Wednesday 16 December 2020

The Grief


The Grief


[Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860-1904) is the Russian dramatist and short-story writer. He is one of the foremost figures in Russian literature. Born on January 29, 1860, in Ukraine, Chekhov was educated in medicine at Moscow University. He rarely practised medicine because of his success as a writer. His stories have a universal appeal and transcend all boundaries of time and space. He wrote about the common man. In this story, he portrays the story of the life of a poor cab driver whose only son dies. The unhappy and broken father is too upset to contain himself. In spite of several attempts, he fails to find a patient listener to his tale of woe. Finally, he relates his story to his horse and thus finds his catharsis]


It is twilight. A thick wet snow is slowly twirling around the newly lighted street lamps, and lying in soft thin layers on roofs, on horses’ backs, on people’s shoulders and hats. The cabdriver Iona Potapov is quite white, and looks like a phantom. He is bent double as far as a human body can bend double. He is seated on his box; he never makes a move. If a whole snowdrift fell on him, it seems as if he would not find it necessary to shake it off. His little horse is also quite white, and remains motionless. It is, no doubt, plunged in deep thought.

Iona and his little horse have not moved from their place for a long while. They left their yard before dinner and up to now, not a fare. The evening mist is descending over the town, the white lights of the lamps replacing brighter rays, and the hubbub of the street getting louder. ‘Cabby for Viborg way!’ suddenly hears Iona. ‘Cabby!’ Iona jumps, and through his snow-covered eyelashes sees an officer in a greatcoat, with his hood over his head. ‘Viborg way!’ the officer repeats. ‘Are you asleep, eh? Viborg way!’ With a nod of assent Iona picks up the reins, in consequence of which layers of snow slip off the horse’s back and neck. The officer seats himself in the sleigh, the cabdriver smacks his lips to encourage his horse, stretches out his neck like a swan, sits up, and more from habit than necessity, brandishes his whip. The little horse also stretches its neck, bends its wooden looking legs, and makes a move undecidedly. ‘What are you doing, eh!’ is the exclamation Iona hears from the dark mass moving to and fro, as soon as they have started. ‘Where the devil are you going? To the r-r-right!’ ‘You do not know how to drive. Keep to the right!’ calls the officer angrily.

A coachman from a private carriage swears at him; a passerby, who has run across the road and rubbed his shoulder against the horse’s nose, looks at him furiously as he sweeps the snow from his sleeve. Iona shifts about on his seat as if he were on needles, moves his elbows as if he were trying to keep his equilibrium. He gapes about like someone suffocating, who does not understand why and wherefore he is there. ‘What scoundrels they all are!’ jokes the officer ‘one would think they had all entered into an agreement to jostle you or fall under your horse.’

Iona looks round at the officer, and moves his lips. He evidently wants to say something, but the only sound that issues is a snuffle. ‘What?’ asks the officer. Iona twists his mouth into a smile, and with an effort says hoarsely:

‘My son, Barin, died this week.’ ‘Hm! what did he die of?’ Iona turns with his whole body towards his face and says: ‘And who knows! They say high fever. He was three days in the hospital and then died …. God’s will be done.’ ‘Turn round! The devil!’ sounds somebody from the darkness. ‘Have you popped off old doggie, eh? Use your eyes!’

‘Go on, go on,’ says the officer, ‘otherwise we shall not get there by tomorrow. Hurry up a bit!’

The cabdriver again stretches his neck, sits up and, with a bad grace, brandishes his whip. Several times again he turns to look at his face, but the latter has closed his eyes, and apparently is not disposed to listen. Having deposited the officer in the Viborg, he stops by the tavern, doubles himself up on his seat, and again remains motionless, while the snow once more begins to cover him and his horse. An hour, and another ….. Then, along the footpath, with a squeak of galoshes, and quarrelling, come three young men, two of them tall and lanky, the third one short and humpbacked. ‘Cabby, to the Police Bridge!’ in a cracked voice calls the humpback. ‘The three of us for two griveniks.’ Iona picks up his reins, and smacks his lips. Two griveniks is not a fair price, but he does not mind whether it is a rouble or five kopeks-to him it is all the same now, so long as they are fares.

