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M.A. ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE
Paper V
INDIAN WRITTING IN ENGLISH
Paper V Indian Writing in English
Objective: This paper will help the students to appreciate the variety and
diversity of Indian writing in English in the twentieth century.
Unit I Poetry
Detailed
Nissim Ezekiel : 1. The Company I Keep
2. Very -Indian Poem in Indian English
3. Poet, Lover, Bird Watcher
4. Night of the Scorpion
A.K.Ramanujam : 1. Shakes
2 . A Poem on Particulars
3. A River
R. Parthasarathy : 1. Under Another sky
2. River Once
3. Lines for a Photograph
Sri. Aurobindo : 1. Rose of God
2. Revelations
3. Transformation
Non-detailed : 1. Our Casuarina Tree
Toru Dutt 2. Lakshman
Sarojini Naidu : 1. Summer woods
2. If you call me
3. The Soul's prayer
4. The Bird Sanctuary
Henry L.V.Derozio College: 1. To the Pupils of the Hindu
2. The Harp of India
3. Chorus of Brahmins
4. Song of he Hindustanee Minstrel
(Poems are from Contemporary Indian Poetry in English ed. by Peeradina,
Macmillan)
Unit II Drama
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Detailed Girish Karnad : Tugulaq
Non-detailed
Badal Surcar : Evam Indrajit
Unit III Prose
Detailed
Balaram Gupta, ed Links Indian Prose in English (Macmillan)
1-6 Essays.
Non-detailed
Dr.Sudhar Pandey, Dr.Thridar, B.Gokale. Vidya S.Netrakanti, ed. Rose Petal
Selections from Jawaharlal Nehru (OUP)
Unit IV Fiction
Fiction
R.K.Narayan : The Guide
Anita Desai : Where shall we go for this
summer?
Unit V Criticism
Adil Jussawalla : The New Poetry
(From Readings in Commonwealth Literature By William Walsh), David
Mccutchion : Must Indian Poetry in English
Always follow England?
(From Critical Essays on Indian Writing in English ed M.K.Naik)
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UNIT I
POETRY
Lesson - 1
NISSIM EZEKIEL
Contents
1.0 AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
1.1 INTRODUCTION
1.2 LIFE AND WORKS OF NISSIM EZEKIEL
1.3 THE COMPANY I KEEP
1.4 VERY INDIAN POEM IN INDIAN
1.5 POET, LOVER, BIRD WATCHER
1.6 NIGHT OF THE SCORPION
1.7 NISSIM EZEKIEL AS A POET
1.8 LET US SUM UP
1.9 LESSON END ACTIVITY
1.10 REFERENCES
1.0 AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
The main aim of this lesson is to introduce Nissim Ezekiel; one of the most important
poets whose works occupie significant place in post independce Indian Literatures.
1.1 INTRDOCUTION
The Indo - Anglian poetry is said to be essen-tially Indian and everything
else afterwards. It expre-sses the essence of Indian personality and is also very
sensitive to the changes of its national climate and it voices the aspirations and
the joys and sorrows of Indians.
It has been opined, that the Indo - Anglian poets are of two factions. The
neo-modernists and the neo-symbolists. The outlook of the former is coloured
by humanism and irony and that of the latter is imbued with mysticism and
sublimity, but a perfect blend is achieved by the two groups in the realms of
beauty. A perfect example, of anlndo - Anglian poet, who was able to arrive at
a synthesis between the two factions of poetry, is none other than Sarojini
Naidu, for she took her stance in the neutral, middle ground, between the
sacred and profane sphere of poetry4 she was at home in both the worlds and
found them united in the realms of poetry.
Its possible to gain a proper perspective of the development of Indian
feminine poetic tradition, only if it is considered with reference to the
chang-ing position of women in India. The very term Women poets implies an
attempt to isolate women poets from men poets, and consider them in a group
only on the basis of sex, some critics have wondered as to whether there is
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anything like feminine sensibility, feminine experiences and feminine ways of
expression. The feminine character is made up of certain psychological traits
as well as certain socially conditioned ones.
