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

Mukhammat Magdeev Way to immortality: Gabdulla Tukay

  The Cradle of the Poet


 In spite of the fact I left you, my lovely lands…

The past of this land is full of sufferings of landless peasants, their struggles for land and freedom, and flying visits of tsar’s chastisers. The people’s history was reflected in thoughtful melodies, songs and fairy-tales which held popular wisdom in themselves.

Zakazanye is a native place of the poet. The lack of arable lands became a real scourge for people. There were neither big rivers, nor boundless meadows and rocky mountains. The beauty of Zakazanye is reflected in wild woods with their fairy-tale owner Shurale; in silent ponds with willows hung over water, where Su anasy combed her wet hair; in wind turbines seen on the horizon; and in tiny brooks that purled quietly as if life and people made them glad.

The land became a native land for such famous poems of the XXth century as “Takhir and Zukhra”, “Buzdzhigit”. “The Story of Yusuf”, rewritten by local calligraphers many times, passed from hand to hand.

On April 26 (14), 1886 Gabdulla Tukay, the future poet, was born in the family of mullah Mukhammetgarif in Kushlavych. He was five months old when his father died. His mother Mamduda married mullah from the village Sosna. Little Gabdulla was left to Sharifa, a poor old woman. It was the beginning of endless blows and privation of the boy. There is no any poet in the world who had to call “mother” seven or may be even eight unknown women. Gabdulla became such a poet.

Little Gabdulla had neither care nor concern in the house of Sharifa. Offence was the only thing he had to feel. However, in some time his mother took him back. Reading about this fact in his autobiography essay “What I remember about myself”, you give a sigh of relief thinking, ‘The child lives with his mother at last!’ However, the happiness did not last for a long time. Gabdulla’s mother died, and he became an orphan. The mullah from Sosna sent the boy to his grandfather by the mother’s side who lived in the small village Uchile. However, the child’s native grandmother was not alive, and the family had many children. ‘I was the only useless mouth among six lovely children. 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…’

It was the fourth family where Gabdulla lived. He was not cared and starved there. His grandfather had to beg in neighboring villages to get dry pieces of bread not to let children die. Gabdulla had no luck in that family. He was sent with a coachman to Kazan. The coachman went to Sennoy market-place and offered people to take the boy for upbringing. Some man went out of the crowd and took him. Thus, a handicraftsman Mukhammetvali and his wife Gaziza who lived in Novotatarskaya Suburb got a son. It was the fifth family where Gabdulla was taken. Gabdulla lived there for two years, but became unnecessary again. Both parents became sick. ‘Who’ll care of the child if we die? Let’s give him back to his village…,’ they thought and sent him back to Uchile. ‘You can imagine how I was met by the grandfather’s family that had hoped to get rid of me forever.’ Having done everything in their power, the members of the family sent the orphan to Sagdy who lived in Kyrlay. It became Gabdulla’s sixth family. There he was treated with favour. Firstly, he lived there longer than in the previous families and began studying in madrassah. Secondly, the time spent in Kyrlay gave him many impressions that enriched his works a lot. They say it is necessary to visit the poet’s native land to understand his works. However, the nature of those places has changed a lot for hundreds of years. The roads has been built, Places of Culture and a Museum has been founded. Wild woods existed near Kyrlay in the times when Tukay lived there. Little Gabdulla and his friends went to night watch of horses. Tall spruces reached the sky, and it seemed Shurale watched them somewhere from the thick. Being sensitive Gabdulla was impressed by it very much.

How peculiar peasant work is! How many patience and effort it needs! However, how much real pleasure it delights! How much poetry it has! Freshing up in the pond under the willow at hot noon, swimming after the field work… And delighting your soul with ayran, having mixed katyk with spring water…A lot of different feelings arose in the sensitive soul of Gabdulla, a lot of impressions appeared in his life. And evening streets of Kyrlay! Its songs that touch your heart and longing calling you somewhere… Where they appear from?… Just Zakazanye could be the place of their origin…

Zakazanye, especially the lands of Kyrlay, became the fertile ground where a little Gabdulla became a great Tukay. The image of Sagdy abyi in white apron, linen gauntlets and with round Tatar cap forever was kept in his memory as an example of diligence and gentleness. The environs of Kyrlay with their wild woods, ponds, springs, songs, playings, traditions and lifestyle gave him as much spiritual nourishment as it was enough for all his future work.

‘I knew everything was sacred: either your barn, or your stream,
Either your barn, or steppe and your roads between fields.
Either your spring, or your autumn and hot summer and winter,
And white stockings, bast shoes, and onuchas, and pouch.
Either dogs, or sheep – everything is native.
I like even your bad things, even that you are poor,’

(word-for-word translation)

Tukay wrote about Zakazanye having been absent there for a long time.

However, soon Gabdulla was taken to Kushlavych to his relatives by his father’s side who lived in Uralsk. By that time the boy had been imbued with rural life, its endless works and poetry. ‘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.’

The land where little Gabdulla drained the cup of woe, being an orphan, and which endowed him with the world of magic impressions were behind. Nobody knew what will be in the future; neither the orphan, nor very pleasant coachman Alty-bish Sapyi who took him away… Uralsk with its craftsmen and traders, churches and mosques, schools and madrassahs was ahead. Zakazanye, goodbye!

Wings are Getting Stronger


Uralsk is located on the junction of the Chagan and Ural rivers. It was founded in 1613 when the Romanovs began their reign in Russia. In 1913, at the days of the 300th anniversary of the reign Tukay wrote a poem “Hopes of the people…” full of internationalism and political remarks.

Uralsk was originally named Yaitsk after the Yaik river till 1775. Empress Catherine II decided to erase the name of the town that served as a refuge during the rebellion of Pugachev from people’s memory. However, the common people continued to call it Yaitsk. Uralsk was the town of handicraftsmen and tradesmen. It also served as the gates to Central Asia for the Russian Empire. The Cossack fortress served as the support for the czarism to pursue its policy among the non-Russians. The ethnic composition of the people was very heterogeneous. The Russians, Kazakhs, Bulgars–Tatars, Ukrainians, Uzbeks, Jews…Being the most important link between Russia and Central Asia, the brisk area of trade and economic cooperation, Urask also became a cultural center. The Tatars, who could easily talk to the Kazakhs and Kirghizs, had the leading role in the process of materials engrossment in endless steppes. The Bulgars-Tatars of Zakazanye were the first who settled among the inhabitants of steppe regions. At the end of the XIXth century, when the economic situation became worse the whole families of the Bulgars-Tatars of Zakazanye moved to Uralsk and Troitsk. It was they who represented the most noticeable order of tradesmen and craftsmen. The tanners, butchers, representatives of tailoring and furriery were among them. Gaziza, Tukay’s aunt by his father’s side, and Galiaskar Usmanov, her husband, also came from Zakazanye. Tukay went to their house.

There were Mutygia, Racibia and Gainia madrassahs in Uralsk. Galiaskar Usmanov sent Gabdulla to the first one. Its way of ife had a wholesome effect on the boy. Shakirds were quite interested in literature and poetry. Music and singing often sounded in the house of Mutygulla-hazret, an owner of the madrassah. Gabdulla quickly became friends with his son Kamil, who got the European upbringing, sang well, dressed to the latest fashion, spoke Russian and Arabic, and could read the Koran by heart…

