Pages 92-99

Jalil Mammadguluzadeh

Jalil Mammadguluzadeh (1866-1932) was one of Azerbaijani literature’s most eminent writers. After graduating from the Gori Teachers’ Seminary (1887), he worked in Irevan and Nakhchivan as a teacher and as an officer in different law organisations. He began working as a journalist in 1903. In April 1906 he launched the “Molla Nasraddin” magazine, renowned both within Azerbaijan and beyond. He wrote prose and many dramas, which are still enjoyed by readers.
Jalil Mammadguluzadeh was a satirist and writer of critical realism, as is quite clear from his shortstory ‘Post Box’. This was written in November 1903 and first published in 1904, in the ‘Sherqi-rus’ (Eastern Russian) newspaper in Tbilisi. The author exercises great mastery of the short form and creates a classic, with original plot and deep meaning. The literary critic A. Mirahmadov wrote: “the ‘Post Box’, which is pivotal in the development of the plot, should be considered not simply as an inanimate object, but also a very well-thought-out means of realising the author’s ideas. In this exceptional paradigm of world prose by the Azerbaijani classic writer (editor’s note) the post box is no longer a silent, static metal thing, but is a catalyst, helping us to see the difference between the true and the false, to distinguish the bitter truth from the sweet truth, culture and progress from backwardness.”

It was the 12th day of November. The weather was very cold, but there was no trace of snow. The doctor examined the Khan’s sick wife for the last time and said that the patient had improved and would be ready to travel after another week. The Khan was in a hurry to leave for Iravan, because he had some very important business there. He was also worried that it might snow and the cold weather would make it impossible for his wife to travel. The Khan took up his pen and wrote a short letter to Jafar Agha, his friend in Iravan:

“My dear friend! I am hoping to come to Iravan with my wife and children in a week’s time. Could you please make sure that the carpets are down, the stoves are lit and the apartments are aired and warmed? I would not like anything to disturb my wife, who is ill.

Please answer this letter by telegram. I have attended to the matter that you asked me to. Goodbye!

Yours sincerely,

Vali Khan

12 November”.

The Khan folded the letter and put it into an envelope, addressed and stamped it. He intended to call his servant to take it to the post box, but suddenly remembered that he had already sent him on another errand. Just then, he heard a knock at the door. The Khan went out to see who it was and found Novruzali, his fellow villager from “Itgapan”. Novruzali often came to visit the Khan and would always bring something as a gift, like fl our, honey or butter. He was not empty-handed this time either, because as soon as he saw the Khan, he leaned his stick against the wall and opened the gates. He then began pushing a laden donkey inside, crying “chochi-chochi”; he took three or four chickens off the donkey’s back. He untied the load and put some of
the sacks on the ground. He then looked at the Khan, bowed and greeted him. Khan acknowledged his greeting and said:

- Novruzali, why all this trouble?

Opening the sacks, Novruzali answered:

- It’s no trouble, my Khan. I am your faithful servant

until the day I die…

Novruzali was brushing the dust off his clothes…Because it was an hour after midday, and he might miss the mail collection, the Khan decided to give the letter to Novruzali to drop into the post box.

The Khan addressed his guest:

- Novruzali, do you know where the Post Office is?

Novruzali replied:

- My Khan, I am a simple villager, how would I know what a Post Office is?

- Well, do you know where the Central Courthouse is?

- Yes, my dear Khan, of course I know where that is. I went there last week to complain to the Chief, because, I swear to God, my Khan, our village mayor is tormenting us. To tell you the truth, my Khan, that mayor of ours is from another village; that’s why he can’t stand us. Two of my calves went missing last week. So I went there…

- You can tell me about it later. Now listen carefully. Just opposite the Courthouse there is a little box set on the stone wall: that box is a post box. It has a long, narrow lid. Take this letter there, open the lid of the box, drop this letter into the box, put the lid back down and come straight back here!
Trembling, Novruzali took the letter in both hands, looked at the envelope for a while and then looked at the Khan. He then went to the wall and bent down to put the letter on the ground.

The Khan shouted:

- Don’t put it there! Don’t put it on the ground! It will get dirty, go and drop it into the post box and come back!

- My dear Khan, first, please let me hang a feed bag around the donkey; the poor animal has come a long way, it is probably hungry.

- No, no… It will be alright. We’ll miss the mail. You can see to the bag later.

- Then let me tie him up, or else he will eat the trees in the yard.

- No, no… That’s no problem. Go quickly and post the letter!

