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The Eternal Bride : Tribute to the Beloved



Chingiz Aitmatov’s  Tribute to the Beloved : The Eternal Bride

  • A. Charumati Ramdas


Though in Chingiz Aitmatov’s works the main protagonist is generally a man, women too occupy a significant place. Mostly being on the periphery of the plot they act as someone who provides a twist to the fate of the male protagonist. One can observe the presence of at least two women in Ch. Aitmatov’s novels. One of them happens to be the wife of the protagonist and the other happens to be the beloved. And when the hero finds himself in a dilemma, when he is unable to decide where to go, the balancing act is performed by both these women together in such a way that the protagonist does not deviate from the path of his family life and saved from all the possible misfortunes. It is worth mentioning that both these women depart from each other in a friendly way and never face each other again.

This paper attempts to analyse Ch. Aitmatov’s novels And the Day Lasts Longer than the Century (Burannyi Half station), The Cassandra’s Mark and his last novel When the Mountains Fall (The Eternal Bride), specially the episodes dedicated to the beloved; tries to establish whether there really existed such a person who could have served as a prototype for such episodes in his novels. An effort is made to reach the person on the basis of biographical details as narrated by the author himself.


The reader comes across the two women for the first time in Chingiz Aitmatov’s first novel And the Day Lasts Longer than a Century (Buraannyi Half station) which appeared in the year 1980. The protagonist Edigei Jhangeldin goes through this trauma when Abutalip and Zaripa come over to Sary-Ozek steppe along with their two children. Abutalip, who was taken prisoner during the Second World War, runs away from captivity and joins the Yugoslavian Partisans. After the war he is praised for his struggle against the Nazis and is sent back to the Soviet Union.

But being a prisoner of war was considered a sin in the Soviet Union and the prisoners were expected to kill themselves, rather than carrying this blot forever. They were treated as “enemies of people”. Abutalip is arrested. Zaripa remains with her two kids and Edigei, who is so attached to her children, tries to make life as comfortable for them as he could. He realises that he has started loving Zaripa. Once, overcome with emotion, he tells her kids that he would do anything for them. “I will be the father for you! I will be the father!”

He tries to tell Zaripa about his feelings, is ready to give his surname to her and her sons.

Circumstances take Edigei away from Burannyi Half station for a couple of days. It was freezing winter. While he was leaving, Zaripa sends him a warm scarf with the words, “It will keep you warm!” That was the only expression of her feelings for him. But she was a wise woman. Moreover, Edigei had not been shifting away from his wife Ukubala. Zaripa would have been an addition to his emotional world.

But when he comes back after two days, he was told that Zaripa and her sons had left Burannyi Half station forever.

The grief was too much for Edigei, but more was the agony and anger at the thought that he was stabbed at the back. By whom? Ukubala could not have done it; at the most, she could be a part of the conspiracy.

Who did it and why? Was it Kazangap, then? The more he thought, more he was convinced that it was Kazangap. Edigei stopped talking to Kazangap, started avoiding him. And once, when Kazangap comes to know that Edigei is planning to leave Burannyi Half station, he asks Edigei the reason for this anger. Edigei tells that it was Kazangap who ruined his love life and that he can never excuse him. And then Kazangap tells Edigei, “It was you who forced her to leave!”

Kazangap, his friend, tells him that it was he who made arrangements for Zaripa’s departure. He requested the train to be stopped at Burannyi Half station. They took advantage of Edigei’s absence from Burannyi Half station. Ukubala knew about it, but she could not have managed to stop the train at the half station.

“Well, you know,” nodded Kazangap and his face turned red, may be from anger or from shame, “If such a thing entered your head, then you are being unkind not only to us, but also to her. You should thank your stars that she proved to be a wise person, unlike you. Did you ever think how it would have ended? No? But she thought about it and decided to leave before it is too late. And, I helped her to leave the place when she requested me for the same. I did not try to find out where she is going along with her children, she too never told me anything about her destination…let only fate know about it! Understood? She has left, without degrading, even by a single word, her honour as well as the honour of your wife. And they parted as human beings. Yeah, you should be thankful to both of them that they have saved you from imminent misery. You can never get a wife like Ukubala even if you search for one for a whole century. Any other woman in her place would have created such scandal, that you would have run to the end of the world faster than your Karanar….” [Vol.III, M.1998, p. 366-367]

Considering the various details from Ch. Aitmatov’s life, it is obvious that Ukubala is the prototype of his first wife Kerez.

Next time we find a description about the beloved in “The Cassandra’s Mark”. The protagonist, Andrei Krilyov, suddenly discovers that he is in love with Runa Lopatina, the well read and cultured political prisoner. On hearing her views about Krilyov’s experiment about creating Gen X, he realises the horrors of his experiment and decides to give it up. While Runa is being brought to his laboratory for medical observation, she tries to run away from the van which was carrying her and gets killed by the security guards. The love story ends abruptly but Runa leaves an everlasting impression on the Protagonist.

