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Wednesday, 19 May 2010

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Hark the croak chorus

Thundershowers, 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.

There 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 resonance now.

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 mountain.

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
Rains plop
On her relics
Sadly angelic

Do not, now,
O clouds
Do not weep now
Lend me your ears
O clouds
I beg you in tears

Let me in peace look
after her sweet soul
That ruthlessly once I
wronged and stole

sachitra@gmail.com

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