Kavitayan
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Nissim Ezekiel


Night of the Scorpion

"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 sun-baked walls they searched for him; he was not found.
They clicked their tongues. With every movement the scorpion made
his poison moved in Mother's blood, they said. May he sit still,
they said. May the sum of 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 toes 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 incantation.
After twenty hours it lost its sting."

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


The Hill

This normative hill
like all others
is transparently accessible,
out there
and in the mind,
not to be missed
except in peril of one's life.

Do not muse on it
from a distance:
it's not remote
for the view only,
it's for the sport
of climbing.

What the hill demands
is a man
with forces flowering
as from the crevices
of rocks and rough surfaces
wild flowers
force themselves towards the sun
and burn
for a moment.

How often must I
say to myself
what I say to others:
trust your nerves—
in conversation or in bed
the rhythm comes.

And once you begin
hang on for life.
What is survival?
What is existence?
I am not talking about
poetry. I am
talking about
perishing
outrageously
and calling it
activity.
I say: be done with it.
I say:
you've got to love that hill.

Be wrathful, be impatient
that you are not
on the hill. Do not forgive
yourself or other,
though charity
is all very well.
Do not rest
in irony or acceptance.
Man should not laugh
when he is dying.
In decent death
you flow into another kind of time
which is the hill
you always thought you knew.


Minority Poem

In my room, I talk
to my invisible guests:
they do not argue, but wait

Till I am exhausted,
then they slip away
with inscrutable faces.

I lack the means to change
their amiable ways,
although I love their gods.

It's the language really
separates, whatever else
is shared. On the other hand,

Everyone understands
Mother Theresa; her guests
die visibly in her arms.

It's not the mythology
or the marriage customs
that you need to know,

It's the will to pass
through the eye of a needle
to self-forgetfulness.

The guests depart, dissatisfied;
they will never give up
their mantras, old or new.

And you, uneasy
orphan of their racial
memories, merely

Polish up your alien
techniques of observation,
while the city burns.


The Patriot

I am standing for peace and non-violence.
Why world is fighting fighting
Why all people of world
Are not following Mahatma Gandhi,
I am simply not understanding.
Ancient Indian Wisdom is 100% correct,
I should say even 200% correct,
But modern generation is neglecting-
Too much going for fashion and foreign thing.

Other day I'm reading newspaper
(Every day I'm reading Times of India
To improve my English Language)
How one goonda fellow
Threw stone at Indirabehn.
Must be student unrest fellow, I am thinking.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I am saying (to myself)
Lend me the ears.
Everything is coming -
Regeneration, Remuneration, Contraception.
Be patiently, brothers and sisters.

You want one glass lassi?
Very good for digestion.
With little salt, lovely drink,
Better than wine;
Not that I am ever tasting the wine.
I'm the total teetotaller, completely total,
But I say
Wine is for the drunkards only.

What you think of prospects of world peace?
Pakistan behaving like this,
China behaving like that,
It is making me really sad, I am telling you.
Really, most harassing me.
All men are brothers, no?
In India also
Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Hindiwallahs
All brothers -
Though some are having funny habits.
Still, you tolerate me,
I tolerate you,
One day Ram Rajya is surely coming.

You are going?
But you will visit again
Any time, any day,
I am not believing in ceremony
Always I am enjoying your company.


The Professor

Remember me? I am Professor Sheth.
Once I taught you geography. Now
I am retired, though my health is good.
My wife died some years back.
By God's grace, all my children
Are well settled in life.
One is Sales Manager,
One is Bank Manager,
Both have cars.
Other also doing well, though not so well.
Every family must have black sheep.
Sarala and Tarala are married,
Their husbands are very nice boys.
You won't believe but I have eleven grandchildren.
How many issues you have? Three?
That is good. These are days of family planning.
I am not against. We have to change with times.
Whole world is changing. In India also
We are keeping up. Our progress is progressing.
Old values are going, new values are coming.
Everything is happening with leaps and bounds.
I am going out rarely, now and then
Only, this is price of old age
But my health is O.K. Usual aches and pains.
No diabetes, no blood pressure, no heart attack.
This is because of sound habits in youth.
How is your health keeping?
Nicely? I am happy for that.
This year I am sixty-nine
and hope to score a century.
You were so thin, like stick,
Now you are man of weight and consequence.
That is good joke.
If you are coming again this side by chance,
Visit please my humble residence also.
I am living just on opposite house's backside.







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