The young men, jostling each other and using bad language, approach the sleigh, and all three at once try to get into the seat; then begins a discussion as to which two shall sit and who shall be the one to stand. After wrangling, abusing each other, and much petulance, it is at last decided that the humpback shall stand, as he is the smallest. ‘Now then, hurry up!’ says the humpback in a twanging voice, as he takes his place and breathes in Iona’s neck. ‘Old furry! Here, mate, what a cap you have! There is not a worse one to be found in all Petersburg!’ ‘He-he ……. He-he,’ giggles Iona. Such a …’‘Now you, “such a,” hurry up, are you going the whole way at this pace? Are you? ……. do you want it in the neck?’

‘Are you going to get on or not, you old pest? Is that the way to drive? Use the whip a bit! Go on, devil, go on, give it t him well!’ says the lanky one a little later. Iona feels at his back the little man wriggling, and the tremble in his voice. He listens to the insults hurled at him, sees the people, and little by little the feeling of loneliness leaves him. The humpback goes on swearing until he gets mixed up in some elaborate six-foot oath, or chokes with coughing. Iona looks round at them several times; he waits for a temporary silence, then, turning round again, he murmurs: ‘My son …..died this week.’ ‘We must all die,’ sighs the humpback, wiping his lips after an attack of coughing. ‘Now, hurry up, hurry up! Gentlemen, I really cannot go any farther like this! When will he get us there?’

‘Well, just you stimulate him a little in the neck!’

‘You old pest, do you hear, I’ll bone your neck for you. If one treated the like of you with ceremony one would have to go on foot! Do you hear, old serpent Gorinytch! Or do you not care a spit?’ Iona hears rather than feels the blow they deal him.

‘Hi, hi,’ he laughs. ‘They are gay young gentlemen. God bless ‘em!’ ‘Cabby, are you married?’ asks a lanky one.

‘I? Hi, hi, gay young gentlemen! Now I have only a wife and the moist ground …….. He, ho …. that is to say, thegrave. My son has died, and I am alive ….. A wonderful thing, death mistook the door … instead of coming to me, it went to my son …. ’ Iona turns round to tell them how his son died but at this moment, the humpback, giving a little sigh, announces. ‘Thank God, we have at last reached our destination.’ Iona watches them disappear through the dark entrance. Once more he is alone, and again surrounded by silence …… His grief, which had abated for a short while, returns and rends his heart with greater force. With an anxious and hurried look, he searches among the crowds passing on either side of the street to find whether there may be just one person who will listen to him. But the crowds hurry by without noticing him or his trouble. Yet it is such an immense, illimitable grief. Should his heart break and the grief pour out, it would flow over the whole earth so it seems, and yet no one sees it. It has managed to conceal itself in such an insignificant shell that no one can see it even by day and with a light. Iona sees a hall porter with some sacking, and decides to talk to him.

‘Friend, what sort of time is it?’ he asks. ‘Past nine. What are you standing here for. Move on.’

Iona moves on a few steps, doubles himself up, and abandons himself to his grief. He sees it is useless to turn to people for help. In less than five minutes he straightens himself, holds up his head as if he felt some sharp pain, and gives a tug at the reins, he can bear it no longer. ‘The stables,’ he thinks, and the little horse, as if it understood, starts off at a trot.

About an hour and a half later Iona is seated by a large dirty stove. Around the stove, on the floor, on the benches, people are snoring; the air is thick and suffocatingly hot. Iona looks at the sleepers, scratches himself, and regrets having returned so early.

‘I have not even earned my fodder,’ he thinks. ‘That’s what’s my trouble. A man who knows his job, who has had enough to eat and his horse too, can always sleep peacefully.’

A young cabdriver in one of the corners half gets up, grunts sleepily, and stretches towards a bucket of water.

‘Do you want a drink?’ Iona asks him. ‘Don’t I want a drink!’ ‘That’s so? Your good health. But listen, mate – you know, my son is dead … Did you hear? This week, in the hospital ……

It’s a long story.’ Iona looks to see what effect his words have, but sees none – the young man has hidden his face and is fast asleep again.