Novruzali put the letter carefully inside his jacket and said again:

- My dear Khan, the chickens are still tied up. Poor animals, let me untie their legs and give them some grain. I have got some here. Novruzali put his hand inside his pocket for the grain…

The Khan shouted again, loudly:

- No, No!.. . They can wait. Go, run, and put the letter in the post box!

Novruzali picked up his stick and started running like a child. But he suddenly thought of something; he came back and addressed the Khan again.

- My Khan, there are some eggs inside that sack, please be careful. I am afraid the donkey might break them if it lies down.

The Khan barked even louder:

- No more talking. We are running out of time. Go and post the letter!

Just as Novruzali was leaving, the Khan called him back:

- Novruzali, I am telling you, don’t give that letter to anyone else! Don’t give it or show it to a single person! Go, run, post it and come straight back!

Novruzali answered even louder:

- Why, I am no child to give it to a stranger! I am not so inexperienced. Don’t worry; even the chief wouldn’t get this letter off me.

this, Novruzali disappeared … The Khan went back into the room and spoke tenderly to his wife:

- Start getting ready, my dear. I have just written to Iravan and they will prepare the rooms for us. We can go now. Mashallah[1], you look better now. The doctor said that a change of climate is very important for you.

As the Khan was talking to his wife about leaving, the servant came in and said:

- Khan, whose is that donkey; who brought those things?

The Khan answered:

- Put them away! Novruzali brought them as a present from Itgapan.

The servant took the chickens and eggs to the kitchen, led the donkey to the stable and closed the door. Then he opened the sacks of fl our, took a pinch and showed it to the khan:

- Khan, this is good quality white flour.

Khan looked at the fl our and told the servant to close the gates and start preparing some food.

The meal took two hours. Only after finishing, the Khan remembered that he had sent Novruzali to post his letter. He called his servant, who told him that the villager had not returned yet. The Khan was a little surprised that it was taking him so long, but he thought that, perhaps, after posting the letter,
Novruzali had gone to the bazaar to buy something to eat or do his shopping. Another hour went by, still no sign.

The Khan called his servant and told him to go and see where Novruzali was and to find out what was causing the delay. Half an hour later the servant came back and said that he could not find the villager anywhere. The Khan went out onto the balcony, lit a cigarette and paced up and down, trying to work out what had happened. Something must have happened to Novruzali if he was so late. Just then, a policeman came by and said to the Khan:

- Khan, the police chief asks you to come by the station and bail out your fellow villager. If you don’t, the chief is going to put him in prison. The Khan was so surprised to hear this that he gazed at the man in astonishment; he was lost for words. Finally, he managed to say:

- Listen, he is such a meek man, what could he have done to get arrested?

The policeman answered:

- I don’t know much about it. However, it would be better if you went to the police station yourself, otherwise I will feel sorry for that poor man.

Khan did not say anything to his wife, so as not to disturb her. He got changed and went to the police station. Before entering, he looked into the cell and saw poor Novruzali sitting in the corner with other prisoners. He was crying like a child and wiping his tears with the hem of his chukha[2].…

The Khan learned what had happened to Novruzali from the chief, vouched for him and took him home. As soon as Novruzali entered the yard, the tears flowed again; he put the sack of feed around the donkey and sat down against the wall. The Khan went into the house; he lit a cigarette, went back onto the balcony and called to him:

- Now tell me the story, Novruzali! This adventure of yours is rather interesting. Someone should put it in a book. Tell me everything from the beginning. Start from taking the letter and leaving my house, and tell me how you ended up in that cell…
Novruzali stood up, went over to the Khan, wiped his tears with the hem of his coat and began his story:

- Forgive me, my Khan, in the name of your
children! I am not to blame. I am just a poor villager. How would I know what is a letter, what is a box, what is a post? Please, my Khan, I beg you to forgive me in the name of your beautiful children. Do not worry, I will serve you until I die to make up for this. How could I know? It is all the will of God.

Forgive me, my Khan. I am your servant until the day I die…

At this, Novruzali moved closer to the khan and bent to kiss his feet. The Khan stepped back and said:

- Novruzali! Do not worry? Have I said anything to you? What have you done that you beg my forgiveness?

- Please, my Khan, what could be worse than this? That kafir’s[3] son, kafir, took the letter from me, put it in his pocket and went away.

- Who put the letter in his pocket and went away?

- That Russian guy!

- Where did he go?

- He went into that place you told me about, the one with the box hanging in front of it. He went in there.

Khan did not know what to say for a little while:

- Didn’t you drop the letter into the box?

- Why, of course, I did! As soon as I put the letter there, that kafir opened the box somehow and took the letter away.

- Were there any other letters apart from the one you put in there?

- Of course, there were. There were plenty of them. He took all of them.

At this point the Khan burst out laughing.

