The name of Tukay means a whole epoch in the intellectual development of the Tatar people, its literature, art and the whole culture making....

Gabdulla Tukay What I Remember about Myself (Autobiographic narrative)


In the very beginning I decided to write “What I remember about myself” as an autobiography for several publishers that asked me to do it.
I began my work with the aim to write shortly about my life from the birth to the present, but my story appeared to be long.
The readers will see that my life was unattractive and gloomy, however, at the same time it was rather interesting. That’s why I would like to write about everything that has stamped on my memory.
It seemed to me reasonable to publish two volumes of my story. The first one will be devoted to the life before my removal to Uralsk, while the second of it will describe events from that time to the present.


September, 29, 1909.



My father Mukhammetgariph, a son of mullah Mukammetgalim who lived in Kushlavych, entered madrassah in Kyshkar at the age of 14-15 and spent there as many years as it was necessary to become educated. Then he returned to Kushlavych when his aged father was alive and became a mullah. Later, he married, but managed to live with his wife only several years because of her death. He had two children, a son and daughter, from that marriage.
A daughter of mullah Zinatulla from Uchile became his second wife. Her name was Mamduda.
In a year and a half I was born.
My father died when I was five months old.
Having lived with my widowed mother, I was temporarily given to an old poor woman Sharifa while my mother married an imam who lived in Sasna.
My grandparents by the father’s side died long ago and had not got any relatives in the village. In the family of that old woman I was a useless child. She did not care about me and did not bring me up. However, the worst fact for me, a little child, was that she was very cold with me.
I do not remember myself that period of my life. I think I was about two – two and a half years then.
Now old women from my village who remember my infancy tell about my governess’ awful treatment.
Once, in winter, I went outside only in a shirt and barefooted. It was very difficult to open the door even for adults say nothing of children. I could not open it and stood outside till my feet froze to ice.
My “benefactress” held me outside thinking that I would not die and let me enter the house when she liked.
The old woman has died yet.
Evidently, my mother got accustomed to his husband’s house while I lived with the old woman. Once, horses were sent by her from Sasna after me.
Those horses supposedly took me to Sasna.
However, I write it not only according to people’s words. At that moment it seemed to me that an insight happened in my mind in spite of the fact that I was a little child. I remember my feelings in that free and beautiful world. I saw how bright rays played by different colours on the way.
I arrived at Sasna. I do not remember who and how met me. However, my stepfather’s kindness and the fact that he gave me a spread piece of white bread with chunk honey, and my joy after it still exist in my memory.
Unfortunately, it did not last for a long time. My mother became ill after the year or more of her life with mullah and died. I do not know what kind of illness she had.
Only some moments of that period of my life are kept in my memory because of my age. That’s why I know it only according people’s stories.
However, I remember how I, barefooted and undressed, run out into the street, having understood that my late mother was taken away. I cried and asked not to take her away and give her back to me. I run after the funeral procession for a long time…
After my mother’s death, I became an orphan. My stepfather decided to send me to my grandfather by the mother’s side, who lived in Uchile.
My mother’s mother, that is my grandmother, died when my mother was young yet. And the grandfather married a widow who had six children.
Uchile was a very small and poor village. The situation was worsened by severe starvation that dominated in the region that time. The grandfather’s existence was very difficult. I began to live in that full of hungry mouths family.
There was nobody to console me when I cried, nobody to caress me when I wanted to be snuggled up, nobody to feel sorry for me, nobody to give me food and drink when I was hungry and thirsty. The family only pushed and scolded me.
The family poverty seemed to reach an extreme level that I still remember how my grandfather brought pieces of bread from wealth neighbouring villages.
Days passed in such a way in that family. I had chickenpox there, as well as other different injuries that further had the consequences.
Everybody except Sajida, a grown up girl, did not pay attention to my illnesses. They hoped I would die.
I still remember how Sajida apa consoled and snuggled up to me without her mother’s knowledge, but when she came the girl became an absolutely indifferent person to me.
I remember her to be an angel in my life. A white pure angel comes to my eyes when I think of her.
Anyway, I was a useless mouth in that family. Once, the grandfather, maybe following an advice of his wife, sent me to Kazan with a coachman.
The coachman went to Sennoy market-place in Kazan and offered people to take me for upbringing. A man went out of the crowd and took me. Thus, my life in a new family began.
I do not remember it exactly.
I just remember, for example, how I was taken to an old woman when my eyes were ill, and she dropped sugar in them while I tried to resist.
Now, let me write something about my new parents. The mane of a person who became my father was Mukhammetvali, and the mother’s name was Gaziza. They lived in Novaya Suburb . I do not remember exactly what my father did. He either traded in the flea market or was a tanner. The mother endlessly embroidered kalyapushes for very wealthy people.
Sometimes, she took me with herself when she went to Sennoy market-place or to wealthy people houses to sell her kalyapushes.
Seeing beautiful decorations, big mirrors, clocks that could be compared with church bells, enormous organs I thought people lived in paradise. Once, I saw a peacock that influenced me a lot. It walked with its train decorated with precious stones near the house of such a bai.
I was not hungry because my parents worked.
Sometimes I went to a market-place in Tashayak with my mother. I eagerly looked at the toys on the counter and envied boys who had scooter or went wooden horse riding.
I would also have a wooden horse, but there was no money. I was afraid to ask my mother to buy it, while she did not guess herself.
Thus, I returned home having looked at other’s joys.
I will never forget how boys and I run after the goose down in the area between two suburbs and, being tired, rested looking at the Khanskaya mosque .
In about two years of living in the new family the both of parents became ill. Thinking of my future in the case of their death, my parents found the coachman who brought me in Kazan and returned me back to Uchile.
You can imagine how I was met by the grandfather’s family that had hoped to get rid of me forever.
In some time, my grandparents began thinking of my removal to another village, having lost a hope to send me to the town.
They told everybody who came to our village about an orphan who is needed to be taken for upbringing.
Finally, a man whose name was Sagdy and who had not got a son came from Kyrlay, and took me to his family.
From this moment to the end, I will write about my life according to my own memories.