The old man sighs, and scratches his head. Just as much as the young one wants to drink, the old man wants to talk. It will soon be a week since his son died, and he has not been able to speak about it properly to anyone. One must tell it slowly and carefully; how his son fell ill, how he suffered, what he said before he died, how he died. One must describe every detail of the funeral, and the journey to the hospital to fetch the dead son’s clothes. His daughter Anissia has remained in the village – one must talk about her too. Is it nothing he has to tell? Surely the listener would gasp and sigh, and sympathize with him? It is better, too, to talk to women; although they are simple, two words are enough to make them sob.

‘I’ll go and look after my horse,’ thinks Iona; ‘there’s always time to sleep. No fear of that.’

He puts on his coat, and goes to the stable to his horse; he thinks of the corn, the hay, the weather. When he is alone, he dares not think of his son; he can speak about him to anyone, but to think of him, and picture him to himself, is unbearably painful. ‘Are you tucking in?’ Iona asks his horse, looking at its bright eyes; ‘go on, tuck in, though we’ve not earned our corn, we can eat hay. Yes I am too old to drive – my son could have, not I. He was a first-rate cabdriver. If only he had lived!’ Iona is silent for a moment, then continues:

‘That’s how it is my old horse. There’s no more Kuzmalonitch. He has left us to live, and he went off pop. Now let’s say, you had a foal, you were the foal’s mother, and suddenly, let’s say, that foal went and left you to live after him. It would be sad wouldn’t it?’ The little horse munches, listens, and breathes over its master’s hand… Iona’s feelings are too much for him, and he tells the little horse the whole story.                  (Anton Pavlovich Chekhov 1860-1904)



twilight (n) : the time just before it becomes totally dark in the evening I saw a dark figure in the twilight.


cab (n) : a vehicle pulled by a horse, used for a ‘taxi’ too.


John’s father is an expert cab driver.


phantom (n) : a ghost, a spirit of a dead person.


Over the years many phantoms have been seen in that

enchanted castle.


nod of assent (n) : bowing of the head as a sign of agreement.


He gave a nod of assent and signed the papers happily.


brandish (v) : to wave about or display before using.


He brandish a sword at me; so I ran out of the room.


scoundrel (n) : a wicked or evil person.


His company should be avoided at all costs; he is a scoundrel.


snuffle (v) : to make noises with nose

The dog was snuffling around in the garden.


galoshes (n) : waterproof shoes (usually made of rubber),

worn over ordinary shoes

Are your new galoshes very expensive?


griveniks (n) : 20 kopecks (a Russian coin) He owes me ten griveniks.


sleigh (n) : sledge, a vehicle designed for travelling on snow and drawn by a horse.The children enjoyed the sleigh ride very much.


jostle (v) : to push roughly against. The naughty boys jostled against her.


wrangling (n) : arguing angrily. I could not follow his wrangling voice.


giggle (v) : to laugh nervously or foolishly. Though the matter was serious yet the children were



lanky (adj) : lean and tall. A lanky beggar was sitting near the temple.


indignantly (adj) : in an angry & surprising manner. “I am not asking for the money”, he retorted indignantly.


wriggling (v) : having a twisting or snakelike or wormlike motion.The snake made a wriggling movement and disappeared.


rend (v) : tear or pull violently.The plastic cover was rent apart.


trot (v) : a speed faster than a walk but slower than a gallop. She trotted her horse round the campus.





A. Comprehension Questions

(i) Answer the following questions in 10-12 words:


1.     Why does the cab driver Iona Potapov look quite white?

Ans.  Iona has exposed his body to snowfall. Snow has fallen over his face. It has covered his eyebrows and other parts of the face. So he looks quite white.


2. Who is the first passenger and where does he want to go?

Ans. Iona’s first passenger is an officer. He wants to go to Viborg.


3. Is Iona Potapov driving the cab properly?

Ans. No, he is not driving the cab properly. He is lost in his grief. Passer-by are in danger of being hit by his cab.


4. Who has died in the story 'The Grief'?

Ans.  Iona’s only son has died.


 5. Why does Iona Potapov want to talk about it?

Ans. Iona’s heart is full of grief owing to death of his son. Taking about his son’s death, he wants to get rid of his grief.