Gabdulla was eager to learn, and at the same time studied at a three-year Russian course. Having learnt Arabic, Persian and Turkey very well, he opened the richest world of the Russian and West European literature. Here, the fates combination is interesting. At the beginning of the XIXth century, David, a son of the Cossack army ataman of Uralsk Martemyan Borodin, called an Italian architect Delmedino, who raised an outstanding palace. Later, David sold it to the authorities. However, the palace stood not far away from the madrassah, where Tukay studied. Its famous visitors inspired Tukay a lot. In September 1833, V.I.Dal, the Russian writer, lexicographer, and dialectologist, brought there Pushkin who was interested the history of the Pugachev’s Rebellion. The poet V.A.Zhukovsky also visited it. A son of some count who lived in Uralsk was lucky to become friends with young Tolstoy. Being already a writer of standing reputation, Lev Nikolayevich went to Uralsk to meet with his friend in 1862. Soon a rotunda was built in the town garden in honor of Tolstoy’s visit to Uralsk. Zhukovsky, Pushkin, Tolstoy became mentors of the Tatar poet Tukay.

The waves of the revolution of 1905 reached Uralsk when Tukay was nineteen. It was the first time people poured to Mayevka not hiding out from the police. The revolution actions happened either in summer or in autumn of 1905. According to contemporaries, once Tukay was also touched by the whip of gendarme officer. The poet remembered about it two years later when ministers-members of an armed monarchist anti-Semitic group tossed a challenged to the Muslims, ‘If you don’t like life in Russia, then get away to Turkey!’ Tukay wrote in his poem “We don’t go away!”:

They, the Cossacks, have the same chastisers as we do,
They have the same whips, but differ by the fezzes.

(word-for-word translation)

Kamil Mutygin bought a printing house and got the right to publish a newspaper “The Ural Inhabitant” after the freedom of press was accepted. A new period of Tukay’s life started after he began working as a typesetter in the printing house. The Bolshevists used “The Ural Inhabitant” for revolutionary leaflets spread. Being influenced by them, he wrote his passionate op-ed articles in 1905-1907, in which he ruthlessly exposed the defenders of the previous politics. He wrote in a newspaper “The Conditions”, “The socialism will not begin till the capitalist system exists; I do not find any sense to be called the Muslims while the capital hides the truth at every turn.”

Tukay developed himself as a poet and journalist in Uralsk. In September 1905, his first poems were published in a publicity collection of the future magazine called “Al-gasrul-djadid” (“The New Century”). In November, a newspaper “Fiker” (“The Thought”) began to be published. Soon, the first number of “Al-gasrul-djadid” saw the light. Actually, Tukay became its editor. However, he was dreaming of satirical magazine creation. In June 1906, the satirical illustrated magazine “Uklar” (“The Arrows”) was published. Tukay was considered to be the editor of it. He was in his own element being a journalist. Writing poems, articles, and translating every number of the magazine, he spent days and nights in the printing house. His name became to be recognized not only in Uralsk, but in Kazan, Orenburg, and St.Petersburg.

…However, the poet had a longing for his native lands. He had already returned to Kazan on “The Pair of Horses” in his dreams. He left it at the age of eight, and now the educational and cultural center seemed to be beyond his wildest dreams.
In the autumn of 1907, Tukay entered Kazan full of fallen leaves. How much time had passed! How Gabdulla had been changed by it! He left it being a little boy, and returned as a mature journalist, poet, active publicist, satirist, and public figure.

The poet and publicist of standing reputation speaking Tatar, Russian, Arabic, Persian, and Turkey returned to his native land.

Hello, Kazan!

Radiant Kazan…


 Thus, I’m in Kazan now. In Kazan of which I was dreaming in Uralsk, to which I devoted enthusiastic poems, the name of which didn’t leave my lips…

From the letter to G.Karimov, 1907

A new most fruitful Kazan period of Tukay’s life started in the autumn of 1907. It lasted about five and a half years, which became the years of inspired service to his people, and to his motherland.

What was Kazan like? Kazan University with its mathematic and chemical schools was one of the most important scientific centers of Russia. The printing house of Kazan University played a significant role in the process of the Tatars and the peoples of Central Asia education, distributing a lot of books including educational and pedagogical ones. Such outstanding and democratically aiming scientists as Gotvald and Katanov worked at the East Faculty. They studied the history of Bulgaria, its folklore in the cooperation with Sh.Mardzhany and K.Nasyry.

