- from the 'Hymn of the Frogs', Rigveda.
The other day, Gyani wrote in from England:
"The highlight was the frog man. This is frog season in England and the frogs travel to and from the ponds to spawn. Since they have to cross roads (and maybe there are traditional crossing points..) we often saw a man with a headlamp patrolling the footpaths, guiding errant frogs and sometimes holding up traffic. Is it only rich countries that can do this, or is it something about their sensibility rather than wealth?"
That took me back to Monsoon nights in Kerala - my long-gone childhood. The patter of rain, the incessant croak of frogs and petromax lamps of frog hunters drifting glow-worm like over the fields.. Sure enough, we Mallus are not as considerate to frogs as the rich and sensitive Poms. Frog leg exports were banned sometime around 1980 but the hunting has continued. The movie Óridathoru Fayalvan', made a few years after the ban, has graphic scenes of frog-hunting and frog-leg processing. Wiki says frog legs are still served to great acclaim along with country liquor in the taverns of central Kerala(*).
Perhaps, no other animal inspires such varied (should I say schizophrenic?) reactions from humans. For all the Pommie kindness, the French, who live just across the Ditch are huge frog-leg eaters. Wiki says in England slang, the French are called 'frogs' or 'froggies' and adds it is an ethnic slur, but considering the British sentiments for frogs, I am not sure it is a slur.
Wiki adds "Frog meat fell under non-halal category (because) the meat to be consumed should not be disgusting... ". And the same article tells us predominantly Muslim Indonesia is the world's largest producer and consumer of frog legs.
Hinduism is no less ambivalent ('amphivalent'?) about frogs. The Vedic hymn quoted above appears to praise the frogs, but there are experts who say it is actually a satire on the priests, likening them to fat and slimy frogs! At least Mallu Hindus think frogs are ritually unclean - an episode from Áitihyamala' narrates how a seer identified a consecrated idol as having lost its divinity - he pokes at the idol at a strategic point and the idol cracks, a jet of water issues and a dirty frog jumps out (**).
http://www.savethefrogs.com/actions/frog-legs/ has plenty to say on frog protection.
A particularly telling image there shows Obama-ji chewing at a frog leg with ghoulish relish.
I conclude with a literary excursion. Here is an extract from the Wiki synopsis of Aristophanes's comedy 'The Frogs':
"(As Dionysus helps Charon row on the voyage to hell) he hears a chorus of croaking frogs (the only scene in the play featuring frogs). Their croaking —Brekekekéx-koáx-koáx (Greek: Βρεκεκεκέξ κοάξ κοάξ)— constantly repeats, and Dionysus asks them to stop; when they refuse he defiantly echoes their croaking with his own. Finally in frustration he farts loudly and at last they fall silent..."
Wiki says Dionysus seeks tips from "Heracles who had been to hell before in order to retrieve Cerberus. Dionysus shows up at his doorstep dressed in a lion-hide and carrying a club. Heracles, upon seeing the effeminate Dionysus dressed up like himself, can't help laughing. At the question of which road is quickest to get to Hades, Heracles replies with the options of hanging oneself, drinking poison, or jumping off a tower..."
My literary effort 'The Loop' shows, among other matters, Hercules making the trip to hell to fetch Cerberus. A reference to Dionysus and the brekeking(***) frogs would have made my story look cooler. A missed opportunity.
(*) Here is a first-hand account of a frog hunt: "In the dark, the eyes of frogs, they glow like hundred watt bulbs! And when they see our lamps, they sit and stare, and don't move at all. You can just pick them up!" So, it is more a harvest than a hunt!
(**) Mallus can also get quite sentimental about frogs. A recent film had a hit song pictured on a Gulf Mallu. He pines for his idyllic village and the very first experience he recalls is of "walking across the fields, the air thick with the croaks of big-mouthed frogs".
(***) Was it Steven Pinker who noted the immense variety that exists among the world's languages in the transliterations of a dog's bark - from the 'obvious' "bow-bow" to "woof" and "lol" and what not? Frogs 'croak' in England, go 'pekrom' in Kerala and 'brekek' away in hell.