their own forms of literary expression.

So, from the outset Qodiriy establishes the primary overarching concern of the novel: What Professor Dick Davis once stated as “Memory and Loss.” To further accentuate this theme, the author references throughout the novel the iconic romantic pairings of Layla and Majnun, Yusuf and Zulaikha, Tahir and Zuhra, and Farhod and Shirin. The literary motif of the Beloved is the common thread throughout all these tales.

In this literary tradition, lovers lose themselves in each other gaining an ecstatic, transcendental joy only to, “as a moth to a flame”, suffer the inevitable pain of separation  and loss. The inevitable tragic ending is usually through the aegis of a love rival or the consequences of one of the lover’s actions. These tales are epic in nature, often follow a common script, with the author’s true innovation being the brilliance of his pen:  His or her readers will immediately recognize the author’s creative use of symbols and language common throughout the Turko-Persian-Arab world to entertain the reader. As with all great music, the variation on the theme represents the true journey for the artist’s audience.

O’tkan Kunlar then is framed in the longue duree of Islamicate letters. These tales are not Islamic, as in religious in nature, perhaps with the exception of Yusuf and Zulaikha, but rather Islamicate– situated within the world between what Marshall Hodgson described as “the Nile and the Oxus.” Whether you are in Istanbul or New Delhi– I would like to go further afield than the Oxus to give south Asia its due– local readers will immediately recognize the names of these star-crossed lovers as part of their own narrative and literary landscape. Qodiriy’s lovers, Otabek and Kumush, would then be symbolic of a common trope: lovers destined for a tragic ending, in this case through the lack of societal reform in Central Asia.

Yet O’tkan Kunlar breaks from this well-worn script to use our two star-crossed lovers as a cautionary tale demanding social reform in nineteenth century Tashkent. Many of the Jadids in Turkistan felt that it was the internal weakness and corruption of the Kokand Khanate that led to the conquest of Tashkent in 1865. The agendas of marriage reform, of the evils of bacha bozi, e.g. dancing boys, of the need for a modernized medical system, and of the desire to co-opt the Russian model of governance as a means to combat its own military advances in Central Asia are all set as a backdrop to the inevitable demise of Otabek and Kumush.

We now see Abdullah Qodiriy provide us the first novel in a newly standardized Uzbek language, derivative of people, places and events in 19th century Tashkent as relayed to him by his father and grandfather. We now have a historical novel, set in Turkistan before the Russian invasion of Tashkent, with all the literary motifs of the Turko-Persian-Arab tradition, that beautifully portrays the memory and loss felt by Central Asian peoples after the 1924 Delimitation of Borders that created the current five Soviet Central Asian Republics. In that sense our beloved Otabek and Kumush become the tragic symbols of memory and loss.






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