The Life and Works of Mir Jalal (1908 - 1978)
by Hasan Javadi

From the book "Dried Up In Meetings"
Azerbaijan International 1998, USA

Mir Jalal Alioghlu Pashayev, known by his literary pen-name Mir Jalal, was born on April 26, 1908 in the village of Andabil , not far from Tabriz . It was an interesting and turbulent time in the history of both Iran and Azerbaijan. Mozaffar al-Din Shah granted the Iranian Constitution in August 1906, and soon after his death his despotic son Muhammad Ali Shah, revoked it and with the help of his Russian brigade bombarded the first Majlis in Tehran in 1907. Soon a fierce struggle for freedom ensued whose center was the capital of Iranian Azerbaijan Tabriz. For several months the royalists and constitutionalists battled on the streets of Tabriz as well as some other cities of Iran until the Shah was ousted and fled to Russia. In this period, after the 1905 uprising in Russia, the Caucasus was the hot bed of revolution and its revolutionaries had close ties with the activists of both Iran and Turkey. Even some militia groups from the north were fighting in Tabriz. The First World War increased the political tension of these turbulent times. After the demise of the Tsarist Russia in 1917, Baku was occupied first by the British then by the Ottomans just before the short-lived Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan from 1918 to 1920. Soon after the Bolsheviks took over, they effectively severed close ties which existed between two Azerbaijans.

During the First World War the family of Mir Jalal moved to Baku. His father was one of nearly half million people who in the search of work and better life left Iran to work in the oil fields of Baku in the early decades of the century. Some years later the family decided to return to Iran and at this time Mir Jalal was studying at a gymnasium in Ganjah. Being an extremely bright student, the school principal asked Mir Jalal's father to leave him there to continue his studies. Thus Mir Jalal was separated from his family for decades to come. He graduated from a Teaching Training College at the age of twenty and soon after became the principal of a school in the remote region of Gadabey. Early in the Soviet period teachers were in demand and well-paid and Mir Jalal was very happy with his job at the school.

Mir Jalal, who had received his degree in education in 1928 in Ganjah, two years later went to Ghazan University in Tatarstan, where Lenin once had been a student. Later on Mir Jalal went to the Institute of Higher Education of Baku. While studying he was doing research and writing for various newspapers. Among them the most notable was Genj Ishchi (Young Worker) for which many outstanding literary men of Azerbaijan contributed early in their lives. In 1933 he was working as researcher of Azerbaijani literary history at the State University of Azerbaijan. After writing a book on the Poetry of Fuzuli, the famous fifteenth century Azeri poet, as his Masters thesis, in 1947 he completed his doctoral dissertation on Literary Schools in Azerbaijan with special emphasis on the famous satirical journal Mulla Nasereddin (1906-1932) and its writers. It was in the same year that he became a professor at the State University of Baku and devoted his life to teaching and writing. Mir Jalal died in Baku on September 28, 1978.

Drama and fiction were new literary genres in Azerbaijani literature. The outspoken and liberal reformer and writer Mirza Fath Ali Akhundzadah (1812-1878) under the influence of Moliére, Shakespeare, Gogol and Griboedov, wrote six comedies and a short story between 1850 and 1856.

Akhundzadeh used satire as a means of combating superstition, hypocrisy, despotism and fanaticism. He regarded satire and humorous realism as the best means to awaken his people who had grown accustomed to wrongdoing, repression and corruption. It was the same tradition which was followed by Jalil Memedqulizadeh (1866-1932), Tahirzadeh Sabir (1862-1911) and many other outstanding writers and poets in the journal Mulla Nasreddin, which exercised a considerable influence not only in Azerbaijan but also in Iran and Turkey. Jalil Memedqulizadeh in his beautiful short stories and novels further expanded the horizons of realistic prose in Azerbaijani and Sabir with his subtle sarcasm, humanism and delightful satire set examples formany future writers. Mir Jalal followed in their footsteps in creating hischaracters.

Mir Jalal's most famous novel is The Manifest of a Youth, which was published in 1938 and has been translated into many languages. Cast in the tradition of Soviet fiction about class struggle, it depicts the life of a mother and her two sons in early 1920s in Baku. The repressive measures of a local landowner forces the two brothers to flee their village: the older brother ends up amongst the early Bolshevik workers and becomes a heroic revolutionary, while the younger a boy of seven or eight years old, thrown out by his employer, freezes to death in a severe winter. The mother in search of her sons is some what involved in revolutionary activities. Apart from its ideological side, the novel is an imitation between Victor Hugo's Les Miserables and Gorki's Mother.

A second novel Achiq Kitab (The Open Book, 1941), which created a real sensation in Azerbaijan and was criticized by many party members, is a very different type of work. It is about people who look at the society from the narrow prospective of their personal interest and do not mind to sacrifice everything for their purpose. Karim Galdiyev's works at the office of wheat procurement in one of the regions. He steals and cheats and, in a word, he is corruption incarnate in Soviet officialdom. He is transferred to Baku, but he prospers even further in the corrupt circles of the capital.

