Who Was Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj?
A Family History
The tangle of history plays games with human fate, and it does not care whose fate. Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj has a long title - Secretary of the Political Bureau, Member of Government, Ambassador – in addition to being the founder of Mongolia’s modern literature. Born in 1906, Natsagdorj lived for just 31 years.
”From 1930, he was troubled by leftist ideologies and was arrested and jailed under the pretext of celebrating the New Year of 1932,” says the biographical section of a book of his selected writings published in 1961. He was released in 1932, but the worst was yet to come. In 1935, “his wife was sent back to Leningrad with their daughter Ananda Shri,” the biography states.
Nine Chistyakova and Natsagdorj had known each other since Natsagdorj was a student in the Military Academy at Leningrad. They married after he was released from jail.
”His wife and daughter went from Ulaanbaatar by ox cart on Altanbulag Road to the border of the Soviet Union, and from there went by train,” told Dr. L. Dashnyam, a man who helped Natsagdorj’s daughter, Ms. Shri, come back to Mongolia to live out the rest of her life. But the reason they left is still unclear. “They could have been sent by the government of Mongolia, or Ms. Chistyakova could have herself decided to leave the country because of anti-Russian sentiments in the country.”
Natsagdorj wrote the short story entitled Dark Rock in 1930, which talks about lost souls in love. The story seems a prediction of his family’s separation. Natsagdorj died in 1937, two years after his family left the country.
Coincidentally, or due to fate, a similar reason brought their daughter back to Mongolia in 1992. She had spent most of her life in Tallinn, Estonia. It was another tangle of history, during the political reforms fo Estonia, when Estonia refused to be part of the Soviet Union after Gorbachev’s perestroika, that brought her back.
First, she wanted to go back to St. Petersburg to her mother and younger sister, but life was not easy there, either. Then she remembered that she was originally from Mongolia. “She did not know how to come back, and just opened a telephone directory. She landed on the page of the Mongolian Consulate by complete coincidence. That decided it,” Dashnyam, her friend, whom she called ‘brother’ and ‘father’, stated. The government of Mongolia supported her with a flat and a monthly pension.
Ananda grew up not knowing about where she came from because her mother did not like to talk about Mongolia; she just knew that she was different from other Russian children. In her twenties, Mongolian writers and students in the Soviet Union started to visit her with many presents and paid extraordinary respects to her. From that time on, she began to realise that her father was a great Mongolian writer. But still, it was hard to learn about him because the translated works of Natsagdorj into Russian were poor, affected with Communist ideology.
But the only thing she wanted to find out about her father was the man, not the writer. For My Dad is one of her few poems that talk of her imagining a meeting with her father. The poem talks of a glowing autumn evening in her elder years when she remembers her father. He comes back to her very young and with dark, sad eyes, and looks at her with love, telling her that he has missed his only daughter in the foggy, far distance. He heard her calling back to him. The daughter seeks death to be with him, to have his love.
”For Ananda, death was not pain. Death was nothing to her,” remembers Dashnyam.
On New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1995, the telephone rang at Dashnyam’s home. Mrs. Tsolmon, the wife of current Prime Minister Enkhbayar, a close friend of Ananda, called asking if he knew whether anything had happened to Ananda, saying that she was not opening her door or answering the phone.
Enkhbayar and Dashnyam, together with police, opened her door with an extra key kept by Dashnyam, and saw her body, the sould of which had gone to meet her father in the foggy, far distance.
Ironically, Nina Chistyakova had just sent her daughter a letter with a newspaper clipping offering advice on how to live healthy.
”How I would like to invite Ananda’s younger sister to Mongolia, to show her the country of Ananda and Natsagdorj,” Dashnyam said, hoping to untangle history.
translated by A. Delgermaa
The summer nights are short, and the sun is already high in the sky at eight o’clock in the morning. I am barely awake, light a cigarette, and take out my diary, which is under the pillow, thinking of the new day.
A few, unclear words in my diary are hard to read. “Saturday, August 30. Dark Rock. Nina.” The meaning of the note is already forgotten and hard to understand. I read it one more time, slowly, and stop at the last word: Nina. Nina is the name of a girl whom I once loved, and my memory switches on like electricity for a moment, bringing back the days of hugging her, kissing in the shadow of an elm. Excited with the picture seen at the edge of my eyelashes, I swim in old memories. I am moved by the swimming more and more; the picture turns into dreams, and I doze. Being startled awake by the cigarette ash which fell on my chest, I begin thinking of the meaning of the note again.
Thinking of the name of the author, I remember the young, pretty girl with whom I fell in love seven years ago, but was separated from by mountains and seas, breaking hearts. Not knowing where she is, I try to find her, but fail, and am astonished at the absence.
But today, a little fire is kindled in my heart, seeing her name among the meaningless words in the diary. The note could have been her reminder, written when we parted from each other; but the meaning is still unclear. The words could not be a simple note, because Nina was not a simple woman; she was a scientist. Meditating that I hoped to find her if the meaning of the note could be revealed, I called for a cup of tea, continued my thoughts, still lying in bed. My cook looks at me, seems serious, and asks:
- Aya, Danjaad (the Chinese title for a person of respect), are you all right? Are you sick?
- I’m fine.
- I am worried, You don’t look well.
- Thank you, I’m simply tired.
I turned back, pulling the blanket over my head to continue my thoughts. The cook has left me, murmuring, “Aya”. The only solution among the few words was the date of Saturday, August 30. Dark Rock should be the name of a place, and that could be the place to meet. It seems the right meaning, and I search for the day on a calendar. Today is August 30, the Saturday. Hurrying out of bed, I order the cook to saddle my horse. He looked at me with big eyes, and went out muttering, “What’s going on, Danjaad?”
”Aya, saddled!” he shouts, and I quickly get up, taking my whip and mounting the horse. But I sat gazing at the ears of my horse for a long while, not knowing what direction to go to get to Dark Rock. My cook walks around me, mumbling, “What’s the matter? Have you forgotten something?” The restive horse cannot bear the long gaze, yearns for somewhere to go. It walked to the west as I let loose the reins. I go to the west where the horse goes. Suddenly, I realized that I had come to a desert, without people for miles. I am so thirsty, and my soul feels lonely.
Although the horse is sweating, it does not look tired. I’ve run against the wind for miles, passing hills. I opened my shirt and reached open steppe, with marshy soil and saltwort bushes. I see nothing in all four directions but dark clouds in the sky, foreboding rain. The state of the desert is not pleasant. I stayed for a while lost in thought. The rustling autumn wind makes me sad. It seems I am getting lost in the vast desert instead of finding Nina.
Suddenly, the horse’s ears stand erect, startled by a sound. An animal – hard to tell whether a wolf or a fox – is running in front of me. I go quickly to him. The animal was neither a wolf nor a fox, but a dog. The dog wagged its tail and drove us to the west. It looks like a watchdog or a hunting dog. There was hope of finding someone; and we clattered following the dog. He was driving us away from the marshy steppe, and the landscape was changing into a mountainous area with rich, green grass, with a mountain range to the far north-west having along river at its base. We passed over a hill. The dog slows, and soon I see a dusty hovel. No livestock are seen outside, and scraggly shrubs are growing at the entrance to the dwelling. A man came out and waved to the dog. I was happy to rest, despite not finding Nina, because of the half-day, tiring journey on horseback, which seemed a month-long trip. I tethered my horse outside and followed the man into the shack. He neatly sat on the left side. I greeted him after taking my seat on the antelope-skin bedding, which was in the rear to the right. The man looked in his early thirties, and worse a suede del with a leather belt.
He spoke in a strange dialect. A person, covered with a sheepskin del, lay to the left, and a white-gray head protruded from under the del blankets. The man served me with a pot of tea, kept warm by being placed in hot ashes, and a tray of marmot meat. Although the tea tasted like rainwater, and the meat smelt sour, my thirst and hunger persuaded me to eat and drink. I asked about the Dark Rock.
