Life presents several troubles and challenging times. To be successful in life, a person has to have a strong fighting spirit to overcome tough situations. Among many traits, determination is an invaluable feature of the personality of people who win. They never give up and always keep hoping for the light at the end of the dark tunnel. Later, these people enjoy the fruits of their sacrifice during predicaments, and they emerge strong and bold. Are you one of these people?
The seductive call
Grusha Vashnadze, a down-to-earth maid is an epitome of a resilient lady in the play The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Bretch that premiered in 1948. When a coup occurs in the city of Grusinia, the governor, Georgi Abashwili is assassinated by his brother (Arsen Kazbeki aka The Fat Prince) causing everyone related to him including his subjects to flee. In the process, Natella Abashwili, the governor’s wife, leaves her child named Michael behind. Naturally, it is unlikely for a mother to leave her child behind at times of adversity; however, Natella is too materialistic to even remember that she had an infant to take care of.
Instead of tucking her son close when the raging soldiers were approaching the palace, she was busy checking out what deluxe, a thousand-piaster dresses and boots she would carry on her journey. Grusha Vashnadze, a mere subject took Michael with her after he survived death by a whisker. She also rejected the sentiments of her colleagues to leave the wretched child behind because anyone who was associating themselves with the child was risking their life.
Buying precious milk
Grusha hardly had any money. When she needed to purchase a pitcher of milk for the baby, she had to fish a long time in her bag for the money. Michael was hungry and the poor lady could not even suckle the child because she did not have any milk for him to suckle. She even goes to the extent of trying to suckle him, which is a clear act of desperation.
The old man with the milk asks for three piasters for the milk, which she insists she cannot pay because it was a form of extortion. As a result of the war, the milkman says the price of milk surged. Grusha tries to haggle with the man, and she succeeds to buy the milk at one piaster, which is a half week’s pay. She feeds the child with the highly-priced milk, sacrificing her week’s earning for Michael.
Assaulting an ironshirt
Her main problem at the time was keeping away from the two bloodhounds coming diligently after her. She had to get the child to a safe place, her brother’s place, which was quite a distance away. On her way, Grusha came across a house that had several milk cans outside. She thought that the owners must be well-off, and therefore able to take care of the baby better than she could.
In an attempt to save the child, she decided to place him at the doorstep so that the owners could find him and take him in. So she did exactly that, knocked, and went to hide behind a tree to see what would happen. Indeed, the child is picked, and she goes away. Unfortunately, she meets with the bounty-hunters on her way back. She senses danger, acts nervous while giving a false explanation, and runs back to that house. In a bid to save Michael once again, she concocts a story and asks the lady custodian to play along. Grusha asks the lady to say the child is hers. Meanwhile, she would be hiding and watching from the back.
The frightened peasant woman fails to say as Grusha instructed, and she upsets the apple cart. It might have been because one of the ironshirts spotted fine linen and suspected that it belonged to Micahel. Grusha immediately knew her cover was blown, and as collateral damage, she hits the ironshirt with a plank of wood on his head. This was a daring move, all staged for the safety of Michael. The consequences of such an act would be dire, but she decided not to consider such. She valued the safety of Michael more than her well being.
The famous rotten bridge
Since the ironshirts realized that Michael was not executed in the coup and she is with a maidservant, a decree was made to go after the child. The corporal had sold a horse for self-benefit, and therefore the ironshirts trailed Grusha on foot. Vashnadze had a head start, at least, and it was also simple for her to keep her distance because the ironshirts did not have a horse. She came to a deep precipice, which she was compelled to cross using a rotten hazardous bridge.
A merchant woman and two men were afraid of crossing the bridge. Grusha was however determined to bring the child to safety as the two ironshirts were now close to reaching her. It was either the bridge or the ironshirts, a matter of death and life. The maid chose the path of significant risk, which left the merchant and the two men dumbfounded. In the end, she managed to save Michael once again, this time risking her life and Michael’s too.
Traversing the glacier in life-threatening conditions
For twenty-two days she journeyed from the city to the Janga-Tau Glacier where she decided to adopt the child. Grusha was extremely exhausted from the walking.
“My legs are tired, my feet are sore,” she said.
As she moved into the glacier, even more, the temperatures were unforgiving, and the weather too was harsh; yet the lady was determined to keep the child warm and safe. A child she did not sire but mothered.
After adopting him, he dresses him in rags so that the ironshirts cannot identify him. Finally, she reaches Lavrenti’s house where she finds refuge and accepts to stay silent because her child was illegitimate. Nevertheless, she had saved the child from the vicious ironshirts who were blinded by the reward offered to the person who would find the late governor’s child.
A lowly winter, rude surprise, and broken promise
Aniko, Lavrenti’s wife, was a wealthy lady, and she also had a noble profile where they stayed. Because of this, she is very religious and is careful to maintain her good name. She is aware that people would talk even at the sight of a maid’s torn stocking. Aniko, therefore, instructs Lavrenti to hide his sister and Michael to avoid public ridicule. Grusha had no problem staying with the rats in a dungeon-like place. All she cared for was a warm place and food for Michael. When spring set in, Lavrenti, determined to get rid of Grusha, arranged for Grusha to gain legitimacy of her child by marrying a dying man. He paid using Aniko’s milk money.
“…You don’t need a man in bed – you need a man on paper… And you will have a place to live.”
She was therefore betrothed to a dying man named Jussup. This shows the extent she would stretch to get Michael into her rightful custody. However, they were all duped into a charade because Jussup was not dying. He was feigning illness to avoid conscription into the ongoing Persian war. Once rumors reached the village that the war was over, the dying man miraculously began gaining strength.
Grusha had sacrificed her agreement to marry Simon Shashava for Michale’s legitimacy, and now the world was crumbling on her when she realizes that she is stuck with a man she did not want. She inevitably broke the promise she made to Shashava.
The court case
Two years later, when everything cools down, Natella comes looking for her abandoned child. She succeeds in taking the child from Grusha, however, Grusha does not let go as easily. The new mother files a petition against the old. Grusha is still poor and cannot afford a good lawyer while on the other hand, Natella has two lawyers.
Furthermore, Natella bribes Azdak, the judge, and Grusha well understands that she is not the biological mother of the child. She has extremely low chances of winning the court case against her superior. Grusha nonetheless does not give up. She did not labor so hard to finally return the child to the unruly congenital mother. The maid puts her best foot forward and presents her argument.
Azdak ruled in favor of Grusha, owing to her outstanding motherly qualities, especially when she failed to pull Michael from the chalk circle. It showed that she would never hurt Michael. Her marriage with Jussup was also nullified by Azdak and that emancipated her from her unwanted marriage. She could then take Simon to be her husband.
Grusha chose to stick with Michael despite all the discouragement she got from other maids, threats, and dangers associated with ironshirts. She defied all odds to protect Michael, and in the end, she was rewarded for her determination. Vashnadze sacrificed several things for Michael, and she pretty much enjoyed the end. If she had not done what she did, her case against Natella would not hold. Likewise, you have to be determined in life to rise above situations and make a difference. Stay strong, resilient, and focused.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle, by Bertolt Bretch 1948.