The secretary of the committee told Chagatayev that a fairly small nomad people made up of different nationalities was roaming around in extreme poverty […]The poverty and despair of this people had become so great that they thought of work in the ditches, which lasts for a few weeks in the year, as a blessing because for these days at least they were given flat loaves of bread and even rice to eat. On the pumps these people took the place of donkeys, using their bodies to turn the wooden wheel which lifts the water up to the sluices. A donkey has to be fed right through the year, but these people […] ate only when they were working and then they went away. The tribe did not die out entirely, and always returned the next year, after languishing somewhere in the bottom of the wilderness.
«I know that people, that’s where I was born,» Chagatayev said.
«That’s why you’re being sent there,» the secretary said. «What’s the tribe called, do you remember?»
«It has no real name,» Chagatayev answered. «But it gave itself a nickname.»
«Dzhan. That means a soul, or dear life. These people don’t have anything except their souls, and the dear life their mothers gave them when they were born.»
The secretary frowned, and looked sad.
«That means, all they’ve got is the hearts inside their bodies, and they have that only while the hearts go on beating . . .»
«Only their hearts,» Chagatayev agreed, «nothing but life; except for their bodies, nothing belongs to them at all. But even their life isn’t really theirs, it only seems that way.»
«Did your mother ever tell you just who the Dzhan were?»
«She told me. Runaways and orphans from all over, and old exhausted slaves who had been driven out. Then there were women who had betrayed their husbands and come there out of fear, girls were always coming who had been in love with men who died suddenly and they didn’t want anyone else. And then people also lived there who didn’t recognize God, people who made jokes about the world, criminals . . . but I don’t remember them all. I was very little.»
Απόσπασμα από τη νουβέλα Dzhan του Ρώσου λογοτέχνη Αντρέι Πλατόνοφ (1899-1951), όπως εμπεριέχεται στη συλλογή The Fierce and Beautiful World, μετάφραση Joseph Barnes, New York Review Books, 2000.