”I have lived here since I was an infant. I am a hunter and know the area well.” My heart pounds in my chest, but I was disappointed by the rest of his speech. “I’ve never heard of such a place.” I become helpless, not knowing where to go now.
The earth is wide, and no one knows where the Dark Rock is. The attempt could fail after hundreds of years, thousands of ages of searching all over the world. But thinking of Nina makes me suffer. I sat for a few minutes meditating on these thoughts. Then the old lady who was lying to the left, hardly raising her head, got up and prayed to what looked like an icon. The man calls out to her, “Grandma, Granda,” with a voice of wonder. I assumed that the old woman was performing her nightly worship, and I thought of leaving soon. Then she took something from the icon, gave it to the man, and said, “My son, that belonged to your forefathers. The boy might find the place he is looking for if he finds this type of stone.”
My ears grew wide to catch what the woman said. She continued, “That is said to be a dear thing found from somewhere unknown.” The man looked at it and reproached her. “You’re getting senile, Grandma. You’ll get the man lost,” he said, putting the stone down on the table. I hurriedly picked it up and dropped it on the floor because of its unexpected weight. The stone was cracked on its side, and I set it back on the table. Then, when the evening sunshine lay on the broken edge, it made the stone shine. My interest awoke again, and I decided to find the place where the stone had been found.
I was at the base of that mountain that I had seen from afar a few hours before the conversation at the shack. I crossed the deep river that ran below the edge of the mountain range. The ground is muddy and marshy, and there is no path. No animals are around, except for crows flying overhead.
The sky was darkening, and it became hard to inspect the stones. I climbed further, wary of falling rocks. I was already in the deep forest, and the rain, which had still been clouds at midday, started to fall. Strong winds wailed, trees rustled, and thunder roared. The ground was soggy with mud. A wolf howled somewhere. I had no sense of the points of the compass.
The purpose of the journey and the examination of stones are forgotten, and I am only thinking of saving myself. Although I am a believe in science, evil and demons come to mind. The rain comes down more heavily, the lightning streaks across the sky, the ground is too difficult to walk on, and I have lost my way back. The place is rocky and frightening. The name Dark Rock is just. There is no possible way that Nina will be here in such a dreadful place.
I decide to wait for sunrise. The horse is scared by something, and neighs frighteningly; it makes my bones shudder. The thing that scared my horse was briefly visible in the darkness, then vanished. I tried to follow it, but couldn’t find it again. My Nina had gone away, was lost forever.
This story was written in 1933. It concerns the rebellion of Buddhist lamas
which took place in north-west Mongolia in the early 1930s.
(translated by G. Tserendorj)
Towards the west of Mongolia is a majestic mountain range called the Khangai. The beautiful Ider River flows from this range, its rapid descent from the towering heights producing a glorious melody which thrills the ear. The river has been flowing like this for countless ages, oblivious to the deeds of man.
Just as this crystal river has flowed between its steep banks, so have man’s rituals, struggles and history continued on unceasingly.
High amongst the thickly forested mountains and rocky peaks, springs gurgle and bubble. From here, water flows through the deep ravines to be swallowed up by the river Ider.
Down through the ages, in the first few days of summer, the yellow rays of dawn stream over the mountains to the east, and the cuckoo sings out its glorious tune to thrill the herdsmen who have been guarding the animals all night long. With the morning sun pouring forth, brilliantly illuminating the ravine from which the river flows, the many flowers glittering like a white layer of hoarfrost against the background of the dark trees, summer has truly begun; and the spirits of nomadic herdsmen are immediately uplifted.
On one beautiful morning just like this, a number of smart white Mongolian tents, called gers, were to be seen on a prominent hill to which herds of horses, sheep, camels, cows, and goats were grazing. After a short while, four or five hundred sheep left the rest of the animals and grazed off in a westerly direction. From the southwest of the group of gers, a young man appeared, mounted a three-year-old gelding which had been kept tied up, and followed after the sheep, directing them this way and that.
