Night Of The Scorpion. Nissim Essekiel Poem Reintroduced
P. S. Remesh Chandran
Editor, Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum
Article Title Image By Parij Borgohain. Graphics: Adobe SP.
First published: 2nd Jan 2016
When some kind of disaster happens to a child anywhere in India, the entire womenfolk of India will weep. It is in their nature. Once a woman is a mother to one, she becomes a mother to all. And she will spare her life for the safety of her child too. This character inborn in the nature of women is universal. Mr. Nissim Essekiel’s poem ‘Night Of The Scorpion’ is a window into this a universal character of motherhood by featuring a typical scene from an Indian village on a rainy night.
Once a child is born, the pleasures of the parents cease; from then onwards only the child would have pleasures in life.
One distinguishable difference between the east and the west is in the treatment of their children. In the east, life centres on and spins around children. Parents live for their children, sacrificing their pleasures for the welfare of their children. Once a child is born the pleasures of parents ceases to be; from then onwards only the child would have any pleasures in life. The children remember this while they grow up and look after and care for their parents in their old age. That is why there is less number of old age homes in the east when compared to the west. Children in the east are never left to themselves even after they have become fathers and mothers in their turn. This bond of family is inviolable and grandparents and parents and children live under the same roof for ever, providing excellent opportunities for wise counsel for everyone under that roof.
In the west, parents seldom see the radiance and beauty of their sleeping child.
All village roads lead to virtues.
In the west, generally speaking, parents treat children as obstacles to their private life and pleasures and keep them away from their bedrooms. There will be a nursery room in each house and children will only be allowed to sleep in those rooms. They will never be allowed to sleep with parents in their beds even when they are tiny babies. This does account for the early maturity of western children and their corresponding independence and skill in dominating and capturing the world. But, parents seldom see the radiance and beauty of their sleeping children. They will, anyway, allow the dog to sleep with them in their beds. What love and attendance they deny to their children they give to their dogs. But will these dogs look after them and provide for them when they are old and helpless? To be put mildly, they are a success with dogs but a failure with their children. The abundance of old age homes in Europe and other cold continents vouchsafes for this.
In the orient children grows up sitting in, crawling on and somersaulting over parents’ beds day and night.
Farmers’ houses are an extension of their fields.
In the orient, people cannot even think about detaching their children from their beds, or rooms. There most probably will not be more than one or two rooms in their houses. So the child grows up crawling on, sitting in, and somersaulting over parents’ beds day and night, exposing his or her every emotion, feeling, gesture and awkward sleeping pose to their parents, and the parents are delighted at these too. They do not consider children as a hindrance to their private pleasure life. Actually they do not have much private life anymore. And this accounts for the late maturity of oriental children and their lack of aggressiveness and relative independence in conquering the world. Now we know why great conquerors marched through the east and not vice versa.
A distinguished characteristic of orient life is the respect children show to their elders.
Their needs are few and wishes modest.
Another distinguished character of orient life is the respect children show to their elders. Once grown up, they are not allowed to even sit before the elders. Countries like China and Japan have elaborate rituals for the young to show respect to elders, including lying prone on the ground when meeting them. Handshakes and Namastes are uncommon and unaccustomed for the young. Now we know why most Chinese, Japanese and Indian leaders are very old men, strictly obeyed by younger generations, unquestioned in their decisions. This guidance and counsel of the wise and the old ensures that the onward progress of society is smooth, does not go beyond defined and well-cut paths, and there is proportional balancing guaranteed in every change brought forth in society. It also ensures that one hand or one leg of the body society will not outgrow the other hand or leg out-of-proportion and result in total ugliness. Experiences of eighty years are mightier that experiences of thirty years and the wise east know this well.
Rain and scorpion, peasants and superstitions and typical Indian father and mother.
The next house is just a door step away.
