Magician – 2

May 4, 2010


Scorpion bites were very common those days in our town. I had seen many an encounter from very close quarters. Most significant being when one of my aunts (I had seven) was bitten by a giant one. Fortunately the sting was not lethal, but bordering that, and she was suffering for ten fifteen hours from the pain, although a doctor was at hand. The tourniquet was more painful for her than the actual venom, as she would tell later.

The scorpions would jump at you from anywhere- wooden trusses directly above the bed, shoes, mosquito nets, dusters, upturned stones, book covers, you just name it. In my aunt’s case, she had a tryst with it when it appeared from an empty utensil.

And they were in so many colours- yellow ochre, blue, black, deep red.  In many forms and shapes, from a bunch of babies riding on their mother’s back to full grown ones of fist size.

Scorpions were enemies, and it was my duty towards the family to fight with them in any which way possible, although I was only five or six!

Our primary school was closed for summer vacation. The house was somewhat empty, since I and my Grandma were the only members in the house.

The town’s annual fun fare was on.

That particular day, I ventured out and was passing time watching a roadside magician/acrobat perform. Suddenly I was all ears when he said in his advertising speech that he has remedies for snake and scorpion venom.

Next day, I was present at the usual venue for his show, before him. He arrived with snake baskets and other sundries, tied the ropewalk between the bamboo tripods and started beating his drums, looking at me sceptically. I ventured and asked him if he really had anti-venom for Scorpions. He said, yes, but watch the show, pay a bit and he would tell me about it after the show. So, I watched the complete show- the rope walk by his wife, his dog identifying colours of the spectators’ clothes, his crying baby tied to the top of a pole balanced on his shoulder, the card games, the ball vanishing from the perforated tin box trick,  sudden change of clothes under a blanket trick, and finally the snake and mongoose pseudo fight concluding in his Ad Campaign.

There were not many spectators and he did not collect much money in his hat. The Magician family was apparently very worried at the collection. I approached him again and he shouted at me to get lost. He let his dogs bark at me, obviously perceptive that I had no money to offer.

The family started their walk home and I followed them to find out where they lived. They reached a ghetto of temporary huts outside the town, where there were more families like his.  Children were playing, women cooking in the open, hens and donkeys running helter skelter.

Just as our procession reached his hut, the magician’s wife bellowed at him that there would be no food for them today as there was nothing to cook. A fight ensued and the magician was defeated hands down. Nonplussed, he lighted his bidi and was about to leave when he noticed me watching them. I thought this is it. But he smiled sweetly and said, you wanted scorpion cure, right? I said yes, I am fed up of them. If it bites one of my family members once again, I have to have something at hand.

He asked her wife then as to what she wanted for the day. She had a long list of bring this, bring that. He listened to her patiently, again smiled at me and said, we can pull on even if we have chilli and bread, no? Nomads do not need much to sustain, no? But a bit of tamarind as a sidekick to chilly would be great, no? So, I shall give you the anti venom “Root” if you bring me tamarind. A lot of it. While you manage the Tamarind, I will go search for the bread. Now, get lost.

Where shall I get the Tamarind from? I was not as big and also not very good at climbing tall trees. Still, I said, fine.

I mentally surveyed the possible trees and came up with one or two. Then I went to Gana, my friend, who was a year or two older and could wrestle with the trees.

I told him the whole episode. He thought for a few minutes and asked what is in it for him? I said, half the Root.

He said, no, because the Tamarind tree is the abode for Spinster Ghosts. The risk is too much.

This was true. There were a hundreds of spinster ghost sightings reported by various village elders.

But there is an idea, he said. If we pay respects to the tree before climbing it, and do not do it at 12 o’clock in the noon or night, there is a good chance that we will get away.

So we collected the essential “worshiping material” from his house, much to the annoyance of his mother, and left on the crusade.

It proved to be a difficult task because all the trees that we frequently pelted at were devoid of any fruits. It was getting late in the evening and the only alternative now left was the mammoth tree that was in the cotton ginning and pressing factory. It was a good option, because the factory will be closed in this season, and bad because there will be not a soul around if the Spinster Ghost did something to us. After a long discussion, we gathered courage and went there.

The fruits were less in number. But, at least, they were there. However, there was a big problem. The fruits were hanging only from a branch which was directly above an open and huge boiler water tank. The tank was full.