If one looked carefully, the youth was about twenty-three or twenty-four years of age, his face was beaming, and his eyes were aflame. He looked like just an ordinary, healthy young man. He was wearing a traditional Mongolian costume called a del, which was made of blue cotton. Around his waist was a greenish yellow silk sash. In those days, in Mongolia, many men had their hair in pigtails, but this young man had no pigtails; he was wearing a trilby, tilted to one side.
The young man’s small black horse was high-spirited and continually trying to run around in circles. The young man, whose name was Bold, was pulling the reins and trotting after the sheep. He went to where the sheep were standing, intently munching the fresh grass, not raising their heads for even one second. This was on a hill, a little west from the gers. Here, Bold dismounted, hobbled his horse to stop it wandering off, and sat down on a stone where he sat looking first in one direction, then another, taking in the seasonal changes around him.
His head moved from side to side as he gazed at the bright cloudless sky which spread out in all directions to the beautiful horizon, whilst all the animals continued to graze in this place and that, eating the green grass and drinking from the clear waters of the river. While musing on the seasons of the year and the fact that summer had really come at last to refresh every living thing, his spirits rose. As he watched the sights around him – the mountain and the waters of the river, all pulsating with life – he filled his chest with the pure air, appreciating to the utmost the glory of the glory of the Mongolian steppe. “The emotions of nomadic herdsmen and all the Mongol people must be uplifted by the wide, beautiful steppe,” he said to himself, and yet again his emotions were stirred as he looked intently into the valley in front of him.
Several years before, Bold had gone to school in a foreign country, and he had just returned by way of the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar. Soon, he would be going back to Ulaanbaatar to work for the government. Today, he was to herd the sheep with his friend Balgarmaa, a girl he had long known. He was very much looking forward to meeting her again in the freedom of the steppe, to discuss their plans and to share with each other their deepest feelings. One second Bold was drinking in the beauty of the waters of the river and mountains, the next he was rejoicing in the thought of meeting again with Balgarmaa.
The idea of taking her with him to the city made him more and more excited. As he sat, expectantly waiting, a smart-looking horse and rider were to be seen coming directly towards him from the south. The rider, who was sitting very upright and steadily in the saddle, was indeed Balgarmaa. After he had checked that the herd of sheep was safe, Bold wrinkled his forehead and, leaning on his whip, stood up and started to hurry to meet her. Suddenly, from the north came the sound of two gunshots, one after the other. Quickly, Bold turned to see three riders descend from the mountain peak just behind him. Bold was surprised, and immediately began to think that the men must be robbers, bandits, or hunters. For a few seconds, nothing seemed to happen, so he decided to go and find out what was going on. Just as he started towards his horse, the three men trotted up to him, and one of them shouted like a madman.
”Stop where you are and put your hands up!”
Although Bold felt very frightened, he did not show his fear, but asked, “Who are you? What do you want from me?”
He looked very carefully at them, one by one. The first was an old man with a swarthy face. He was wearing a yellow silk del with braiding around its edges, just like women usually wear. He had a colourful scarf round his neck, which gave him the air of a wandering Buddhist lama priest. He also had a sabre hanging from his belt, and there was a gun slung across his back. These sort of clothes were more suited to an actor in a play. He was looking at the other men like a hungry wolf, and was clearly no ordinary man. The second man was obviously not a lama of any kind. He wore a blue silk del and a hat just like a big ball, with a red Mandarin button on the top of it, which showed that he had been an official whilst the Manchurians were still in power in Mongolia. He also had a rifle across his back. Sewed to the front of his del was a piece of white material with Tibetan letters on it. Bold was surprised to see this, and he grew very suspicious as the Tibetan letters meant that in spite of his appearance, this man was Buddhist. The last man was much younger. He had a white scarf round his head, a gun which had a new catch on his back, and was holding a large whip. He looked just like a wayside robber. The three men and their horses were all sweating a great deal.