Nissim Ezekiel's plays and poems usually appeared in the Illustrated Weekly of India. Although many of his poems are obscure, ‘Night Of The Scorpion’ is simple, clear and direct. In this poem he presents a typical situation in an Indian village where a mother is stung at night by a scorpion. The poem has three distinct parts- the heavy rains and the appearance of a scorpion in a house, the gathering of peasants and their inter-exchange of many superstitions and semi-scientific truths, and lastly the picture of a rationalistic father and that of a tolerant Indian mother.
The mother of all the world returns from market.
The narrator of the incident described in the poem is the boy-poet himself. It was the season of heavy Indian monsoon with steady ten hour-long rains. His mother was stung by a scorpion at night as it was moving from one rain-soaked shelter to another which, after doing this invaluable service to a poor woman, escaped among the sacks of rice and could not be found. Now comes what is typical of an Indian village. Even though it was a night of steady rain, a large number of neighbouring peasants gathered in the house with lanterns and candles instantly, hearing the loud cries from the house. This has been the custom in this world till a few years back, and which we would wish to have come back. In mishaps and calamities people got instant help, as was intended by God while he was peopling the world with human beings. This virtue is now saying farewell to the world; we can hold it back or send it away by amending our attitudes to others. Nowadays the universal practice is each will look after only his interests.
Incessant rain viewed from shack.
The boy-poet listened to the utterances of the superstitious peasants believing the scorpion to be an evil spirit, and singing and chanting rapidly the names of their multitude of Gods a hundred times, so that its combined sonar effect would paralyze the evil spirit of the scorpion and make it unable to move anymore. When considering the tale of the famous sonar trumpet which shook the walls and felled the fortress of Jericho as explained towards the end of this article, this belief cannot be said to be superstitious. They did this with the purpose of stilling the scorpion, as its every movement was expected to cause a corresponding movement of poison in the blood stream of the mother, spreading the poison throughout her body. So it was better for the scorpion not to be allowed to move. So they prayed that the scorpion shall not be made to move in its hiding place. The peasants however found solace in the fact that the sins of the bitten woman’s previous life would have been burned away in the severe pain and agony she went through in that night.
Rain means playtime for children soon after.
The incantations and mantras of the gathered peasants did not help much and the bitten lady lying on a mat on the floor of the house continued to writhe in agony. The boy's father was a rationalist person different from the others who believed in the modern methods of treatment. He was scientific enough to pour a little paraffin wax upon the bitten toe and put a match to it so that that the paraffin would melt evolving heat and the chemical properties of the poison would be lost in that heat. The contrast between the peasants and his father is clear and not uncommon in Indian villages. Not all in India are that much superstitious and blind. But nothing succeeded in abating the agony of the woman in this case. After twenty hours the agony abated by itself, as is usual with the effect of scorpion poison on human body. The relieved mother, for the first time, found words to thank God for sparing her children and making the scorpion sting her instead of her children. The universal feeling of a Mother's care!
There are scientific minded and rational men also among superstitious villagers.
Real village school begins here.
The peasants in the village were traditionally superstitious and began to chant various names of their Gods when there was a mishap such that the total sonar effect of this mayhem would make the scorpion immobile in its hiding place. They also whispered among them that the sins of this woman would be burnt away in the fire of her intense agony. But the poet's father, a rational and scientific man asks them to put paraffin on her bitten toe and light it on the hope that the chemical properties of the poison would be lost in the heat so generated and would become ineffective in her blood stream. However, when the agony seemed not to have abated after a long time, even he became frantic, as a wife is a wife anyway. The presence of many scientific minded and rational men among superstitious peasants in Indian villages pointed out in the poem is a pointer anyway. Rooted firmly in soil, these peasants have risen when need arose to produce enough crops to feed the second largest population in the world, adopting modern agricultural technology and innovations. They also succeeded in doing this without over-exploiting their cultivatable land or diminishing its fertility.
Typical Indian village gathering point.
