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A Comparative Note on Night of the Scorpion and Nagamani

This paper focuses on the comparative study of Nissim Ezekiel’s “Night of the Scorpion” and K.V. Raghupathi’s “Nagamani”. Both the poems bear close resemblance in so far as the locale, setting, and themes are concerned. The themes of both the poems are usually of the superstitions of people in India. In Nissim Ezekiel’s poem, it is scorpion that made the subject-matter of poem, and in Raghupathi’s, it is king cobra that makes its presence for a common Indian situation for vivid imagery, for ironic bites, for the warmth of human weaknesses, temptations, responses and affections. The poems are rooted in the Indian Soil and Indian situations of everyday life. The poems are chiefly known for ignorance and superstitions of people in India. Irony makes an underlying presence to knock the doors of ignorance. The world of superstition, irrationality and blind faith renders the poems typically Indian in context and life.

Poems of Nissim Ezekiel and Raghupathi present traditional and superstitious ways of life in India, and at the same time question the existence of blind beliefs in the age of science and technology. ‘Nagamani’ is, a snake stone believed by Indians to relieve them from snake-bites.

Both the poets amply demonstrate how superstitious and gullible the Indian masses when it comes to the matter of beliefs and blind-beliefs.

The Peasants came like swarms of flies
and buzzed the name of god a number of times
to paralyze the evil one --(Ezekiel’s “Night of the Scorpion”)

As motley group of passers-by hemmed around
watching the reflected dancing rays,
her mono-disyllabic expressions mixed with
traffic noise went flying like arrows -- (K.V. Raghupathi’s “Nagamani”)

An unusual gathering of public is seen in India when there is snake-bite or scorpion-bite. It is a common situation in India and the intensity of superstition is seen in the lines below.

His poison moved in mother’s blood
may the sins of your previous birth
be burned away tonight -- (Ezekiel’s “Night of the Scorpion”)

When a snake bites
place this stone on the wound
and watch it change colour
as the venom gets sucked out -- (K.V. Raghupathi’s“Nagamani”)

The world of skepticism and irrationality are ironically exhibited in both the poems:

May the poison purify your flesh
of desire, and your spirit of ambition
-- (Ezekiel’s “Night of the Scorpion”)

The irrational crowd, seemed unconvinced
but astonished when the snake quickly
slid into the sack like a little rabbit
as soon as the Nagamani was waved
in front of it
-- (K.V. Raghupathi’s“Nagamani”)

Further, both Ezekiel and Raghupathi demonstrate how people apply local medicines when they are bitten by a scorpion or a cobra.

My father, skeptic, rationalist
trying every curse and blessing
powder, mixture, herb and hybrid
-- (Ezekiel’s “Night of the Scorpion”)

On the other, Raghupathi brings out how Indian masses blindly follow make-believe feats and fell into their trap.

It is nagamaniinvaluable to possess,
you can test it,
hold this, and see the snake retracting
– (K.V. Raghupathi’s“Nagamani”)

While the poems of “Night of the Scorpion” and “Nagamani” are ironically built around Indian mythological background, it is “Nagamani” which symbolizes the image of Lord Siva. A king cobra is what Indian masses pour milk and revere it as the incarnation of Lord Siva. Raghupathi however holds the character in the poem Siva skeptical of his own powers of possession.

Siva himself is skeptical
about the magical powers of his possession
yet he blurted out like an innocent
I believe in mythology and snake tales
so I bought it
– (K.V. Raghupathi’s“Nagamani”)

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
-- (Ezekiel’s “Night of the Scorpion”)

While the ironic elements reach its climax in the “Night of the Scorpion”, the myth around “Nagamani” is exploded.

After twenty years, it lost its swing,
my mother only said
thank god the scorpion picked on me
and spared my children
-- (Ezekiel’s “Night of the Scorpion”)

What do I do?
I have five children to feed
it is a trick of trade for survival
-- (K.V. Raghupathi’s“Nagamani”)

To conclude the comparative note, I reckon that Nissim Ezekiel and Raghupathi focus on the deliberate attempt by using a loose, seemingly free-verse, and narrative structure. Indeed, crisis emerges in any context of cobra-bite or scorpion-bite. But, the way people adopt different tactics in the name of superstitions, myths and chaos have been exposed in the Indian contexts. Such crises demand human involvement and affection but considering the alarming situations, people innocently get into superstitions avoiding rational thinking. These attitudes appear side by side in both the poems. The relationships have been analyzed from the angle of domestic tragedy and the surrounding community. Emotional coloring ironically affects those happenings. Imagery is vivid and sensitive in both the poems. Both Raghupathi and Nissim Ezekiel deal with those common Indian situations by emphasizing the requirements of thought and emotion. Indian masses are easily gullible, lack in rationale, believe in the efficacy of prayer or snakestone in the hope of getting instant relief and finally, blind faiths hold them for ages. The two poets share a common theme, a common Indian situation and an equally shared experience in their poems. The language of poetry is the language of human emotions. Both the poets have bound those human emotions in the simple language of poetry and presented them ironically to the readers.

Works cited
–– Ezekiel , Nissim. “Night of the Scorpion”. Collected Poems (with a preface by Leela Gandhi and an Introduction by John Thieme) New Delhi: Oxford University Press (Oxford India Paperbacks), (2011).Print.
–– Raghupathi, K.V.”Nagamani” , Journal of Indian Writing in English, Vol. 38, No. 2, Ed. G.S. Balaram Gupta, Gulbarga, July (2010) : 8-9. Print.


More by :  Dr. P.V. Laxmiprasad

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