Gana said, instead of paying respects to the tree, we should do it for the water tank.

So, we ceremoniously prayed to both the tank as well as the tree, offered yellow and red Turmeric, some wild flowers, an incense stick, all gathered from Gana’s house, and looked at each other, enquiring in mime as to who will climb now? I said, I do not know how to swim, neither  can I climb such a huge tree with branches like elephant’s legs. Further, somebody has to catch the fruits and ensure that they do not fall in the water, this task I could carry out without hassles.

Gana said, he was too bulky for the branch in question, and he can save me if I drowned.

Finally, we decided that both will climb. I in front and Gana at some distance so that if I fell down he can jump and save me from the water or at least raise alarm. So, we did.  With pounding hearts. And gathered whatever fruits we could. We paid respects to the tree and the tank again. It was already dark. We went running to the Magician’s hut and emptied the Tamarind from our pockets in front of him. He appeared to be disgusted and said in a loud voice, this? Who told you to bring raw green tamarind? I want ripe and dried black kind. Go, get some. Otherwise, no Root.

The cursing magician with shadows and light dancing due to the fire he had kindled was indeed looking like a Spinster Ghost.

Gana had had enough now and doubled immediately to his house, and I, with heavy feet, to mine.

Grandma was waiting at the door for me, almost in tears. She enquired where I was for the whole day and said how careless of me not to inform anybody.

I could not resist and blurted out the whole episode.

She got up after a moment’s thought, gathered a big ball of dried Tamarind as also a heap of bread from the kitchen. Come, let us go, she said.

We were there again at the Magician’s. The dog pack from the entire ghetto started barking. He and his wife came out to see the visitors.

Grandma handed them over the Tamarind and the bread and asked in a low tone, do you not have children? Why did you have to send this kid to get something for you? Had something happened to him, where and how you would have paid for the sin?

To which they mumbled something in alternate, what can we do? The town’s people do not allow us nomads to come near any tree; neither have we found it honourable to beg. We love our profession, but there is no income….and such.

Grandma then sternly told them that they will not go begging anywhere. Instead they should come to our house for whatever needs they had.

The magician thanked us for the bread, saying, you increased my child’s lifespan by a few days. We came back, with the magician as escort.

Next day morning, Grandma sent me to them with a rag basket of grains.

Until they were in town, the Magician’s wife used to come to us at odd hours with her baby in tow. Grandma usually gave her whatever alms she asked for. Both used to talk at the back door as if they were long lost friends and had met again. They even touched each other’s hand the day the family left for good.

Before leaving, the magician indeed gave me the anti-venom Root advising that it should be rubbed in Kerosene to form a paste and should be applied on and around the scorpion bite. It will suck out all the venom, hundred percent guarantee.

I gave Gana his share of the Root.

Grandma placed the Root in a glass jar on top of the chest of drawers for her reasons and told everybody in the house never to move it. She used to say, handy, in case of emergency!!

Elders used to make fun of the Jar and the Root. But visiting children used to be amazed when we told them what it was.

Funny thing, there were no scorpion bites in the family after we had the remedy, may be because we had become extra cautious after my Aunt was bitten. Neighbours did not believe in the Root, and never called me even for trial if there was a scorpion bite in their household. Instead, they called the doctor.

Only the Magician’s Root could have confirmed whether it was genuine, given a chance. I sometimes used to stare at the Root, shared its agony, and encouraged it a little, when nobody was around.

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4 Responses to “Magician – 2”


  1. Wonderful portrayal of the persons, the incident and the economic background behind it all. Must say, thanks for sharing this, I’ve learnt some lessons from your childhood 🙂

    We (the people of my generation) spent our childhood days in a world where the computer was almost non-existent until our late teens and life revolved around the school, books, evening playtime / evening ‘galli’ Cricket, TV etc., as so we did have a chance at ‘live’ human interaction. Obviously you would have had a lot more of it than us at the same age. I wonder though if the kids today, with all the electronic gadgetry and loads of enticing distractions around them, would ever get to learn from such experiences.

    • rajeevelkunchwar Says:

      Thanks.
      Unfortunately these days children do not get to know all the Five Ghosts – Earth, Water, Air/Wind, Fire and Space, the nature and most importantly people from all walks of life and faith.

  2. Ranjeet Elkunchwar Says:

    Nice one Pa. Loved the ‘offering prayer’ episode.


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