When my mother had brought a little dog into our lives, all of us had mused upon naming it. The usual debate had raged in our family over naming the untimely off springs- a plethora of weird names raging from mad-psychotic protagonists to some well-known scientist, but ultimately much to my dismay everyone in our family had agreed upon naming it Kashtanka. It was my grandfather’s word above all.
The disgrace of coming from an aristocratic family these days, is that it would try to enforce any stain of elite-ness in any form possible, and mine did it with the help of literary allegories.
‘This is a family of writers, poets, dramatists and musicians’, boasted my father.
‘Kashtanka?’ a guest would enquire
‘Yes, it’s a Russian name.’ My grandfather would proudly reply.
To add on to it, he would explain, that there’s this Anton Chekov story of the same name, and why one must read it. He also had this theory that this was the story from where Satyajit Ray had perhaps got the idea of luring the dog in his famous Pather Panchali shoot, where the dog follows Apu and Durga. It was a pretty crazy idea to begin with, but the only family for me are the mad ones. So I had to get used to them.
I do not remember much about that story except for a crude kid, torturing a cute dog, and the dog still sticking with the kid, perhaps he had nowhere to go in a cold sad Russia, dogs are like that, and to add on to it one should establish it to be apparently out of love, the innocent torture I mean. For me back then it was hard to imagine, how love could involve such heinous torture on a dog. I had to ponder about it. Russia wasn’t even a communist country during Chekov’s time, and if my western education served me well apparently it was the communists who made bombs out of dog fat.
So why did Chekov’s Russia be so cruel to dogs? Oh wait, it was love and much more.
I took care of Kasthanka, I loved him very much. Which true man doesn’t love a dog? Also, I was pretty worried that it may have to face the same fate as its namesake, well Mr. Chekov was writing out of imagination I believe, but more than often life surprises one by making the worst imaginations come true. So, I paid special attention to that. There would be no cruel owner in this Kasthanka’s life and for a brief time or so reality would serve better than fiction.
Kashtanka died before his first birthday crushed by a pillage of concrete that fell on him on the far side verandah of our old ancestral home, and after that, while mourning I wrote a short story about a dog that would live a century.
I think Mr. Chekov would have liked to end a story like that, with a jerk, a sudden jerk, just like life ends often.