May 2005  | This Issue

A Little
Oil Lamp

Scene4 Magazine-Ali and Nino

Adapting A Novel
for the Stage
Part 3

by Ned Bobkoff


Part 2

Part 1

Part 3: Abduction, War, Humor, and Tragedy

achararyan is a clever Armenian, who loves to go to the opera with Ali and Nino. A fat and affable hedonist, he nibbles on chocolates and passes them around like, well, chocolates. Sweetening every remark he makes with finesse. When he discovers Ali Khan in a rage over Nino’s father’s decision to put the couple’s marriage off, he offers to intervene on Ali’s behalf.  “Who does Kipiani think he is?” Ali exclaims. “The House of Shirvanshir is older than the Kipianis. Under Agha Mahammad Shah we destroyed the whole of Georgia! Then any Kipiani would have been only too pleased to give his daughter to a Shirvanshir! What does he mean, difference in religion?  Is Christianity better than Islam? A Christian refusing me his daughter?  We Mohammedans are wolves who have lost their teeth!”  

Ali is on the verge of abducting Nino. Nachararyan calms him down by offering to intervene with Prince Kipiani on Ali’s behalf. “Kipiani has not refused you,” he says. “Of course, it is ridiculous to wait for the end of the war. He just doesn’t realize that his daughter has grown up. I’m not against kidnapping her. It is an old, well established way of settling things. But surely it is a last resort. Somebody should explain to the Prince the cultural and political significance of this marriage. I’m sure he’d come around then”.  “But who would do that?” Ali replies. “I will”, Nacharayan says, slapping his broad palm on his chest. “Depend on me, Ali Kahn”.  

Phone calls from Nino to Ali describe Nachararyan’s charm winning over her parents, adding humor. “Ali, Nachararyan is having tea with Poppa. He said that the magic of Baku lies in its mystical bond of its races and its people. He oozes wisdom like a crocodile oozes tears!”  And then, later: “Nachararyan says that the race of a peaceful Caucasus is forged on the anvil of Baku. He says that the moon was the first money. And that the power of gold coins over money was the result of the ancient moon cult of the Caucasians and the Iranians!” Ali laughs.  

In spite of their religious and cultural differences, and the historical enmities surrounding them, Ali and Nino struggle not merely to tolerate each other, but to understand their cultural differences. An abduction nearly pulls them apart. Remember the swift, magical Golden Horse of Karabagh, in Part 2 of this essay,  forged by the wildly imaginative Armenian story teller? When Ali is told by his fiercely rigid spiritual advisor, Seyid Mustafa, that Nachararyan has betrayed Ali and abducted Nino, elemental savagery is unloosed. Here the Golden Horse of Karabagh folk tale lifts the action above the common place. Ali is given the swift, magical horse to catch up to the couple in an automobile on the rutted roads of Azerbaijan. Pursuit mates with theatrical action: the thundering sound of a galloping horse, the dance of Ali’s whip….

ALI: One enormous jump and I was out of the barracks yard!  The wonderful horse reared up and raced on! Houses passed by, villages disappeared, the wind ate at my face - like a fist!  How quickly can a car go?  How swiftly runs a Karabagh horse? (Wolf howls) I bit the horse's neck, sinking my teeth deep into his flesh! The wonderful horse raced on...and on...and on! Suddenly, I heard it. The rattling of a motor car, a white stream of light....

(ALI leaps off the "horse", cocks his gun. Aims, fires. Tire blows out like a deflated toy balloon.  ALI throws the weapon away.  Draws his dagger .  NACHARARYAN holds a gun in the light, trembling.  ALI throws his dagger.  NACHARARYAN screams. His fingers spread, covered with blood. ALI jumps on NACHARARYAN, wraps his legs around his body.  Sinks his teeth into his neck.  NACHARARYAN cries out, a long, thin wail- like a dying wolf. His face turned up to the cold, dead moon. ALI hesitates, stabs him with the dagger. A lingering silence.)

ALI (with profound sadness): My blood or his? What difference does it make?

SEYID MUSTAFA (holding Nino tight): What's to be done with this woman? Her life belongs to you. Take it, or spare it.  The Law permits either.

MAMMAD HEYDAR: Kill her, Ali Khan!

ILYAS BEY: We'll throw her body into the sea...

(NINO'S face frozen in the moonlight.)

ALI: Take Princess Nino home.  You heard what I said. The night is cold, cover her up. I'll kill you, Ilyas Bey, if she is not taken home safely….

