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Chapter 1: The Lament
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; its immobility, its angularity and its straight wooden-looking legs, even close by, give it the appearance of a gingerbread horse worth a kopek. It is, no doubt, plunged in deep thought.
If you were snatched from the plough, from your usual gray surroundings, and were thrown into this slough full of monstrous lights, unceasing noise and hurrying people, you too would find it difficult not to think. 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 are replacing brighter rays, and the hubbub of the street is 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, werewolf!’ 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, and gasps 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 around 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 fare 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 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!’
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NCERT Solutions Class 11 English Chapter 1 The Lament
1. Comment on the indifference that meets Iona’s attempts to share his grief with his few fellow human beings.
A week before, Iona Potapov had lost his son. He wanted to express his emotions, suffering and worry at the loss of his son. The people who passed by were not keen to listen to him. The people were busy or in a hurry or tired. So no one took notice of his words when he started every time. At last, he told his story to his horse.
2. What impression of the character of Iona do you get from this story?
An old cab driver named Iona, had lost his young son. Due to his loneliness, he was reduced to an apparition figure. He badly wanted to talk to someone and share all his sentiments. He was so broken that he tried to talk to everybody. While he mourned his loss, hopelessness and sorrow surrounded him.
The thoughts of his son bothered him so badly that he was even unaware of the snow in his surroundings. He brandished his horse more than the usual and drove his sledge rashly. He became emotionally weak and kept explaining his loss even to the people who would be uninterested to know.
He tried talking to the policemen, his passengers and the three drunkards. He was scared as he was old and had lost his young son. He understood that it would be not easy for him to earn for his living. He even confessed to his horse that if he had his son alive, they would not have suffered and would have had lots of food for their living. His position was an old man who lost his young son and felt helpless.
3. How does the horse serve as a true friend and companion to Iona?
When Iona understood that there was no one to listen to his grievance at the loss of his son, he had turned to his horse. He attempted to talk to the officers, his passengers, the young cab driver and the drunkards, about his son and what he said before his death.
This occurred about a week earlier and the cab driver had no one to talk to so far. Eventually, he decided to look after his horse. It was very painful for him to think about his son when he was alone. So he chose to keep himself busy. As he had no corn, he fed the little horse with hay as that was all he could do, as his earning was not sufficient as he had lost his young son. He described this to the horse. The driver explained the entire story of his young son to the horse, while the horse calmly listened and breathed over his master’s hand like a true companion.
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