Night of the Scorpion by Nissim Ezekiel by Bijay Kant Dubey SignUp
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Night of the Scorpion by Nissim Ezekiel
by Bijay Kant Dubey Bookmark and Share

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 those poems of Nissim Ezekiel which have been admired, read and discussed in the anthologies of Indian poetry in English with so much profit and pleasure as well as have engaged the critics as for critical analysis and elucidation. Nissim Ezekiel as a poet is one of the post-independence period of Indian poetry in English who is famed for as the poster boy of modernism. A Maharashtrian Jew, he is a modern poet of modern poetic idea and expression who aims at clarity going along the colloquial idiom. In a very conversational style of his own, he tells the things commonly. Shorn off Indian thought and tradition, metaphysics and spirituality, ethos and history, myth and mysticism, he takes the things in his usual way as he sees them happening around commonly. A poet of Bombay and the cityscape, he is modern and urban. An alien insider, he can just talk about a visit to the cinema hall, the theatre, the park, the    picnic spot; he can about birthday gift and party, wedding ring, wedding party and love marriage. There is something of the identity crisis which he suffers it no doubt, but is peculiarly Indian. 

The poet remembers the night his mother was stung by a scorpion which might have hidden behind a sack of rice as for the rains continuing steadily for several hours. But having bitten her, it parted with risking again. The people too came and searched for, but in vain, as they could not trace it. But when the bite started corroding the self of the mother, the news spread it around and the people from the nearby started coming just like the swarms of flies and in bunches and batches buzzing the name of God to paralyze the effect and to pray for her recovery. With candles throwing giant shadows cast against the mud-baked walls, they searched for it, but could not find it. They clicked their tongues with regard to the further movement of the scorpion and the increase in pain. Had it sat still, the pain could have been stable.  

A few of them asked not to disturb the scorpion while a few talked of the previous sin and its dispensation while a few talked of karma and dharma, good and bad and their balancing while the others said about the lessening of misfortunes and the purification of the flesh and for granting of one more life or time. With his mother lying at the centre lying on the floor, they went on discussing and debating, the villagerly countryside rural Indian folks. But all them of them had been just with the good wish of seeing her recovered and the faces too showed the peace of understanding shining on each of them.

His mother twisted through and through on a mat while bearing the pain with the men and women wishing her early recovery. It had been a rainy night of endless rain and the people had been with more and more lanterns and candles in their hands to see her writhing in pain. But his father, a sceptic and rationalist of his type, thought in his own way, tried and applied everything as far possible, be it curse or blessing, powder, mixture, herb or hybrid. The holy man tried to tame the pain through mantras. The herbalist tried to apply the paste on the bitten toe to give some relief. But in the end of all, his father burnt the matchstick to put it over the paraffin oil applied toe and the fire flames went on feeding upon for a few seconds.

The pain mitigated after twenty hours and she regained her consciousness. But when she came to her sense, she thanked God as for picking her and sparing her children which but every mother will like to say it.

Night of The Scorpion as a poem is about the night on which the mother of the poet was stung by a scorpion, people coming from the area to see her, wishing for recovery, the exorcist trying their best to tame the poison, the herbalist putting the paste on the bitten toe and his rationalist father putting the paraffin oil over with a match-stick lighting the fire and the flames feeding upon to mitigate the pain.

Night of The Scorpion which aims at clarity in expression and is evocative of Indian rural imagery is definitely one of the representative poems of Nissim Ezekiel, an Indian poet of Bene-Israeli origin writing in English. A poet of the sixties, he employs a modern idiom for his poetic expression and is conversational in his style. Just through the scorpion-bite he says it all which the others have failed to say. Such a thing it is in Huxley's visit of Benares and Orwell's essay on Gandhi.

Night of The Scorpion as a typical Indian poem describes a rainy night of incessant rain when the mother of the poet was stung by a scorpion which might have taken refuge beneath a knapsack or might have crawled somewhere back to its safety penetrated against the backdrop of an Indian crowd of villagers and peasants uneducated and typically rural and the through the whispers and mutterings of the crowds coming and going one can sense their thoughts and views, their belief in karma and dharma, balancing of the previous sin and letting the things rest in peace. Nissim sees the mother writhing in pain, at the centre of hectic activity. The exorcist is busy with taming the pain with mantras, the herbalist applying the herbal paste on the bitten toe and the rationalist father with the paraffin oil sprinkled over and lighting over and the fire flames feeding upon. The villagers and peasants with the lamps into their hands, casting shadows over the muddy walls and the rains fallen take the centrestage from us. People searching for the scorpion and some asking to let it be with its restricted movement keeping it undisturbed give twists to the drama of the story and if it moves, this may cause evil for her. So let it be at peace. Why to disturb it? This is but Indian philosophy. To bite is its dharma. If one is mean and vile, will others be? The non-violence of Mahavira, the peace of Goutam Buddha, how to dismiss them? The other thing too is this that we are so much inactive, irrational and illogical and superstitious. Is our superstition not our inaction?

Nissim has a style of beginning a poem and this is as if we were reading a narrative:

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.

The second stanza break shows the scorpion with the diabolic tail, biting and hiding away somewhere, gone missing and untracked:

Parting with his poison - flash
of diabolic tail in the dark room -
he risked the rain again.

Parting with the poison flash, the diabolic tail in the dark room add to the poem with the crooked appearance of the bizarre and grotesque creature and the evil purpose of it which but cannot change its nature.

The third stanza break tells of the movement of people coming and crowding the space with the   lanterns and candles into their hands, praying for and whispering:

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.

The rural folks, especially the womenfolk start the discussion really with regard to Indian life and living, age-old belief-system and thinking, opening a plethora of thoughts with regard to good and bad, previous birth and this birth, right and wrong, karma and dharma, unseen fate and its writ, time and its situations. They also think it, if the scorpion is disturbed and it moves away, the pain may increase.

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

The discussions they are doing are but very interesting and dramatic too which is but a specialty of India and its idle gossips, but not always without meaning.

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.

The picture of a father known for scientist temperament also works as a catalyst for this all:

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.

We also need such a fellow to be really educated and up-to-date. Sometimes ignorance misleads it.

The below-mentioned lines show the anxiety and helplessness of a son waiting for her mother’s recovery:

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 holy man here may be a pundit, a sadhu, a gunin or an ojha. ‘I watched the flame feeding on my mother’, is no doubt a beautiful line full of meaning and idea and expectation. What man thinks and what it happens. There is something as the writ of destiny.

The last lines show the inner wishes of a mother, what she thinks and feels it within her motherly heart for her children:

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

It has rightly been said, a mother can never be a bad and indifferent mother. The last lines tend towards a benediction. The poem is not only interesting to read, but is dramatic too, so scenic and picturesque as well.

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06-Jun-2020
More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey
 
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