All these features set them apart as a group. They moreover do not
accept the duties which are tradi-tionally allotted to women, in the male
dominated society, and assert their new identity as independent, individualistic
and conscious participants in experience. Thus these women poets do mark'
the evolution of the Indian feminine Psyche from the tradition to modernity.
Nissim Ezekiel occupies an important place in post-Independence Indian
English literature. He has wielded a great influence as a leading poet, editor
and an occasional playwright. Besides, he is a well-known critic. Sometimes he
also emerges as a politician in the guise of a fighter for cultural freedom in
India. Ezekiel held many important positions. He was for many years a
Professor of English in Bombay University. He is a noted name in the field of
journalism. In this capacity he was editor of many journals including Poetry
India (1966-67), Quest (1955-57) and Imprint (1961-70), He was an Associate
Editor to the Indian P.E.N., Bombay.
1.2 LIFE AND WORKS OF NISSIM EZEKIEL
As a man of letters Nissim Ezekiel is a 'Protean' figure. His
achievements as a poet and playwright are considerable. K. Balachandran
writes, "The post-Independence Indian poetry saw its new poetry in the fifties.
Among the new poets A.K. Ramanujan, R. Parthasarathy, Shiv K. Kumar,
Kamala Das, Monica Verma, O.P. Bhatnagar, Gauri Deshpande, Adil
Jussawalla, Ezekiel occupies a prominent place. His versatile genius can be
found in his poetry, plays, criticism, journalism and translation."
Nissim Ezekiel has done a good work in Indian writing in English. He
has written many volumes of poems--A Time to Change (1952), Sixty Poems
(1953), The Third (1959), The Unfinished Man (1960), The Exact Name (1965)
and others. His plays Nalini, Marriage Poem, The Sleep-Walkers, Songs of
Deprivation and Who Needs No Introduction are already staged and published.
He has also edited books Indian Writers in Conference (1964), Writing in India
(1965), An Emerson Reader (1965), A Martin Luther King Reader (1965) and
Arthur Miller's All My Sons (1972). His literary essays published in magazines
and papers are innumerable. The notable among them are 'Ideas and Modern
Poetry' (1964), 'The Knowledge of Dead Secrets' (1965), 'Poetry as Knowledge'
(1972), 'Sri Aurobindo on Poetry' (1972), 'Should Poetry be Read to Audience?'
(1972), 'K.N. Daruwalla' (1972), 'Poetry and Philosophy,' 'Hindu Society'
(1966). He has written essays on art criticism 'Modern Art in India' (1970),
'How Good is Sabavala?' (1973), and 'Paintings of the Year 1973' (1973). His
essays on social criticism Thoreau and Gandhi' (1971), 'Censorship and the
Writer' (1963), 'How Normal is Normality' (1972), 'Tradition and All That a
Case Against the Hippies' (1973), 'A Question of Sanity' (1972) and 'Our
Academic Community' (1968) are varied and auto telic of his wide interest.
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Ezekiel is an editor of several journals encouraging writing poetry,
plays and criticisrm He also asked many writers for translation, affecting the
theory and practice of the young poets. The writers like Rilke and W.B. Yeats
influenced Ezekiel. Like Yeats, he treated poetry as the 'record of the mind's
growth.' His poetic bulk indicates his growth as a poet-critic and shows his
personal importance.
Chetan Karnani states, "At the centre was that sincere devoted mind that
wanted to discover itself. In the process, he managed to forge a unique
achievement of his own."
The poet Ezekiel has already published several volumes of poems. A
Time to Change (1952) was his first book of poems. For him poetry-writing
was a lofty vocation, a way of life. He treated life as a journey where poesy
would be the main source of discovering and organising one's own self. In a
sense, poetry to Ezekiel became a way for self-realisation. He calls life a
texture of poetry. He identifies himself with poetry. So all of his volumes of
verse are well-knit and they are in the poet's view, a continuation of each other.
Ezekiel's experiments in prose rhythms and his fine sense of structure and
metrical ability. The verse rhythms of T.S. Eliot seem to haunt his mind.
