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Barb-Tossing Bard: Mysterious Poet Roils Sleepy Tajik Village

A resident from the sleepy Tajik hamlet Khojaghalton has put a bounty on a mysterious poet who uses the pen to lash out at fellow villagers and their daily routines.
A resident from the sleepy Tajik hamlet Khojaghalton has put a bounty on a mysterious poet who uses the pen to lash out at fellow villagers and their daily routines.

Villagers in a sleepy village in southern Tajikistan are under attack, blasted by insulting poems that are mysteriously cropping in public places where they are sure to sting.

Outraged residents of Khojaghalton say they don't know who the author – or the authors – are, but they are certain that he or she lives among them.

The author knows our names and nicknames, our habits and daily routines, the villagers say. Often the snarky sonnets target individuals or mock businesses, such was the case with Sitora's shop, which came under fire for being a place where neighbors always borrow goods, instead of buying them.

A man called Khusrav -- who only works during harvest season, according to another poem -- "sniffles and smokes, sitting idly and watching his life pass by."

Without naming names, another ridicules "the head of the village, who collects money for different causes every year, but the money always disappears."

Ashur, notorious for calling for unnecessary village meetings and feeding people "over-salted plov," is singled out. So, too, is the shopkeeper Jomi, who determines prices as he pleases.

'I Watch It And Feel Sorry'

Yet another villager is mocked for his gait; another for being blind. And the poet expresses sympathy "for people needing treatment from local faith healer Toj and Mullah Miroj."

Every four-line stanza ends with the same sentence: "I watch it and feel sorry." Throughout, even the writer's sex remains concealed, as verbs and pronouns don't indicate gender in the Tajik language.

One villager has offered the equivalent of $60 to anyone who could reveal the identity of the mysterious poet, while insisting it is "just out of curiosity."

"The poems don't contain any insult, they are a satire," Qiyomiddin Nizom explains. "We are just curious and want to find out who is writing them. That's the only reason I offered the prize."

Nizom, a former village policeman, says his 77-year-old father was mocked for his habit of "sitting idly all day" and people-watching.

"It's all true," Nizom admits. "My father said he didn't mind how he was described."

During winter days, many Khojaghalton men gather at a small car-repair shop to share tea and catch up on the latest village gossip.

Exposing Realities

The topic of the conversation inevitably turns to the latest works of the local mystery poet, says garage owner Alamkhon, who doesn't want to give his full name.

Alamkhon says the poems expose the realities of the village in an up-to-date manner.

"So far the poet has written about some 40-50 people," says Alamkhon, once singled out as someone the poet "watches and feels sorry for."

"Those who haven't been targeted yet enjoy the poems, while the 'targets' want to find the person and rebuke them gently," Alamkhon says light-heartedly. "Someone might respond to the bounty offer."

Sixty dollars is nearly a monthly wage for a village teacher or a nurse. No one, however, has come forward with any information about the identity of the village's most-wanted person.

Khojaghalton inhabitants recently asked local police to help identify the man or woman behind the lyrics.

In the meantime, the author is expanding the reach of his barbs, writing about the nearby villages of Navobod and Shuroobod.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondent Mahmudjon Rahmatzoda.
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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the region’s ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.