Small Story

Ilia Chavchavadze – Is That a Man?!

“Blame a friend to his face, an enemy behind his back”
Wise Saw

In  Rhetoric  it  is  written:  A  man  should  begin  everything  with  an  introduction.  This  is  true, Let us so begin.

Whoever recognizes himself in the image of Luarsab, whoever applies to himself what is written  of  Luarsab  willof  course  begin  to  throw  mud  and  call  the  simple  author  of  this  story  a  “fool”.  Let  them  be  well  assured  that  we  have  naught  to  do  with  individuals,  we  write  of  a  general evil.

For  the  rest,  I  find  courage  in  the  truth  of  these  words:  “Blame  a  friend  to  his  face,  an  enemy  behind  his  back”.  Where  now  art  thou  that  first  spoke  these  wise  words?  I  know  where  thou art: thou art in the people, unseen, and of the people.

I  know  too  what  thou  art  called,  thy  name  is  the  genius  of  the  people.  And  I  know  thy  nature: thou art infallible and always right. Thou and only thou givest to him whose heart is sore for “others”. Thou doest this even when those “others” hold sympathy with their sorrows to be a sin. What are we to do? Some show .their sympathy by praising what is evil in a friend and some by blaming the evil. Of these two kinds of people the reader will himself perceive which has the greatest and truest sympathy and love.


Prince  Thathkaridze’s  abode  was  a  fine  sight.  Imagine  to  yourself  in  the  midst  of  Kakhethi  in  a  little  village,  a  bare,  low-lying  spot  and  in  the  very  heart  of  it  a  two-story  stone  house. And after this manner were the stories: below was a wine cellar roofed with dry branches of vine and behind this cellar against the wall a little room with a balustrade.

On the balustrade, like a swallow’s nest, there, was fixed up a narrow plank which played the part of a bed. A little way off stood a fireplace also of planks, on this side of it a shed upon which was placed a lop-sided grain-basket, a miserable, forlorn-looking object. There was a little garden  too,  fenced  round.  By  the  fence  could  be  seen,  near  a  leafytree,  an  old  straw  shed,  bent  and twisted on to its side by the vicissitudes of time. It was as if it would fain have lain down in the shade, but like an old woman suddenly stricken by an attack of rheumatism, it was stopped, all  crooked  and  surly.  The  courtyard  of  this  castellated  mansion  was  fairly  extensive.  It  was  engirt by an old paling which had been broken in more than one place and it had never come into the present owner’s head to mend it. Evidently he is a Georgian!

The  fence  was  terminated  at  one  end  by  huge  red  gates,  of  which  one  side  perhaps  for  two years, — had been pursuing with a terrible frown a post, as if  it  would  seize  it and beat it, while the post bent still farther over as if to slip away. Beyond the red gate was a large barn. The straw of it was lying spread like a hillock on the southern side of the whole barn, so that the end of it lay on the chaff-place. The chaff-place was ludicrous, so idiotically meditative and raised on the one side, looking like nothing so much as a broken-winged goose.

In  my  early  childhood  I  have  seen  many  a  fine  sight  on  this  straw:  here  often  disported  themselves,  grunting  from  excess  of  sentiment,  tender  pigs,  many  a  time  with  their  soft  snouts  they burrowed in the fragrant straw, so energetically, with such delicacy as only pigs are capable of.  Then  their  fondling!  Their  caresses!  Oh,  these  are  indescribable.  However  contented,  these  pigs  treated  each  other  to  the  snout.  What  yelling  and  squealing  used  to  begin  then!  Thus  does  our peasant frequently bestow upon his newly made bride a blow of his fist as a sign of affection. Somebody has said: “Georgian love is an injury”, and I say: a blow is after all, a kind of caress. In administrative matters this has yet another significance; there a blow is a means of instruction. That is not our affair.