Tukay began cooperation with a newspaper “Al-Islakh” (“The Reform”) and a magazine «Yashen»(«The Lightning «) in Kazan. He became friends with F.Amirkhan, Kh.Yamashev, K.Bakir, V.Bakhtiyarov, G.Kamal, S.Rakhmankuly, G.Kulakhmetov, and later with S.Suncheley. He completely immersed in the creative and publicistic work.

The cooperation between Gabdulla Tukay and Fatikh Amirkhan in the newspaper “Al-Islakh” developed into the friendship then. F.Amirkhan who had European education deeply influenced Tukay’s points of views and improved his poetic talent. The questions regarding national and infantile literature was not considered to be important in Kazan before Tukay’s arrived there. However, the people had popular books of K.Nasyry, G.Rakhmankulov, T.Yakhin, and some classical reading books. Kazan had its own young appreciated talents such as G.Kamal, F.Amirkhan, G.Kulakhmetov, and others. It is interesting that among all aims, existed in the creative work, Tukay singled out two principal ones: to raise the importance of folklore and to found on a new kind of infantile literature.

In Kazan Tukay lay foundation to the research work in the field of national literature, its popularization, as well as playes a significant role in infantile literature development. During his not very long period of life in Kazan he published more than thirty books including thirteen books for children of school age, four books regarding the folklore research work. Tukay’s creative energy needed to be widely used. In 1910, a new satirical magazine «Yalt-yolt»(«The heat lightning») edited by Akhmet Urmanche began to be published. Tukay worked hard there. He published the majority of his satirical works in the magazine. In the cooperation with G.Kulakhmetov, F.Amirkhan, F.Ageev, S.Rakhmankulov, and other writers and journalists, he held literary evenings, concerts, and lectures. His lecture called “The National Literature” had a great influence on the youth.

The period of Tukay’s life in Kazan is considered to be the most fruitful. Book publishers tried to obtain his consent to publish his new books in advance. Even the newspapers and magazines of liberal character such as “Shura” (“The Advice”), “Vakyt” (“Time”) in Orenburg, and “Ioldyz” (“The Star”) in Kazan were ready to publish any new work of Tukay. G.Kamal who worked in “Ioldyz” was likely to favour it. However, it was the first newspaper where Tukay’s sharpest social character poems “Of Blessed Memory to Khusain” and “The Autumn Winds” were published. Tukay gained so high public recognition that the “Shura” magazine sponsored by Orenburg millionaires accepted and published his poem “The Garden”, which had the sharpest social character.

Tukay laid emphasis on the Tatar Theatre making. Tukay’s friend Gabdulla Kariev played a great role in the process of the Tatar Theatre foundation. G.Kamal, who was further admitted as a Tatar dramatics founder, wrote his famous comedies, and often acted the parts in performances.

It needs to be said that Tukay devoted one of his first Kazan poems to the theatre (“The Theatre”). Tukay thought it had not only a moral significance, but also a social one. His rooms in “Bulgar” and “Amur” were never empty. However, the intellectuals were always under the secret supervision of the gendarmery and police. Tukay was not the exception. He tried to get rid of frothy speakers and slanderers. However, the moments of meetings with Khusain Yamashev, the revolutionist, Bolshevik, seemed to be the lightest and unforgettable in his life:

I considered to be a hospitable singer
The poor and the rich visited my home.
But in the moment when my noble friend came to me –
The moon seemed to went down to my house.

(word-for-word translation)

Unfortunately, Tukay’s surroundings did not consist of only Khusain, Amirkhan, Kulakhmetov and Kamalov. Kazan amazed by its mixed character. Proletarians, Bolsheviks, Marxists, professors, traffickers, Tatar bais trying to look important, priests-academicians, students in blue caps, dogsbodies, intellectuals with white cuffs, and half-starved journalists. Strenuous supporters of the old politics exclaimed among all of them. Sennoy market-place, located near “Bulgar” and “Amur” hotels, teemed with them.

