| Diwan Special issue|

Alija H. Dubočanin

Born in 1945 in Bosanski Dubočac (B&H), lives in Sarajevo (B&H).


I have to go to the beginning again. To my childhood. Except that, for me the time of childhood is not some mysterious beginning, nor is it somewhere far away in time, but instead it is here, it is an integral part of my wholeness, and I enter these spaces easily and without looking for something that does not exist in them, but trying to clearly see what they truly contain. And there is all sorts of sorrow and beauty, from morning till night, from dusk till dawn, from the cradle to the gravestone, from mother’s milk to elderly silence. Images swarm, and that is the first sign that they must be tamed, sounds must be muffled in order not to become lost in that polyphony, and the motley of impressions must not be spilled like a summer rain shower. Someone quick to judge would quickly determine: a common Bosnian impoverished childhood. The north of Bosnia. The Sava river. Bosanski Dubočac. Everything is worn and torn, so that even the families seem somehow incomplete, as if each lacks somebody. The čaršija1 with its bay-windowed houses, its mosque, the ragged cultural centre, everything crooked and old, and you try to get a breath of joy out of all that. Nothing to it, for everything there is joy itself. It is there that I first found out, and clearly saw, that there are more of us under the ground then above it. There I was clearly taught that there is no definite border between the living and the dead, and that is where I saw a man sitting with his back up against a gravestone for the first time. To this day I don’t know who supported whom, there. And everything that was said and done then and there went in all directions, both under the ground and into the sky. I later wrote many pages about the faces, the remarkable human faces. For a long, long time I could not understand a pair of hands that crumbled the earth with particular care, as if that earth were made of human bones.

1 Old town centre usually dating from the Ottoman rule.

A child, desirous of everything, as everything is desirous of a child, with a book in his hand is looking for a quiet place in the yard to sit and read, and he finds that place in the garden underneath the old plum-tree that nobody is allowed to chop down. He reads. His mother sees him and joyously exclaims: ”Remember yourself, son! Remember!” Later, in my early student days, writing my young stories, I often talked to that sentence of my mother, and the incentives were various. Remember yourself, son! Everything was there in those clear words of my mother, closed up like an extraordinary chest, only I did not have the key to unlock it. Remember yourself, son! When I heard for the first time that I was a ”damned Bosnian” followed closely by: ”Pejt v svojo Bosno!”, at the same moment I heard from somewhere inside of me – Remember yourself, son! And I remembered. But, let us return to that first memory. A child studies and remembers himself. It doesn’t matter what he studies, perhaps geography, perhaps science, the child remembers himself. He remembers himself in everything. In the plants, in the green corn leaves, in the calm flow of the Sava, in the rustle of the sister’s songs and the mother’s skirts, in the flight of the turtle-dove over the orchard in May. On the feeble, but young paths, the mud rose and ran away when it heard those wondrous words: remember yourself, son!

But remembering yourself does not mean forgetting others by any means. On the contrary! You cannot remember yourself extricated from the world, from the entirety of objects and phenomena that surround you. The one who remembers himself best is the one whose roots soak up healthy sustenance, whose roots branch out richly and provide their stalk, their rememberer, with the best. When remembering, it is not good to look solely at the ground. The sky above the young head also has some tales to tell.

And today?!… ”Values are dying, and malice and evil are on the rise. It seems that good is wilting and evil is swelling, that reason is being eclipsed, that the truth is retreating, defeated, before evil, that the judges have been given the task to judge with prejudice and be the gravediggers of justice. The oppressed are accepting violence, and the assailant has his nose high up in the clouds. It seems that greed has cleaved its jaws and wants to swallow both what is at hand and what is removed from it, it

seems that the pulse of joyful living has ceased, that the wicked are climbing reach the sky, and the good are hiding underground. Human dignity has been cut down and thrown into a deep gorge, the value of human shallowness is rising and power passes from the hands of the honest and capable into the hands of the incompetent. This world seems joyful and happy, but from the depths of human souls, a voice whispers: There is no more happiness, evil has risen like a vampire!” It’s as if you have already read these words somewhere. Perhaps in yesterday’s newspaper? No, these young words, from the citation, are old. They stem from ”Panchatantra”, and in the Arabic version of ”Kelil and Dimn”, and the book was written by the wise Bejdeba, and translated into Arabic by Abdulah ibn El-Mukafa in the eighth century. No, by the way, El-Mukafa dies in torturous pains in his 32nd year. And that was the ”language” of power. And these words from the citation reached us thanks to the learned Besim Korkut.

So, with some rosy sorrow, I spread the curtains before my eyes, I open the window and look out at the world and the age I live in, at the day I breathe in, and the unhappy human faces, and clearly, still a boy in that garden, I hear the words of my mother: ”Remember yourself, son! Remember!”

