Tabish Khair: What’s in a Word?

Tabish Khair in Berfrois:

At the core of Anton Chekov’s short story, ‘The Requiem’, there is a tussle over a word. Mass is just over in the small village church of Verhny Zaprudy. Andrey Andreyitch, a shopkeeper and an old inhabitant of the village, is angrily summoned by Father Gregory, still standing in his vestments by a door. He thrusts a small note at Andrey, demanding, “Was it you asked for prayers for the rest of Mariya’s soul?” In that small note is written, in big, “staggering” letters, “For the rest of the soul of the servant of God, the harlot Mariya.” Andrey readily acknowledges that he had sent the note.

Father Gregory is livid. It turns out that, unlike what the reader might have suspected, Father Gregory is not angry at being asked to pray for a ‘harlot.’ He is angry because Mariya is Andrey Andreyitch’s daughter. How dare you write such a note, he asks? Andrey fails to understand. For him, his daughter, who had become a well-known actress in Moscow, is a harlot in Biblical terms.

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