Hey Ismayil, Make
A Short Story
Short Stories by Mir Jalal - Anket
To order Mir Jalal Anthology: "Dried
Up in Meetings"
In the story
"Hey Ismayil, Make Him Understand," the sister of a
dictator "buys" whatever she wants without paying money
to anyone. It is said that the story is based on reality and
that the dictator in question was Bagirov who, under Stalin,
ruled Azerbaijan with an iron hand from 1928 until Stalin's death
They say that
a campaign against bribery is underway. That's quite true. But
what I want to know is, how do you define bribery? Bribery is
receiving a request from an official which isn't legal. I give
him some money and he ignores the law and does what I want. That's
Another example is one in which I might have a special relationship
with a minister or a chief, such that whenever we are having
a special dish with rice pilaf, I can't eat without inviting
him. I ask him to join us and then I prepare a feast. Some scholars
believe that this is a different sort of impropriety. But in
this case no cash is involved; instead, goods are exchanged as
There are other situations which can't be considered either as
bribe-taking or as showing respect. I don't know what they should
be called. When you ask, they say, "No, this is different."
But what I'd like to know is, just how is it different?
About 15 years ago, I was a teacher in the town of Khashmaz [in
the northern part of Azerbaijan near the Caspian coast and not
far from the Russian border]. I used to teach math right in the
middle of town, in a middle school that faced the central square.
Now there was a certain woman in that town, or I should say,
a certain lady with short hair who used to wear riding boots.
Whatever this lady wanted, no one ever refused. Her name was
Rutubat Khanim [Mrs. Rutubat]. You would see her point her finger
toward a big piece of choice meat, and say to the butcher, "Cousin,
what is that chunk of meat?"
"It's a prime piece of lamb!" he'd reply.
"Put it on the scale!"
"OK, as you wish!"
"Give me a hand!"
When the butcher wanted to weigh half of the piece, the lady
would say, "There's no need to weigh it. Just wrap it up
and I'll take it as it is."
"Yes, ma'am!" the butcher would reply. Then he'd take
the meat, marbled with fat, wrap it nicely and give it to her.
Rutubat Khanim would take the meat and leave.
I was shocked. Why didn't she pay? I'd think to myself, "Perhaps
they know each other and she'll pay later." But I'd see
this same lady in a restaurant, and after eating and wiping her
mouth, she'd leave the restaurant without paying. Or, I'd see
her entering the grocery shop, and after filling her basket with
sugar, tea, rice and butter, she'd leave without paying, leaving
the grocer bewildered.
It was amazing! Perhaps we had entered the era of true communism
and money was no longer necessary. But if that were true then
I was the only one who wasn't benefiting!
I should add that the lady with the short haircut, Rutubat Khanim,
never went alone on these shopping excursions. She was always
accompanied by a tall military man who would carry her basket
or bag. As she made her rounds in the bazaar, the basket would
get heavier, but never did she pay a penny. This was most amazing.
Even the chief of the market couldn't do this. At least the tax
collector gives a receipt. Even the food inspector doesn't behave
in this way!
Once, I saw Rutubat Khanim in a newly opened fabric shop. She
had ordered several rolls of fabric, and from each roll she took
enough fabric to cut a dress. But this time, when she started
to leave the shop, the shopkeeper called out, "Wait!"
"What is it?" she asked.
"My sister, you forgot the money," he replied.
"The money for the fabric!"
The woman turned to her tall companion and said, "Comrade
Ismayil, please make him understand!"
Ismayil approached the shopkeeper and said, "Forget about
"I said, 'forget about it!'
"So, what am I to do?"
"She is the sister of 'the man.' Put it on a special account!"
"On a special account!"
The fabric salesman was bewildered. The lady, as if trying to
blind him, pointed her finger toward him. "Where has this
stupid person come from? Don't you know who I am?"
"No, my sister. I don't know."
"You will know. Go and sit down."
Again, she turned to her companion and said, "Hey Ismayil,
make him understand! From what god-forsaken place have they brought
this man? Couldn't they find anyone else in Guba, is that why
they brought this guy?"
Ismayil called the store manager, who turned to the fabric salesman
and shouted, "Forget about it! Put it on a special account!"
I witnessed this entire scene. I didn't understand. This was
neither bribery nor respect for some minister. This was said
out of fear. Out of fear, one gives his goods and his money to
a robber, a thief or a highwayman, but this type of thing happens
in the mountains or in other places-not in the center of town
in broad daylight in front of everyone! In the heyday of the
Soviet government, why should a man give away his goods? This
is unheard of!
I thought to
myself, "I'll bet that this is a different type of fear.
I'll bet that Rutubat Khanim is a different type of lady."
It turned out that she was the sister of the most powerful man
in the country. Nobody dared stand up to her. As soon as she
appeared in the market, everyone tried to hide and stash their
goods away from sight. But she was too quick and too keen for
these people. Like an eagle, she would descend upon them, open
their bags, and fly away taking whatever she wanted. For many
years, this lady rode her horse unchallenged in that town.
But in the summer of 1953, Rutubat Khanim stopped coming. No
one knew what had happened to her. One said that she was sick;
another that she had fled. Some said that she had died, but her
military man, Ismayil, was still in the bazaar. Standing as though
he had just retired, Ismayil would put his two hands behind his
back and stand and watch the everyday affairs of the world.
"Hey, Ismayil, where is Rutubat Khanim?"
Ismayil would shift his weight from one foot to the other, look
around, but not say a single word. Ismayil, who used to be the
one who made everyone "understand," was now silent.
He didn't want to speak.
"Ismayil, what happened to that woman?"
Ismayil was silent. He scratched his neck.
"Where is Rutubat Khanim?"
"Let's talk about something else," he'd reply.
Rutubat Khanim had disappeared without a trace. At one time,
you could have seen her march through town in her riding boots,
followed like a shadow by Ismayil who carried her basket and
answered, "Yes, ma'am" to her orders. You might have
thought that she was the town goddess. It's hard to imagine that
someone with roots as deep as Rutubat Khanim's could vanish from
this town so easily. But 1953 Footnote 1 was a terrible year for her. Whatever
happened in the summer of that year, the result was that the
wield of Rutubat Khanim's power was broken. Then, she simply
vanished. No one saw her; no one heard her ordering Ismayil around
again. The townspeople laughed and were delighted to be free
of the chief and his sister, the bully.
The only person still associated with Rutubat Khanim was Ismayil.
Like an autumn leaf, he became yellow and dried-up. He even shrank
in size. He didn't have anyone he could make "understand".
He had no patience. Whenever anyone asked about Rutubat Khanim,
he'd get embarrassed. His face would turn red and he'd say, "Let's
talk about something else!"
"Ismayil, may those days be gone and never return!"
And he would just say, "Let's talk about something else."
1 On March 5, 1953, Joseph
Stalin died. He had been the head of the Communist Party and
the State Leader of Soviet Union since Lenin's death in 1924.
This story may refer to the powerful and dictatorial communist
leader of Azerbaijan Mir Jafar Bagirov whose sister abused his
power. Most leaders and their relatives did the same thing. Bagirov
was a native of the town of Guba and a protégé
by Hasan Javadi for the collection of Mir Jalal's short stories,
"Dried-Up in Meetings and Other Short Stories," edited
by Betty Blair, Azerbaijan International: Los Angeles, 1998.
order Mir Jalal Anthology
From Azerbaijan International (7.1) Spring 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.
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AI 7.1 (Spring 99)
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