The inside of the courtyard was as filthy as an old chinovnik’s (official’s) heart. It was a serious undertaking to reach the master of the house without dirtying yourself or  without  being  saluted by some unsavoury fragrance. This is the outside, — now, readers, we invite you to enter the house of Prince T’hat’hkaridze.

But we must warn you that if we go in we must be careful. The floor is of brick. That is nothing. This is the difficulty that here and there the bricks have been pulled up and in their place remain  hollowed  out  holes.  You  must  keep  your  eyes  very  wide  open,  for  if  your  foot  slips  in,  woe  to  your  enemy!  A  man  might  break  his  neck  or  else  his  leg.  It  is  true  indeed  the  host  will  make many apologies, but an excuse doesn’t easily mend a broken neck nor is it the best remedy for  a  fractured  limb.  A  man  might  avoid  this  disaster  if  the  room  were  light.  But  alas!  it  is  not  even this. Although it has two windows, pretty small even for loopholes, still the room is dark, because  on  the  pine  window  frames  instead  of  glass  some  very  active  mind  had  fixed  oiled  paper. There is a proverb applicable to this sort of thing: “Cunning is better than force, if a man is ingenious”. In ingenuity the cleverest European chatterer cannot excel a Georgian.

Many a time elsewhere have I seen such windows with ludicrous ornaments. Many a time have I seen the oiled paper on such a window pricked with patterns with a needle: sometimes a heart  is  portrayed,  sometimes  a  cross:  and  again  sometimes  something  like  the  following  is  is  written: “How did the bear go up the tree, lullaby, lullaby!”!

This of course must be a woman’s work. And if it were indeed, what harm is there in it? Weary of reading her Psalter, with some sorrow on her heart, seated at the window to distract her mind and pass a wearisome day she may have taken her breast-pin and set her hand to this really entertaining work. She was idle and she acted in accordance with the proverb: “Useless work is better than useless sitting”.

In T’hat’hkaridze’s room there were two long divans opposite each other. So clean were the felt and carpets spread upon them, that when the Princess rose up, on every serene stop of the serene foot of her serene highness the clouds of dust rose so prettily that the beholder could not gaze enough. Between the two divans on the eastern wall was seen a besmoked, from the inside and  from  the  outside,  sad,  mournful  fireplace,  like  the  open  mouth  of  a  toothless  old  woman.  Here and there as adornments to the room were scattered various objects, such as: a muddy pair of white Qarabagh riding boots, a broken-mouthed copper jug, a greasy candlestick, dried herbs boiled in a copper teapot, a piece of the back of a dried fish, etc, etc.


Think not, readers, that this house belonged to some poor man and that therefore it was so pitiably neglected — no, he is the master of twenty men with well-built houses so that he is able to man as many as ten carts for agricultural purposes,  sheep  in  abundance  and  about  a  hundred  horses which are of no less value to an enlightened owner than so many slaves. So much for the live  stock:  now  let  us  count  up  the  property:  two  well  grown  vineyards  and  land  enough  for  a  hundred  and  fifty  days  ploughing  and  sowing.  These  possessions  serfs,  houses  and  land  in  the  hands of one who knows how to make the best of it are a choice morsel.

Then why does it stand in such ill condition, asks the astonished reader. Because he is a Georgian, we reply, fully convinced that we have given a good reason.

Yes,   in   that   beautiful   home   dwells   a   Georgian,   free   from   care,   Prince   Luarsab   T’hat’hkaridze, a man of forty, with his inseparable spouse, Princess Darejan.

Prince Luarsab T’hat’hkaridze was a well-nourished  Georgian of the olden time, as round — I make no apology for the simile — as a well fatted calf. His Highness had the appearance of a  gentleman:  a  head  so  big  that  it  seemed  as  if  by  its  weight  his  thick  neck  was  fixed  in  his  shoulders like a nave in a wheel; his poppy cheeks were ruddy as Thurashian apples, a soft chin with triple fold, apt to kindle love great big eyes, always bloodshot as if he had a rope tied round his neck; a swelled, very considerably protruding, highly respected and respectable paunch, inert, fat,  hairy  hands,  squat,  big  feet-here  you  have  a  general  and  particular  description  of  Prince Luarsab’s  “heaven-breathed  soul’s”  worthy  covering.  This  heaven-breathed  soul  was  nowhere  visible, as if it had been choked through being buried in His Highness’s fat. A Georgian should be careful of breathing in or letting out wind. May not our prince have let this “heaven-breathed” soul escape in wind?

