Discovering Novi Bečej: Stories, people, history

By the paths of the past: Discover the rich history, interesting events and unforgettable people who have shaped Novi Bečej through time, as we return together to the heart of this beautiful city on the banks of the Tisza.

Laza Lalić - Džebrak

was a kind of bohemian who spent all his free time in the tavern, but didn't always waste it on worthless stories and jokes. He was very strong, tall, and overweight, weighing around 140 kilograms. Despite being strict, he rarely abused his power.

In his youth, he was engaged in working with the rural youth, preparing events and directing many theatrical plays and sketches. Special performances were prepared for major holidays, where Laza exerted all his strength to prepare a theatrical piece with primitive and often completely illiterate people. This required a lot of effort, frequent repetitions, and great concentration, which was difficult to achieve in the conditions provided by the tavern in Nove Trbiće in Vranjevo. In the interest of peace and full concentration to learn a specific role, Laza sometimes resorted to slapping to interrupt the work, but not for long, until the anger passed. This means that he would resume the work he started, but now with even more zeal and enthusiasm the next day.

I mentioned that he was strong, but he didn't create scenes or disturbances, even in a drunken state. He loved company, and it sacrificed itself for him. He tirelessly visited taverns, spending entire nights there, going to work in the morning, and returning to the tavern after the end of the working hours. He worked as a foreman in the Novi Bečej brick and tile factory, today's "Polet."

He was temperate, and he did not have conflicts or disputes with the company, although it must be emphasized that people aware of his strength even in a drunken state avoided quarrels in the tavern when Laza was present.

What particularly distinguished him was his sense of justice. He stood up for the weaker, even if it meant exposing himself to condemnation or other unpleasantness. I remember one such case. During a football match between Novi Bečej and Kumanovo players, played at the Novi Bečej fairgrounds, children were taunting the Kumanovo team after the game, and a coachman driving Kumanovo fans began whipping the children with a whip. Many watched and verbally condemned the coachman. I repeat, only with words. Laza, however, walked into the middle of the road, raised his hand, and stopped the carriage. Although the carriage was full of fans, Laza approached the coachman, without any explanation, with his heavy hand, to the general surprise in the carriage, slapped him and said, "Now hurry up to catch those ahead of you." No one tried to react, and Laza didn't think about it; he only saw that the coachman was mercilessly whipping the children.

Laza's bohemianism and readiness for humor were evident in every gesture. His appearance and way of dressing provoked suppressed laughter because no one dared to mock him. In the summer, he wore white, the so-called "buretsko" suit with a white straw hat on his head that could easily be called a "little hat" because it looked so small on Laza's round and large head. His suit was always casually wide trousers and an unbuttoned jacket, giving the impression of a comfortable man. He always had a cigarette in his mouth, stuck on the left side of his lower lip. His appearance and every word or gesture had such an effect that the surroundings transformed - as they say - into an eye and ear to more fully experience serious stories, essentially jokes and anecdotes.

Laza didn't need a special occasion to bring cheerfulness to the company. He did it everywhere and at all times, even when silent. I experienced traveling by train to Zrenjanin, that morning one, always crowded, where Laza made a joke even in such conditions that, despite pushing and standing on one leg among all passengers, caused prolonged laughter.

Passengers entered the train, and the train started. A young peasant woman, saying goodbye to someone already on the train, walks beside the train and still tirelessly talks, absorbed in taking advantage of the last moment for a conversation with the guest she escorted. Laza sticks his head out the window and addresses the peasant woman running alongside the train: "Hey! Hey! Are you staying here in Bečej?" The peasant woman, thinking she had something important to say, friendly runs after the train to better hear the message and responds: "Yes, yes, tell me." Laza calmly shouts, "I'm not, I'm going to Bečkerek."

Humor did not abandon him even in the toughest days of his life when, as a serious heart patient, instead of resting, he spent his days in the company of the tavern. During those times, he spoke less but listened to others with special attention. This was indeed his trait from before. He knew how to listen carefully, speak calmly, stop at the right moment when he had nothing particularly important to say. He gave everyone in the company the opportunity to shine with their stories. He was unobtrusive, with a serious demeanor. Perhaps such behavior was an apparent consequence of his corpulence, but to those who knew him less, he commanded respect.

He came from the hospital straight to the bar, right from the station. They ask him, "Where are you from, Laza?" - "From the hospital." He should be on a diet, but he sees in the showcase pork chops, roasted liver, black pudding, liver pâté, and he just points his finger and says, "One of this, one of that, and so on." Standing, he eats, says goodbye, and leaves. There's no sign of Laza for a whole month after that. When he finally shows up, they ask him, "Where have you been, Laza?" and he replies, "Well, I'm back from the hospital again." Everyone is surprised and asks when he left. He says, "Right after that dinner at the bar."

My last encounter with him was on the way from the train station to the center of Novi Bečej. I was coming from Belgrade, and he, as a serious heart patient, was coming from the hospital in Zrenjanin. Instead of going home and lying down, he goes straight to the tavern to see what's new, what happened during the ten days he was in the hospital, to hear from others and to share his own stories, but not about troubles and pains, but jokes.

So, traveling by bus from the station to the center, he told me about the experience of going to the hospital: "Two guests from Melenaci came to see me. I know I need to offer them something, but I have nothing. No food, no drinks. I think, in such situations, a joke can get me out of an awkward situation. I ask them, guys, do you know how to use a pump?" (that's a gourd used to extract drinks from a barrel). Both answered in unison that they knew. - I show them the pump, which was on our rural stove, give them a jug from the table, and tell them, "There's that barrel in the kitchen, pull some wine."

One of them goes, puts the pump in the barrel, the other end in his mouth, and starts pulling, but he can't get to the wine. He blows through the pump, thinking the wine is at the bottom of the barrel, but there's no wine. He shakes the barrel, and only after making sure it's empty, he calls to me from the kitchen - Lazo, there's no wine here! - Laza replies to him - well, there isn't. So how am I supposed to pull it?

He says to him - in his usual way of cursing - Well, if there was wine, I would know how to pull it, and I wouldn't give it to you, but pull it if there's none.

I cannot consider what I've written about Laza to even come close to conveying his strength, humor, cheerfulness, and especially the happiness that he afforded himself in his unique way.

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