Summer 2004 (12.2)
The Ali and Nino Walking Tour
by Betty Blair and Fuad
Azerbaijan State Economics University
to Ali & Nino Walking Tour Index
novel, "Ali & Nino", this building served as Ali's
High School and goes by the name of "Imperial Russian Humanistic
High School". Original, however, it housed the "Realni
Technical School" and was built in 1901-1904 under the direction
of architect D. Buynov.
On the eve of graduation, Ali complains about the irrelevancy
of his high school curriculum as a Muslim student amidst Russian
instructors. Fearing that his son may not graduate, his father
bribes school officials.
From "Ali & Nino", page 6.
"During these years many things had happened [the decade
of the 1910s]. A new headmaster had arrived who liked to grab
our collars and shake us because it was strictly forbidden to
box a pupil's ears. Our religious instructor explained at great
length how merciful Allah had been to let us be born into the
Mohammedan [Muslim] faith.
"I was nearly held back for another year because I did not
know the difference between the Gerundium and the Gerundivium.
My father went for advice to the Mullah at the mosque, who declared
that all this Latin was just vain delusion. So my father put
on all his Turkish, Persian and Russian decorations, went to
see the headmaster, donated some chemical equipment or other,
and I passed.
"A notice had been put up in the school, stating that pupils
were strictly forbidden to enter school premises with loaded
revolvers. Telephones were installed in town, and Nino Kipiani
was still the most beautiful girl in the world.
Baku's Manuscript Institute
was originally built as the first boarding school for Muslim
girls. It opened in 1901. Oil Baron Taghiyev, illiterate himself,
recognized the need for a strong education for women and financed
the building project and the administration of the school. Courtesy
of Taghiyev's relative Saida Mirizade-Abdullayeva.
all this was coming to an end. The final exam was only one week
away, and I sat at home and pondered on the futility of Latin
tuition on the coast of the Caspian Sea.
"Another delightful scene
in "Ali & Nino" reflects the mischievous character
of some of the students. Ali's graduating class had created a
hoax as an excuse to cover themselves when they wanted to play
hooky from school. They used to fabricate a story about how lepers
had escaped from a local leprosarium.
"At the graduation party, Ali, as class spokesman, informed
his teachers of the closure of the leprosarium, leaving the graduating
classes that would follow scrambling to connive their own excuses
for cutting classes.
"The following scene takes place in the opulent Oriental
Hall on the Second Floor of Taghiyev's Residence (See No. 25).
It is possible to see this room today as it is part of the National
History Museum and open to the public and well worth the visit
as it is the most ornate and tastefully decorated private hall
that existed in Oil Baron days as well as today in Baku."
Below: City School No. 5 named after Pushkin.
Early Soviet period. Note that boys and girls are enrolled in
the same school. Ali and Nino went to separate schools. National
"Ali and Nino: pages 32 ff.
"The Leprosarium was the invention and the secret of our
form [class at school]. The Russian teachers had no idea of what
was going on in our town and the surrounding countryside, even
if they had been living and working here for years. To them,
we were just wild natives, who might do anything. So we had told
them that there was a Leprosarium near Baku. [Actually, there
is a leprosarium in the Gobustan region about an hour's distance
"If any of us wanted to play truant, the form's spokesman
went to the form's teacher, and teeth chattering, told him that
some of the sick had broken out and were in our town. The police
were looking for them. They were supposed to be hiding in the
part of the town where the pupils lived, who wanted a bit of
time off. The teacher blanched and gave his pupils permission
to stay away till the sick were arrested. This might be a week,
or even longer, it depended. No teacher ever dreamed of enquiring
at the Bureau of Sanitation whether there really was a Leprosarium
near. But tonight [Graduation Night] the Leprosarium would be
"I went into the already crowded hall. In a corner sat,
surrounded by his teacher, our headmaster, wearing a solemn and
grandiose look for the occasion. I went to him and bowed respectfully.
When it came to dealing with the headmaster, I was the spokesman
for the Muslim pupils, because I had a monkey's instinct for
languages and dialects. While most of the students betrayed their
non-Russian descent in their first Russian sentence, I could
even imitate the separate dialects. Our head master came form
Petersburg and, therefore, one had to speak "Petersburgian"
to him; that is, lisp the consonants and swallow the vowels.
This does not sound very beautiful, but it's very, very high
class. The headmaster never dreamed I was pulling his leg, and
was pleased about the progressive Russification of this far borderland.
"Good evening, sir," I said modestly.
"Good evening, Shirvanshir, have you recovered from your
"Oh yes, sir, But since then I have had an awful shock."
"What was that?"
"Well, this thing about the Leprosarium. My cousin Suleyman
was there. You know he is a Lieutenant in the Salyan Regiment.
It made him quite sick and I had to nurse him."
"But what is the matter with the Leprosarium?"
"Oh! Sir, don't you know? Yesterday all the sick broke out,
and marched towards the town. Two companies of the Salyan Regiment
had to be turned out to deal with them. The sick had occupied
two villages. The soldiers surrounded these villages and killed
everybody - sick or not sick. Just now all houses are being set
on fire. Isn't it dreadful, sir, the Leprosarium has ceased to
exist. The sick, rotting pieces of flesh falling off them, rattling
in their throats, lie outside the town gates. They are being
slowly drenched with oil and burned to death".
"Pearls of sweat appeared on the headmaster's forehead.
He was probably thinking that really it was time to ask the Minister
for a transfer to a more civilized place.
"Terrible country, terrible people," he said huskily.
"But there you see, children, how important it is to have
an efficient government and magistrates who can act quickly."
The form surrounded the headmaster and listened, grinning at
the lecture about the Blessing of Order. The Leprosarium was
finished. Our successors would have to think up some new idea
of their own. "
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