Of learning, by the grace of God, he had none at all. If he had he would not have been so fat.  It  often  happens  that  when  the  soul  languishes  the  flesh  makes  holiday,  when  the  soul  blooms the flesh fades. This is why, they say, that consumptives are wise. I do not think, it ever struck our Luarsab to ask why he had no education, — just for that reason:

“It is the plague of the present day”, he used to say sorrowfully, just as if the country was suffering from this plague.

His  Highness  was  right  too:  in  his  opinion  man  was  a  bottomless  jar  into  which  all  day  there  should  be  poured  provender  and  drink,  but  it  could  never  be  filled.  His  Highness  saw  in  himself, with his serene wisdom, that an untutored man could fulfil this function perfectly well, all the more if he is lord of herds and serfs, serfs who do not differ much from the herds.

“Times  have  changed”  Luarsab  used  to  say  with  a  groan,  “times  have  changed.”.  Since  these infernal schools have been introduced, Sir, the virtue has gone forth from the Georgian. No colour is left in our children. As for eating, they do not know how to eat, and as for drinking they can’t drink. What sort of men are they?! They understand books? Though I don’t know anything about books am I not a man, haven’t I a hat on my head! (*1) I don’t lack flesh and colour. Books are not a trade for men, — that’s women’s work. Give me back the good old days ! Then everything was  done  in  the  proper  way,  everything  was  in  its  own  place…  A  good  horse,  a  good  gun,  a  strong arm, and a man was respected then” Ah! my Luarsab! I know thou art sincere, like every old-fashioned Georgian, but thou art wrong in longing for the olden times. Dost thou not know who  was  desirable  in  the  old  days?  Are  there  not  horses  now?  Does  not  the  gun  hit  the  mark  nowadays? Are there few strong arms? We still have all these things, but we lack that heart, that ardour,  that  patriotic  devotion  which  was  wont  to  use  a  good  horse  and  a  good  gun  in  a  good  cause. The men of by-gone times gave beauty to horse and gun, but now it is the horse and gun that adorn the man. The olden days were good, but the poet Besarion Gabashvili was not wrong when he said. “One ‘I have’ is better than a thousand ‘I hads?'”, — we will say this and bite our tongues, lest…

Though  Luarsab  lamented  so  much  the  plague  of  the  present  day,  still  his  face  always  wore a smile of imbecility peculiar to him. There is a saying: “If you yoke one ox to another it will  change  either  its  colour  or  its  temper”.  I  never  saw  this  proverb  so  justified  as  in  Prince  Luarsab’s house. His dear consort, Princess Darejan was indeed her husband’s other self and they were “One soul and one flesh” as it says in Holy Writ. But how? The same rotundity, the same corpulency,  the  same  smiling  face  and  almost  the  same  stupidity.  These  two  tender  wood  pigeons, one in soul and flesh, lived wondrous pleasantly together, far from the vapid turmoil of the world. At cockcrow the happy couple opened their eyes: Darejan immediately flew out of the nest  while  Luarsab,  the  selfish  Luarsab,  often  indulged  himself.  With  the  coverlet  thrown  back  from his chest to turned on the other side with a snore, a groan and other noises of the kind. It happened even that he passed the dull time until dinner in this luxurious manner.

The Georgians say: “He who has plenty of hair on his body is lucky” If this be true, then beasts should be happy! If it be false why should so many of us try to act like beasts? Because if beasts are happy they are only happy because they are hairy.