We went out the house of my grandfather and sat down on Sagdy abyi’s bullock cart. The grandparents, may be feeling uncomfortable towards Sagdy abyi, went outside to see me off. Barefooted boys who came to see my departure were running around the cart.
The cart was off. Sagdy abyi and I sat side by side.‘Soon we will arrive at Kyrlay. Your mother must go out to meet you. We have milk, katyk, a lot of bread, so you will eat your fill,’ he said to me on the way. He consoled me with those words, promising a happiness that would happen in my life in two-three versts.
Not having heard any kind word, I was so happy at that moment.
It was the best period of summer. Green forests and grasses, warm sun with its pleasant rays made me glad.
Finally, we arrived at Kyrlay. Uncle Sagdy’s farmstead was not far away from the gates that led to the field. We stopped near a low house with the thatched roof and fence. My new mother went out to meet me, as Sagdy abyi had promised. She took me off the cart, and we entered the house.
The father entered the house, having done all his work and unharnessed the horse. He immediately asked his wife to bring me sour milk and a piece of bread.
The mother took katyk from the cellar and gave a quite big slice of bread to me.
Not having eaten well since I left Kazan, I drank milk and ate bread at once.
Then, I went outside with the permission of the mother. I was afraid to get lost and always looked round. Suddenly, I was surrounded by boys who had never seen me before in the village.
They looked at me with astonishment because I was worn into printed cotton Kazan shirt with a border and there was a kalyapush inlaid with many-coloured velvet on my head. It was embroidered by my Kazan mother.
They looked at me for a little time and scattered. Then I returned home.
Having entered the house, I saw two young girls whom I had not noticed before.
One of them was rather solid, red-cheeked and blue-eyed, the second one, on the contrary, was thin, pale and walked on crutches.
‘This is your elder sisters, Sajida apa and Sabira apa,’ my mother said to me. I carefully came up to them and held out my hand. They occurred to be Sagdy abyi’s daughters and the name of the lame one was Sajida. It was the beginning of my quite nice life. I made acquaintance of the village boys.
There was a lot of milk, katyk and potato, as Sagdy abyi had told me on the way.
Approximately in a month the harvest-time began. The parents and two sisters went to the field to work.
I did not take part in the harvest. Boys and I spent days running in the village and lying on the clearings. Having become a little bit hungry, I entered the house through the side window and ate potato and a piece of bread that my mother left to me.
They locked the door in the afternoon, but left the wide window open for me.
During the harvest-time people were busy with their work and there was nobody in the village except old women who were unfit for work. So, we damaged green onion plantations even more than goats. Being noticed by old women, we jumped over the fence and run away.
Warmed up with the playing we went down to a little brook behind the barn and spent hours swimming and fishing there. It was very nice time!
Once, having returned home, I saw that everybody was sad. Sabira apa occurred to become ill. Nobody except me slept that night. Being tired, I went outside and slept in the cart.
In the early morning I heard my mother’s voice. ‘Wake up! Your sister Sabira apa has died,’ she said.
It was a bad news even for me.
Sabira apa was buried in the same day.
In several days, my superstitious mother began accusing me, an orphan, of their misfortune. She always told me about it in the case of my disobedience or mistake.
However, my father and I were very friendly. He never told me a sharp word.
Once, when my Kazan clothes became worn out, he decided to give me a blue linen shirt and beshmet that were left after their son death that had happened a year before my appearance in the family.
The mother did not agree. ‘I can’t give a strange person my son’s clothes that I keep as a memory,’ she explained.
Finally, the father took the clothes and gave it to me. ‘It doesn’t mean that a child should be naked even if you don’t give birth to him,’ he cried.