(ILYAS takes off his coat. Puts it around NINO's shoulders.)

ALI: Seyid, take me home. I'm bleeding.....

Large scale puppetry launches stage metaphors that hone in on big issues; like  the effects of war on people caught between opposing armies. When Ali and his man servant, a brigand, festooned with daggers, swords, pistols and ammunition, stumble down a mountain, rocks tumble around them like the distant sounds of war. A train is heard chugging away. A large puppet on stilts appears: the Mask Of The Prehistoric Monster - War. Little shaking dolls dangle from it; like desperate people hanging on to a belching, smoking train of violence.

KURBAN SAID (the narrator): The train slowly moved through the desert landscape.  Yellow sand stretching far into the distance. Little bald hills, soft and  round.  Weather beaten rocks glowing red….

(A CAMEL, another large puppet on stilts appears. It moves methodically with wide floppy steps; the monotonous tinkling of little bells around its neck.)

KURBAN SAID: If one camel stumbles, his bell goes wrong. If the rhythm of the caravan is disturbed,  the camel stumbles. Until unity is restored.  Then they  move on again as one. The camel, a bastard of animal and bird, graceful and awkward. Born from, and made for, the hot dreams of the desert.....

ALI: These Europeans with their wars, cities, Czars, Kaisers and Kings! We have a different rhythm and different faces.  Let the train rush to the west, my heart and soul belong to the East. Nino's dark eyes? Dark eyes are my native earth. The call of home to the son a stranger tries to lead astray. I will defend the dark eyes of my homeland from the danger - the invisible danger!

(The Mask Of The Prehistoric Monster alternates with the wide, floppy steps of the Camel. They go their separate ways. SUN SETS.)

Ali’s father tells the hot blooded hero that he belongs as much to the West as to the East. Ali’s education in Baku, his love for Nino, his allegiance to Baku and Azerbaijan bring him to the major dilemmas in the novel. Although Sayid Mustafa influences Ali enormously, Ali has learned to take matters into his own hands. When Ali escapes arrest for his revenge killing of Nachararyan to a bucolic village in Daghistan, Sayid brings Nino to him. The couple manage to work around the stigma of the abduction. Their feelings defeat the gloom and a quiet miracle occurs.  

ALI: (shouting) Seyid! Call a mullah and another witness! I'm getting married!

Seyid Mustafa (shouting back): I'm not calling any Mullah, I'll marry you myself!  I am entitled to do that!

(SEYID enters, sits. Methodically puts down an ink pot and a pen. Unfolds a sheet of paper. Dips a bamboo pen into the ink.)

SEYID MUSTAFA: In the name of God, the All-Merciful. What is your name, sir?

ALI: Ali Khan Shirvanshir. Son of Safar Khan of the House of Shirvanshir.

SEYID MUSTAFA: And your religion?

ALI: Mohammedan. Shiite. In the interpretation of Iman Dshafar.

SEYID MUSTAFA: What is your desire?

ALI: To make public my wish to take this woman as my own.

SEYID MUSTAFA: What is your name, my lady.

NINO: Princess Nino Kipiani.

SEYID MUSTAFA: What is your religion?

NINO: Greek Orthodox.

SEYID MUSTAFA: What is your desire?

NINO: To be this man's wife.

SEYID MUSTAFA: Do you wish to retain your religion, or to change it to that of your husband?

NINO (without hesitation): I wish to retain my religion.

SEYID MUSTAFA: Now you sign.

NINO: Which name do I sign with?

SEYID MUSTAFA: Your new name.

NINO (a steady hand): Nino Khanim Shirvanshir.

SEYID MUSTAFA (to ALI): Now you sign.

(ALI bends over to the sign the document)

 SEYID MUSTAFA (whispers in his ear) If it is true what she tells you, love her.  If it is not true, we'll kill her tomorrow.

ALI: Get that out of your mind, Seyid. Now!

(Ali signs. Seyid Mustafa rises, bows to Nino, exits.  Ali slips in besides Nino on the mat. He wraps the blanket gently around her. LIGHTS FADE as we hear the women outside in the village singing again.)

When the Czarist soldiers attack Baku, Nino is shattered by the horrific sounds of battle. They escape Baku with Ali’s father and Seyid Mustafa to Ali’s uncle’s palace in Tehran, Persia (now Iran). Nino awakes from the nightmare, and finds herself in a harem. Her revolt adds satirical humor to the scene.  