What can we say about Luarsab’s body? As for his chest it was covered with bristles like a pig, so that many doubtful creatures were able in times of alarm to find shelter there, but “… but what? Was not Luarsab happy? As many healths had been drunk in his honour as a Prince of his  standing  could  desire.  The  hair  on  his  body  alone  was  enough  to  rouse  the  envy  of  an  unfortunate man, apart from anything else. What indeed troubled Luarsab? Did he lack colour or flesh? When did he, like any other simple man, allow thought or care to rob him of sleep or of appetite? He had a good colour, the best of flesh, enough of drink, food and sleep. What more is needed by a Georgian who considers that good and bad luck depend upon hair, and for him, if it be his lot, happiness consists in fanning away flies with his hat all his days.

Reader, are you not weary? Of course you are: here there is no love intrigue, no murder, no wailing of hopeless maids, no leaping into the water, in a word nothing that adorns the story written to amuse, here there is nothing of this kind. Then you must be weary, of course. But you ought to know this, reader, that I have not written down this simple story to amuse you. I want this story to make the reader think, and if it wearies him it is because thinking and boredom are inseparable brother and sister. I want the reader to be wearied, not because it is not amusing but because he is made to think. If this simple work can succeed in doing this I want nothing more, nor did I desire more, my weary reader! If I cannot contrive to do this, what’s to be done? I can console myself with this that idle work is better than idle “sitting” How many a useless man has become useful by this blessed proverb. I too perhaps…

When  Luarsab  was  in  the  state  of  bliss  above  described  it  was  death  if  anybody  interrupted  his  enjoyment  and  luxury,  that  is,  turning  over  and  over  in  a  gentlemanly  and  honourable manner on the divan. He was angry if a guest came, said silly people, but surely this was not because he was mean? I wonder that you should think such a thing! Can meanness and a Georgian  be  found  together?  Do  not  frost  and  fire  destroy  each  other?  If  he  disliked  visitors  it  was only because he had to get up and dress. Getting up even was nothing, this had no terrors for Luarsab:  but  it  was  dressing  that  was  the  death  of  him.  He  passed  the  whole  summer  without  letting anything come near his body except his shirt and its companion garment, if he was left to his  own  devices;  if  not,  everything  additional  was  a  burden  to  him.  In  winter  he  put  a  fur  coat  over his shirt, unless any important personage was invited, for instance the district judge. At the time of which I write the judge was a big bogey: nowadays, since that weary learning has come in,  the  judge  is  not  looked  upon  as  anybody  in  particular,  but  formerly  ugh!  ugh!  What  a  great  man  he  was.  He  was  such  a  big  man  that  a  proverb  was  made  about  his  entertainment  by  the  lesser nobility: “Don’t think it a joke to have a judge for your guest”. That entertaining a judge is no joke every peasant even knows very well nowadays, and formerly the princes knew it too.

