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Jul 19, 2016

Night of the Scorpion: Nissim Ezekiel

Night of the Scorpion: Nissim Ezekiel
Article Written by Bijay Kant Dubey, a famous regional poet


A note for Bijay Kant Dubey:
India, a land of great poets, often ignores its mainstream poets and the regional poet, Bijay Kant Dubey is such a name. Though he continuously writes poetry on natural and supernatural subjects and objects like that of Milton but hardly a research scholar  aware of his name. 

Dear readers, Literarism is happy to have an association with a writer like that of Dubey. Kindly show your love and attraction to the Poet Dubey. You can reach this mystical poet with the address poetbkdubey@gmail.com




Night of the Scorpion: Nissim Ezekiel
Article Written by Bijay Kant Dubey, a famous regional poet

The poet remembers the night when his mother was bitten by a scorpion as for the steady rain of ten hours would have driven it to crawl beneath a knapsack of rice to do this daredevilry and cause of unnecessary woe and affliction. Parting the poison-flash of his diabolic tail in the dark room, it risked the rain again and fled from.

Thereafter the tragedy, incident, happening, the peasants started coming in flocks to see his mother struck down in affliction. Buzzing the names of gods a hundred times came they to see her wishing early recovery and relief from suffering.

With the candles and oil lamps burning dimly and flickering abnormally, casting shadows over the mud-baked walls, came they foreboding good words of benediction and bliss. They searched for the evil one, the devilish and demoniac creature, but found it not hiding in around, gone after the satanic inject of pain.

With the names of the gods on the tongue, they searched in vain for the monster, the evil one, we mean the scorpion which bit the mother of the poet. They said it that the scorpion be there where it lay resting. The movement of it might have the impact on the blood of the mother if the dragon moved it further. They wished let it be so, as had been ordained otherwise. Again, they added the sins of her previous be diminished as per Hindu view of life. It happened as it had been in her fate and it had to happen. None could check it. This is but fate, lot, luck or destiny. The writ of destiny, one cannot change it, it is one’s karma, dharma. Let it be balanced.

It had been raining endlessly and the people had been all around the place with the mother lying at the centre whereas the discussions continuing with regard to the karmic effect, bhoga, papa-punya and pryaschita (repentance). Nissim as an alien insider was partaking all that just as a silent listener, not participating in that, just watching it all happening around. They had been talking and he had been hearing the talks. Proposition and disposition went on following one by one. He saw then agreeing, questioning and coming to a conclusion.

This body of flesh and blood needs to be purified, our evils to be purged out. Our karma and dharma need to be balanced. What we do we are accountable for, whether we accept it or not. Sin and virtue need to be balanced. A penance is a must for that; a repentance for it. Let her suffering decrease. Let the poison purify this body of flesh and desire.

There had been more and more men, more and more candles burning, more and more insects flying around. Sitting around the mother, they went on taking the names of gods, praying to in utter submission, wishing benediction for her.

The mother had been in pain twisting and twisting the body, groaning with miserably. His father a sceptic and rationalist he had his own to try to as poured a little paraffin oil on the bitten toe and lit it with a match and thereafter the flames feeding on and he saw it as being a spectator of all that events. Again to his curiosity, he saw the holy man performing the rites, the exorcist trying to tame the poison, the herbalist applying the herbal paste on the bitten toe. But after the expiry of the twenty hours, the sting lost its power and she returned to normalcy.

But when she came to her senses, she thanked God for choosing her, not her children and even sparing them.

Night of the Scorpion is not a poem, but a drama piece and it can be dramatized as such is the spectacle, an ordinary Indian scene turned into a poetic presentation so simply, so beautifully. Night of the Snake not, but Night of the Scorpion is the title. Had the former been, it would have been horrible and terrible, but Night of the Scorpion is lighter.

The scorpion, steady rain, diabolic tail, crawl beneath a sack of rice, dark room, giant shadows, mud-baked walls, sins of previous birth, misfortunes of next birth, sum of all evil, etc. add to the dramatic progression and presentation of the poem. The poem is a narrative no doubt, a dramatic spectacle, tamasha, a philosophical discourse on Indian karma and dharma, papa and punya contradicted with the rationalism and science background of his father.

I remember the night my mother
was stung by a scorpion. Ten hours
of steady rain had driven him
to crawl beneath a sack of rice.
Parting with his poison - flash
of diabolic tail in the dark room -
he risked the rain again.

