Living a life like Anton Chekhov’s ‘The Bet’: An Essay by Fiza Pathan
It was in the year 2014 that I came across Anton Chekhov’s short story ‘The Bet’. It was one of the literature lessons that was prescribed for the ICSE tenth graders. I read ‘The Bet’ which was a story about the way a young twenty-five-year-old lawyer manages to stay fifteen years in solitary confinement.
You see, he did this as part of a ‘bet’ with an excitable but millionaire banker who stakes two million to prove that the young lawyer would never be able to stay in solitary confinement for even a year. The lawyer accepts the bet and challenges the banker saying that he would be able to stay for fifteen years in solitary confinement. The lawyer was to be isolated in a lodge in the garden of the banker. He would not be able to have any contact with the outside world. He was allowed any number of books, wine, tobacco, and a musical instrument to pass his fifteen years. Coming back to 2014 when I was reading this story, I realized that this is what I craved for all my life. I was then twenty-five years old like the lawyer and I craved to be in solitary confinement with only books as my companion. After 2014, I slowly started to prepare myself subconsciously or rather prophetically for such an eventuality by stocking myself with a vast quantity of books.
I’ve always had this ‘need’ for solitude and books. Maybe it stemmed from my teenage years when I wanted to be a cloistered nun which never materialized. I have mentioned all this in my two literary memoirs The Reclusive Writer & Reader of Bandra and Scenes of a Reclusive Writer & Reader of Mumbai. If you want to check it out be free to do so. They are steeped in bookishly delicious content that you as a fellow book lover will appreciate.
So, oddly I started preparing for a situation where I would never have to get out of the house and my office premises. I started to lessen my moments outside, only visiting bookshops and libraries and no other place. I would venture outdoors once or twice in two weeks to go to exchange books. I immersed myself or drowned myself in books. I mentioned in both my memoirs that I would be cutting off from all contact with the world, almost like the lawyer in Chekhov’s story. I cut off all possible relations with my friends, extended family, family friends, etc. It was just me and a lot of books.
Then this March COVID-19 happened. Luckily, I was stocked!
Like the lawyer, I have been spending around four months of the year 2020 confined to my home, the tuition house, and my office-cum-writing hut. I write, teach senior students via Zoom to earn my daily bread, I blog and otherwise read – read – READ BOOKS!
And I am not bored, not one bit bored. But when COVID-19 happened, I remembered Anton Chekhov’s story about the lawyer and realized that sometimes, things are just meant to be.
Like the lawyer, I read indiscriminately. If it were not for teaching, corrections, blogging, writing, et al., that take up most of my time, I think I would be able to read a 200-page book a day. I read fiction and non-fiction in possibly all the genres present on this planet. The only books I think that I don’t read are travel maps; yes, that is about the only category of books I don’t read. I drink my coffee in the morning and start work. I read through the course of the day and have grown like the lawyer in the story ‘The Bet’ quite used to this kind of life. It suits me. The lawyer in Chekhov’s story becomes cynical but quite self-actualized at the end of the story. He rejects the two million on the last day of his voluntary imprisonment and leaves a few hours before the due date and time. The lawyer rejects the money which he was in confinement for. He does this because after reading all the books in the world he has realized that humanity is hopeless. This is a reminder of Heraclitus, one of my favorite Greek writers. Heraclitus rejects the hypocrisy of the world and leaves it, to remain in voluntary solitary confinement. The lawyer is self-actualized but unlike Lord Buddha, who went out to teach the world, he rejects the world and goes his way into the great oblivion.
My point in writing this piece is that, even I have realized that the world is not worth much. Books can tell you more than what the devious world can. And, at the rate things are going, there will come a time soon when even books will be written according to the dictates of draconian leaders and who the hell even wants to read their lies! Truth is dying or dead in a world that was sick even before COVID-19. I am just a reclusive writer and reader. As long as I am alive, I’ll read till my last breath, but I don’t want to have anything more to do with the world. I reject the world as the lawyer did and embrace my solitude like a lover his mate.
Books can live my life for me; I don’t want to live it. I will live one life on my own if I step out, but with books, I can live a million lives in one body. So long as I do not die of this pandemic that has robbed us even of our shadows, I shall read like the lawyer and like him learn how I can be still. I shall continue to blog, write, and teach but now, all in solitude.
I shall do a short story review on ‘The Bet’ by Anton Chekhov in the coming days. It’s a story that has affected me more as a person than any other short story penned by my other favorite writers who are R. K. Narayan, Ruskin Bond, Premchand, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, and William Shakespeare. I shall chronicle, in short essay blog posts, my life in voluntary solitary confinement with only books as companions, and I hope you find solace and get some knowledge from these posts.
If you are interested in more book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, then you can check out my blog insaneowl.com. If you want to buy my books then you can check out my website fizapathanpublishing.us or fizapathan.com. Happy reading to you always and evermore!
Copyright © 2020 Fiza Pathan