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!’
UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT
1. Comment on the indifference that meets Iona’s attempts to share his grief with his fellow human beings.
2. What impression of the character of Iona do you get from this story?
3. How does the horse serve as a true friend and companion to Iona?
TALKING ABOUT THE TEXT
Discuss the following in pairs
1. Empathy and understanding are going out of modern society. The individual experiences intense alienation from the society around him or her.
2. Behind the public face of the people in various occupations is a whole saga of personal suffering and joy which they wish to share with others.
Please refer to attached file for NCERT Class 11 English Elective The Lament