Ezekiel's Sixty Poems (1953), his second volume of poems was published in
1953. But these poems are loose in structure and they are less appealing.
1.3 THE COMPANY I KEEP
Nissim Ezekial speaks about his contemporaries and the types of poetry
appeared during that age. He expects that a poet must keep up the moral, ethics
of the age and people. If a poet cannot keeps up that moral, then it shows that
the poet has a minor talent in writing poetry. This cannot be called a greater
curse but having no talent. Just like - ring refers to the groups of poets who
write poems. Millions of people fine happiness in writing poetry. He is also one
among the poets, who enjoys writing poetry. Ezekiel feels that poets are mixing
up metaphors and common thoughts. But poetry is not simply miring up put an
expression of deeper thoughts.
Ezekiel, here, tries to condemn out rightly those who just min metaphors
and statements and produce bogus poetry. These unfortunate beings exploit
others skill and parade themselves as poets. He curses all those who use other's
talents for their own selfish purpose. He also includes the publishers of small
magazines and broadcasters of small weather woes. The poet in his indignant
mood calls them as seducers of experience. By doing so these men show their
letter lack of imaginative power. He also condemns such practice as saying that
they are the victims of their own spontaneous fraud. Ezekiel asks them their
last composition of a real poem. He himself answers that they are in hell and
they do not know it. But instead they will answer that they have been reviewing
as compensation. He asserts that he himself belonged once to as advertising
offence. Ezekiel finds faults of not knowing the secret of writing and becoming
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thoughts which cause a variety of disasters to the mind of people through their
poems.
This practice is nothing but making the most out of borrowed
intelligence, imagination and skill. They really contribute nothing to the world
of literature. The occasional rhyme or two coming from such people cannot be
a thing of justification at all. This activity is described by the poet as a trail of
smoke, that just irritates the people by its small and continuous suffocation.
Thus, the poet gives a warning here of such people.
In a relentless vein of critical self-awareness and with downright
candour Ezekiel denounces all such poetasters:
No greater curse
than a minor talent
in the verse ring bull ring, yet
millions revel in it,
and I am counted
one among them, mixing
metaphors and platitudes...
Damn all you sensitive poets,
seducers of experience,
self-worshippers and publishers,
broadcasters of small weather woes.
Victims of your own spontaneous fraud
Your only achievement is monumentality of vanity.
1.4 VERY INDIAN POEM IN INDIAN
Nissim Ezekiel is one of those Indian poets writing in English who
create an authentic flavor of India, by their use of Indian English. Pidgin
English on Bazar English, as it is often called.
In this poem, the Indian flavor has been created by stressing the various
mistakes which Indians commit in their use of English, by bringing in the
hopes and aspirations of free India, and also the attitudes of her two hostile
neighbors, China and Pakistan. It is a common India mistake to use the present
continuous tense in the place of the simple present.
Ezekiel presents that the new generation is going after 'fashion and
foreign things.' He presents the typical Indian make - up. The Indian living
conditions are sought to be portrayed. This is a lane of Gandhi and other who
have given their best for the sake of the country. Such principles as the truth,
Non - Violence and Non - Operation are the real virtues one will have to learn
from these leaders. The India of yester years is no longer to be seen here, as
modernization and industrialization have speeded up the process of change.
The regrettable thing in the modern world is the act of violence and anti -social
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tendencies proving to be a menace. Still the positive aspects like regeneration,
remuneration and contraception could be thought of as a way out of the present
muddle. One can certainly hope for the better and propagate the best that is
thought as unique.
In the second stanza, the readers get a peep into things - Indians as
Gandhi's heir, he would opt for peace and non - violence. He is puzzled why
others are not following Gandhi's advice - while in this estimate, the ancient
Indian wisdom is correct, contrastively the modern generation takes it to
whatever is western and fashionable - like other Indians, he too has to improve
his English language. The student interest and petty agitations make him feel
sickening line Antony's appeal to the Roman mob, he will call upon the fellow
citizens to think of the past masters.
Thus in the third stanza, he pronounces, In order to get away from that
which is disgusting, he wants to have a cup of wine which is very good for
digestion. It can be taken as equivalent to the western wine if only a little salt is
added to make it a lovely drink. The poet confesses that he is the total abstainer
from drinks while it is taken by addicts to gunch themselves, he for his part
would turn to simple drinks like lassi. Thus, the poet tries to receive the old
Gandhi an days.