- No, Novruzali, this won’t do. You have to tell me everything just as it happened: from the moment you took the letter, until how you put it into the post box and fought with the Russian guy.

- My dear Khan, I took the letter from you here and then went towards the Central Courthouse. I found that building and the box you told me about and went to open the lid. I was going to put it in there, but then I stopped. At first I looked at the letter, and then I looked at the box. To tell you the truth, I was scared you would get mad at me. To be honest, I didn’t know whether to drop it in there or not; because I had forgotten to ask you whether I should wait near the box after I put the letter in it, or I should come back to your house. I thought that if I dropped the letter in and just stayed there, I would have to wait until evening, but, please, my Khan, you saw yourself that I left the donkey hungry and the chickens still tied up.
- I also brought a little flour and it is still there. My Khan, please call your servant and let’s carry the sacks inside, or else it will rain and they will get wet.

- No, Novruzali, don’t worry about that just now… Tell me what happened then.

- I did not put the letter in the box. I closed the lid, walked away a little bit and stood there. At first I wanted to come back and ask you; but then, to be honest, I was afraid you would get angry. Honestly, I was worried you would think Novruzali was like an animal, like a donkey. So I leaned against the wall to rest for a while. And just then I saw an Armenian boy, about this tall, about twelve or thirteen. He went right up to the post box, opened the lid and put a letter inside, just like the one you gave me; he put it into the box, closed the lid and went away. I called after him to ask him where he was going after putting the letter in the box, but I don’t know, perhaps he
didn’t understand me, but he didn’t answer me at all: the boy didn’t even look at me. As soon as the Armenian boy had gone, a Russian woman came to the box, opened it, dropped a letter in and immediately went away. That gave me a bit of courage. I thought that the letters should probably stay in the box after all. I got so brave that, saying ‘Bismillah’[4], I boldly opened the lid of the box, dropped the letter in and turned around to come back to your place.

- I got about this far from the post box, when suddenly that Russian guy turned up. At first I thought that he was also going to put a letter into the box. But then I saw that he had something else in mind. He put his right hand into the box from the side. I thought straightaway that he wanted to steal the letters… My Khan, forgive me, I will give you a headache with so much talking, tell the boy to see me out, it is getting late, I should go back to the village. - No, how can I let you go? Tell me what happened next.

- Yes, my dear Khan, may all my children be at your service! May I not live another day without you! Yes, I saw the guy shamelessly take the letters out of the box. He closed the lid and was about to leave. I quickly ran after him, grabbed his hand and made him stop. I said: “Hey, you! Where are you taking those letters? Why do you think those poor people put their letters inside that thing? For you to steal? Put them back, right now! Novruzali is not dead yet, to let you steal his master’s letter. What you are doing isn’t right. You should never want what isn’t yours. Isn’t stealing a sin in your eyes? My Khan, forgive me in the name of your children, let me go: it is getting late, I should get back.

- Don’t rush off just now… What happened then?

- Let me see, where did I get to?… Hey, don’t let the donkey go there! It will destroy the grapevine.

Novruzali went to run after the donkey, but the Khan would not let him.

- Novruzali, don’t go yet. Tell me what happened next.

- What else could happen? I begged him so much, telling him that my Khan would kill me. I begged him to at least return my Khan’s letter, but he was stubborn and would not give it back. I saw that he wanted to run for it. Vallah[5], I got so mad that I took the guy by his shoulders with my two hands and pushed him to the ground so hard that this mouth started bleeding. Then the soldiers from the Courthouse came over and took me to the cell, beating me all over. Let me be your servant forever, my Khan. If it had not been for you, they would have sent me to Siberia by now, because there were other prisoners with me in the cell and they told me that the Russian guy I hit was an official. So, what should I have done? Please, my Khan, now tell me who is to blame. Khan just stood there laughing and laughing, louder and louder.

It was very dark. Novruzali picked up the empty flour sacks, put them on the hungry donkey and, tapping it with his cherry-wood stick, set off back to his village.

Three days later the Khan received a telegram from Iravan, saying: “Your letter arrived. Rooms are ready”. The Khan left for Iravan shortly afterwards.

After a month and a half, Novruzali was taken to the court and sentenced to three months in prison for showing disrespect to an official in the course of his duties. Novruzali, however, did not admit his guilt. The Khan only heard about this after three months. It made him think.

1. ‘Mashallah’ - ‘Thank God’
2. Chukha - a waisted overcoat
3. Kafir – an infidel, non-Muslim
4. ‘Bismillah’ – ‘In the name of Allah’
5. ‘Vallah’ - ‘I swear to God’

Pictures by
Shamil Buksayev