The harvest-time came to an end, and the time of potatoes digging began.
That time I could not run and jump like it was during the harvest, but I should put potatoes to sacks. I managed with my work well.
It was autumn yet, but I was barefooted. I hid my feet in the ground to warm them.
Once, when I sat, warming my feet in the ground and sorting out potatoes, Sajida apa accidentally drove an iron spade just in the same place.
The wound was quite deep. I jumped up, cried a little while nobody saw and continued my work, having covered the wound with earth. I did not hide my feet in the ground more, though, it was very cold.
You may ask me why I wrote about it. Why? I wrote about it because the wound hurt very much and I still have a trace of it.
Eventually, the field works finished.
In one evening, my parents told me that they would take me to school next morning.
We woke up early at daybreak and drank tea. Then my mother took me to the house of Fatkherakhman hazret who lived very close to us.
We came in. Abystay , who would become my teacher, was sitting with a twig in her hands. There were a lot of children of my age around her. Most of them were girls; boys reminded several peas in wheat among them.
My mother gave the teacher two new loafs of bread and one or two copecks of money. Then they both and we, pupils, prayed for a long time.
My mother went away, and the girls and I began reading loudly: “Elep, pi, ti, si, zhomykyi” (a part form a prayer).
We repeated that phrase for a couple of days, after which I got a book “The Religion Bases”.
That book with its syllables and surahs took all my time during that winter. However, I did not manage to learn more during the winter.
At the end of learning “The Religion Bases” I heard from some of the girls a mischievous verse about our teacher: “Calimaten tayibaten, our mother is rich, she has a lot of chips, but her nose if full…”
I remembered it very well and liked to make boys laugh by it.



My first winter in Kyrlay passed in such a way. The spring came and the snow began melting. Soon, the fields started to become black.
In the day of Sabantuy I was woken up very early in the morning and was given a small bag that was a little bit bigger than tobacco pouch.
I went through the village. People who usually wake up early that day awoke much earlier on the occasion of Sabantuy. Everybody was happy, everybody was very kind.
I entered all houses where was given not only candies and one or two cakes, but also a couple of painted eggs, as I was an orphan. That’s why my bag became full soon while other boys continued walking from house to house.
My parents were quite surprised when I returned home so soon.
I do not remember whether I had a tea or not, but having given the back to my mother and taken several eggs with me, I run outside.
The sun shone yet and the village seemed to be golden. Young man and women in their best clothes also went outside yet.
The head of Sabantuy went with a flag in his hands from another part of the village and gathered shawls, printed cottons, and other things. We, barefooted boys, run after the head, keeping up with him.
After all the shawls and clothes were taken, everybody gathered together on the clearing. Wrestling and race-in-sack began. The clearing was full of carts loaded with sunflower seeds and spice cakes with red-white band.
The spice cakes were the most valuable present of a young man to a young woman. There is even a song about it:


Golden eagle sits the field,

It’ll scare all the geese,

Nothing better than the cake,

For a girl with white-red band.

(Word-for-word translation)

There was either horse racing or men’s running in Sabantuy. The shawls were also handed round. Thus, Sabantuy came to an end.
I do not remember how long Sabantuy lasted. I wrote about the only day of it. Even if it lasted three or four days it seemed to be a moment for me.
I could run and play with village boys no more. In spring, a son was born in the family, and I had to look after the baby when my mother was busy with her work.
I also took part in the harvest-time, but I only nursed Sadri. Sadri was a name of Sagdy abyi’s son. Thus, the summer that passed in hard work seemed to be a difficult task for me, who preferred spending time playing.
My father was invariably kind to me even after the birth of Sadri, but the same thing could not be said about the mother. Sometimes, she did not say a word to me, except the cases when I should do some work. Thus, I lost even so little love that I had had before.
Moreover, the lame daughter of Sagdy abyi caressed his little brother and purposely told him, ‘You’re my brother! My own brother!’