All three looked evilly at Bold, and the old man who appeared to be a lama said, in a demanding tone, “You question us, will you? Then we will question you! What is your name? Where is your home?”
Next, the man with the Mandarin button on his hat said to Bold, in a very threatening manner, “Take off your hat! Let me see your head. You have very tidy hair… What are you a member of? Speak up!”
The third man asked Bold, “Why haven’t you got a pigtail? Why didn’t you prepare food and fresh horses for us?”
Bold was taken aback. He stared at the men, shaking his head, and said, “It is all very odd. Clothes like yours are not to be seen anywhere nowadays. You talk just as though you were wild animals. What are you here for, and who in fact are you?”
When he asked this, one of the men pointed a gun at him and said, “We are going to catch people, tie them up, rob and kill them. We will stop at nothing.” Then they tied Bold up very securely, using reins. Bold’s face grew dark. He was shaking with indignation, his teeth tightly clenched, waiting to see what would happen.
After this, the men asked Bold, “Where are your horses? Where is your home? Is there a shop nearby?” and tightened his bonds.
Bold realised what kind of people these were, and so refused to answer them. The three men, picking up a sheep, said to Bold, “We will take you to our headquarters, and you will cook for us,” and rode off towards the west, leading Bold along on a horse and carrying the sheep.
They were going along when Balgarmaa emerged on her horse from the side of the track and blocked off the men’s path. Bold sat on his horse looking at her, saying nothing. The three men asked Balgarmaa what her name was, questioning her in the same way they had questioned Bold.
She was afraid, so she replied, “I don’t… I don’t know,” and refused to give any other answer.
Although the three men had previously been shouting at the girl and had been aggressive towards her, they seemed to calm down a little and said, “Come with us and become our leader and princess.”
Because of the peculiar situation, Balgarmaa had kept her horse at a reasonable distance from the men and was holding the reins very tightly. When Bold surreptitiously winked at her, she immediately grasped the situation, touched her horse with her whip, and galloped off. Two of the men chased after her, leaving the third with Bold. Balgarmaa’s horse was very fresh, so she fled like lightning, and at last disappeared into the distance without being caught.
It was already one o’clock in the afternoon. All round, the mountains, the morning’s blue sky had given place to dark clouds. A cold wind had got up, and looked like rain. Bold had been led along by the three men for some time now; the leather cords were cutting into his flesh, and because of the pain, his face was taking on more and more of a sickly hue. Where they were going, and what would happen, he had no idea. He was nodding with fatigue, and at times, his vision became so blurred that he could scarcely see his captors. He heard snatches of their conversation, which sounded very unpleasant.
”This leader… That leader… that reincarnation… the goddess Tara…,” and, “It will be very good if we kill people honorably like this…”
While the sun was sinking in the West, they were still travelling though a valley. Shortly, they arrived at the men’s headquarters, which was a small Buddhist monastery. On the roof of the main temple, there was a large golden motif called a gangir, which glinted and shone in the rays of the evening sun. It was a picture of peace and tranquility. Who would ever think that right beside this place where the devout came and worshipped, people would be cruelly butchered?
There were flags, which flapped in the wind, fastened to the doors at the side of the monastery. One of these flags pictured a horse adorned with jewels, which was intended to bring good fortune. Inside the monastery were a number of Mongolian gers with several hundred men, women, and lamas nearby. Some of the people were standing in groups, whilst others moved about. Even at an appreciable distance, the chinking of chains mixed with sounds of crying, and people being beaten could be heard. These noises were coming from some of the gers on the left. The scene very much disturbed Bold. Never had he heard of people being treated like this. It must be a nightmare or tale of long ago. He found he just could not watch.
When the three men stopped in front of the ger farthest to the right, three people came out and led away their horses. Bold was made to dismount, and was led on for a distance to where ten or more people, both young and old alike, were being kept tied up. After having his legs put into fetters, he was left alone.