In the fourth stanza, the poet is able to think aloud and offer his
comments on the world situation today. The present conditions all over the
world speak of a bad trend that give an edge to the production of dangerous
weapons and tiy to be superior to others. The countries of the world often tie
with each other in keeping themselves ahead of others in this mad competitive
world. This retrace often leads to conflicts resulting in loss of precious human
lives. If only one considers the other as the brother; the trend could be changed.
India is a land where the principle of 'unity in Diversity' is practiced.
Here many communities live together even though there are some problems.
This ideal situation in which one Co-exists with the other is described as Ram
Rajya by the poet. He gives the hand of friendliness to the visitor and expects
him to come again. The poet is optimistic when he says that he enjoys every
moment of good company. So, he ends the poem by saying that he does not
feel the necessity of celebrating ceremonies.
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1.5 POET, LOVER, BIRD WATCHER
The best poem of this volume 'Poet, Lover, Bird-watcher' displays
Ezekiel's views on poet's problems. He thinks the best poets wait for words,
like ornithologists sitting in silence to see birds.
Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher is one of the better known poems of Ezekiel
and has received considerable critical attention. It epitomizes the poet's search
for a poetics which would help him redeem himself in his eyes and in the eyes
of the god. Parallelism is drawn between the poet, the lover and the Bird-
watcher. All the three have to wait patiently in their respective pursuits, indeed
their 'waiting' is a sort of strategy, a plan of action which bear fruit it persisted
in and followed with patience. It is patient waiting which crown the efforts of
all the three with success.
Ezekiel attempts to define the poet in terms of a lover and the bird-
watcher. There is a close resemblance among them in their search for love, bird
and word. All the three become one in spirit, and Ezekiel expresses this in
imagery noted for its precision and decorum:
The hunts is not an exercise of will
But patience love relaxing on a hill
To note the movement of a timid wing..
There is no action, no exercise of will in all the three cases, but 'Patient
waiting' is itself strategy., a kind of planned action to reach the goal. The
patience of the birdwatcher is rewarded when the timid bird is suddenly caught
in the net; the patience of the lover is rewarded, when the woman loved, risks
surrendering. Similarly, if the poets wait still the moment of inspiration, he
achieves some noble utterance. "Bird - b e l o v e d - poem syndrome runs
throughout the lyric".
The Second-stanza stresses the fact that slow movement is good. One
has to go to remote place just as one has to discover love in a remote place like
the heart's dark floor. It is there, that women look something more than their
body, and that they appear like myths of light. And the poet, in zigzag
movements, yet with a sense of musical delight, manages to combine
movements, yet with a sense of musical delight, manages to combine sense and
sound in such a way that 'deaf can hear, the blind recover sight'. Highest poetry
is remedial in its action, it cures human apathy and deadness of spirit, activises
human sense, and makes man see and hear much more than he would have
otherwise done.
At the end of this wait, the poetic word appears in the concrete and
sensuous form of a woman, who knows that she is loved and who surrenders to
her lover at once. In this process, poetry and love, word and woman become
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interwined. But this "slow movement" of love and poetry, which shows no
irritable haste to arrive at meaning, does not come by easily. In order to possess
the vision of the rarer birds of his psyche, the poet has to go through the
"deserted lanes" of his solitary, private life; he has to walk along the primal
rivers of his consciousness in silence, or travel to a far off shore which is like
the heart's dark floor. The poet, then, gloats on the slow curving movements of
the women, both for the sake of their sensuousness and the insights they bring.
He creates his poetry out of these "myths of light" who essential darkness or
mystery remains at the entire of creation itself. But the poet finds the greatest
sense or meaning in his own creativity which eventually liberates him from
"crooked restless flight" of those moments when struggles to find the poetic
idiom. The poetry which releases the poet from suffering is the medium
through which the deaf can hear and the blind see.
This is a justly celebrated poem, containing a beautiful worked set of images
moving as the title suggests, on three interpenetrating levels.