The autumn came. Having finished all the field works, I began studying in madrasah.
There I learned syllables and surahs of “Khavtiyak” very soon and start reading “Badavam” and “Kisekbash”. Having managed even with them, I spent a lot of time doing nothing. Then I was given those of pupils who needed a help.
A son of one of rich men who lived in our village was among them. Sometimes, he invited me, his teacher, to his house to have a cup of tea with spelt cake.
On one hand, I studied quite well, on the other hand, I was able to do some housework. In the mornings, I opened and closed dampers, saw a cow off in the herd and met it in the evenings, and then I could bind straw for kindling. I managed to do all that things.
Sometimes,my father and I went to a market-place in Atnya, where I stayed with the horse, while the father was busy with his business.
I do not know why, but Fatkherakhman hazrat, a mullah in our village, gave me five copecks per week. May be he and my late father studied together in madrasah, and they were friends.
I spent money buying white bread in the market-place in Atnya and ate it on the way home.
Sometimes, the father asked me not to eat the whole bread, but to leave a piece of it to my mother. I answered to him ‘OK’, but I do not remember whether anything was left to her.
I have decided to write a little bit more about Kyrkay, because it was the place where I knew the world.
I will shortly write about the changes that happened there and then begin a story of the next period of my life.
Sajida apa had a consumption for a long time and soon died. The father was afflicted by an unknown illness while he was unharnessing the horse. ‘The horse evil spirit affected’, ‘a falling star stroke,’ people told.
However, he did not stop working. He was only lame in one leg.
Once in the autumn, my parents were in the barn, and I was reading “The Letter to Gaziza” when a cart stopped near our gates. A man entered the house and asked me, ‘Where are your parents?’
‘In the barn,’ I answered. Then he told me to call them. I immediately run to the barn and said to my parents, ‘A man came to us. He wants to see you’. My mother and father immediately went home.
They entered by the door and greeted the traveller.
Tea was made. That time when there was a guest even I could drink tea. Unusually, I got a piece of sugar.
The father asked the man, ‘Why did you come to us?’ ‘I came to take this child,’ he answered.
The father was shocked by those words, ‘What does it mean? Why did you come to us?’ The man began his story.
‘I’m from Kushlavych. This boy is a child of our imam. We lost him several years ago and didn’t have any information of him. Now we’ve found. It occurred to be that he lived in your house. He has an aunt, his father’s full sister, in Yaik. Having learnt that she had a nephew, her husband decided to take him to their house in Yaik. I came here by his order to find the child and take him with me.’
Either my father, or my mother were upset by those words.
‘How nice! We’ve fed him for three-four years when the bread was so expensive, and now when he’s suited for work you are going to take him. Nothing will come out of it! Where were his relatives?’ they argued.
Sometimes the mother put in, ‘We have no unnecessary children!’
The guest who was called Badretdin told them, “You “ne imeesh prava” to hold unrealted child. We’ve searched for him so long time, and it turned out that he lived in your house. I will give you “padsud”.
It is not difficult to frighten a villager by such words. My parents became soft.
Some time later, my intractable mother told, ‘OK! We’ll give him to you. He won’t be our child. He can bring us misfortune. God forbid!’ Having told it, she began crying.
Soon, even the father, like a sea that ruffled after gale, yielded.
Having dressed me in my old beshmet and put worn felt boots on my feet, they immediately took me away and put me on the bullock cart.
My parents saw me off in tears.
Suddenly my mother cried me, ‘Don’t forget us! Don’t forget! If you forget, you’ll become a firebrand in the hell!’ Having heard those words, we left the village.
My departure was decided for a half an hour, that’s why I was not able to say goodbye to my friends. They knew nothing.
It began getting dark immediately after our start.
We called at Uchile on our way to meet my grandfather. We had tea there.
Nothing had changed in that family since my removal. The only news was that Sajida apa had got married.
Having had tea, passed some Verkhniye Aty, Nizhniye Aty and Sredniye Aty, we arrived in my native village Kushlavych.
I must be very tired on the road, so I immediately fell asleep in the house of Badry abyi.
In the morning, I found myself in the black izba . There was no any decoration, but there were only plates, cups, spoons, scoop, horse’s collar, breast band, and things like that.
We had tea. Badry abyi had a wife Gaisha, an obese woman with blue eyes and gladsome looks, a fourteen-fifteen year old son Kamaletdin, a twelve-years old Kashifa and an infant Nagima.
Having had tea, we entered the opposite house.
That house was not like the black izba, where I had slept. It had a desk, fresh pine walls, decoration which were rather acceptable for villagers.
I decided that Badry abyi was one of the wealthiest men in the village having seen his barns full of meat, cereals, wheat and rye.
Having entered the white house once, I never left it and slept there.
In the evening, I found out a book called “The conversations results” and began reading it. I liked its last poems and tried to understand them, however, I could not. In Kyrkay I read only “Gaziza” and religious “Sobatel-gazhizny”, and I could not understand how such indecent words could be written in the book.
Sometimes, I being influenced by “The conversations results” loudly debated with Gaisha abystay in the black izba where she did the laundry. She shamed men while I ridiculed women.
I was treated as a son of mullah everywhere. I was even forbidden to play race-and-catch with girls, however, I tried to behave as a son of mullah and use my erudition.
Once, for example, when I was in the company of Badry abyi, a very famous man in the village came to see me. His name was Sitdik, and he was drunk.
He greeted me, but I did not answer. He put out his hand, but I did not take it. I was asked why I behaved in such a way. I answered using lines from “Badavam”:
‘Don’t greet a drunken man and don’t take his hand’

