Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: The President's Crown of Thorns. About childhood.

And again I remember the plain, dusty streets of my boyhood. We grew up like weeds on the sun-baked, salty earth. Our fist-fights usually took place behind the sheds or on the sands where we walloped each other till we bled, always following the strict rule that you never beat a boy when he's

down. We fought, not out of rancour, but because we had to vent our excessive, seething energy, and because we wanted to test character, resolve and endurance. Later in life, these street trials helped me more than once to pick up the pieces, take a hold of myself and keep going, holding my will in my fist.

New fads washed over our boyhood streets like waves. We wrote plays and rehearsed with wild abandon from morning till night, making costumes, knocking together sets from crates and

plywood. A week passed and the new passion was card games. I played "fool", "seka" and "poker" with the boys till I was blue in the face. Then it was on to treasure-seeking. All these activities were so engrossing that I did not notice the passage of time. ln those days I was an unruly fellow. Much to their horror, my family discovered that I had started smoking, learned to play cards, swear and fight.

At that time father was a member in the Department of Industry of the City Party Committee, and my mother was a veterinary doctor. By Elista standards, ours was a decent, cultured family.

I learned to swear in a sanatorium. I must have been five or six years old when I became ill and so my parents sent me to convalesce in a town bearing the Kalmyk name of Yessentuki. "Yesin" means nine, "toog" stands for banner. Nine Kalmyk Khans had once met here and concluded a truce.

In the sanatorium I shared a ward with grown-ups and, as so often happens in these situations when a child appears among adults, I became first the darling of the ward and then of the whole floor. They treated me to fruits, sweets, chocolate and cookies, took me to the movies and to a shooting gallery while I bought them matches and cigarettes from the nearest shop. During the evenings, lying in my cot, I would listen attentively to their juicy talk and indecent jokes, liberally spiced with words from the mighty lexicon of Russian curses. And my memory has always been excellent.

"Come on, Kirsan, give us some sedatives so we can sleep well!" the men would demand. And I would stand up on my bed and, catching the spectators' delighted eyes, I would spout a filthy one-minute soliloquy. The ward would roar and sob with delight. The men from the adjoining wards would hurry to our ward to listen to my one-man show. They asked me to repeat the performance and then reward me with bursts of laughter, candy and fruits. The men admired me and I was

proud of it. When I got back home I waited impatiently for an opportunity to display my newly discovered talent.

As is customary with all families in Elista, many of our relatives lived with us. Some came to our town on business, some came to study in college or university, and others were just passing through. So we usually had at least six or seven relatives staying with us at any given time. As bad luck would have it, at this particular moment we had no guests at all. It was a real torment for me to keep my burning secret intact. And then it came at last, the sweet moment of triumph.

One evening several guests were gathered at our house. Choosing a moment when all the talk died down at the table I ran into the sitting-room and shouted: "Now, guys, who's gonna come and service some broads with me?" I threw in some spicy oaths for good measure and felt well pleased with myself.

The guests' faces visibly paled. Somebody choked on his tea and kept coughing for five minutes, unable to clear his throat. That night mother took valerian drops as I lay in bed sniffing beneath a blanket. I lay on my stomach, my face buried in the pillow, thinking resentfully: how can it be that I was praised me to the skies in the sanatorium, yet given a good hiding by my family for the same thing? Maybe they did not understand what I said; perhaps I should repeat it again?

By the end of August my parents had bought me a schoolbag and uniform and had begun preparing me for school. Every day I heard a lot of boring homilies: comb your hair,

trim your finger-nails, don't run, speak quietly.

I can vividly picture my first day at school. We sit at our desks quivering with tension. Everything around looks strange and unfamiliar. The class-room still smells of fresh paint. Our

form mistress Yelena Alekseyevna is taking the roll-call: "Ilyumzhinov Kirsan" I am silent. In our street we never use family names. And, as for my first name, most of the boys call me Badma and that is what I'm used to; it has become part of my identity. Badma means lotus.

"Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, why don't you answer?" The teacher bends over me. "My name is Badma," I answered, beginning to gather up my things. "I am tired of this place, I'd better go home."

The following day my parents were requested to come to the school. Soon after, however, I got used to it. Several days after the incident I made friends with some of the boys, and everything took its normal course. I enlisted in all the hobby groups and very enthusiastically took up sport, played music and learned to perform various dances. I became a kind of Jack-of-all-trades. I would always come back home late. At night, hiding under the blankets with a torch so as not to be caught, I would read books, sometimes till dawn.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov

The President's Crown of Thorns