Once, while he was going by a steamer, the melody of a song reminds him of Runa…this episode has some significance in the author’s life and it will be mentioned again in this paper a little later.

Coming to the last novel by Ch. Aitmatov, When the Mountains Fall (The Eternal Bride); the reader again encounters the similar end to the love story between the protagonist and the other woman. Here the protagonist is a journalist and his beloved is a leading opera singer. It would not be out of place to have a look at the subject matter of this novel.

Like all other novels of Ch. Aitmatov, the Eternal Bride too has multiple plots. One of them is about the snow leopard, Zhaabars. The novel begins by showing Zhaabars who is now old, tired, isolated, and weak. His fate, in a queer way, gets linked with the fate of the protagonist, Arsen Samanchin, who too is tired and isolated, deserted by his beloved. These two plots run parallel to each other in the beginning and then they get intermingled. Then there is the legend about the Eternal Bride, which is used as backdrop to show the crumbling world of the protagonist.

Arsen Samanchin is deserted by Aidana Samarova, the star of the Kirgyz stage. He had dreamt of scripting an opera on the subject of “The Eternal Bride” and Aida had promised to sing for it. But she got carried away by the wave of globalisation and stopped even meeting Arsen Samanchin. Her manager and organisers even threaten him that if he does not keep away from Samarova, he will be killed.

In the meanwhile, Arsen Samanchin’s paternal uncle Bektur Agha, comes to invite him to work as interpreter for his firm “Mergen”. “Mergen” has organszed a hunting session for some Arab princes. These princes are going to shoot the snow leopards. The local people are thrilled at the idea as it will bring dollars to their poor hamlet.

Arsen is approached by one of his former school mates, Tashtanafghan, who has planned to take the Arab princes hostages and demand millions of dollars for their safe release. Arsen is threatened that if he does not cooperate, he will be killed.

Arsen, obviously, does not oblige Tashtanafghan. At the designated hour he shouts at the Arab princes and asks them to leave the place and forget the snow leopards. The Arab princes flee, there is firing from all sides and Arsen gets killed. He dies alongside the snow leopard Zhaabars, with whom, the author says, his fate had got interlinked a couple of days ago. This whole plot and various other descriptions and discussions related to the trading of everything between the nations, seem to suggest that Ch. Aitmatov is trying to caution the world about the possible dangers of globalisation.

Let us now come back to the female characters in the novel. There are two female characters in The Eternal Bride. Aidana Samarova and Eles. After Arsen Samanchin breaks away from Aidana Samarova, he meets Eles and finds solace in her company. This is a very short lived episode in his life.

The details about these two women and the similarity with the plot in  And the Day Lasts Longer than a Century (Buraannyi Half station) compel the reader to stop and think whether there was a definite person in the author’s life who finds place in his works time and again. The following details are worth mentioning. Aidana Samarova was at a certain point of time “The Goddess of Opera”. She was the leading solo singer of an opera theatre. Arsen and Aidana come to Heidelberg on an invitation from the Heidelberg Music society. Aidana was going to perform there at a solo concert. Arsen Samanchin played a role in her being invited to Heidelberg. His friends- journalists, musicians had made it possible.

These few days in Heidelberg; their journey back from Heidelberg brings them closer. Discussing the cultural history of mountains, the idea of organising an opera about “The Eternal Bride” takes shape. But afterwards, Arsen and Aidana did never get an opportunity to be together.

Arsen would sometimes wonder how the two of them could love each other! “…well, they were young no more; and before this, they had their past, their experience. Aidana was married and soon got separated from her husband. Arsen too had divorced his wife. He was a little less than 40; she was a little more than 30. What impressed Arsen most in Aidana was her clear, deep voice…her flawless, tall, elegant, agile figure…She was the ‘Goddess of Opera’!

After Aidana moves away from Arsen due to the demands of the proprietors of the show business, Eles enters his life, just towards the fag end, just for 2-3 days. Her energetic persona is described like this, “ From somewhere, as on order, there appeared a smart, young woman with a small camera in her hands. She was well built, very pleasant, a little darkish, with a lively smile, shining eyes…and said, ‘I am Eles!’

The reader might wonder why this peripheral love story is always short lived.  Why does it end abruptly, unsuccessfully? Is it one and the same person who is depicted in all the above cited episodes? Was this person real? And if the answer is in the affirmative, the reader would wonder what significance the person had in Ch Aitmatov’s life? An attempt is made below to answer these questions.

In the book, Plach Okhotnika nad propastyu (Ispoved Na Iskhode Veka)- A hunter’s Wailing on the verge of Abyss (Confession at the Turn of Century) which is in the form of  Dialogue with Mukhtar Shahanov, in the section, Jhenshchiny v Nashikh Sudbakh (Women in our Destinies), which was published in 1996, Ch. Aitmatov reveals many facts dear to his heart. Mukhtar Shahanov is a well known poet of Kazakhstan, a close friend of Ch Aitmatov and, also, the ambassador of Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan.

Ch. Aitmatov says, “A person never wishes malice to one whom he really loves. This is what differentiates a true love from desire. A loving heart is self-sacrificing. It is ready to die to save the beloved…Till recently, quite a few of our modern females held beside them husbands-communists, would black mail them, poisoning their lives, threatening to deprive them of Party Membership Card. If a man decided to go for divorce, he would first face the trial by Party Committee, and then he would be made to go through all the seven levels of hell at the Bureau of Regional Committee. And the choice was not going to be simple: either live till the end of your life with wife, like a cat with a dog, bury yourself alive; or else surrender your Party Membership Card, get branded as a criminal and sacked from your work.” (Vol VI, p 541)

This was precisely the reason why Kazangap praises the two women in And the Day Lasts Longer than a Century (Buraannyi Half station) and asks Edigei whether he even thought what ‘it’ could lead to?

Let us now try to confirm the identity of the ‘second woman’.

In the same book, A hunter’s Wailing on the verge of Abyss (Confession at the Turn of Century), Ch. Aitmatov bares his heart. He says, “Everyone is bestowed with his fate – an endless, complex secret. On the way of his life, everyone meets certain men or women designated to him by fate. Having met, they start the journey together in search of happiness – and I, too, am not an exception in this regard. Even in my life there were unforgettable hours, which are carved into my memory and even today they make me feel sad….I got acquainted with many girls…but all these feelings extinguished as fast as they had flared up.

“But I had a very happy and an unforgettable meeting with one in my life, who had completely captivated me. We did not look for each other. Everything happened on its own. And this unexpected meeting was the most precious gift that my destiny could give me. The woman illuminating my life was the star of Kyrgyz culture, the eminent ballet dancer Byubyusara Beishenalieva. (Cf. Aidana Samarova in The Eternal Bride was a famous singer in opera-ACR).

“This dear and lovely profile still comes into my dreams, excites and elevates my soul, takes me back to my past.

“It was the end of 50’s. I had finished the LitInstitute in Moscow, my works were being published in the Central Press, and people had started talking about me. At this time a delegation was constituted to render help to the Kyrgyz sailors serving at the Baltic Fleet. I was invited by the first Secretary of Frunze’s city Committee of Party. He suggested that I should fly to Leningrad along with the delegation. (Cf. Details in The Eternal Bride: Arsen was a reporter, a free lance writer. Ch. Aitmatov too was the correspondent of Pravda and that of a literary newspaper from Kyrgyzstan. He was in his thirties, she too-ACR.)

“The troupe of The Kyrgyz Theatre of Opera and Ballet was in Leningrad during that time. There I met the main ballerina of the troupe – Byubyusara Beishanalieva. Then I understood that it was predestined by fate……Earlier, we had heard about each other, but were not acquainted personally. We came closer very easily and very fast, felt a wonderful charm for each other…

How many happy hours we spent in endless conversations, may be a moment or, may be, centuries, without feeling tired walking along the banks of Neva in Leningrad’s white nights! As if my past had receded into the second plan. There were only two of us in the world. Me and Her…

“A few days passed; the delegation was leaving for Kyrgyzstan. I was at pain, couldn’t find neither strength, nor desire to leave half of my heart on the banks of Neva. At last I told them that I have to go to Moscow on some work, and I remained in Leningrad. After 2-3 days I started for Moscow. Byubyusara followed me. We were together just for 24 hours in hotel “Moskva”…” (Cf. Arsen and Aidana in Heidelberg-ACR). Only once more they were together during a train journey from Moscow to Frunze. (Cf. Edigei and Zaripa too travelled together a short distance by train-ACR).

“From this time till the very end of Byubyusara, for fourteen years, the fire in my heart didn’t extinguish even for a minute.” (Cf. In And the Day Lasts Longer than a Century (Buraannyi Half station) Zaripa comes to Burannyi Halfstation at the end of ’51 and leaves that place in March 1953 –  the time given for this plot is approximately 14 months!-ACR).

“In the meanwhile, people were spreading rumours, they were criticising us, bringing many unpleasant moments.” (Cf. the romantic folk tale about Raimali Agha in The Day Lasts Longer than the Century and the legend of Eternal Bride in When the Mountains Fall, where friends, well wishers and relatives play crucial role in separating the loving souls-ACR).

