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In 41, I was living alone in an empty flat in a quiet Moscow street…
My parents were divorced and my father was somewhere in Kazakhstan with his new wife and their two children. I seldom received letters from him.
My mother was at the front. She had given up her work as a geologist to become a singer and was giving concerts for the troops.
My education was left to the street. The street taught me to swear, smoke, spit, elegantly though my teeth, and to keep my fists at the ready – a habit which I have to his day.
The street taught me not to be afraid of anything or anyone – this is another habit I have kept.
I realized that what mattered in the struggle for life was to overcome my fear of those who were stronger.
front- place where two armies are fighting in a war
concert- musical entertainment, usually given in a public ball
elegantly- showing a good sense of style
Think it out
1. Is the narrator a child or an adult narrating his childhood experiences?
2. Does the narrator have happy experiences in his childhood? Why/ why not?
3. What was his relationship with his father?
4. how did his mother spend her time?
5. What does ‘My education was left to the street’ mean here?
6. What wee the two habits that remained with him all his life?
7. What in your opinion was the best lesson that the street taught to the narrator?
The ruler of our street… was a boy of about sixteen who was nicknamed Red.
Red was big and broad-shouldered beyond his years.
Red walked masterfully up and down our street, legs wide and with a slightly rolling gait, like a seaman on his deck.
Form under his cap, its peak always at the back of his head, his forelock tumbled down in a fiery cascade, and, out of his round pock-marked face, green eyes, like a cat’s, sparkled with scorn for everything and everyone. Two or three lieutenants in peaked caps back to front like Red’s, tripped at his heels.
Red could stop any boy and say impressively the one word ‘money’. His lieutenants would turn out the boy’s pockets, and if he resisted they beat him up hard.
Everyone was afraid of Red. So was I. I knew he carried a carried a heavy metal knuckle-duster in his pocket.
masterfully not caring for others
rolling a side-to-side movement
gait manner of walking
deck the floor of a ship
tripped walked with quick light steps
knuckle-duster mental covering for the knuckles, for attack or defence
Think it out
1. What made Red look older than the really was?
2. How did he roam in the streets?
3. How did he dress himself?
4. Did he intentionally dress and walk in the manner described?
5. Why did his lieutenants also wear their caps back to front?
6. What pet animal comes to your mind when you read the expression ‘tripped at his heels’?
7. What was his way of forcing money out of other boys?
8. How did he rule the street?
9. Was the narrator afraid of Red? Quote the sentence from the text in support of your answer.
exulted- showed great joy and excitement
triumphant- showing great joy or satisfaction
bore through- to state in a way that makes somebody feel uncomfortable
drawl to say something slowly with longer vowel sounds
impotent futile anger
vanquish defeat completely
Think it out
1. What was the first thing the narrator did to overcome his fear of Red?
2. How did the poem in the street respond to the poem?
3. Explain the expression “triumphant hatred”.
4. How did Red sneer the narrator?
5. ‘What was the result of his first encounter with Red?
6. ‘This was my first remuneration as a poet.’ – was the narrator happy with his reward as a poet?
7. What was a more difficult situation for the narrator : to be injured by Red or to overcome his fear of Red when he saw Red after his injury?
8. hat was the result of his second encounter with Red?
For three weeks, I stayed at home, practising with two other boys. Then I went out.
Red was sitting on the lawn in our yard, playing vingt-et-un with his lieutenants. He was absorbed in the game.
Fear was still deep in me, urging me to go back. But I want up to the players and kicked and scattered the cards.
Red looked up. surprised at my impudence after my recent flight.
He got up slowly. “You looking for more ?” he asked menacingly.
As before, his hand dived into his pocket for the knuckle-duster. But I made a quick jabbing movement and Red, howling with pain, rolled on the ground. Bewildered, he got up and came at me swinging his head furiously from side to side like a maddened bull.
I caught his wrist and squeezed slowly, as I had read in the book, until the knuckle-duster dropped from his limp fingers. Nursing his hand, Red fell down again. He was sobbing and smearing the tears over his pock-marked face with his grubby fist.
That day Red ceased to be the monarch of our street.
And from that day on, I knew for certain that one need not fear the strong. All one needs is to know the way to beat them. For every strong man there is a special ju-jitsu.
What I also learned on this occasion was that, to be a poet, I had not only to write poems, but know to stand them.
parallel- a pair of parallel bars on posts for gymnastic exercises
session- single meeting (for a particular purpose)
miraculous- most remarkable, like a miracle
ju-jitsu Japanese art of self defence
vingt-et-un a card game
absorbed entirely occupied, giving one’s full attention to
impudence utter disrespect or rudeness
menacingly in a threatening manner
bewildered puzzled, confused
Think it out
1. How did the narrator train himself to grow stronger?
2. How did he get a textbook on ju-jitsu?
3. How long did he train himself before the final encounter with Red?
4. Where did the final encounter take place? What was Red doing then?
5. How did the narrator attack Red?
6. How did Red react to the narrator’s attack?
7. How did the narrator tackle Red?
8. How did Red suffer at the hands of the narrator?
11. Which of these do you think is true: courage means not having fear at all or courage means conquering fear? Justify your choice.