Hark the croak chorus
lightening, downpours, rains and drizzle reign these days. They leave me
scared and sleepless at nights. Slouched on a sofa I was not quite in a
mood to go for bed yet. That’s when I suddenly noticed the frog croak.
It was nothing unusual, especially for the past few days. But I took
this moment in particular.
We have seen and heard enough – yes, more than enough - rain-caused
catastrophes: people died, lost houses and so on. Are the frogs playing
out a cantata to recount that tragedy? Sounds weird, or perhaps creepy,
but that’s what struck me at the moment.
was a brief interlude to this cantata. If I enjoyed the music, I cannot
be honest. But I knew there is a rhythm to this croak chorus – may be
rhapsodic or otherwise. Whatever it is, my ears are getting tuned to the
I was thinking further off, and slowly drifted off into a story I
read as a child. That frog mother’s son was stubborn. He was always
doing the opposite whenever mother asked for something. Mother was
growing weary of this, but she simply had no option. One day she became
gravely ill. This made the son a little sad.
When it grew worse, the frog mother was worrying about her burial.
Their house was located in a mountain, and down there was a river. Of
course she didn’t want to be buried in the riverbank. But she knew for
sure her son would do the opposite if she asked to be buried in the
So in the deathbed the mother called up the son and asked him to bury
her in the riverbank. She breathed the last the following morning. Son
wept all day long, and thought he should change once and for all.
Mother’s last request was strange. But at least that one last wish
should be obeyed properly, son thought. So he went ahead and buried her
in the riverbank.
At the same time he was gripped with fear that the grave would be
washed away when the rains come. So whenever rains come, this frog son
would step out and guard his mother. Mother was the only family to him,
so he poured out all his grief by crying out loud. Since then, the story
went on to say, frogs croak whenever it’s rainy season.
I cannot exactly remember where I read this. But it struck my little
heart. For some reason it still does. I felt alone too, so I cried out
too back then. Now I understand one thing: the frog croak is not
pleasant. They forecast something appalling, maybe. It’s said in a note
we cannot understand.
Or may be the frogs are trying to narrate the tragedy that befell
them in Aesop’s time. They asked Zeus for a king. They took it amiss
when the god sent them a log of wood. Then they were given a stork that
wolfed down the whole community one by one.
I feel like chanting along with these frogs, taking after Dionysus in
Aristophanes’ ‘The Frogs’. The play is titled so, though frogs occupy
only one scene. Aristophanes must have been distantly ironic to
symbolize modern politics – how the so called public representatives
keep on leaping from one bench to another, like frogs. ‘The Frogs’ is a
political satire, after all. It’s very witty how the Greek version of
the croak chorus has been rendered into English: Brekekekex koax koax.
That’s a source or two. But the poor creature has been hackneyed all
throughout in literature and other aesthetic subjects. There is a
fairytale about a frog prince who turned from rough skin into a handsome
prince upon a kiss. ‘Wind in the Willows’ has a Mr. Toad. Beatrix
Potter’s ‘The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher’ is a sad tale of a frog host.
Though considered ugly, the frog is said to be intelligent, always
telling the wisest thing. Truth is bitter and ugly at times, we cannot
help it. With all those allusions aside, we have a Sinhala proverb
comparing little knowledge and narrow experience to a frog in the well.
I came across a Vietnamese proverb with a similar meaning too: Sitting
at the bottom of wells, frogs think that the sky is as wide as a lid.
I never detested the frog croak. But I don’t think I admired it
either. I loathe the slightest sight of the creature, let alone touching
its coarse skin, I make no bones about it. I cannot just imagine how
they cut apart frogs for A/Ls. No wonder Viragaya’s Aravinda did not go
for medicine because he dreaded the experience.
Everyone is asleep. Everything is still. And yet I’m whiling away a
sleepless night. All that frog nonsense comes to me humming and
whistling. Still and all that story of mother and son haunts me.
Drifting off all alone on the sofa, I’m trying to decode the croak
chorus I hear:
Drop by drop
On her relics
Do not, now,
Do not weep now
Lend me your ears
I beg you in tears
Let me in peace look
after her sweet soul
That ruthlessly once I
wronged and stole