Darejan  was  not  as  lazy  as  Luarsab;  in  this  respect,  ‘fore  God;  they  were  certainly  not  alike;  it  turned  out  that  they  had  the  same  colour  but  not  the  same  character.  Whenever  the  princess opened her eyes wide she flew out from the divan like a falcon, fastened her petticoat, tied a kerchief round her neck, put on a chintz ‘gown — sometimes in her haste, wrong side, first — thrust her bare feet into slippers, and, with a “Now boy!” went down to the strawhouse where the servants reigned, that is in misery and only to a certain extent, and brooded wrathfully over their pent-up feelings. This useless pottering about on the part of our princess was wonderful and ludicrous.  This  fat,  dumpy  woman  often  stood  on  her  feet  from  morning  till  noon  and  rolled  about like a ball. She was not as idle as she seemed: here she poked with her elbow a bleary-eyed girl  dozing  over  her  sewing,  here  she  slapped  the  head  of  a  smoky,  ragged  little  urchin,  who  yawning  and  lazily,  was  cleaning  for  the  evening  the  greasy  candle-sticks  of  the  night  before;  here  she  scolded  one  —  for  what?  The  princess  herself  hardly  knew  why;  there  she  abused  another — why? The princess did not know this either; she cursed, swore, raged; in a word, she poured  forth  on  her  subordinates  all  the  pent-up  wrath  of  the  night  and  then,  weary  and  exhausted, went into the house; if she met the maid she could not resist giving her another nudge, with a supplementary “May a thunderbolt strike you”, if she was in a good humour — and thus worn  out  she  rolled  into  the  room,  where  sometimes  the  bloated  prince  had  rolled  over  like  a  wine-skin and if it was summer, counted the flies on the ceiling. On one noteworthy occasion he expressed an opinion and they started a discussion, This was in the middle of the hottest time in summer,  before  dinner,  when  Darejan  had  just  finished  a  journey  of  the  above  description  and  came back into the room with a throbbing in her head and wet with sweat. Luarsab looked round, and seeing that the sweat flowed in beads over her ruddy cheeks said to himself with satisfaction: she is a fair tower of strength in the household, she is a fine woman! I thank thee, my Creator, that thou hast vouchsafed me such an one.

When  he  had  said  this,  content  with  his  unclouded  lot,  the  prince  pleased  with  God  and  man,  turned  over  on  the  other  side.  This  turning  over  and  over  was  a  sign  that  Luarsab  was  pleased at something.

“Where have you been, my dear, that you are so tired?” he then enquired of the princess.

“How  can  you  ask  me  where,  my  dear?  if  you  have  a  house,  a  household,  a  yard,  you  must keep a sharp look-out, may your troubles light on my head!” replied the princess.

“Just so, my Darejan, just so, I honour you for it! it is woman’s work.

“Well!” replied his consort, self-satisfied with his praise: “You must keep your eyes wide open with servants or they will do nothing but eat. Young people want looking after.”

“Of course, of course!” “Many a woman does not know how to attend to her business”.

“No, they don’t know, if they did it would be a good thing, so it would!”

“Sometimes you must rage at them without a cause. If you abuse them it won’t do them any harm. Now see how I abuse them, how angry I get, how I rage and curse, and all for what? So that they may fear and respect me, otherwise! …”

“Of course, of course, otherwise! …”

“That’s what peasants are like; like a stubborn ass, if you once give it its head, then, even if you hold a bunch of berries before its nose you cannot make it budge a foot if you don’t rage at it”.

“Of  course  you  must  roar  at  it,”  replied  Luarsab,  again  enchanted  at  his  wife’s  wisdom:  “of course, they are like stubborn asses”.  “I am right, am I not?” “Of  course  you  are  right,  quite  right.  Even  the  dream  of  a  woman  would  be  true,”  chattered Luarsab inconsequentially. He himself did not know why he had dragged dreams into the conversation.

They were both silent. Luarsab fixed his eyes on the ceiling, where swarms of flies were sitting. Darejan began knitting a sock.

In a short time Luarsab called out:

“I  say”,  Darejan,  of  you  are  a  clever  woman,  guess  how  many  flies  there  are  on  that  beam?”


“There, on that beam of the ceiling.”

Now don’t say that while they had been silent that ridiculous Luarsab had been counting the flies. How should Darejan know.

“How many are there?” said Darejan, “tell me, then I’ll count them”.

“I could find out that way. But guess, that is where the sport comes in”.

“Is that how I am to do it? Very well, I say there are thirty.”

“Oh! Ho! Ho! You, you can’t guess.

“Well, how many are there?”

“How many? shall I tell you? No, I won’t”.

“Tell me if you know.”

“As I am a man, there must be forty, Oh ! Ho! Ho! you … I have guessed.

“Yes, you have guessed… you counted, as you did the other day; I could guess like that too”.

“God bless you! may my good father be damned if I counted.”

“Then how do yo know there are forty?”

“How? because I am intelligent”.

“But am I not intelligent too?”