Both in his novels and short stories the prose style of Mir Jalal is extremely lucid, simple and vividly descriptive. Mir Jalal has become one of the most admired prose writers of Azerbaijan. He was part of a distinguished literary coterie which included the writer of historical novels Muhammad Said Ordubadi, the playwright Husain Javid, the great lyrical poet M. Mushviq (both of these died in exile in Siberia) , the poet Samad Vurghun and the writer Husain Mehdi and with all of them he was closely associated.

In his short stories Mir Jalal does not indulge in party politics. In order to trace the background of Mir Jalal's fiction, especially his short stories, one has to look into the development of realistic fiction and satire in Azerbaijan.

Though Mirza Fathali Akhundzadeh apart from his plays wrote a short historical fiction taken from an event in the sixteenth century Iranian history, it was Abdulrahim Haqverdiev (1870-1933) who introduced short story into Azeri literature. Mir Jalal knew him personally and admired him greatly. Also Jalil Memedqulizadeh, the editor of the journal Mulla Nasreddin, was greatly responsible for the development of short story in Azerbaijan. The Russian critic Belinsky has said that " realistic fiction in Russian literature has emerged from Gogol's Overcoat " and Mir Jalal has said that in a similar fashion "Azerbaijani realistic fiction came out of the "Post Box" of Jalil Mamadgulizade." "The Post Box" is one of many humorous stories written by Jalil Memedqulizadeh in Mulla Nasreddin. An Azeri villager comes to see his landlord in the city , where a letter is given to him to drop in the mail box. He does not know whether he has to stand by the mail box and guard his landlord's letter or to leave. At this time a Russian mailman appears to take away the letters.
A fight between them ensues and they are taken to the police station where the landlord explains how the mail system works.

With many humorous and satirical stories , articles, pungent satirical poems of Tahirzadeh Sabir, the great satirist poet of Azerbaijan, and excellent cartoons by Azim Azimzadeh and two German cartoonists Roemer and Schelling, Mulla Nasreddin became of the most influential periodicals not only in the Caucasus. It was under the influence of Sabir, Jalil Memedqulizadeh and Hagverdiyev that Mir Jalal's satirical fiction developed. And to these three he acknowledges his indebtedness.

In his works of fiction Mir Jalal has two fairly distinct types of stories. One is his novels where though he develops them artistically and masterfully, yet he is still influenced by the political atmosphere of his time. They are novels of ideas typical of the works of the Soviet era. In his short stories he does not deal so much with idealogy of his time but rather human types that one encounters in every society and every time. He satirizes bureaucrats who are hopelessly out of touch with realities and they live in the world of officialdom and regulations. In the story "O, Ismail, make him Understand" the sister of a dictatorial ruler is satirized who buys whatever she wants without paying anything to anyone. It is said that the story is based on reality and the dictator in question is Baqirov who ruled Azerbaijan from 1928 to 1953 with an iron hand. In "Used to Scolding" the mentality of the people who are used to be bullied is analyzed. Such types not only tolerate being abused but also if someone does not bully them around, they think there must be something amiss. In "Talking of Peaches." excessive fascination with everything Western is criticized. This is the beginning of what in the Middle East became criticism of "Westomania" (or Gharabzadagi as the Iranian writer Jalal Alahmad called it in his book Gharabzadagi).

Sometimes the stories of Mir Jalal are mere sketches and what stands out in them are the depiction of characters. Very often they depict people that we know them in our own society with their idiosyncrasies, their aspirations and their shortcomings. At the same time , in these stories Mir Jalal gives a very interesting picture of Azerbaijani society under Soviet rule. As seen in the "Etiquettes for New Weddings" it is supposedly an atheistic society which has not lost all of its Islamic roots. In "Matishka" the Russian and Azerbaijani sides of the society are contrasted.

Apart from numerous works of literary criticism, Mir Jalal has written more than a dozen novels and nearly one thousand short stories, which are collected in volumes such as The Thief in the Garden (1937), Congradulations! (Gozun Ayden, 1939), Stories of My Country (1942), Life Stories (1945) and Simple Stories (1955). Mir Jalal in his short stories covers a wide variety of subjects and characters. More than complexity of the plot, he concentrates on the depiction of characters. He has an incredible wealth of imagination and the men and women of his stories can come from every walk of life. In this way he also gives a panoramic view of the society in which he lived. As an artist Mir Jalal should be remembered for his originality, for the depth of his vision, humanity, for his pungent sense of humor and memorable characters that he created.

In this collection of short stories which is being published on the occasion of 90th anniversary of Mir Jalal's birthday, I have tried to give a fair sample of his shorter fiction. I hope that this first attempt to introduce Mir Jalal into English speaking world will serve as a prelude for further publications. Here I would especially like to thank Ambassador Hafiz Pashayev of the Republic of Azerbaijan who has helped me in many ways and has provided many valuable details about his father's life.

Hasan Javadi
Washington, D.C.
March 1998


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