1.     Who are the next passengers?

Ans.  The next passengers are three young men. Two of them are thin and tall. The third one is small and humpbacked.


2.     Do the three young men going to the Police Bridge listen to what Iona wants to say?

Ans. No, the three young men do not listen to what Iona wants to say. They spend their time in the cab by abusing one another and pay no attention to the statement of Iona.


4.     How do his young clients treat Iona?

Ans. His young clients do not treat Iona well. They want Iona to drive his cab at greater speed. They use highly abusive language to insult him, one of them hits him. 


1.     ‘Now I have only a wife and the moist ground.’ What does ‘moist ground’ refer to?

Ans.   The’ moist ground’ refers to the grave of Iona’s son who has died recently.


2.     Is Iona able to tell the passengers how his son died?

Ans.  No, in spite of his many efforts, Iona is not able to tell the passengers how his son died. They do not listen to him.




(ii) Answer the following questions in your own words in about 30-50 words each:




1.. Why is Iona Potapov yearning to talk about his son’s death?

Ans.   Iona wants to talk to his passengers about the death of his young son. There is a big burden of grief on his heart. He wants to unburden his heart to get some relief from this sorrow. So he is yearning to talk about his son’s death.




1.     Why don’t people listen to Iona Potapov?

Ans.   The people have neither time nor patience to listen to him. The officer is in a hurry.  He wants to reach Vibrog as quickly as possible. The three young men are interested in quarrelling among themselves. Thus people are so busy and impatient that don’t listen to him.


2.     Write a note on the character of Iona Potapov?

Ans.   Iona Potapov is an old cab driver. His heart is full of grief because his young son has died. He wants to speak to his passengers about the death of his son. But they pay no attention to him. He patiently bears the insulting treatment of three young passengers. At the end, he speaks out his grief to his horse. He is a sort of dead-alive human being. He says that no0w only two things are left for him in this world, his wife and his grave. Thus, he is a grief-stricken person in this story.


3.     What is the theme of the story?

Ans.   This is a story about an old man, Iona Potapov, who is full of grief because his young son has died. He is a cab driver. He wants to talk to his passengers about the death of his son. But the passengers do not listen to him. They are in a hurry. They insult him. At last, he tells his sad story to his horse and lightens the burden of his grief. Thus the writer wants to convey the message that man is selfish. He has no time to care for others. Even the beasts are better than man because they are more sympathetic to listen to the story of grief and sorrow of others.




(i)                Tick () the correct statement:


1. Potapov looked like a phantom because he was

(a) very old

(b) very sad

(c) covered with snow and did not move



2. Iona wanted to talk to the passengers because

(a) he wanted to pass his time

(b) he was very talkative

(c) he wanted to share his grief


3. People did not listen to him because

(a) they didn’t want to talk to a cab driver.

(b) they were busy with their own thoughts and did not bother about others.

(c) they were hard of hearing and could not properly understand Iona.



B. Vocabulary Exercises

(i) Match the words in column A with their meanings in column B

A                                                                B

twilight                                                       angrily

twirling                                                      snake

phantom                                                    tall and thin

descending                                                 apparently

assent                                                         thrown at

furiously                                                    ghost

equilibrium                                                          coming down

evidently                                                    agreement

hurled                                                        balance

serpent                                                       evening

lanky                                                                   turning round



Twilight                                                                                              evening  


Twirling                                                                                   turning round  


Phantom                                                                                             ghost


descending                                                                                coming down


assent                                                                                        agreement


furiously                                                                                    angrily


equilibrium                                                                               balance


evidently                                                                                   apparently


hurled                                                                                       thrown at


serpent                                                                                                snake


lanky                                                                                         tall and thin




 (ii) Fill in the blanks with noun forms of the following words:



move                                                    seated                                                  plunged

exclaim                                                 angry                                                     stretches










1. The movements of the dancer were very agile.


2. It was a long stretch and the walk had tired us.


3. Anger is the cause of high blood pressure.


4. Mihir Sen was ready for the plunge into the water.


5. Why don’t you have the corner seat?


1.     I don’t like your exclamation, you frighten me.



(iii) Match the words in column A with their antonyms (opposites) given in column B :


























































C. Grammar Exercises

(i) Change the following sentences from Direct to Indirect speech:


1. I say to you, “You have failed in your mission.”

Ans. I tell you that you have failed in your mission.”


