Literature being the common spiritual refuge for those living under totalitarian regimes, it is not surprising that the literary intelligentsia was among the first to speak out against Uzbekistan's cotton monoculture in the waning years of the Soviet era. Sadly, they are still decrying it twenty years later. Yodgar Obid, exiled now for seventeen years, hasn't stopped considering the effects of that subjugation to the cotton plan since he was born in the cotton fields back in 1940. In the next post, you can read one of his latest poems on the subject (in my poor English translation from Habib Usmon's sensitive Russian rendering of the Uzbek). After the break, find Nadezhda Ataeva's (director of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia) thoughtful introduction.
The world first heard the voice of poet Yodgar Obid in the spring of 1940, during weeding of the cotton fields—it was there he was born near the Uzbek city of Mirzachul.
Obid writes of work in the cotton fields from firsthand experience. He writes of children’s helplessness, and the bitterness of parents unable to save their children from cotton slavery. He himself helped his mother pick cotton from a very young age, and she, in gratitude, recited to him her own verses. He listened and dreamed of the day when he would become a poet and explore in verse his own vision of justice. His dream came true; he became not only one of the best contemporary Uzbek poets, but a unique witness to the cruelty of the regime governing his native country.
Yodgar Obid has spent his whole life speaking aloud those things which many in his homeland fear even to think. For over seventeen years he has been a forced political exile. He has never met his grandchildren, seen his children, and has met his wife again only three times. His only means of communicating for all of these years have remained the telephone, Radio Ozodlik [the Uzbek service of Radio Liberty where Obid is a frequent contributor] and his poetry.
An active figure in the human rights field, Obid tries to bring Uzbekistan’s child exploitation and the lack of free expression to the attention of the international community. Thousands attend his public readings, where his love of poetry commands the stage. Obid has dreamed for many years of walking again the streets of Tashkent and being able to speak aloud his work of many years. The traditional national manner of poetic declamation of the 19th century is a special feature of Obid’s artistry. For this he thanks his mother, who through her tears spoke her own verses to him as she picked cotton.