Oleg Mandzhiev, Autobiography

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Terbish, Baasanjav 

In this interview Oleg Mandzhiev talks about his parents, grandfather, himself and his work. Oleg was born in 1949 in Novosibirsk. His father, Lidzhi Ismailovich, a Hero of the Soviet Union, was not deported as were the rest of the Kalmyk population. When his wife was sent to Siberia, Lidzhi followed her, despite being warned that he would lose his title. In Siberia, Oleg recalls, his mother went to work in a factory under military escort. One day she had her boots stolen. She tore a sleeve off her coat, wrapped her legs with it, and walked to her work station. Oleg reminisces that when he went to the first grade in secondary school he sobbed, to which his teacher snapped, ‘What are you sobbing for? When you will betray your motherland as your parents did, then you will sob for real. Now it is too early for this’. Oleg’s grandfather Ismail, who was a lama educated in Tibet, was deported to the Kuril Islands (before the mass exile of the Kalmyks in 1943). According to a legend, the commandant of the labour camp where Ismail was imprisoned had a sickly daughter. The commandant took his daughter to all doctors that he could find, but no one could cure her. Upon hearing that a Buddhist healer had arrived at his camp, the commandant called Ismail to his office and said, ‘If you cure my daughter I will give you whatever is possible in this camp. But if you fail, you will regret it’. Ismail cured the girl. Oleg recalls how his grandfather sent from the labour camp food parcels and on one occasion even a pair of American boots for Oleg. One day Ismail wrote a letter to his son, Lidzhi, foretelling him the date of his own death. At that time Lidzhi worked in a military factory in Novosibirsk, and whenever the factory received special orders the workers would be locked until they delivered the order. Having thus been locked in the factory for two weeks, Lidzhi returned home to find a letter from his father. The date of the prophesized death coincided with the day when Lidzhi opened the letter. Oleg recalls that he saw his father cry for the first time. Oleg’s father Lidzhi had two brothers both of whom fought in the Red Army and returned home alive, just as it was prophesized by their father Ismail. In 1957 it was the first time, as Oleg recalls, when Kalmyk songs were broadcast on the radio. The Kalmyks were returning home en mass, and many trains carrying them passed through Novosibirsk. Oleg’s father took a week off his job, bought new jackets for his sons and the three went to the train station to welcome passing trains. At the station the Kalmyk passengers played the Saratov accordion and danced, which was the first time when Oleg saw so many Kalmyks in one place. In his childhood Oleg’s father had his spine broken with a paddle. It was Ismail who cured his son and put him on his legs. Ismail also cured horses. The famous Kalmyk healer Namka Kichikov was Ismail’s aid for some time. Even today Oleg meets people who remember his father and grandfather and offer him assistance. Lidzhi did not like to talk about war, although on 9 May, the Victory Day, he used to meet up with other Kalmyk Heroes of War, Baatr Basangov and Mikhail Selgikov. At the table the three usually sat quietly. Oleg started to write short stories and poems in secondary school. When he was in the eighth grade the famous Kalmyk poet David Kugultinov looked at his work and praised it. After secondary school, Oleg entered the prestigious and highly competitive Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow where he studied along with students who would later become famous writers. At the Institute students often gathered together, argued and read poems to each other. After the Institute, Oleg returned to Elista where he worked at the television company, and later moved to a publishing house. On the advice of his friend Klim Chimidov, Oleg applied to study in a course for film directors in Moscow. At the end of his course he wrote a script titled ‘Sakman’ which won the first prize in the all-Soviet competition of film scripts. His script was recommended to the Mosfilm studio. The chief editor of Turkmenfilm, Karadzhaev, also offered Oleg to write a script for the movie ‘The Valley of Revenge’ (Dolina Mesti) to which Oleg agreed. He received 2,000 Rubles, which was Oleg’s first big salary. Oleg took his wife to a restaurant in the Central House of Writers where they had always wanted to go. In the restaurant, there was an old man sitting, eating a boiled egg and some sour cream. The man looked at Oleg and his wife with tears pouring from his eyes. Thinking that the old man was hungry, Oleg invited him over to his table. The old man said, ‘I am a millionaire, my name is Kozlovskiy. If my stomach permitted it, I would have paid for food in ten restaurants. I can eat only this. I would give everything just to eat like you, young people’. Oleg wrote five more scripts. Oleg recalls his father’s words that nothing comes to people for free. One day Oleg found a gold ring in a bathroom and took it. That year he had a car accident and lost many things. Success comes to people when they work, concluded Oleg. In his movie ‘Foretelling on a Sheep’s Blade’ (Gadanie na baran’ey lopatke), Oleg used an idea that every person has a limited number of both successes and misfortunes in their life. The script and the shooting of this movie progressed as follows. In a seminar in a Baltic state Oleg met a woman from Riga whom he told about the deportation of the Kalmyks. At that time a television series called ‘The Long Road in the Dunes’ about the deportation of the Latvians was getting popular. When the woman offered him to write a script, Oleg agreed. He wrote it and sent it to the Gorky’s Film Studio in Moscow. After censorship blocked the script, Oleg received a telegram from a Latvian director, Ada Neretnietse, who offered to shoot the film in Riga. When the Latvians set out to shoot the film, the Kalmyk branch of the Communist Party sent a telegram to the Riga Film Studio urging them to stop the work. Soon the Riga’s branch of the KGB also sent a letter recommending to drop the film. Despite the mounting pressure, Ada Neretnietse made the film, which was received well by audiences.

Autobiography, family, writing, poetry
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Sponsored by Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin