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Charumati Ramdas

Classics


3  

Charumati Ramdas

Classics


Response of Indian Readers to "The Station Master"

Response of Indian Readers to "The Station Master"

14 mins 12.1K 14 mins 12.1K

Socio-Historical Context of Literature :

The Response of Indian Readers to A.S.Pushkin’s ‘The Station Master’


A reader’s response to a text is influenced mainly by the cultural and socio-political background of the country, to which he belongs. We conducted an experiment to know the reaction of some Indian readers on A.S.Pushkin’s story “The Station Master”, written in 1830. The story is included in the syllabus of M.A. (Russian). The readers were selected from the age group (20-60). They belonged to different professions as well as different strata of society and were all students of Russian.

The story is about the fate of the master of a posting station, Samson Vyrin, whose duty is to provide horses to travelers and to look after their needs while they are waiting for the horses. Depicting the life of this petty official in tsarist Russia, A.S.Pushkin says, “Station master is a veritable scapegoat among petty officials, protected from blows and cuffs by nothing but this official rank of his, and even this does not always save him. His work is a veritable hard labour. No rest either by day or night! The traveler pours out all the vexations accumulated during the tedious journey upon the station master. The weather is atrocious, the roads abominable, the driver stubborn, the horses lazy and for all this the station master must take the blame. The traveler, who enters his poor dwelling, regards him as a foe; and the station master is fortunate if he succeeds in soon getting rid of the uninvited guest. And if there happen to be no horses available, he has to face the fury of the visitor!”


The hero our story, Samson Vyrin is one such miserable creature. He had a strikingly beautiful young daughter, Dunya. The Station Master, though poor, was cheerful and hale. He was a man of about fifty. Whenever the travelers used to visit the posting station, Samson Vyrin would ask Dunya to serve the tea etc. Dunya was well aware of her beauty and the impression it had on the visitors. The little coquette was not all that innocent. She would allow a traveler to kiss her, if he so desired, while parting. The Station Master, it seems, used Dunya as a shield to protect himself from the fury of travellers. He knew that many of them pass through this route only to have a look at Dunya. He was also aware of the fact that however angry a gentleman might be, he would calm down at the sight of Dunya and speak graciously to Samson Vyrin. Vyrin was proud of his daughter.

  

Once on a wintry evening, a young man in a military coat drew up in his ‘troika’ and demanded horses. The horses were all out. On hearing this, the traveler raised his voice and his whip. But Dunya, who was familiar with such scenes, came running out from behind the partition and addressed the traveler graciously, asking him if he would like something to eat. Dunya’s appearance produced its usual effect. The traveller’s rage left him, he agreed to wait for horses and ordered for supper. He started talking merrily with Samson Vyrin and his daughter. The supper was served. Meanwhile the horses had returned and the station master ordered them to be harnessed to the traveller’s sleigh, without even being fed. But when he got back to his room, he found the young man lying almost unconscious on the bench. He felt faint, his head ached and he was not fit to travel. The station master gave up his bed to him and it was decided to call a doctor next morning if the patient did not recover.


Next morning the young hussar was even worse. His servant went for the doctor. Dunya laid a handkerchief soaked in vinegar round his head, and sat beside his bed with her sewing. In the station master’s presence, the patient moaned and could scarcely utter a word, though he drank two cups of coffee and moaned out an order for dinner. Dunya never left his side. He constantly begged for a drink and every time, returning the mug of lemonade, he pressed Dunya’s hand in his feeble grasp, by way of showing his gratitude. The doctor came at dinner time. He felt the patient’s pulse, spoke to him in German, and declared in Russian that all he needed was rest, and that h would be able to resume his journey in a couple of days. The hussar handed him 25 roubles in payment for his visit, and invited him to dinner.


Another day passed and the hussar recovered completely. He was extremely gay, joking incessantly, now with Dunya, now with station master, whistling tunes, chatting with travelers, entering their relays in the ledger, and making the kindly station master so fond of him that by the morning of the third day he could hardly bear to part with the pleasing lodger. It was a Sunday, and Dunya got ready to go to church. The hussar bade the station master farewell, rewarding him generously for his boarding and lodging. He said good bye to Dunya too offering her to drive her as far as the church, which was at the other end of the village. Dunya seemed perplexed…”What are you afraid of?” her father said. “His honour is not a wolf – he won’t bite you; let him drive you to the church.” Dunya got into the sleigh and sat down next to the hussar, and the horses galloped off.


Hardly half an hour passed when the station master began to feel anxiety in his heart. He could no longer contain himself and went to the church to look for Dunya. As he approached the church, he saw the people already coming out, but Dunya was neither in the churchyard nor in the porch. The sexton told him that Dunya had not been at the service. Samson Vyrin returned home more dead than alive. He had only one hope left – Dunya must have gone to the next posting station, where her godmother lived. He awaited the return of the horses, which he had sent, in an agony of impatience. But the passed and the driver did not come back. At last, towards night, he rode up alone and informed that Dunya had gone further from the next posting station with the hussar.

The old man never got over his misfortune and that evening took to bed. Reviewing all the circumstances, the station master now guessed that the young man’s illness had been feigned. The poor old man was seized with a raging fever and taken to the hospital, where he was attended by the very same doctor who had visited the hussar and who now assured the station master that the young man had been perfectly well, and that he had guessed his evil intentions at the time, but kept quiet for fear of the hussar’s whip.


The old station master started on foot to look for his daughter. From the ledger he discovered that the young man, Captain Minsky, had travelled from Smolensk to Petersburg. The coachman who drove him, said that Dunya had wept all the way, although apparently going at her own free will. “God willing,” thought the station master, “I shall bring my strayed lamb home.” Inspired by this thought he arrived in Petersburg, found out Captain Minsky’s address and went to him. Minsky recognized him, took him to his study and locked the door from inside. Samson Vyrin requested Minsky not to ruin Dunya’s life and return her back to him. Minsky, overcome by sentiments, said, “What has been done, cannot be undone. I have wronged you and willing to ask for your forgiveness. But you must not think me capable of deserting Dunya. She will be happy; I give you my word of honour. What do you want with her? She loves me; she has become unused to her former conditions. Neither you nor she would ever forget what has happened.” Then thrusting something into the station master’s cuff, he unlocked the door and the old man, hardly knowing how, found himself on the street. He stood motionless for a long time, and at last noticed that there was a bundle of crumpled five and ten rouble notes in his hands. Tears welled up afresh in his eyes, tears of indignation. He crumpled the notes into a ball, flung them on the ground, trampled them beneath his heel and went away…After walking a few yards h stood still, bethought himself and retracted his steps. But the notes were no longer there. A well-dressed young man had lifted them and started running away on seeing the old man. Vyrin made no attempt to follow him. He decided to see his daughter, at least once, and then go back to his posting station.


The same evening he saw Minsky in an elegant carriage, which stopped in front of a three-storeyed house. Minsky leaped into the porch. Samson Vyrin found out from the watchman that Dunya stayed in that house and he went in. He rang the bell and forcibly entered the house in spite of the maid-servant’s protests. In a splendidly furnished room of this building, he saw his Dunya attired in the height of fashion, gazing tenderly at Minsky, twisting his black curls round her fingers, which gleamed with jewels. Poor Samson Vyrin had never seen his daughter so beautiful. Having noticed her father suddenly before her, Dunya fell unconscious and Minsky shouted at the old man, seized him by the collar of his coat and shoved him out on to the stairs.


The old man’s friend, with whom he had stayed in Petersburg, suggested to him to lodge a complaint, but the station master dismissed the idea. He came back to his posting station and continued thinking about his daughter, who ‘is not the first and will not be the last to be seduced by a passing top, to be first kept by him and then abandoned. There are plenty of young fools like her in Petersburg, today dressed up in satin and velvet, and tomorrow, look you, sweeping the crossings with the riff-raff. Sometimes when I think Dunya may be languishing there, I can’t help the sinful wish that she were in her grave.’


After sometime the station master drank himself to death. A few years later, on knowing about her father’s death, Dunya visited his grave. She came in a coach with six horses accompanied by three sweet children and obviously looked very happy in life. She called for the priest, gave him some money and distributed some silver coins among the poor children.   


As is clear from the text, it is narration about the tragic fate of a poor station master, the so called ‘small man’ or ‘little man’ of Russian literature. A.S.Pushkin was the first author to write about the life and fate of ‘small man’ in the tsarist Russia, and his aim was obviously to attract the attention as well as to evoke sympathy of society – the higher class and intelligentsia – towards the problems of the lower class. Pushkin undoubtedly succeeded in his aim, because from then onwards, this ‘little man’ became the central figure in the works of many world-famous Russian writers, such as M.Y.Lermontov, N.V.Gogol, A.P.Chekhov, F.M.Dostoevsky, A.M.Gorky and others. “The Station Master” was the first attempt to free this man from exploitation and slavery.


