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28-06-05, 14:54
RFA Publishes First English Translation of Noted Uyghur Story

"Wild Pigeon"

Nurmuhemmet Yasin

Part Two



The pigeons' debate

I freeze, realizing that I cannot begin to answer the very question my words have prompted. Finally I reply, "I cannot. But my mother tells me I possess my father’s daring and adventurous spirit…Once it matures, I will certainly know and understand what a soul is."

The old pigeon replies, "That must be your father’s spirit in you now. It’s not only our fathers’ generations we have lost, but the soul of the entire pigeon community has already disappeared. My mother and her family never mentioned the soul to us, either, nor have I used the word with my own children. So perhaps we have already entered an era without souls. How lovely it would be, to to return that to that earlier time." The old pigeon smiles, and falls into a pleasant reverie.

"Without your souls," I tell him, "generations of pigeons will be enslaved by human beings—who can make a meal of you at any time. Even if they set you free, you will not leave your family and your rations of food behind. You do not want to throw away your resting place, and a small amount of pigeon food. Yet you let your descendants became the slaves of mankind. You will need a leader, but first you must free your soul—and understand what a soul is. Why don’t you come with me and we can try to ask my mother?"

I cannot tell now whether it’s the old pigeon or myself I want to educate about the soul. Perhaps it is both.

"I already have one foot in the grave," he tells me, "and my pigeon cage is safe. Where shall I look to understand the soul? I wouldn’t recognize a soul if I saw one, and I wouldn’t know where to look for it. And how will it help me if I find mine? Here our lives are peaceful. Nothing happens, and our lives are tranquil. How can I ask others to give up such a life to find something whose value we cannot see?"

I contemplate the old pigeon’s words—which sound wise at first but, on reflection, are entirely wrong. Suddenly I feel ashamed, embarrassed, to find myself holding such a philosophical discussion with these pigeons, these soulless birds. I decide to go and find my mother.

Strange words replace mother's milk

At this point, a group of pigeons descends to the branch beside us. I hear them speaking among themselves, but I cannot understand their words. Perhaps they are using their own mother tongue. We also have some such foreigners occasionally flying to our place. Are they foreign vistors? Friends or relatives of the old pigeon? I cannot tell. Nor can I tell whether they wish to include me in their discussion.

"How are you, my child," the old pigeon asks, pecking at the feathers of a smaller pigeon.

"Not good. I'm hungry," the smaller pigeon replies. "Why doesn’t my mother feed me any more?" The small pigeon talks on about pigeon food—I think I hear the word corn or millet, or hemp. They use many different names for pigeon food that I don’t know. These tamed pigeons are very strange—so many of their words I don’t recognize.

"Your mother is trying to save all the nourishment for the siblings you will have soon," the old pigeon replies. "You have to wait for the humans to come and feed us."

"I cannot wait—I should fly out to the desert and look for myself," the young bird replies.

"Please listen to me, my good little boy. It is too dangerous—if you go there, someone will catch you and eat you. Please don’t go." The small pigeon tries to calm its expression. These pigeons all seem to listen to this elder of the group.

Acceptance of a caged life

These pigeons are living among humans who would catch them and eat them, but how they can do this I don’t understand. Have I misunderstood the word "eat"? Maybe it means the same thing as "care for" in their dialect. If this is a borrowed word, maybe I misinterpreted it. And yet this is an important word—every pigeon must know it. My mother tells me to be careful—"don’t let the humans catch you and eat you." If these pigeons fear being caught and eaten, how can they possibly have lived among humans? Perhaps they have even forgotten that they have wings, and perhaps they wouldn’t want to leave the pigeon cage to which they have grown so accustomed.

"So, how is our host?" the small pigeon begins to ask the old pigeon.

"Very well," his elder replies.

"But perhaps our host is like other humans, and would catch and eat us if given the chance."

"That is different," the elder replied. "The humans keep us in the pigeon cage to feed us, and it is right that they would eat us if necessary; it is a necessity for mankind to be able to catch us and eat us. That is the way it should be. No pigeon among us is permitted to object to this arrangement."

Who is the enemy?
Now I understand that "eat" has the same meaning here as it does at home. A moment ago I was trying to guess what exactly they mean when they say the word "eat." Now I don't have to guess any more.

"But our host has spilled all of our food—and the largest pigeon has eaten it all. I cannot begin to fight for the food I need. What can I do? I grow weaker and thinner by the day. I cannot survive this way for long."

"You too will grow up slowly, and you too will learn how to snatch a little food from around the big pigeon there. But you must on no account give away anything edible to others. That is how to survive here."

"But, grandpa—" the young pigeon starts.

"That's enough, my child. Don’t say any more. Pigeons should learn to be satisfied with what they have. Don’t try to argue for what is surplus to requirements."

A larger space

At this stage I feel compelled to speak, and I interrupt. "You have cut away at his freedom," I say. "You should give him a larger space. You should let him live at according to his own free will." I simply cannot remain silent. To live as the old pigeon suggests would destroy all fellowship among our species.

"Ah, you do not understand our situation," the older pigeon dismisses me. "To anger our host is impossible. If anyone disobeys his rules and ventures out from his territory, all of us will land inside a cage—staring out from behind bars for months. We would lose the very branch on which we are sitting."

What exactly is this thing, a pigeon cage? I have no hint, no clue. These pigeons say they are so terrified of landing in the cage, but at the same time they are afraid of losing it. Most perplexing of all is how any of these pigeons could bear to live among men. Have I discussed this with my own grandfather? I don’t believe he ever gave me a clear answer.

Instead I tell the older pigeon, "You sound exactly like one them—one of the men. Taking food from weaker and smaller pigeons and forbidding them to resist. Then you try very hard to cover your bad behavior. How can this environment provide for the growth and health of future generations? You are depraved—ignorant and stupid."

"Don’t insult the humans," he replies indignantly. "Without them, we wouldn’t be here today. Take your anti-human propaganda somewhere else."

How could he fail to see that I meant no harm—that I intended only to help? Perhaps I should explain further.