Of late, I have been thinking about this book called ‘The Same Old Story’ by Ivan Goncharov. I had read that book really long back. Like, sometime when I was in high school – 1993-94, I think.
Let’s get to the story now. I remember the gist of the story. The details are very sketchy in my mind.
There is this guy called A. Young, 16-18 years, full of hopes and dreams. He lives in a village or a small town. Spends his time lying under trees, looking at butterflies, writing poems and so on. Imagine your own romantic 16-year old self. That’s A.
He has to study further and see the world. So, his parents send him to stay with his uncle in Moscow (or was it St. Petersburg?). Okay, some big city where this uncle is living successfully – mid thirties, well paying government job, bachelor life, paunch, pompousness, and so on.
A is living with his uncle and pretty soon starts thinking, rather critically, of his uncle’s life. He concludes that the uncle is spending his life uselessly. A wants to lead a romantic life. Steady, sedentary job, late night obligatory drinking, dreary social life are not for him. He wants to be free and happy.
In the course of a couple of years (or more), the uncle marries a young twenty-something. A becomes friends with the wife since they are almost in the same age group now. A fresh round of critical thinking follows now. What kind of a being marries some one so young and leaves her uncared for? Oh, if only A had a girl like her….he would make her happy beyond every dream. A still thinks of himself as the greatest-romantic-on-earth types and looks down upon people like his uncle with something like pity. Now, I am sorry if this dashes expectations but i dont remember any romance happening between the wife and A (it would have been juicy, no?).
In due course of time, A moves out of his uncle’s house, gets a job and one day makes a trip back home. The house is changed now. Everyting is old, rusty and musty. He starts looking for some of his papers and generally starts tidying up the place, as we all do when we go back home after a long time. The people living there don’t find any need to do so, but we do take everything out and air it once, don’t we?
During the process, he comes across an old trunk crammed with papers. They are his uncle’s. The papers are full of poems, sketches and notes that A could recognise as the output of an incurable romantic. Here he discovers that the uncle, for all his dreary life now, was once as ardent a romantic as A himself was.
Then, A thinks of his life in the big city. He is now thirtyish, works in a government office and drinks everyday at his club. It’s been at least a year since he took a long walk and the hideous looking paunch he has developed refuses to hide itself. And he is now looking forward to marry…a twenty-something girl.
That’s the same old story.
Like I said, I had read this story when I was in high school. It’s made such a strong impression on me that I remember the gist till today. Though I can’t recall the names or the plot details, I think I got the idea right. I remember a number of occasions I thought about it or told people about it. Still, you know something doesn’t mean you understand it. You understand it doesn’t mean you will be able to do anything about it. You do something about it doesn’t mean you get the result you want. Even if you get the result you want, there is no telling how you end up feeling about it.
If you look back, look at yourself, think long and hard, and then look around, may be you will also see the pits around your’s, and recognize the metaphorical ‘uncles’ in them. But then, may be you are not as jobless (okay, any other adjective you please!) as I am…and, may be you don’ want to do all that.
Anyway, it’s the same old story.