Samson Vyrin, the “little” station master undoubtedly evoked the sympathy of readers at that time and he continued to occupy a prominent place in literature till the Great October Revolution. Even today, Indian readers can come across such unfortunate creatures as Samson Vyrin. To an average reader, it is an acquaintance with the miserable fate that a lower class government servant meets in a society, based on inequality and exploitation. But this story also poses certain questions before the readers.

An Indian reader, who does not necessarily belong to the “little man’s” class, may interpret the story in various ways, as was proved by our experiment. Samson Vyrin evoked the sympathy of many readers, but they thought him not worthy of it. His misfortune, according to them, was created by his own irresponsible, selfish and foolish attitude towards his daughter.

Many readers thought that Samson Vyrin used Dunya as a shield to protect himself from the anger of his superiors. His only aim was to cool down the temper of an angry traveler, for which he used to offer them Dunya’s company. But, did it never strike him that Dunya might face some danger from such persons? Why didn’t h ever try to protect his daughter from the possible evil intentions of the passers-by? His bahaviour points towards his selfishness. He was prepared to make Dunya a scapegoat in his own interest, then why should he have bothered so much, when Minsky took her away? Is this not a pretention?


Some readers suggested that Samson Vyrin should have carefully looked after his daughter. Young Dunya used to allow the travelers to kiss her, under the very nose of her father, then how could h not notice it? He should not have sent Dunya to Church with Minsky.

Even after finding out that Dunya had conspired to go to Petersburg along with Minsky and that she was happy in Minsky’s company, Samson Vyrin refused to believe that Dunya would be happy in future too. He constantly repeated that Dunya would meet a tragic end, that Minsky would throw her out after sometime. Without keeping in touch with Dunya’s life, Samson Vyrin drowned himself in liquor and ended his life. No one is to be blamed for his tragic end. Some readers attributed this to the “little man’s” tendency to remain satisfied with his misfortune and not to try to overcome it.


Many readers pointed out the greediness of Samson Vyrin, noticing that when Minsky gave him the bundle of notes, Vyrin first threw it down and the, after a short while, realizing the value of the money, went back to retrieve it. But when he saw some young man running away with that money, the poor station master did not even try to catch him. This act proves his fondness for creating miseries for himself and then to cry over them.


As far as Dunya is concerned, she was considered by almost all the readers as an opportunist, coquettish and clever girl. She was craving for a change in her life-style and she succeeded in this. She, apparently, had no sympathy for her father, and why should she have, when she knew that she was a mere tool in his hand? Vyrin’s main aim was to please the officers and Dunya succeeded in pleasing Minsky as well as in finding a secure and respectable place for herself in the society. Perhaps she might have thought that her marriage with Minsky might bring happiness even to her father, but that was not his fate. His own character – his own foolishness and stubbornness – was responsible for his miseries. None of the readers considered Dunya a victim of Minsky’s evil designs. They were all of the view that Dunya accompanied Minsky on her own free will. She was not deceived by him.

The readers came to the conclusion that Dunya wanted a bright future for herself, she strived for it and she attained it. While Samson Vyrin was satisfied with his “littleness”, he never wanted to get rid of it, so he met with a tragic end.


The above mentioned reactions of Indian readers prove that even after 180 years of its creation, “The Station Master” can have an entirely different interpretation for a reader unaware of its social and historical contexts. Samson Vyrin failed to appeal to the readers’ heart; instead, they were more concerned about Dunya’s fate. The time, the socio-economic, political and cultural differences between the two countries (those of the writer and of the reader) contribute to the change in reader’s attitude towards Vyrin. Hence, it is clear that when a reader comes across a certain text, he does not necessarily have the same opinion about it, which the author or its original audience had in mind. He can’t be taken back to the exclusive atmosphere of the text, can’t be isolated from his surroundings. The historical, geographical and cultural changes play a major role in framing of a reader’s response towards a text, written in certain peculiar socio-economic conditions of a particular country. The reader, in this context an Indian reader, will form an opinion about the text that will be based exclusively on his own experience, his own culture and his own socio-economic conditions. We feel that, with reference to this particular text, no political principles influenced the readers’ judgment.

It is equally interesting to note that the structural centre of the story for Indian readers has become Dunya, not Vyrin – the “little man”, thus suggesting a change in the basic structure of the story. While all the readers seemed engrossed in thoughts about Dunya’s fate, no one bothered to question the daring behavior of Minsky. The typical Indian demand of high moral values for lower and middle classes of society seem to be the main reason for this. In conclusion, the experiment shows that a reader’s response to a text is based on his cultural, social and historical background and also on his political consciousness.

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