Although Bold had never met these people before, and had no idea who they were, he nevertheless greeted his new companions warmly. On asking why they had entered such a place, he discovered that many of them were incapable of speech. However, two of the prisoners were able to tell him in feeble voices, “We are waiting here to die. Everything is hopeless. If they kill us… Well, that’s just fate.”
As Bold continued to ask questions, further shocks awaited him. A man who was just over forty told him, “This place is Ochirbat’s headquarters. Actually, if one were to look at it well, it could be described as Ochirbat’s hell.” The man continued, “My son is at present working for the government, so when they caught me and brought me here, they questioned me for over four days. Lately, they have been going about killing ordinary people who live in the area and destroying their animals. Nearly all the lamas and their followers have been behaving like ferocious wild animals who know of nothing other than killing and destroying. No one has ever seen such dangerous creatures like these before.”
Amongst the prisoners was a man of twenty-seven or twenty-eight. Some time earlier, the leader of the revolt had blessed a number of truncheons and given them to his soldiers, telling them to go out and fight. This man had refused to obey, and so the leader said that on the following day, he would pull out all the sinews of the man’s body and put him to death.
When Bold asked this man what had caused the nasty-looking wound on his left cheek, the man could only mutter, “Yesterday, they beat me on the cheek with something like a shoe.”
Through seeing and hearing what had happened to these people, Bold felt greater and greater pity for them, but at the same time, he just could not comprehend the tremendous cruelty to which they had been subjected. He was in utter despair.
Just at that moment, the three men who had captured Bold came out from the gers on the right, accompanied by three or four other people. Their eyes were staring wildly, and their teeth were bared. One of them pointed to the prisoners and said, “I will kill these people in the way I have already started to kill them. You must kill in the same way.”
To Bold, this sounded like the evil, man-eating demon which Mongols call Mangas. Another of the people with the three men was a girl wearing a green del with a scarf round her neck. She suddenly started swaying and calling out as if in a trance. When the others heard her, they declared that she was indeed the goddess Tara. Still swaying, she approached Bold, pointed a pistol at him, laughed, and having said, “I will kill you tomorrow,” went away with her companions.
That morning, before his capture, Bold had gone off quite ordinarily. No one could have been expected to guess what had happened to Bold that evening. Bold’s family had been surprised when the sheep did not return at midday.
Evening came, and there were still no sheep, so they just thought to themselves, “I wonder if his horse has strayed. What can have happened?”
At sunset, when Balgarmaa arrived and asked whether or not Bold had returned, they became anxious and told her that they had not seen him. After Balgarma related to them what had happened, Bold’s father and elder sister immediately saddled their horses and went off to try to find him.
While the family was talking about the three men who had led Bold away, an old man called Gongor was sitting listening. Gongor was a direct descendant of Chinggis Khaan. Before the revolution of 1921 in Mongolia, people who were related to Chinggis Khaan were called Taij. Often, they had servants who worked for them and helped them to pay off their debts. Over the last winter and spring, Gongor had gone a number of times to the Tariat Buddhist where he had met the lamas. He had in fact known a little about the forthcoming revolt, but because he was afraid, had told no one about it. While he was sitting and listening to what had happened, he began to feel a little faint, and became very restless. He started to think up a way in which he could get the lamas to introduce him to a fortune teller to find out what had happened to Bold. Still thinking this over, he rapidly put on an old-fashioned del he had worn before the revolution, hid his taij’s official Mandarin button in the front of his del, went outside, mounted his horse, and rode off in the direction of the monastery.
As Gongor was riding along, darkness fell, and in the twinkling starlight, he began to think to himself, “When our lord and rulers at last come to power again, they will subdue the people. I will somehow have to win their favour, but if I try to help Bold now, it may well make the situation difficult for me in the future. Besides, with Bold safely out of the way, I will be able to gain power over his family and eventually take over all they possess.”