The poet Nissim Ezekiel begins the poem in the style of Thomas Hood’s I Remember, I Remember to take it to the height and pedestal of the mystery, miracle and morality plays. Steady rain, mud-baked walls, sacks of rice, are the pictures of the Indian countryside.

The below-quoted lines smack of Indian philosophy and its essence with the kernels engrossed in karma and dharma:

May he sit still, they said
May the sins of your previous birth
be burned away tonight, they said.
Again the lines stated here are full of the kernels of Indian philosophy:
May your suffering decrease
the misfortunes of your next birth, they said.
May the sum of all evil
balanced in this unreal world
against the sum of good
become diminished by your pain.

Such a thing it is in H.W. Longfellow’s A Psalm of Life and Robert Frost’s Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.

The below-quoted lines are really very spectacular :
I watched the flame feeding on my mother.
I watched the holy man perform his rites
to tame the poison with an incantation.
After twenty hours
it lost its sting.

The last three lines are an embodiment of motherly compassion and expression foreboding good. None but a mother can say as such:

My mother only said
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
and spared my children.


Night of the Scorpion by Nissim Ezekiel
I remember the night my mother
was stung by a scorpion. Ten hours
of steady rain had driven him
to crawl beneath a sack of rice.
Parting with his poison - flash
of diabolic tail in the dark room -
he risked the rain again.
The peasants came like swarms of flies
and buzzed the name of God a hundred times
to paralyse the Evil One.
With candles and with lanterns
throwing giant scorpion shadows
on the mud-baked walls
they searched for him: he was not found.
They clicked their tongues.
With every movement that the scorpion made
his poison moved in Mother's blood, they said.
May he sit still, they said
May the sins of your previous birth
be burned away tonight, they said.
May your suffering decrease
the misfortunes of your next birth, they said.
May the sum of all evil
balanced in this unreal world
against the sum of good
become diminished by your pain.
May the poison purify your flesh
of desire, and your spirit of ambition,
they said, and they sat around
on the floor with my mother in the centre,
the peace of understanding on each face.
More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours,
more insects, and the endless rain.
My mother twisted through and through,
groaning on a mat.
My father, sceptic, rationalist,
trying every curse and blessing,
powder, mixture, herb and hybrid.
He even poured a little paraffin
upon the bitten toe and put a match to it.
I watched the flame feeding on my mother.
I watched the holy man perform his rites
to tame the poison with an incantation.
After twenty hours
it lost its sting.
My mother only said
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
and spared my children.

Night of the Scorpion is one of the finest poems of Nissim Ezekiel dealing with Indian life and culture, thought and tradition as envisaged in the aftermath of a scorpion-bite. The text of the poem is that of the mother of Nissim has been bitten by a scorpion and she lying on floor, writhing in pain with the body twisting it miserably and the poet standing and staring dumbfounded, awe-struck. Do not ask, what did it happen then? The people started coming in groups flocking to see his mother. People had been busy otherwise, the poet’s father a rationalist applying the paraffin oil while the herbalists some herbal paste and the religionists trying to tame the poison through mantric effects or incantation, the priests and exorcists. But we are not sure what was he doing then? Was he planning to write a poem or just trying to capture and store the scene for future use to be retrieved and downloaded? Surely enough, be sure of it, he did not take the snaps with the wires plugged into the ears and the mobile handset connected with to post on Facebook, Twitter and Poem Hunter.Com. to relay it.

To criticize him, this is to say that he has done marvels with just the scorpion, but had he observed the charmers playing the wooden ‘been’ instrument and the cobras swaying to, what would he have? We just imagine, think it about. But what sort of scorpion it was, a blackly one or the wheatish? Perhaps he did not notice it, just imagined about as per the descriptions given.

Night of the Scorpion is an Indian poem by a non-Indian man, we mean by an Indian Maharashtrian Jew. So, rootlessness and alienation will definitely figure in while discussing the poem. Secondly, a convent boy he is describing it in his language the whole tamasha. The scorpion with the diabolic tail, hooked and crooked flashes upon the mind’s eyes and we fear within to imagine about. It is also true that sometimes it turns out fatal if the scorpion is old and big. Nissim describes the scene but relates not in the style of Karnrad’s Nagakanya and Iccha-nagin and Ramanujan’s Naga-panchami relating to. Had he been in the know of Bihula-Lakhinder’s story, he would have remembered that night. The poem is a little bit on the lines of Larwrence’s Snake and Mexico dreams.





1 comment:

  1. I read the "Night of the Scorpion", and I should say it impressed me greatly!

    ReplyDelete

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