1.6 NIGHT OF THE SCORPION
`Night of the Scorpion', in which Ezekiel recalls the behaviour of 'the
peasants', his father, his mother and a holy man when his mother was poisoned
by a scorpion's sting. Here the aim is to find poetry in ordinary reality as
observed, known, felt, experienced rather than as the intellect thinks it should
be. While the peasants pray and speak of incarnations, his father, 'sceptic,
rationalist', tries 'every curse and blessing, powder, mixture, herb and hybrid'
and a holy man performs a rite. After a day the poison is no longer felt and, in a
final irony, his mother, in contrast to the previous feverish activity centred
upon her, makes a typical motherly comment:
My mother only said
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
and spared my children.
The 'Thank God' is doubly ironic as it is a commonplace expression of speech
in contrast to all the previous religious and superstitious activity. Ezekiel's
purpose is not, however, an expression of scepticism but rather the exact
notation of what he saw as a child. The aim is not to explain but to make real
by naming, by saying 'common things'. The poem is a new direction, a vision
of ordinary reality, especially of Indian life, unmediated by cold intellect. The
new purpose is seen in the poem's style, unrhymed, with line lengths shaped by
natural syntactical units and rhythm created by the cadences of the speaking
voice into a long verse paragraph, rather than the stanzaic structure used in
earlier poems.
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In his poetry there is the truth of acknowledging what is felt and
experienced in its complexity, contradictions, pleasures, fears and
disillusionments without preconceived ideas of what poetry should say about
the poet and life.
Nissim Ezekiel's `Night of The Scorpion' is much appreciated by the
critics and it has found place in many anthologies for as excellence, Critics,
commenting on its aesthetic beauty expressed different views. In their critical
sweep, they brought everything from superstitious ritualism to modern
rationalism. One can find that in the poem superstitious ritualism or sceptic
rationalism or even the balance of the both with expression of Indian ethos
through maternal love in the Indian way, is nothing but scratching the surface.
The poem has something more gigantic than its face value, which as I find is
the symbolic juxtaposition of the forces of darkness and light that is
intrinsically centripetal in the poem.
It is `Night' of The Scorpion' with the first word absorbing accent. It
seems to have been implicitly contrived here that `Night should stand as a
symbol of darkness with the `Scorpion' as the symbol of evil. Such ingenuity
in craftsmanship takes the poem to the higher level of understanding. Prof.
Birje Patil is right in putting that in "Night of The Scorpion", where evil is
symbolized by the scorpion, The reader made to participate in the ritual as well
as suffering through' a vivid evocation of the poison moving in the mother's
blood'. And evil has always been associated with darkness, the seamy side of
our life, in human psyche. It has always been the integral part of theology, in
whatever form it has manifested that suffering helps in removing that darker
patch in human mind, he patch that has been a besetting sin of man's
existence.
May the sum of evil
Balanced in this unreal world
against the sum of good
become diminished by your pain, they said
These lines amply testify that the poem aims at achieving something
higher than its narrative simplicity. The choric refrain `they said' in the chain
of reactions made by the village peasants is undoubtedly ironic, but the poet
hasn't as much to stress the concept of sin, redemption or rebirth as he has to
insinuate the indomitable force of darkness gripping the minds of the
unenlightened. Going through the poem attentively more than once, it can't fail
catching our notice that modern rationalism is also equally shallow and
perverse. It is also a road leading to confusion where through emerges
scepticism, the other darker patch on our modernized existence. The image of
the father in this poem speaks volumes for this capsizing modernism which
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sandwiches in its arm- space the primitive and the perverted. The "sceptic
rationalist' father trying `powder, mixture, herb and hybrid' bears upon human
primitivism and when he experiments with `a little paraffin upon a bitten toe
and put a match to it he becomes a symbol of perversion in the modern man's
psyche.
Christopher Wiseman puts it, "...a fascinating tension between personal
crisis and mocking social observation"" ; neither there is any personal crisis.