(word-for-word translation)
Not only Badry abyi’s family was really shocked, but my religiousness became known in the village.
Then Badry abyi left the village for Kazan to do some work.
He was absent in the house a whole month. However, I did not waste time. Kamaletdin and I went to school. It was something like our madrassah in the village. We often had to stay there overnight because of our teacher who turned to be a very severe one, and I became very afraid of him for the short period of time seeing him beating several pupils up every day.

The fact that I could get his punishment frightened me very much. It was also very difficult for me to go to the Morning Prayer and I always thought of Badry abyi’s return and my return to Yaik.
Badry abyi returned at last. He brought me a new hat, new felt boot and beshmet.
I gladly wore new dresses, but hid my shabby hat in the attic to find it some time later. It was one of my strange actions.
We lived in Kushlavych for several days and decided to return to Yaik.
Having gone twenty-four hours, we reached Kazan. We must be near the Sennoy market-place and stopped there.
Suddenly, we saw a man with almost white beard who held his arms out and run towards us. His eyes seemed to become younger.
He came and told me, ‘Are you really alive? Your mother dreamed about you yesterday. Let’s go! I’ll take you home. There you’ll have tea and can spend the night.’ Saying those words to me, he took me away.
We came home. My mother met me. She had missed me and cried.
Tea was made for me. My father brought meat dumplings from the eating-house. They asked about my life. I told them everything I remembered.
My parents had no news since the time I left them except the fact that my father’s beard became white, and they moved from Novaya Suburb to Staraya Suburb.
I spent the night in their house. Having drunk tea, my mother washed me and got me dressed in new leather trousers which were very necessary in my trip and gave me a new kalyapush.
She wanted to give me a subha and decorations for my kalyapush called “Maryam-ana ” as a keepsake. I do not know why, but I refused to get it, saying, ‘I need nothing. I live in the wealthy family.’
Badry abyi lived in hotel. It was neither good, nor bad.
A man from Yaik whose name was Alty-bish Sapyi should take me but he had not arrived in Kazan yet, and we had to wait for him a couple of weeks.
Long-awaited Alty-bish Sapyi arrived at last and settled in the opposite room.
In several days Badry abyi moved me to his room, gave me six two copeck coins and went away to his village.
I did not want to part with him, so I asked him to stay with me just for a day but he left me, consoling me with different words.
I was left to Alty-bish Sapyi and his wife.
Either clothes, or the way of talking of that man from another town seemed to be very strange for me.
For example, when he suddenly put the words ‘I’m an advanced age man’ in conversation I could not understand what “advanced age” meant.
He had a fur coat and collar, sleeves of which were edged by fox fur. I thought he wore the fur coat because he was “advanced age”. Later, in Yaik I learnt that “advanced age” meant “elderly age”.
I spent twelve copecks given by Badry abyi on Caspian roach and sunflower seeds.
We began our trip in several days.
I was seated on the laps of Alty-bish Sapyi’s wife and had no chance to turn. They set me free only when we stopped in some village to have tea.
I asked them, ‘I’d better walk. It’s better to have freedom.’ They did not allow me to go, ‘You’ll catch cold.’
Alty-bish Sapyi’s relative ordered to bring him some good sleigh from Kazan. They were attached to our sleigh behind, while in the front there were sleighs of Yaik people loaded by different things, that’s why we brought up the rear. Being put into closed sleigh like in prison with a lot of inconveniences, we arrived in Yaik in the evening of the end of the eighteenth century.
We stopped in the house of Sapyi abyi. ‘We’ll have tea, then we’ll take you to your aunt and uncle,’ they said.
In the evening, Sapyi abyi and I went to my aunt and uncle.
We met a young woman in green chapan on the way. ‘It’s your aunt. Greet her!’ Alty-bish Sapyi told me. I greeted her.
Their house turned to be located not far away from that place. Having entered gates, gone upstairs, I crossed the threshold of the second floor.