ANAMIKA

'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Frogs

"... Frogs have lifted up their voice, the voice Parjanya hath inspired. ... as on a dry skin lying in the pool's bed, the floods of heaven descended, the music of the Frogs comes forth in concert like the cows lowing with their calves beside them. When at the coming of the Rains the water has poured upon them as they yearned and thirsted, one seeks another as he talks and greets him with cries of pleasure .... As Brahmans, sitting round the brimful vessel, talk at the Soma-rite of Atiratra, so, Frogs, ye gather round the pool to honour this day of all the year, the first of Rain-time.... Soon as the Rain-time in the year returneth, (they) have vouchsafed us treasure - the Frogs who give us cows in hundreds lengthen our lives in this most fertilizing season."

- 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.

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(*) 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.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Amok!

On a hot day around noon, I was at 'Statue' on some work. Suddenly, there were loud shouts: "Elephant running wild! Take cover!" Pedestrians scattered in panic; I barged into a shop with several others and waited tensely.

Soon, there was a loud cling-cling and an elephant trotted past. No handler was in sight. Its heavy chains were loose and trailed behind. The beast had no tusk - "Oh, it's a 'pidi'!"

I watched the elephant pass 'Statue' and turn on to the railway station road; on a sudden impulse, I joined a dozen of so fellows running after it. A pidi is nowhere near as dangerous as an angry tusker, one reasoned.

The elephant trotted along towards East Fort. Traffic cops were frantically clearing the streets, people running for cover... Most chasers soon gave up; a handful of us bravely persisted but none was quite up to the pace. The elephant steadily gained on us and could be seen way ahead climbing the Railway overbridge when all on a sudden, she stopped, turned and started running right back. A few of us hurriedly withdrew into a galli and watched. I called home on the cell and warned them - "an elephant is running amok in town! ït's only a pidi but in a narrow galli she could be dangerous to run into. Just stay in! I shall keep you posted on her movements." The elephant lumbered past and went straight back up the road towards 'Statue'. Having recovered my breath, I gave chase again...

Cops were now following the beast in a jeep and there were more cops yelling at people to keep off the roads - as I took out my cell to make another call home, one of them swore at me: "Ïdiot, filming the drama! Put that damn thing away!"

The pidi went onto the 'Bypass' and was now headed away from the town with a largeish crowd watching from safe vantage points. I saw her abruptly turn into a compound. Soon news spread that she had been pacified and tethered without further fuss.

I headed home, utterly exhausted and majorly thrilled. For the rest of the day, conversations centered around my having seen an elephant run amok for the first time - and that too a pidi.

The next day, the local newspaper was full of the elephant run. 'One-tusked bull-elephant terrorizes Tripunithura!"

Golly, she was a he! I had just had a glimpse of the beast from the side with the missing tusk; then I was mostly running behind it; whatever, I had goofed! The taunts inevitably followed: "Pidi it seems!' ... "Can't recognize something as big as a tusker and tells everyone "pidi, pidi"!

But I had answers: "Hey, with elephants, just like some homo sapiens, you can't really make out the gender from behind!"

Then, someone asked: "But, why exactly did you chase the elephant?" I was stumped. An aunt helped out: Look, boys will always be boys!"

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Note 1: Basheer's loony little masterpiece 'Ánavariyum Ponkurishum' relates: The two heroes take up a contract to steal 'Parukkutti', a docile pidi. They carry out the operation on a new moon night and end up mistaking the dangerous tusker 'Kochuneelandan' for Parukkutti - with near disaastrous consequences.

Note 2: In Satyajit Ray's 'Jana Aranya', a Marwari businessman gets conned into buying a circus elephant and complains bitterly: "if this were a baby, I could put it on a plane and sell it abroad. But this brute is a grandfather; and just to feed it costs a fortune!". As far as *I* could make out, the 'grandfather' was a pidi!

Note 3: The title of this post, borrowed from an anti-apartheid film I saw long back, is inaccurate - the elephant did no violence at all. What made it run a full 4 kilometers on tarred roads under a blazing sun is a mystery. Such instances of elephantine delinquency are becoming worryingly frequent in Kerala.