Byubyusara was a very talented and educated woman. She studied in Leningrad. She had deep knowledge of theatre, cinema and literature and had her original views about art and culture. Aitmatov further adds, “It is difficult to convey by words how this uniquely talented and wonderfully beautiful woman influenced my entire life and my creative process.”

“One can ask, why these two people, so much in love with each other did not join their fates together? Whenever I started this topic, Byubyusara would always divert the conversation to some other topic or would request me not to do anything in haste. Later on we got flats in the adjacent blocks of a building in Dzerzhinskyi Avenue. Soon, when we were alone, Byubyusara said with a sad smile, “Achinov”, (She created this address for me from the initial letters of my name and my surname), “I understand what you want to say. It is said that those who really love each other do not stay together, – may be that is how it has to be. The monotony of family chores would kill any great feeling. Why should we join our love by way of marriage?”

“Later, I understood that Byubyusara’s denial was an attempt to save me (about herself she never thought) from the cruel reprisal by Party comrades, from persecution at the hands of literary colleagues. Well, you know, what did a divorce meant during those days? (Ch Aitmatov was married, had two children. Byubyusara too was married, but had soon walked away from her husband). Am I right that I accepted her sacrifice? This question will be torturing me forever.”

“Whatever you say, Byubyusara sacrificed her happiness so that my star kept shining.”

h. Aitmatov remembers, “Once I was returning with Byubyusara from Moscow to Frunze by fast express “Moscow – Almati”. Those three days and three nights were like a wonderful, eternal fairy tale. The time, it seems, had disappeared. As if we were in a different world. Our discussions on various topics, confession of concealed thoughts – which you don’t share with anyone, discussion about literature and arts enriched each other. Then, for the first time, I felt and understood how lucky it is to find a person who is so close to you in thoughts, temperament, character and nature.”

Byubyusara had commented, “There is a Day, which can’t be exchanged for a whole Century. Today is the luckiest day of my life.”

May be this sentence formed the title of his first novel.

“Can I ever forget these exciting words of Byubyusara uttered with such emotion!?”

“Her talent flourished on the stage of Kyrgyz State Theatre of Opera and Ballet. Whenever I look at the stage, I see her appearing before my eyes, like a white swan. That is how I remember her. (Cf. Aidana is also mentioned as presenting in the attire of white swan-ACR). I can say that I am a living monument to her eternally young soul.”

Byubyusara died of cancer on 11th May 1973.

“Soon after Byubyusara’s death, I was invited to Italy. At night we started from Sicily by a steamer. The open sea; bright night; cool, light breeze; the twinkling coloured lights of the big city on the other shore. Suddenly, the music started. It was the melody which Byubyusara and I loved so much! People started dancing on the deck. But I was standing in a corner, unable to control my tears…Even now when I hear this music, I remember Byubyusara, I get restless…don’t have words to express the feeling.”

“In the novel Cassandra’s Mark there is an episode when my hero, along with a delegation to Japan, sails on a steamer – and the same picture and the same sufferings…This picture got carved into my memory since my journey to Italy as the symbol of loneliness and grief for Byubyusara!”

The description about Aidana Samarova and the different episodes from The Eternal Bride and other novels of Ch. Aitmatov, cited above, make it clear that he tried to depict Byubyusara’s story in his novels. Beginning from The Day Lasts Longer that the Century, till The Eternal Bride, he returns to this theme time and again. But a more and detailed and vivid description about Byubyusara is given only in The Eternal Bride. This novel is a tribute to the soul whom he loved so much, who was the inspiration for him.

But The Eternal Bride is not only about Byubyusara. We further read about the appearance of Eles in The Eternal Bride. In Ch. Aitmatov’s life too such a thing had happened. He mentions about it in the same book A hunter’s Wailing on the verge of Abyss (Confession at the Turn of Century) …

“After Byubyusara’s death the vacuum was too big to get filled by anyone. And then, in the middle of 70’s came Mariam into my life. With a charming, pleasing face and clean soul.” Mariam not only respects him, but also creates a positive influence on his creative process. A very rational, sober, very highly cultured and talented person. She in fact, has written the script on the theme of “Mankurtism” based on The Day Lasts Longer that the Century. She is Ch. Aitmatov’s second wife. The Eternal Bride ends with Eles paying tribute to Arsen Samanchin and continuing his legacy. Ch. Aitmatov has, thus, made both these women, Byubyusara and Mariam, eternal in his parting masterpiece.


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Charumati Ramdas

I am a retired Associate Prof of Russian. I stay in Hyderabad. Currently keep myself busy with translations of Russian works into HIndi.
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1 year ago

I read this again here Charu.
What can I say, except that you are giving us all great insight into Russian literature !!! Carry on your crusade…I love this :)))

Suresh Rao
Suresh Rao
1 year ago

Another excellent narrative here; learning more and more of the writings of Chingiz Aitmatov; thanks to your post here.

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