I met Jacques Gourguechon in the beginning of 1994 in the Library of Congress (Washington DC) when we both accidentally revealed common interest in Central Asia. I was paying attention to this subject as a historian, while Jacques – as professional traveler and writer. Since that time our families and we have maintained constant and friendly relations. Jacques has visited Tajikistan two times: in summer of 1995 and fall of 2002. In result, he wrote a book entitled “Voyage to Pamir” (in French), based on his impressions from the first visit. Jacques and his wife Charlene (an American) planned to visit Dushanbe in the middle of this October. However they could not as it happen impossible to get air tickets from Moscow to Dushanbe. We used to recall Gurminj Zavqibekov every time we meet. Needless to say, Jacques and Charlene were very sorry about Gurminj’s passing away. They expressed their willingness to publish the below article in your newspaper. Initially the article was written in French, and then translated by Charlene into English. Finally I have translated it into Russian.
Kamol Abdullaev, historian
I was on my way to Gorno-Badakshan and the Pamir. Delays in getting a visa for Khorog gave me the time to discover Dushanbe, to slip into the Tajik lifestyle and to make friends.
One afternoon, Professor Abdullaev took me to the home of one of his friends, Gurminj. We were led to an interior patio which, at first glance, I thought was a chaikana, with customers sitting around a large table under a lovely vine-arbor.
Gurminj came forward to meet us, crying out when he heard my name, “GOURGUECHON! That’s a Tajik name! Shah of the Wolves!
Surprised and honored all at once, I took a seat at the table after having been introduced to the “customers”–actually a dozen friends–musicians, actors who had been national celebrities in the Soviet Union, writers, artists. I quickly learned that Gurminj was a movie star, famous in Tajik and Soviet films, and also a renowned musician.
At a signal from the Master, a soup tureen, bowl and teapots appeared on the table. And then commenced the drinking of countless rounds of vodka, preceded by toasts that were translated for me, toasts that I found delightfully charming, witty and warm. It was the start of a memorable afternoon during which, in such fine company, I was to learn more about Tajikistan than I had learned through several books.
“Fransouz! I played for Stalin and now I’m going to play for you!”
Gurminj had picked up a magnificent, ancient musical instrument, a kind of lute that was more than a meter long, at the end of which hung a pompom.
“Fransouz! See this lute? It’s two hundred years old. It comes from the Pamir, from Roushan, where I’m from! One day a Russian wanted to buy it. I said it wasn’t for sale. So he offered me, in exchange, a brand-new Volga! Ha! I refused. You know, they call me the Chopin of the Pamir!”
Meanwhile, various instruments, flutes, tablas, tambourines had been brought out from behind chairs and from under the table. Gurminj’s son appeared with another lute in hand and took a position behind his father, who, eyes closed, was tuning his instrument and warming up his fingers, like before the curtain comes up at the Bolchoi or the Ayni Opera House. The group of friends had turned into an improvised orchestra and then began what I would call, in the spirit of Armstrong or Aznavour, an inspired jam session, a private concert at which I had the honor of being in the front row.
Gurminj had given me an open invitation and I did return, both with and without Professor Abdullaev. He was proud of his instruments and his museum in which they were so artistically displayed. He guided me through detailed visits several times.
I was drawn to an old Russian-style desk.
“That piece of furniture,” explained Gurminj, “wound up here, I have no idea HOW, during the Revolution. It was General Frunze’s desk!”
For me, legend had just entered the premises.
One day he asked his daughter-in-law to dance. I took photos and sent them to him later, along with guitar strings,which at the time could not be found in Dushanbe.
Gurminj had been for me, in a way, an introduction to the Shugnan and the Pamir. Several years passed and I finally visited Dushanbe again, just a year ago. Old Gurminj had slowed down and seemed lost in a private dream. The vine-arbor on the patio looked like part of an old stage set, unused for a long time. I introduced my wife to Gurminj. Professor Abdullaev reminded him of some details from the past but Gurminj was on a different wave length. In the museum he picked up his antique lute and for a few minutes seemed to have found himself in the music, his light Pamiri eyes half-closed as if looking inward at some secret joy. Then, tired, he handed the instrument to one of his students, also from the Pamir, from Lake Sarez, who played modern Pamiri music for us.
Later, Gurminj handed me a Cossack sabre and I presented arms. He said I was a good actor. We were in his office, covered with his old movie posters and photos, filled with archives, books, stacks of newspapers and clippings. My wife admired a picture of young Gurminj, the handsome, muscular movie star, in a glamorous shot with his leading lady. But Gurminj turned his back. He hates to look at the way he used to look, he said. He hates to be reminded. It makes him cry.
Moved by his emotion, we thought it was time to say goodby to the Chopin of the Pamir.
JACQUES GOURGUECHON, Washington DC, 2003