Sennoy market-place?… What is it? It is one of the most important places in Kazan of the beginning of the XXth century. Every farm had a cow, bred goats and sheep that time. The Tatars, who lived in suburbs of Kazan, had horses. Thus, Kazan needed Sennoy market-place very much. Hay was taken from neighboring villages. Having sold hay, villagers immediately bought different things. There was everything from angling rods to kumgans and prayer rugs. Those who demonstrated their devotion to Islam and proved the quality of the goods swearing on Allah carried on trade very well. It was also full of bais pleasers, clamorous Islam fanatics, and vocal opponents of any innovations such as the Russian language learning, and European fashion, theatres and concerts introducing. Plain-clothes men and speculators also prowled there. Some visitors of Sennoy market-place unceremoniously called by Tukay. However, the only smell of it took Tukay’s breath away. He thought it was a hotbed of all obscurantism and fanaticism. However, Tukay used the image of the Sennoy market-place in his creative work. It was the poem “Pechan Bazary, yakhud Yana Kisekbash” that became an example of the Tatar satirical poetry. The poet ruthlessly disclosed obscurants and reactionaries in the poem. Tukay aroused a real admiration of the audience, having read it in “Merchants Meeting”. The Sharaf brothers – the editors – immediately came to an agreement with the author and published the poem in ten days.

Kazan influenced Tukay a lot. His creative burning in the days of Black-Hundred reaction activities were changed by the blues, but in 10s of the XXth century light hopes on new revolutionary upsurge revived in him…

Sometimes he travelled trying to get rid of dispiriting atmosphere of Kazan. He visited the Makaryev Fair in Nizhny Novgorod, went to Guryevka in the Simbir Province, and was on a visit to the poet S.Ramiev. He was always busy with his work in Kazan: he made speeches in the Eastern club, met with shakirds, visited a factory of Brothers Krestovnikovy.

Tukay spent the end of 1911 and the first months of 1912 in Uchile, where he wrote about difficult life of the longsuffering people. However, the advanced stage of his pulmonary tuberculosis went downhill day by day. In March 1912, he heavily took an unexpected death of Khusain Yamashev. Tukay responded to such a great loss for the progressive youth writing two poems. After the death of Khusain Tukay’s life became boring and odious. He began travelling. Firstly, he went to Ufa, then to St. Petersburg, and then back to Ufa, from where he went to Kazakh steppe to be treated by kumis. Impressions of the trip were shown in the cycle of bright itineraries.

Tukay already felt that his life would not be very long, that’s why he tried to use every moment to say his last words to his people. In the summer of 1912, F.Amirkhan and Tukay decided to publish a new literary magazine. They persuaded Akhmetgaray Khasany, an educated and progressive man, to be an editor. They agreed to call it “Ang” (“The Consciousness”) at the dacha of Khasany near the Lebyazhye Lake. Tukay wrote in the poem published in the first number of “Ang”:

My friends, be that as it may, but the darkness dispersed forever.

Let’s work! We need a clarity: clarity of eyes and clarity of mind.

(word-for-word translation)

In the beginning of 1913, the health of Tukay rapidly worsened. However, he did not stop writing. The works of the last months of his life showed him as a great patriot, and citizen who deeply comprehended the historical destiny of his native land even better. Again and again he addressed to Tolstoy in his poems, sang of the merits of the scientist and thinker Sh.Mardzhany. The op-ed pieces “The first thing after awakening”, “On the occasion of jubilee”, poems “Hopes of the people…”, and “The Frost” were considered to be real masterpieces. Tukay expressed his admiration for the Supreme Being and sincere devotion to Islam in the poetic translation of the surah “Nasr”. The poet somehow summarized its creative work by it.

Leaving the hotel “Amur” for Klyachkinskaya hospital, Tukay understood very well that it was his last “trip”. The day before, he visited F.Amirkhan, who lived in the neighboring room, to say goodbye to him. ‘Get well as fast as you can! We should meet soon,’ Fatikh told him. ‘Don’t hurry to meet me. You are to live longer,’ Tukay answered to him.

