When I entered into the two-storied building, an impressive one with prominent features from Russian Revival Architecture era, I did not fully realize what I was entering into.
It was a morning of early winter and the first snow in Rostov Oblast (Russian administrative region) fell on that very day. The wind chill was way too much for my tropical Bangladeshi blood to handle. I was just glad to be inside a building with heating system.
That building was our first stoppage in Taganrog, a picturesque port town by the side of Azov Sea. It was the school building where Anton Chekhov, one of the greatest short story writers ever, studied.
Our guide cum translator Kate informed us that the school had been shifted to another building in the premise and the building where Chekhov studied had been turned into a museum.
Anton Chekhov was born and raised in Taganrog. But when he turned 19 he left it to study in Medical University in Moscow. He visited it later on various occasions, but never returned to live there again. In the 19th century, Taganrog was a vibrant merchant town with large Greek, Italian and Jewish Diasporas, whose inhabitants later became the prototypes for Chekhov's characters.
The people of Taganrog meticulously preserve every object or building linked to their famous fellow townsman. The street he was born in now bears his name, as well as the library, the Taganrog University, and the theatre. The houses where Chekhov was born and the house where his family moved to later on was turned into museums, as was the school where he studied.
The people of the town take immense pride in preserving the objects and memorabilia of this great author.
In Chekhov's gymnasium
Showing different sections of the museum building, Victor Stadinichenko, curator of the Chekhov's museum said that Chekhov was sent to this grammar school (known as Taganrog gymnasium) at the age of eight.
It was not only the best school in town but also the oldest school in the South of Russia. Chekhov was an average pupil in the school but one of his brothers (Nikolay) who also studied in the same school, was extraordinary and won a silver medal.
Stadinichenk said that although Chekhov was reserved and undemonstrative in the school, he gained a reputation for satirical comments, pranks, and for making up humorous nicknames for his teachers. He enjoyed playing in amateur theatricals and often attended performances at the Taganrog Theatre.
As an adolescent he tried his hand at writing anecdotes, amusing or funny stories, although he wrote a serious long play at this time titled "Fatherless" which he later got rid of. After his father's business failed, the whole family left for Moscow in 1875 or 1876. Anton was left in Taganrog to care for himself and finish school.
The future world-famous playwright survived selling off household goods and tutoring younger school students at the Boy's Gymnasium. In 1879, Chekhov passed his final exams and joined his family in Moscow where he had obtained scholarship to study medicine at the Moscow University.
Chekhov's story was told to us along with the demonstration of different memorabilia and objects. The museum preserved everything. The small objects used by Chekhov, his first report card, the bench in the classroom where he usually used to sit.
It even had the design of the house that Chekhov's father planned to construct but could not because of the huge expenses. There are also a few rooms dedicated to his later life in Moscow and Crimea, his work and his characters. The museum has an impressive collection of Chekhov's books in dozens of languages along with dresses and original screenplays of his dramas.
Chekhov's family shop and childhood house
From Chekhov's gymnasium, we were taken to Chekhov's shop, another museum, where Chekhov along with his family used to live. The building also housed the shop owned by Chekhov's family. Old uneven stairs lead to an old and heavy wooden door surrounded by the original 19th-century signboards.
Interestingly the shop is still there, with its dusty shelves and faded boxes once full of fragrant tea and coffee. There is a modern teashop in one corner, and a museum in the rest of the rooms. We went upstairs to see the living room where guests were invited and the family played piano and sang. There is a nursery where we saw original toys which once belonged to little Anton. We asked the museum attendant to play his clockwork lantern and it was still working!
From Chekhov's shop, we went to the house near the Azov Sea where Chekhov spent his childhood. It was a tiny house with a green rooftop and this too was carefully preserved.
Aside from these museums, many streets in the centre of Taganrog boast comical statues of Chekhov's characters from different plays and short stories. It is hard to talk about anything in Taganrog without mentioning Anton Chekhov as we experienced in the town.
Faisal Mahmud is a Dhaka based journalist