NINO: Where is your Asad es Saltaneh and all his harem?

ALI: In his city palace. His four wives are with him.  This is the harem, Nino.  The garden, the pool, and all the rooms around it.

NINO: This place?  So, I am imprisoned in a harem after all! I thought it would come to that. (SERVANTS quietly take up the remains of her meal.) These people, who are they?

ALI: Servants.

NINO: Good God, how many servants are there?

(ALI nods to YAHYA  GULU, the eunuch. YAHYA  GULU moves his lips quietly in ALI'S ear.)

ALI: About twenty eight people look after the harem, Nino. (to YAHYA GULU)

How many women are living here? You may speak up.

YAHYA  GULU: As many as you order, Khan.  At present there is only the one sitting next to you. But we have plenty of room.  This is your harem. (eyes  NINO) Tomorrow I'll dye her nails red. Before she goes to bed, I'll look into her mouth.

NINO: What! How dare you!

YAHYA  GULU: Women with bad teeth have foul breath. So I must see her teeth and smell her breath.

NINO: What does that creature think he's jabbering about? Does he think he's a dentist?

ALI (tactfully): Yahya Gulu. You are an experienced person. One who knows all about culture.  My wife is pregnant . She must be treated very carefully.  We will leave her education until she has the child.

YAHYA  GULU: You are very wise, Khan. Pregnant women are very slow to learn. There is a potion for making it a boy. But (glances at NINO'S slim figure), there  is plenty of time for that.

NINO: What did he say?!

YAHYA  GULU (ignoring her): Khan, I would not dare to disturb you, while you are enjoying the pleasures of your harem.  But the Seyd - a learned man from the House of the Prophet - awaits you.  In the Master Suite.

NINO: Seyd? Seyid Mustafa? Let him come in!

(YAHYA  GULU shocked.)

ALI (embarrassed): Seyid can't come in here, Nino. This is a harem.

NINO: What strange and funny customs. All right, let's see him outside!

(YAHYA  GULU totally disarmed.)

ALI: Nino, here in Persia things are different. Seyd really is a man - so?

(YAHYA  GULU averts his eyes.)

NINO: Are you telling me that Seyid isn't allowed to see me? That same Seyid who took me all the way to Daghestan - to see you?

ALI: That's about it, Nino. At least for the time being.

NINO: I am not afraid of machine guns. And I won't be afraid of your eunuchs. Especially this one! (Throws a pillow at YAHYA GULA, exits. )

Haunting Baliban folk music, played on the body and tongue of deep sounding flutes, transforms Ali's father's recitation of family history into a slow dance on the killing ground. Influenced by his father, Ali is a patriot, not a war monger. He refuses to fight until Azerbaijan is invaded by outsiders. He takes arms against the Czarist army, and then later the Bolsheviks who invaded Baku for its oil in 1920. The Bolsheviks, and their Armenian allies, smashed the short lived Azerbaijan nation. Although the Armenians were massacred by the Turks, they, in turn, massacred Azerbaijanis in the legendary area of Karabagh, and Baku. Go figure the logic out on that one. Ali's last words before his death, on the bridge of Gandsha, defending his homeland, says it all: "I will sleep until the trumpet calls me to the river again. Where my ancestor Ibrahim Khan Shirvanshir laid down his life for the freedom of his people." Azerbaijan achieved its independence in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Zarathustra's fire had come full circle.

 Fireworshipers Temple near Baku built by Zorostrastrians (Parsees from India)

“A nation that does not know its history, has no future”.

Winston Churchill

©2005 Ned Bobkoff
©2005 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Ned Bobkoff is a director and writer who has worked with performers from all walks of life, throughout the United States and abroad.
And he still doesn’t know how he managed to do that.
For more commentary and articles by
Ned Bobkoff, check the Archives.

Your Comments Are Appreciated -Click

Book cover - Persian Edition (1992)  and photos courtesy of Azerbaijan International.All rights reserved



All prior issues are secured in the Scene4 archives.
To access the Archives:

Scene4 Archives-Click
Scene4 Magazine Subscribe

Scene4 Email This Page To A Friend-Click

© 2000-2005 Scene4 - International Magazine of Performing Arts and Media - AVIAR-DKA Ltd. All rights reserved (including author and individual copyrights as indicated). All copyrights, trademarks and servicemarks are protected by the laws of the United States and International laws. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.