Reading Anton Chekhov


Some classic short stories to help you pull through the week

What do you do when life gets busy and you do not get time to do the things that you like? Do you let your hectic schedule and work take over, miss out on things that you love and then live in constant regret? The kind which isn’t very obvious and gets lost in the daily affair of things but comfortably snuggles in your subconscious, pricks to make its presence felt and when it does that, you get frustrated.

Or do you choose to do something about it, realizing the fact that the few blissful moments which it grants you are enough to keep you feeling alive? Well, I have decided to do just that.

The previous one was a busy week and knowing well the fact that I tend to get too involved in a novel, I deliberately avoided one. But the urge to transcend into a different world was still kicking at the back of my head. So, like always short stories came to my rescue. And after being delighted by Alice Munro’s Collection of Short Stories—Dear Life, I decided to pick up some classics and what could have been a better pick than the famous Russian author Anton Chekhov.

I chose four of his short stories, beginning with the lighter ones. The first one that I read was, Oh! The Public!, which is a witty account of how alcohol rouses the conscious of an otherwise disinterested ticket checker. His conscious pricks at him for his tardiness and he decides to give his best to the job but being in a state of heavy drunkenness his diligence goes overboard. His obedience isn’t received very well by the public and doesn’t elicit the kind of response he had hoped for, which makes him believe that there is no point working hard.

The next in line was a similar light hearted story, The Transgression. It is about a reputed public servant who crosses the line of acceptable behavior giving in to his desires and gets into an illicit relationship with his maid. The maid then blackmails him of revealing his secret and the collegiate lives in constant fear. So, one day when he finds a small bundle wrapped in warm blankets at his doorstep, doom falls over him and he gets scared thinking about the future. The beauty of this story is the mental dialogue which is taking place as he wonders what to do with the innocent child—should he leave it at someone else’s doorstep or should he take responsibility  for his actions and give this child what it rightfully deserves? The humorous manner in which this moral dilemma is depicted and how the conflict is resolved is what makes this story unique to Chekhov.

Having read two of the lighter stories, I decided to read a moving tale and thus scrolling through the entire list I decided upon, The Misery. The name itself promised deep rooted sorrow and I wasn’t disappointed. This story is about the misery of a poor cart puller, his mare and the destitute lives that they lead in the biting cold winters. The old man Iona lost his only son to winter the week before and hasn’t spoken about it to anybody since then. He is desperately looking for someone who would lend an ear to his grief and sorrow. The story very beautifully depicts the abysmal loneliness which such marginal lives are subjected to and the apathy of everybody around to their grief.

Here is an extract from this story which depicts his pressing need for a heart pour:

The old man sighs and scratches himself. . . . Just as the young man had been thirsty for water, he thirsts for speech. His son will soon have been dead a week, and he has not really talked to anybody yet . . . . He wants to talk of it properly, with deliberation. . . . He wants to tell how his son was taken ill, how he suffered, what he said before he died, how he died. . . . He wants to describe the funeral, and how he went to the hospital to get his son’s clothes. He still has his daughter Anisya in the country. . . . And he wants to talk about her too. . . . Yes, he has plenty to talk about now. His listener ought to sigh and exclaim and lament. . . . It would be even better to talk to women. Though they are silly creatures, they blubber at the first word.”

The last one was a sublime account of beauty titled, The Beauties. Here Anton has described the awe which majestic beauty enthuses from people around. It shows us how people take notice of a beautiful face, how every person becomes aware of it, how it affects everyone alike despite the age, how one cannot help falling in love with it and is ready to languish in its love, and how it leaves behind an aura which lingers on.

Though I have read only four of his stories but the thing that I liked the most about his stores is that they are about simple lives of simple people in Russia. He picks on every emotion, no matter how smallin The Beauties he describes the effect that a beautiful face has, through the eyes of a young boy and then from a young man’s perspective. There wasn’t really a story here but then the description is so real and honest that you just can’t agree any less and that is the beauty of it.

Even in The Misery, the central idea is loneliness and an urge to speak to someone, to share every minute detail of something drastic that happened in your life and how suffocating it can be to not be able to talk about it and how there are many people who are deprived of companionship.

All in all, reading Chekhov was a delight. It strengthened my belief that one just shouldn’t undermine the potential of a short story. A good story will make you think as much as any good novel does.

Ritika Rastogi

Which of Chekhov’s story do you like the most? Write your opinions in the comment box below.

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