Sin accompanies man from his origins. It can be caused by the acts in his present life, past life or by the acts of his ancestors. But all agree that sins in man have to be purged and his soul salvaged and redeemed. The superstitious villagers in The Night Of The Scorpion exclaim that the sins of the flesh and soul of the stung lady in her present life as well as in her past lives would have been burnt away in the intense pain she suffered. Perhaps they were not all that superstitious. It is universal belief that pain cleanses human mind and perhaps is the only way to cleanse human mind. The ancient Greeks called this process of cleansing human minds through intense emotions Catharsis. The ancient Indians called it Mukthi or Release.
Debates conducted and decisions taken here.
An Indian village consists mostly of poor men’s huts, a few pieces of arable land, one single street, tiny roadside shops where endless debates go on, regular sitting places beneath the usual Bunyan trees, and village wells for women to carry water from. News travels fast in villages- good and bad- and people are always there at your doorstep to help. There is no use wishing to live a secreted life in a village. Everyone’s life is an open book for others to read and criticize freely. When a problem comes in a family, it would not need to be explained to people, for the people in the village would have been expecting it for a long time and preparing themselves to interfere. In a village no one goes un-helped: the fallen will surely be taken to hospital, the hungry will surely be found and fed, and old school text books, clothes and utensils gifted to those who need them. Villages have virtues and their share of vices too, but mostly virtues. Remember Gandhi’s saying ‘India lives in her thousands of villages’.
Innocent passing time in Indian village life.
Many readers may view the chanting of mantras and hymns by villagers as described in this poem a superstition. It does have its sonic effect. It can be healing or destructive as the case can be. Ancient Indians have formulated sound combinations known as Mantras to heal human body in its ailments. There was a technique used by Tibetans in the higher Himalayan altitudes to move heavy stones upward, using the sonic effect of sound. They would sit in semi-circles blowing their trumpets and beating drums, using this power of sound to levitate heavy stones to the desired higher elevations from their focal points. It was that simple. In Bible we read about the story of the brick mud walls and the stone walls of the sinned city of Jericho scientifically brought down by Israelites under the commandership of Joshua, using the power of sound.
Roadside shops Govt. closes for Walmart!
The Israelites under Joshua crossed the Jordan River, and using the calculated supernatural powers of sound, collapsed the walls of Jericho. They blew their Shofars (Special Trumpets) around the walls, making a ‘Phi’ sound once each day for six days, and on the seventh day, circled it blowing their trumpets, soldiers shouting in their full might meanwhile. The ‘Phi’ sound made using their special army trumpets have a multiplying ratio which expands and magnifies, without ever loosing its proportions and qualities. The result was the six days’ rumbling made targeted portions of the wall weak and the combined sonar effect on the seventh day acted like an earthquake, bringing down the already weakened walls. The Israelites made the wall to collapse in such a way that the portion on the north side was allowed to remain standing using the physics of sound, supposedly to save the houses of their favourites and spies, and the rest was made to fall to make an entryway for soldiers before capturing the City. It was like applying measured sonar effects on an object in desired cycles, creating resonance and sonic boom! Sound waves must have met at the centre of the city, collided together and exploded, and the pressure within pushed the walls outwards!!
(Prepared as a lecture to literature students in the 1990s. Revised since then, edited and added pictures to fit the digital era)
Pictures Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
01. All village roads lead to virtues:By Biswarup Ganguly
02. Farmers’ houses are an extension of their fields:By Arne Hückelheim
03. Their needs are few and wishes modest:By Vipin Goyal
04. The next house is just a door step away:By Dwaipayan C
05. The mother of all the world returns from market.By Aslam Saiyad
06. Incessant rain viewed from shack:By McKay Savage London
07. Rain means playtime for children soon after........By Abhijeet Sawant
08. Real village school begins here:By Dan Tunstall
09. Typical Indian village gathering point:By Thamizhpparithi Maari
10. Debates conducted and decisions taken here:By Tari Buttar
11. Innocent passing time in Indian village life:By Tari Buttar
12. Roadside shops Govt. closes for Walmart!:By Ravindra Boopathi
13. Author profile of P S Remesh Chandran:By Sahyadri Archives Trivandrum
Article Title Image By Abeer Khan. Graphics: Adobe SP.