As these thoughts came to Gongor, he began to get excited. His heart beat rapidly, and, drooling at the mouth and puffing out his chest, he stood in the stirrups and rode proudly on.
Back in the ger where Bold’s family lived, everyone was worried and did not know what to do. Suddenly, from outside, a man’s voice called, “Don’t let your dog bite me!” Bold’s mother immediately went to see who it was. As she got outside the ger, the man, whose name was Baldan, was just dismounting from his horse. The horse was dripping with sweat and panting noisily. After greeting Bold’s mother, Baldan entered the ger where he greeted everyone, sat down, and was given tea to drink. He told them, “To the north, just after I had left a shop, bandits arrived, entered the shop, and set fire to it. People say that the shop-keeper caught one of the raiders and almost killed him. If this raider is put to death, people say there will be a great uprising. Nothing has happened like this since that trouble all those years ago at the country offices in the north-west.”
Everyone, both young and old alike, were horrified when they heard this and began to get hysterical. Bold’s mother screamed, “My son!” and fainted on the ground. Balgarmaa, who was sitting beside the fire in the centre of the ger, grew very angry and burst into tears. Bold’s grandfather was grieving deeply for his grandson. He went over to Baldan to discuss with him the question of what to do, and as to whether the whole family should move out of the area away from the trouble.
In the midst of the hysterical crying and general confusion, Baldan said to Bold’s grandfather, “This crying and excitement will never put things right. At this very moment, the People’s Army are on their way here from the city. Someone must go and tell them what has happened and show them the place where these rebels are hiding out. This is the only way in which we have any chance of ridding ourselves of this trouble. My horse is utterly exhausted, and my sight is bad. You are too old to go. Are there any younger people here who could go? Where is your neighbour Gongor? He could easily go.”
Although Balgarmaa was sitting over by the fire crying, she overheard what Baldan said, and, rising to her feet, declared, “I’ll go!”
Everyone exclaimed, “That’s hopeless. It’s dark outside, and you don’t even know where the rebels are. Besides what can a girl on her own like you do?”
Balgarmaa retorted, “But if I don’t go, who else is there to go?” and walked out of the ger.
Outside, it was already very nearly dark, and as she looked up, Balgarmaa could see the stars twinkling in the vast expanse of sky. Her piebald was restlessly moving about and twitching its ears. When Balgarmaa untied it and mounted, it pawed the ground excitedly. Riding out from amongst the gers, she galloped away in a southeasterly direction. The night was very dark, now, and it was very difficult for the defenceless young girl to know the best way to go.
The moon’s thin crescent was sinking in the night sky, a wind had got up, and Balgarmaa felt rather nervous. She was thinking about herself and Bold.
There had been long gaps between their meetings, and now it seemed that the gaps were fated to grow even longer. Balgarmaa went through the high mountain pass into the inky blackness of the dense forest. As she rode over the ridges of the rough ground, she kept hearing cracking noises coming from the dark trees around her. It was impossible to maintain any sense of direction. Consequently, her horse continually had to stop, often losing all track of the path. Balgarmaa suddenly grew very frightened. She had come with the noble intention of helping to save human life, but now it seemed to her that she was doomed to become the prey of the wolves.
In spite of her fears, she struggled on until suddenly, from amongst the trees, a shot rang out, and a bullet whistled over her head. The sharp crack of the gun caused her horse to buck, making Balgarmaa sway to and fro. Two soldiers appeared from the side of the path, cocked their guns ready to fire, and demanded, “Who are you?” Balgarmaa immediately recognised them as soldiers of the People’s Army; and although she was overjoyed to see them there, she felt a little awed by their presence. After she had explained all that had happened, according to their orders, they escorted her back to their commanding officers.
During the rest of that night, the soldiers questioned Balgarmaa and explained to her the situation as they knew it. At dawn, she accompanied the soldiers along the road, her heart racing as she saw Bold in her mind’s eye. “Has he lost his life?” she kept wondering. At first, she had been very afraid; but not wanting to return home, she had told the officers all she knew, guiding them by her knowledge of the area, and had now forgotten her fear – even looking forward to the noise of the guns being fired in the coming conflict.