“Yes, but how can a woman’s intelligence come up to a man’s? I saw by looking carefully that there were forty”.

“But if there are not forty?”

“I’ll bet you there are”.

“Then let us count them”.

The pair began to count the flies. It turned out that there were more than fifty.

“So you guessed?!” said Darejan reprovingly: “yes, you guessed. My lord has intelligence and that’s why he guessed”.

Luarsab was ashamed and became somewhat confused.

“They  had  flown  away,  there  were  forty,”  said  the  stupid  fellow  to  justify  himself;  “of  course they had flown away”.

“All  the  better  if  they  had  flown  away,  wouldn’t  there  have  been  fewer  left?  There  are  more than fifty there now”.

Luarsab grew angry and said to himself: “Why did I chatter like that”.

When he found himself entangled in his own net, grinding his teeth, at which the princess laughed aloud, he said:

“God damn! I am not such a child! I counted them four times”

“But you said you hadn’t counted them”.

“I  wonder  to  hear  you  say  so!  If  I  had  not  counted  them,  I  should  have  been  another  Solomon the Wise if I had guessed. Of course I counted them, God damn! I made a mistake or else I should have won, my soul’s delight! By my life and by God, I should have won.”

Thus spoke the deceitful Luarsab, and became sweet as sugar to his consort who had won on this occasion.

“And so you didn’t count them, you imp, you?” repeated the princess with a smile.

“I have acknowledged it, my dear, what more do you want?”

“Your long life and happiness, my pet! what more should I want”.

“Darejan!”…  said  Luarsab  in  an  aggrieved  and  bashful  tone;  “Darejan,  if  you  love  me,  don’t call me pet.”

“Why, my dear, why?”

“It doesn’t befit a man like me, let me tell you with all due respect: people call little lap dogs “pet”, it’s a dog’s name, but what sort of name is it to apply to a man?”

“But aren’t you my little doggie? Aren’t you? This is the first time I have heard you say so,” replied Darejan sobbing, for she considered that if he objected to be called her little dog he must have ceased to love.

Luarsab  perceived  that  he  had  grieved  her,  and  all  to  no  purpose,—and  in  order  to  dissipate the idea of his ceasing to love her, he said grinning his teeth:

“Oh! I give in! Oh! I am your little doggie, of course I am! What an eloquent woman she is!” said Luarsab to himself. How prettily and poetically she spoke about my being a little dog! What a mastery of language !… How could she think of it?!”

He too wanted to invent some endearing epithet, but while he was trying to think of one there  swam  before  his  eyes  visions  of  stock  fish,  middle  cut  of  sturgeon,  leg  of  mutton  with  garlic and such things. With these objects in view what caressing epithet could a man think of?

Nevertheless Luarsab contrived to utter eloquent words:

“Do you know what you are to me? Cress of my soul, tarragon of my heart and my mind’s —  what  shall  I  say?  Let’s  say  salt.  Haven’t  I  spoken  well,  if  I  have  not  may  your  good  and  renowned father be damned! Weren’t they pretty epithets?”

Chattering  thus  Luarsab  enchanted  by  his  own  eloquence  gnashed  his  teeth  as  a  sign  of  joy. Nor was Darejan unhappy. Often did our couple pass the time in this way. Would that they, O reader!


Luarsab well knew how to “terrorize” the servants, as he himself would say. It is true he was  inclined  to  be  lazy,  but  after  all  did  not  such  a  large  estate  need  supervision?  The  cares  of  this estate drove him to spring from his couch. Then you should have seen what a fair sight our Luarsab  was  barefooted,  with  a  blue  sheepskin  hat  upon  his  head,  in  a  red  shirt,  with  his  inseparable companion.

(*1) In Georgian a male is a “hat wearer”, a female a “mantilla wearer”.

Ilia Chavchavadze
Translated by Marjory and Oliver Wardrops
Ganatleba Publishers
Tbilisi 1987


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