On the other hand there is spiritual compassion and an intense urge for getting
rid of this psychological syndrome that the whole modern world has been
caught, the slow-moving poison of this syndromic scorpion into the very veins
of creation, the image of the mother in agony nullifying the clear vision of
human thought and enveloping the whole of humanity In the darker shades of
confusion more chaolic, troubles the poet as much sharply as the sting of the
poisonous worm. There is crisis, but it is the crisis of human existence that
needs lo be overcome. The poet, though a distant observer, doesn't take a
stance of detachment. On the exact opposite, he watches with curiosity "the
flame feeding on my mother', but being uncertain whether the paraffin flame
would cleanse her of the ugony of the absorbing poison, he loses himself in a
thoughtful trance.
The whole poem abounds with these two symbols of darkness and light.
In the very beginning the poet has ushered in this symbolic juxta position and
then as the poem advanced, built upon it the whole structure of his fascinating
architecture in the lines. Ten hours of steady rain had driven him to crawl
beneath a sack of rice parting with his poison - flash of diabolic tail in the dark
room he risked the rain again.
The incessant rain stands for the hope and regeneration where with is
juxtaposed the destructive hurdles to fruitfy that hope. But the constructive, life
giving rain continuoues and the evil, having fulfilled its parts, departs. Then
afterwards other hurdels more preying than the first, come in. More candles,
more lanterns, more neighbours more insects, and the endless rain My mother
twisted through and through groaning on a mat.
The symbols of light and darkness, candles lanterns, neighbours and
insects and rain again are notworthy. But the force of light gains a width
handover the evil force and life is restored once again in its joyous stride and
this life long struggle between forces of darkness and light reaches a crescendo
when - after twenty hours It lost its sting. Here, In the above lines, lies the
beuaty of the poem, when the ascending steps of darkness, being chased by the
force of following light are ripped down; when at last on the peak the chaser
wins and the chased slips down.
The man who has not understood what motherhood is. might be taken in
by such expression of motherly love. But I convincingly feel that any woman
would have exclaimed the same thing as the mother in this poem did. In my
view, it would have been truly Indian had the mother in her tortures
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remembered her children and though helplessly, had she desired to protect
them lest the scorpion might catch them unawres. Anyway, the beauty of the
poem remains- unmarred by such revision. The poem is a thing of beauty par
excellence.
The poem "Night of the Scorpion" can be classified as poetry of situation - an
art in which Browning and Robert Frost excelled. It presents a critical situation
in which a mother is bitten by a scorpion. It involves a typical Indian Situation
in which an entire village community identifies itself with a sad domestic
happening. It pictures the traditional Indian society steeped in ignorance and
superstition.
The poem is set against the backdrop of Indian rural setting. The rural habit of
Storing rice in gunny bags is referred to in the phrase, " a sack of rice".
The rural practice of building huts with mud walks is captured in the phrase
"mud backed walks". The absence of rural electrification in Indian villages
before independence is hinted at in a string of images, "dark room" and "
Candles and linters". "Darkness" has the extended meaning of Indian villages
being steeped in ignorance.
The situation of a scoipion-stung mother is encountered in different ways of
prayer, incantation and science.
Not one stays at home when the peasants hear of a mother bitten by a scoipion.
They rush buzzing the name of God times without number. With candles and
lanterns, they search for him. He is not found. They sit on the floor with the
mother in the centre and try to comfort her with words of philosophy. Their
prayer brings out their genuine concern for the suffering mother. The father,
through a skeptic and a rationalist, does not differ in the least from the ignorant
peasants. He tries both medicine and "mantra" drugs and chants as seen in the
phrase "trying every were and blessing". A holy man is brought to tame the
poison with an incantation.
It is the belief of the village community that buzzing " the name of God a
hundred times" will bring about relief to the mother stung by the scorpion. The
action of the rural folk brings out their firm faith in God and in the efficiency of
prayer. It is the belief of the rural community that the faster the scorpion
moves, the faster the poison in the mother's blood will move. In equating the
movement of the scorpion and that of the poison in the blood stream, the
peasant betray their superstition.
The peasants sit around the mother groaning in pain and they try to console her
offering remedial advice of a strong ritualistic and faith - healing kind. Some
peasants say that as she has suffered now, in the rent birth she will experience
less troubles. She will now be in a balanced state whereby her body
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