Can sneezing be the reason for someone’s death! Read Anton Chekhov’s famous story ‘Death of a Clerk’

By Priyanka Tiwari July 24, 2023 5:43 PM IST

Russian writer Anton Chekhov was born in a simple family on January 29, 1860 in Taganrog, South Russia. He was very clever in reading. By 1884, Chekhov completed his education at the Medical College in Moscow and started practicing medicine. Along with medicine, he also had great attachment to literature. His first story was published in 1880 during his studies. Chekhov’s first story collection was published in 1884.

Anton Chekhov married an actress named Winnapper in 1901. Winapper was an actress in the Progressive Theater where many of Chekhov’s plays were staged. In 1904, Chekhov’s play ‘The Cherry Orchard’ was staged for the first time. Chekhov contracted tuberculosis in 1904 and died on July 15, 1904. Chekhov’s literature is read with great interest and respect all over the world. Indian writers consider Chekhov’s works to be of high quality. The great story emperor Premchand Chekhov was called the best story writer in the world. Chekhov’s stories are still staged in India. Doordarshan also aired a series on his plays and stories. Many of Chekhov’s stories are included in various courses.

A famous story by Anton Chekhov is ‘Death of a Clerk’. In this story, he has given a very beautiful and vivid description of the state of mind of a clerk. In this story, the clerk is so shocked by a sneeze that he keeps on apologizing to an officer for it, and in the end he dies in the guilt of the sneeze.

Death of a Clerk: Anton Chekhov
One fine night the clerk, Ivan Dmitrievich Chervyakov, was sitting in the second row of first class, with the help of binoculars, enjoying ‘Lacloches de Carneville’. He was watching the game and thinking himself the happiest man, when suddenly… ‘suddenly’ has become a cliche word in stories, but the writers are right: life is full of surprises! So, all of a sudden his face shrunk, his eyes went up to the sky, his breath stopped…he took the binoculars away from his eyes and doubled over and…sneezed!!! It means to say that he sneezed. As such, everyone has the right to sneeze wherever they want. Farmers, police station officers, even members of the Privy Council sneeze – everyone sneezes, everyone. Chervyakov was not embarrassed by this. He wiped his nose with his handkerchief and, being a decent man, looked around to see if his sneezing had inconvenienced anyone. And then he really shuddered because he saw an old man sitting right in front of him in the first row, wiping his bald scalp and neck with a glove and mumbling something. Chervyakov recognized the old man as Brizalov, the civil general of the Ministry of Transport.

“I sneezed on them!” Chervyakov thought. “He is not my officer. This is correct. But, how ugly is it even then! I must apologise.”
Coughing lightly, Chervyakov leaned forward and whispered in the general’s ear: “I’m sorry. Excellency, I sneezed…I didn’t mean to…”
“Hey, no problem…”
“Please forgive me. I…it was not on purpose…”
“Can’t you keep quiet? Let me hear!”

Somewhat nervous Chervyakov smiled shyly and tried to concentrate on the game. He was watching the game. But he was not enjoying. Restlessness was not leaving him. In the interim he reached Brijalov. He wandered around them for a while and then gathered courage and muttered: “Huzoor! I sneezed on you… I’m sorry… you know… I didn’t mean…”
“Hey! That’s all… I had even forgotten him, leave this matter now!” The general said and his belly started fluttering in impatience.

“They say that they have forgotten, but their eyes are full of malice.” Chervyakov thought, looking suspiciously at the general. “Don’t want to talk any more! I must explain to them that I did not mean that… that it was a natural thing, otherwise they might think that I wanted to spit on them. He may not think so now, but later he might…”

On reaching home, Chervyakov told his wife about his indecent behavior. He felt that his wife listened to the incident very carelessly. At first she was scared, but after knowing that Brijalov is a ‘stranger’ officer, she became relaxed.

“But I think you should go and apologise.” He said, “Otherwise they will think that you do not have the courage to sit among good men.”
That’s it! I tried to apologise, but the way it was done was so strange… didn’t do any proper thing. Then there was not even a chance to talk.

The next day Chervyakov wore a new uniform. Had his hair cut and went to apologize to Brizalov… The general’s reception room was full of applicants and the general himself was listening to their applications. After talking to some of them, the general’s gaze rose and fixed on Chervyakov’s face.
“Sir, last night at the Arcadia, if you remember,” the clerk began, “I… ah… I sneezed, and… ah… this happened… I beg your pardon…”

“Oops, what the hell!” said the general and turned to the other man.
“Don’t listen to me!” Turning pale with fear, Chervyakov thought, “That means he is very angry with me. The matter cannot be ended here… I must explain this to them.”
When the general turned to go to his private room after speaking to the last applicant, Chervyakov followed him humming: “Excuse me, sir! It is because of my heartfelt remorse that I am able to dare to trouble you.

The general made a teary face, waved his hand and said, “You’re making fun of me, sir!” Saying that he hid behind the door.
“Joke?” Chervyakov thought, “I don’t see anything funny in this. He is a general but does not understand such a thing! Very well, I will not trouble this good man with my apologies any longer. Go to hell with him! I will write him a letter. I won’t go near them anymore! Yes, I will not go, that’s it!

Chervyakov returned home immersed in such thoughts, but he did not write the letter. He thought a lot, but he could not decide in what words to write the matter. So the next day again, he had to go to the general to clear the matter.

“Mr! I dared to trouble you yesterday…” she began, now the general looked questioningly at her, “not to laugh at you, as Huzoor said, I came to you to apologize, that my sneezing hurt you… As for making fun of you, I can never even think of such a thing, how dare I? If we inculcate the idea of ​​making fun of such persons in the minds of the people, then where will the sense of respect remain… there will be no respect for the elders…”
“Get out of here!!” Trembling with anger, you are red-yellow, shouted the general.

Stunned with fear, Chervyakov whispered – “Wh-wh-what?”
Stamping his feet, the general repeated – “Get out!!”

Chervyakov felt as if something had broken inside him. He staggered back and reached the door. Came out the door and started walking down the street. He was neither seeing nor hearing anything… unconscious, mechanical-like he moved on the road. Arriving home, he without taking off his uniform, like a tit, lay down on the sofa and… died.

Tags: Books, Hindi Literature, Literature