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Panem et Circenses

Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 13:58 UK time, Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Here are two pieces of prose.

The first is a fragment from Leo Tolstoy's story 'Kholstomer' or 'Strider'.

The knacker and Vaska, who followed behind, went to a hollow behind the brick barn and stopped as if there were something peculiar about this very ordinary place. The knacker, handing the halter to Vaska, took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and produced a knife and a whetstone from his boot-leg. The gelding stretched towards the halter meaning to chew it a little from dullness, but he could not reach it. He sighed and closed his eyes. His nether lip hung down, disclosing his worn yellow teeth, and he began to drowse to the sound of the sharpening of the knife. Only his swollen, aching, outstretched leg kept jerking. Suddenly he felt himself being taken by the lower jaw and his head lifted. He opened his eyes. There were two dogs in front of him; one was sniffing at the knacker, the other was sitting and watching the gelding as if expecting something from him. The gelding looked at them and began to rub his jaw against the arm that was holding him.

"Want to doctor me probably - well, let them!" he thought.

And in fact he felt that something had been done to his throat. It hurt, and he shuddered and gave a kick with one foot, but restrained himself and waited for what would follow... Then he felt something liquid streaming down his neck and chest. He heaved a profound sigh and felt much better.

The whole burden of his life was eased.

He closed his eyes and began to drop his head. No one was holding it. Then his legs quivered and his whole body swayed. He was not so much frightened as surprised.
Everything was so new to him. He was surprised and started forward and upward, but instead of this, in moving from the spot his legs got entangled, he began to fall sideways, and trying to take a step fell forward and down on his left side.

The knacker waited till the convulsions had ceased, drove away the dogs that had crept nearer, took the gelding by the legs, turned him on his back, told Vaska to hold a leg, and began to skin the horse.

"It was a horse, too," remarked Vaska.

The second piece is from a famous Kyrgyz-Soviet writer Chingiz Aitmatov's novel 'Farewell, Gyulsary'.

The pacer Gyulsary lay motionlessly by the campfire, his head on the ground. Life was slowly leaving his body. Something was gurgling and wheezing in his throat, his eyes widened and dimmed as he stared unblinkingly at the flames, his legs, straight as poles, were becoming stiff.

Tanabai was bidding his pacer farewell; it was the last time he would be talking to him. "You were a great stallion, Gyulsary. You were my friend, Gyulsary. When you go you will carry away the best years of my life, Gyulsary. I will never forget you, Gyulsary. You're still alive now, but I'm thinking of you as of one dead already, because you are dying, my wonderful horse Gyulsary. Some day we'll meet in the hereafter. But I won't hear the sound of your hoofbeats. There are no roads there, no earth, no grass, there is no life there. But as long as I live you will never die, because I will always remember you, Gyulsary. To me the sound of your pacing gait will always be the song I love best."

Morning was upon them. The mountains rose above the earth, the steppe was coming into view, stretching away into the distance. The ashes of the dead fire at the edge of the ravine barely smouldered. A grey-haired man stood beside it, his coat thrown over his shoulders. There was no need to cover the pacer with it now. Gyulsary was in the next world, running with Allah's herd.

Tanabai looked at the dead horse and could not believe it was his Gyulsary. He lay there on his side with his head thrown back in a last convulsion. There were deep ridges on his cheeks left by the bridle. His legs were stiff, extended, the shoes were worn thin on his cracked hooves. Never again would they carry him anywhere, never again would they leave their marks on the roads.

Initially I have chosen these two pieces to discuss recent death of five horses at the Cheltenham Festival Race . Yes, like in ancient Rome, being used to 'Bread and Circuses', we don't care too much of some reported or unreported 'sport casualties'.

The reporting of lost horses becomes an exercise in statistics distilled to a short line:

Abergavenny - 2012-03-14 - Cheltenham - Fell - Broke Elbow - Destroyed
Featherherbed Lane - 2012-03-14 - Cheltenham - Broke Leg - Destroyed
Educated Evans - 2012-03-13 - Cheltenham - Fell - Injured - Destroyed

The quotes from literature above highlights the reality of the loss and the compassion felt when an animal dies.

Initially, I intended to discuss just the issue of sport, citing the collapse of Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba during a football match with Tottenham.

'Panem et Circenses' - 'Bread and Circuses' - we shout with seemingly tight lips pushing it further and further until our push collapses in front of us shocking an entire stadium full of people and the whole country.

But the horrible events in the south of France overshadowed my initial thoughts.

The perpetrator of the cold-blood killing of three innocent children Arieh, Gabriel and Myriam along with a rabbi and on a previous occasion three soldiers, seemingly had a camera with him to film the murders - it's far more terrible than just 'Panem et Circenses', because in the roots of it lies an IDEA.

A wrong, sick, inhumane, insane, heartless and godless idea.

In Chyngyz Aitmatov's novel 'Farewell, Gyulsary' Tanabai - the main character is expelled from the Communist party because he takes the side of the life - be it dying lambs or the old strider Gyulsary at expense of the Communist ideas.

Here's another piece of literature, this time from Fyodor Dostoevsky's 'Karamazov Brothers':

I completely refuse to accept the supreme harmony. It does not worth the one tear of the one tortured child only that... preyed in his stinking kennel with his unredeemed tears to his dear God. It is too high price for the harmony...

But could the literature save the world? Or could have saved?

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