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Urunboy Usmonov: where does the literature end?

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 13:44 UK time, Thursday, 7 July 2011

Despite all diplomatic efforts, statements from respected international organisations and protests from journalists, our reporter Urunboy Usmonov remains incarcerated in Hodjent, Tajikistan.

A colleague of mine is now in Tajikistan meeting officials, trying to convince them that the journalist should be freed immediately.

I have already written about how Urunboy is in a very poor state of health and every additional day he is kept in prison might cost him months or years of his life.

Urunboy is an acclaimed writer and my hope is that one day he will be able to tell us what he is going through. He is being held at the provincial headquarters of the ominous KNB - the Tajik security service.

As a sign of our solidarity with him, I decided to translate some excerpts from Urunboy's creative writing, to introduce you to his prose.

Last year he published a book of short stories, which constitute a novella and it starts as follows:

The smell of blood lingered in the neighbourhood's sky, spreading from yard to yard and choking every passer-by, leaving them gasping for a gulp of fresh air.

It seemed that the suffocating odour laughed at its every victim.

People hid their noses and mouths in scarves, silken waist ties and shirts, trying to escape this deadly enemy.

Those who had a dugout, hid in it, whilst those who didn't have a cellar locked themselves in their inner rooms and pulled all the curtains shut.

But the smell penetrated small openings and cracks of windows and doors and mercilessly cut into the throats of its victims.

Coughing and spluttering people scanned the blank white walls and ceilings, trying to find and plug any gaps with balls of cotton-wool taken from God knows where, in search of salvation.

Awoken by terror, Idrok grabbed his shirt, hiding his nose and mouth and examined it as if seeing the shirt for the first time.

Shirts get crushed in small cells and he attempted to straighten it.

Having shaken it off two or three times he threw the shirt on his shoulders and suddenly remembered the terrible landscape outside.

He grabbed his handkerchief and held it to his nose, while recalling an old man with a tongue as sharp as a knife.

The old man hammered these words into his head: "So, you are sleeping, err? Wrapping your head in a blanket? And not giving a damn about what happens to my fellow citizens, or what is going on around me! You don't even bother to think, and in the meantime we have to live in hell! The smell of blood that comes out of the yard where you were born and where the blood of your umbilical cord was shed, had already seized the whole neighbourhood. It smothers us, we can not breathe freely, and you're lying here in the meanwhile! Come on, get up!"

(Idrok crossed the village, walking to the side of his yard where he was born and where the smell of blood comes from).

"Do not enter, my son", the old woman standing at the gate in his father's house said to him. "Four people have entered, but have not come back out. It's not a yard, but a terrible dragon. It swallows alive anyone who enters there. No one has ever returned either dead or alive. Do not enter in there, son"...

I'll cut the translation short here. I won't tell the whole story.

I won't be stretching the metaphors of this text myself, describing vultures or slaughter houses.

But I must confess that while I was in Tajikistan to meet Urunboy in the prison, I felt the same feelings, which can be found in his prose.

I felt a sense of anxiety in the air, that any moment unexpected danger can fall upon your head however well you are protected or prepared, that many people around you are living very difficult lives, that somehow you can't help them, but nonetheless something should be done about it...

In my last blog entry I described a mother of a young man I met when I was standing in front of the security services headquarters before I went in.

Her son had been arrested when just one leaflet was found in their courtyard. In vain, she had been trying to see him for two months.

As she told me her sad story, it reminded me of Urunboy's prose. Words were being hammered into my mind, as if she was saying: "Do not enter, my son. Four people entered, but did not come back from there. It's not a yard, but a terrible dragon. It swallows alive anyone who enters there. No one has ever returned either dead or alive. Do not enter in there, son..."

With horror, I thought to myself: if under the watchful eyes of diplomats, international organisations and thousands of journalists a BBC reporter can be arrested and put in prison, what will happen to an ordinary person taken from the street like her son?

Where does the literature end and the reality start? Or the other way around?

Where does this reality end?

In reality, I hope that Urunboy is well - and the son of that poor mother will be back from the courtyard (be it fictional or real), in which lingers the suffocating smell of blood.

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