In the place where Bold was being kept tied up, no one could possibly have known what the future would bring. Although the ten or so people who were tied up with him dreaded what morning would bring, they remained calm and strong of heart. Continually, thoughts of all the people – of orphans, mothers and fathers – who would be left behind caused them to draw long, anguished sighs. At long last, dawn came, and the bright morning sun rose and shone its clear rays upon them.
The man who called himself the leader of the rebels was sleeping on a rug. Having awoken and got up, he declared his intention of killing two or three people. It sounded just like a starving animal talking. In just the same way as the Mongols used to kill sheep, the man knew out his knife, took hold of a prisoner, and disembowelled him, the knife ripping noisily through the tissue. The prisoner cried out in intense pain, writhing about on the ground until at last his heart was pulled out, and, with a last gasp, died. The sight was unbearably disturbing. As the man’s eyes closed in death, there was the question of who would be next.
The leader, together with his companions, were prowling around like ferocious wild animals. Because it was so awful to have to watch people being killed, Bold thought it would be better to be put to death immediately; so when they came up to the prisoners to choose another victim, he called out, “Take me now.”
They retorted, “You don’t really want that,” and led another man away.
This man was shaking uncontrollably, his eyes wide with terror; and although he begged to be put to death quickly by being shot, the stone-hearted men replied, “Because you have asked us to shoot you, we are going to prolong the agony of your death.” After having said this, two or three men pushed him down to the ground, slit his body open, and removed the veins and tendons one by one. The man cried out in agony. His torment continued for three or four hours, when the men, having had their day’s amusement, walked away, leaving him lying on the ground half-dead. That they had had enough was at least of some comfort to the prisoners.
It was almost as though the hell of the Buddhist god of death had come to earth. The lamas, believing that each type of domestic animal had a spiritual mother, were killing people in sacrifice to the animals’ mothers. Although some of the prisoners thought privately about suicide, they were unable to do anything. The awful events of the day had left such an imprint on them that, at night, they relived everything in their mind’s eye, suffering greatly.
Everyone was utterly exhausted; so, in spite of their thoughts and fears, they dozed for a short while before dawn came. Suddenly, everyone was aroused from their slumber by the terrific roar of a gun which had been positioned overnight on the side of the nearby mountain by the People’s Army. The gun’s noise was very sweet to the ears of the prisoners, truly lifting their downcast spirits.
Every single person among them felt relieved, and bravely declared, “Now, even if we are killed, it doesn’t matter. The time for these butchers to die has come at last.”
The rebel leaders ran off to get ready to send their soldiers into action. The old women, the lamas, and everyone else stood up with their ancient guns, swords, bows and arrows, and clubs dangling. Handfuls of earth, which had been prayed over, spat on, and blessed by lamas, were given to the soldiers with the purpose of protecting them by placing it inside the front of their dels.
Their leader announced, “We are now going to fight against the People’s Army and their machine guns,” after which the people with guns marched off, followed by several hundred others. To watch them go was really quite a ludicrous sight.
At that moment, an airplane flew overhead, causing the entire force to break ranks and fall on the ground with fear. The People’s Army came up with their machine guns, rapidly shooting the enemy as they tried to flee. In a very short time, the whole situation had completely reversed itself, and at the north of the monastery, a red flag was to be seen. The former prisoners were rejoicing; and when the People’s Army started cheering, the oppressive atmosphere left by the evil cruelty of the enemy vanished, and the spirits of all were uplifted.
Balgarmaa had been following the People’s Army, galloping along behind them proudly. She was agitated in not knowing what had happened to Bold, and was anxiously looking round at the remains of the people who had been killed. When she came with the soldiers to the group of people who were tied up, she suddenly saw Bold, clasped him tightly, and, with tears flooding from her eyes, fell at his feet.