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Who is Afraid of Anton Chekhov

A Critical Approach to The Peg

By Mustafa Mudathir

“It's curious that we can't possibly tell what exactly will be considered great and important, and what will seem paltry and ridiculous.Did not the discoveries of Copernicus or Columbus, let us say, seem useless and ridiculous at first, while the nonsensical writings of some wiseacre seemed true?” Anton Chekhov.
“The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do” Walter Bagehot.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Jesus Christ.

End of Introduction

Shawgi Badri (R), Gasim Badri (L)

Dhakar Namil- An adolescent boy. Typical of the poor, mischievous black residents of old Omdurman. Mamoun- A boy. Represents the prevalent class and culture. Being able, even if as a last resort, to restore the status qou of peace and calm.
Kaltoum- A featureless one of them. Her house is a focus of confused (or else delayed) intentions. Thanks to her popular beverage! A must be in the Town of the Tired! 
Elkhair- Look at the name! Probably a hard-working guy. But he must have his drinks after a long working day, to pat on a vague sense of arrogance run down his spine.

The Plot:

An adolescent Dhakar Namil conjures up a vengeful act on Elkhair, who apparently, has won the heart of Kaltoum, the woman with whom the adolescent is silently in love. The plan works well to draw the attention of the woman to the …new male in the block!
Such a plan and other unheard of manoeuvres and designs were typical of this part of Omdurman of the sixties..and early seventies (just to include my presumptuous self!)
The energy for these schemes derived mainly from movies. Cinema was rampant in those decades. Shawgi Badri lays out the setting for his story in a brilliant way that points to a certain geographical spot with interesting description. The reader soon fits into a place with landmarks that breed in his mind the expectation of tension.
We have a short story where we are not astronauts in the weightlessness of space.We feel and smell the ‘red’ dust of Omdurman. And the scorching sun on a Friday.
In his plan to annoy and discomfort almost everyone, Dhakar Namil skillfully manipulates the compromising, restorative tendency in his adversary..or rather his prey Mamoun. He thus obtains from him the tool of mass discomfort—the peg!
Towards the end of the story which climaxes in a mad stampeding horse, Badri cleverly engages the reader in the details of the havoc wreaked by the horse. He shows us in detail how a means of livelihood, a source of a 'privileged' life in poverty is destroyed by the whim of a kid. But he also means, by this detailing of the destruction of the cart machine, to divert our attention from the other machine—the peg! Another skill in short story writing!
The closing paragraph is pure cinema with the self-pleased super-adolescent being super-imposed on chaos. A cigarette stuck between his fingers and his eyes are sending loving looks to Kaltoum.
Now we know why he asked for only one piastre from the money he shared with Mamoun!!
And then...
There are those bold allusions to class distinction! The pigeons and the Waika (dried Okra)!  You get the whole deal!

I remember having a discussion with a friend I found immersed into writing a critical essay on short story writing for a Sudanese paper. He was doing one of Anton Chekhov’s stories. I pulled Shawgi Badri’s book and said, " Here, why don’t you try one of these? We may have our own Chekhov!"
He fell into deep silence. Probably trying to think what his editor would say!

End. MM

Read The Peg
Read Arbic version The Peg and Other Stories
Stories of Anton Chekhov
Chekhov's Lady with Lapdog

First published 11:09 PM 7/2/11


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