Muslimanski glas (The Muslim Voice), May 24, 1991

Translated by Ulvija Tanović


There is a beautiful house in Sarajevo that they call the Lodge. They say that it is no myth nor legend, whoever spends the night in that house dreams such fantastic, such simply glorious dreams. In any case, these days, some invisible people spent their nights and days in that house. They are invisible because they are driven up to the Lodge in those dark limousines, and for the few steps from the limousine to the door of the house they hide behind some broad-shouldered men, so they are, really hard to spot. As I said, invisible. But, think about it, with some friends from Europe (I wonder where we’re from), and the wide world, in that Lodge, they dreamt a completely visible dream. So, they dream that, God forbid, you, inhabitants of Bosnia and Herzegovina, you, townsfolk, and you, peasants, can no longer live together. Next to each other you can, but together you can’t. It appeared to them thus in their dreams, so now you Serbs, Croats and Muslims, be patient a while longer, you will have instead of this cramped and impoverished, this degraded beyond all limits, but also this collective Bosnia in which even your sons mixed, you will now each have your own Bosnia, your own religion. That will solve all the problems. We are entering the ”golden age of Bosnia”, because from one cramped Bosnia we will make three spacious ones in which everyone will be able to breathe deeply, and nobody will in that primitive, backward Bosnian way come over for coffee whenever they feel like it and interpret their own dreams on top o that. Knowing Herzegovinians, they won’t tarry behind the Bosnians, so we’ll have three Herzegovinas, too. Wonderful, we’ll have three Bosnias and three Herzegovinas, and it will all be just wonderful. Because, they interpret their dream, each village will say which Bosnia they want to be in. So, my dears, don’t be surprised if one golden morning you see a whole village in the sky, floating towards its religion and freely choosing where it will land. True, those that dreamt this wonderful dream did not say what would happen with our Jews, Romanies, Czechs, Turks, Yugoslavs, Italians, Albanians and all the other people that breath in this Bosnia. That, I suppose, they’ll dream up later.

So, I got a bit frightened, because I’m not used to such beauty. Nothing will chafe me any longer, but I had already befriended each stone that chafed me. Yes, there will be no more stones, not even kidney-stones, and no more nationalism, no more terrorism, no more protectionism, no more separatism, no rheumatism, etc. Each person, each beast, each fruit and even each weed will attend a referendum and say where it wants to live. We will peer underneath each ballot, examine its roots a thousand kilometres far and deep, and then place it on the appropriate reservation. We will live next to each other. Furthermore, as a surplus of beauty, if we are good and obedient, if we don’t breathe too deeply, we will have at least three of everything: three Sarajevos, three Banja Lukas, Mostars, Varešes, Zenicas, Dobojs, Derventas, oh, it will be a unique case in the world, by dividing, we’ll add ourselves up. We’ll also have three Neretva rivers. Yes, it will be Muslim for a bit, then a bit Serb and then a bit Croat. Here, you can choose the order yourselves. For, the people will learn to divide everything that can be divided, and we must show the world this remarkable ability. We’ll hoard money from tourism, because people will no longer have to go to those black Africas on safari and on research trips to reservations, we’ll arrange all of that for them here. Whoever discovers anything undivided, even if it is just an atom of anything at all, that person should immediately bring or report that insubordination, that insolent atom that has no intention of dividing, to the nearest academy of sciences. Now, since each reservation will be inhabited by nothing but kin and in-laws, there will be no more armies, nor police, nor courts, because who’s going to fight whom when they are surrounded by utter safety, so academies and schools of all kinds of artificial and artistic skills will blossom. Of course, not even birds will be permitted to behave destructively any longer, and that means: no more of building a nest, say, on a Croat poplar and then going off to catch and feed on Muslim worms. You won’t be able to pass through Bosnia from all the orderliness and beauty.

I’m telling all of this to a dear acquaintance of mine, whom I had-n’t seen in months and he’s just looking at me, quiet, and then he seems to wink at me. I take a closer look and find out that he isn’t winking, but he can’t open both eyes all the way, and then again, the left one he can’t keep closed in broad daylight. He keeps blinking and blinking! I ask him what’s the matter, why he doesn’t believe me, and why doesn’t he look with eyes wide open. And you know what he says: man, I just got back from the front lines, for months I just kept aiming and aiming and aiming… and now I can’t open my eyes wide, so that’s why I walk like this, still aiming at people a little bit. So I see that it’s no joking matter, whatever the man looks at, to him it’s a target.

Truly, people, there is a wondrous Lodge in Sarajevo and whoever stays there for longer starts to dream even when awake, and when he wakes up completely, he starts to tell us about his glorious dreams. And there are people who are very gentle, so those dreams make even their children shiver in the cradle.

Still, do you know, because I don’t, who’s lodging with whom tonight in that wondrous Lodge. Because, it may be that we, the so-called common, little people never wake up in their dreams. Never!

Muslimanski glas (The Muslim Voice), March 27, 1992, No. 49, year III

Translated by Ulvija Tanović


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