2. The teacher said to us, “Always speak the truth.”

Ans. The teacher advised us to speak the truth always.


3. The officer said to the peon, “Why have you come late today?”

Ans. The officer asked the peon why he had come late that day.


4. Seema said to me, “What were you doing out there last night?”

Ans. Seema asked me what I had been doing out there previous night.


5. The teacher said to the students, “Have you done your work?”

Ans. The teacher asked the students if they had done their work.


6. The preacher said, “Always speak the truth and do good to others.”

Ans. The preacher advised the listeners to speak the truth always and do good to others.


7. My brother said to me, “Do you have any money?”

Ans. My brother asked me if I had any money.


8. I said to him, “I shall always help you whenever you need me.”

Ans. I told him that I would always help him whenever he needed me.


9. “You do not know how to drive. Keep to the right,” said the officer angrily.

Ans. The officer told him angrily that he did not know how to drive and instructed him to keep to the right.


10. “Are you asleep, eh?” asked the passenger.

Ans. . The passenger asked him if he was asleep.


(ii) Join the following sets of sentences to make a simple sentence each:


1. I came home early. I wanted to meet a friend.

Ans. I came home early to meet a friend.


2. She made a loud cry. She wanted to attract attention.

Ans. She made a loud cry to attract attention.


3. My son plays with bad boys. I don’t like it.

Ans. I don’t like my son’s playing with bad boys.


4. The batsman lifted the bat. He wanted to hit the ball.

Ans. The batsman lifted the bat to hit the ball.


5. He fell down. He caught the ball.

Ans. While falling down, he caught the ball.


6. The elephant trumpeted loudly. It didn’t like the behavior of the crowd.

Ans. Not liking the behavior of the crowd, the elephant trumpeted loudly.


7. I go to college. I study there.

Ans. I go to college to study.



8. My father plays hockey. He loves it.

Ans. My father loves  to play hockey.


9. Do you like this? I go to pictures too often.

Ans. Do you like my going to pictures too often?


3.     I am fond of it. I take coffee frequently.

Ans. I am fond of taking coffee frequently.


(iii) Correct the following sentences:


1. The sceneries of Kashmir is charming.

Ans. The scenery of Kashmir is charming.


2. He has written many poetries.

Ans. He has written many poems.


3. The furnitures in my office are imported.

Ans. The furniture in my office is imported.


4. There are not much boys in the class today.

Ans. There are not many boys in my class today.


5. Please lay down.

Ans. Please lie down.


6. She is not angry at you.

Ans. She is not angry with me.


7. She was standing on the middle of the road.

Ans. She was standing in the middle of the road.


8. I don’t like him talking to you like this.

Ans.  I don’t like his talking to you like this.


9. Why you did not act on time?

Ans. Why did you not act on time.


10. Walk fast lest you will miss the train.

Ans. Walk fast lest you should miss the train.


D. Pronunciation Practice


Try to perceive the vowel sounds in the following sets of words and say them aloud:


A                                    B                                    C


last – lost                                 sop – soap                     tile – toil


part – pot                                hop – hope                             line – loin


sharp – shop                                    rob – robe                              buy – boy


calf – cough                                      cost – coast                   vice – voice


large – lodge                           rod – road                     tie – toy



E. Creative Writing and Extended Reading

1. Find out the poem ‘Home They Brought Her Warrior Dead’ on the internet. Read it and bring out the tragedy contained in it.


2. Read the story “God Sees the Truth but Waits’ by LeoTolstoy. Write a few lines on the character of the unfortunate merchant in the story.


3. Write a small paragraph on: The Importance of Sympathy in Life.


4. Every human being needs to share his joys or sorrows with others. Why? Discuss.


5. Imagine that you are living all alone in a tent on a hill where all your material needs are being supplied to you. How would you take such a life? Say in 10-12 lines.


Just a little fun:

You beat you pate, and fancy wit will come;

Knock as you please, there’s nobody at home!