25 July 2009

Today’s strangest story

Tucked between all the neatly subbed and written stories of the New Indian Express was this strangest story of all. It was strange from start to finish.

“GULBARGA: It may sound strange. But come Nagapanchami, a three-year-old boy plays with a live scorpion as he would with a toy. He is not the only one. For the entire Kandkoor village in Gulbarga district, Nagapanchami day falling on the fifth day of Shravana masa of Hindu calendar, is set aside for romping with these reptiles.

At this hamlet of around 200 dwellings adjacent to a hillock in Yadgir taluk, all the villagers, including toddlers, scale the hillock of red soil and black boulders and worship an idol of a scorpion called Kondammajji by pouring milk and offering ladus made of jaggery and groundnut powder on this day. They also worship an idol of a cobra. Later, the villagers, children included, begin a search for scorpions in the hillock.

Bhima Shankar, a villager says that as the sun rays emerge, the hill is swarming with the reptiles and by evening, there are thousands of scorpions on its slopes.

The villagers offer puja and entertain themselves with the scorpions without fear.
And by day break the following day, there is no trace of the scorpions, which make their appearance again only on the next Nagapanchami, says Bhima Shankar.

Though this strange custom is being observed for hundreds of years, there has not been a single instance of a scorpion sting, he claims.

The villagers believe that if they worship Kondammajji and play with live scorpions on Nagapanchami, they would have no fear of scorpions and snakes the year ahead. On the evening of Nagapanchami, the men chant bhajans till daybreak.

Thousands of people from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka gather on the hillock to witness the strange spectacle.”

(The print version had a ‘Strange ritual’ slug above the story.)

Definitely strange, but not for the reasons the reporter thinks it is:

1. All rituals seem strange to outsiders, don’t they? (How a certain Mr Edward Said would have loved to tear this story apart.) And even if this custom seemed particularly out-of-the-ordinary to the reporter, he would have done his job best by describing the ritual and keeping the adjectives out. Why, oh why, are Indian reporters still so much in love with adjectives?

2. The first sentence of this story is an opinion, not news.

3. I am not sure to which century I must ascribe the language of this story to: hamlet of around 200 dwellings. Strange indeed. The monologo-phobic reporter must have thought it indeed dull to use the mundane word ‘village’ so many times in his copy. And, he surely hasn’t heard of houses.

3. Am not even commenting about the romping part. Everything's strange already.

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