Tukay crossed the Styx on April 15 (2).

Kazan had never had such a crowded funeral train. All the town and country madrassahs did not work in the funeral day. Newspaper and magazine editors were strewed by telegrams of condolence and sorrow. The same situation was in the periodicals of Moscow and St. Petersburg. “The Muslim Newspaper” paid the greatest attention to the mourning. It published not only telegrams, but also Russian poems devoted to Gabdulla Tukay. The Russian and foreign press became interested in the personality and creative work of Gabdulla Tukay very much. A respectable article where Tukay was called “Tatar Pushkin” was published in the newspaper “The Day” in St. Petersburg. “The Eastern Collection” published the biography of the poet and Russian translations of his poems. “The Russian Review” in London gave an account of Tukay’s life and work, and published the English translation of the poem “The Pair of Horses”. The Turkey press also paid a lot of attention to Tukay after his death.

The train moved from the hospital located at the crossroads of the streets now called Ostrovsky and Kavy Nadzhmy to the Tatar cemetery in Novo-Tatarskaya Suburb. In 1912, Tukay wrote in one of his poems:

Just significant subjects can bring an honour –
I managed to immortalize my modest name only with the help of it.

(word-for-word translation)

Way to immortality…

“… The every moment of my life is worth of eternity…”
1911, from the letter to S.Suncheley

The name of Tukay means a whole epoch in the intellectual development of the Tatar people, its literature, art and the whole culture making. The poet lives in the people’s thankful memory forever.

Tukay’s works have been published many times since the day of his death. Some of his respectable poems were even published in the difficult years of the Great Patriotic War (1943). Tukay’s poems fought against Hitlerite invaders near Moscow, in the Battle of Kursk, and in the Battle of Berlin with courageous Tatar soldiers. Tukay’s work still does not lose its force. But what is the reason of it? It is an element of the world culture heritage. The Tatar national ballet “Shurale”, written by Farid Yarullin, based on the fairytale poem of the great Tukay, was admitted in European countries. Songs written on the Tukay poems sounded on the stages of Italy, Malta, and African countries. “The Tukay Society” has been working in one of the departments of the society of cultural cooperation with Russia in Finland for a long time. It is interesting that all Tukay’s works enriche different fields of art, stimulate its flowering. The ballets “Shurale” of F.Yarullin, “Kisekbash” of R.Gubaydullin, “Vodyanaya” written by A.Bakirov, the symphony “Kyrlay” of N.Zhiganov, sculpture and picturesque works of B.Urmanche, I.Kazakov, B.Almenyev, F.Aminov, and others are the evidence of it.

Tukay lives either on the theatre stage, or in the historic novels. The State Prize of the Republic of Tatarstan named after Gabdulla Tukay is awarded for the best art and literature works. The central square of the ancient Kazan is called after Gabdulla Tukay. Gabdulla Tukay Literary Museum has already existed in Kazan for twenty years.

The name of the great poet was given to the former Chelny district of Tatarstan. The streets of Uralsk (Kazakhstan), Tashkent (Uzbekistan) are also named after Tukay. Every April people warmly express admiration to their great son. On April 21, the Poetry Festival, devoted to the most significant person in the national poetry of new time, is held. Writers go to Kyrlay, Arsk, Tukaevsky district to take part in literary meetings with people. Such festivals are also held in Nizhnekamsk, Naberezhnye Chelny, Almetyevsk, and other cities and regional centres of Tatarstan. The festivities carried out near Kamal State Academic Theatre become the culmination of the Poetry Festival. The State Prize of the Republic of Tatarstan named after Gabdulla Tukay is awarded in the Festival.

Tukay works are published in Russian and many other national languages of the country in long runs. The poet continues living with his people and with the people of all multinational Russia.

His way to immortality and fame is continuing…