The giant black scorpion likes to spend the day in burrows
underground, but in heavy rain, when water gets into its retreat, it comes out
to find other shelters. Naturally, for it is an air-breathing creature and
water around its lung-books suffocates it. But the giant scorpion that came to
my front verandah one evening last month, when the rain came down in torrents,
found no shelter. It was jet-black and enormous, heavily built and all of eight
inches from pincer-tip to sting-tip, and no one knew how long it had been in my
wild and weed-grown little compound, abounding in dark recesses, but when the
rainwater invaded its home and it hurried across to my verandah, it met with a
sad end — I photographed and then killed it.

Mind you, I did consider deporting it, whole and unhurt, to
some far-away place, but this was easier considered than done. For one thing, I
couldn’t think of any place where people wouldn’t mind having an eight-inch
scorpion liberated, and for another the weather did not encourage excursions
Moreover, my neighbours, who have a number of children were all for my killing
it at once, before it ran away and escaped. They were very sure that a child
stung by the brute had no chance whatever, and someone told me, in great
detail, of a grown man of Bapatla (wherever that is) who died as the result of
getting stung by a giant scorpion. So I executed it with one well-aimed blow.

In my part of the country, people say that in spite of the
imposing looks of the giant scorpion, its sting is less venomous than that of
the much smaller yellow (or red) scorpion. No doubt any scorpion is bound to
have a comparatively more telling effect on an infant or an invalid than on grownups
in good health and it might well be that, as with snakes, the amount of poison
the creature is able to inject also determines the effect of its sting. About
one thing only am I certain — it is not the size of the scorpion or even its
victim that counts so much as human idiopathic response. Some people feel
nothing beyond a bearable burning sensation that passes in half an hour while
others may succumb to the sting.

I realise that this note is about the giant scorpion. There
is a multitude of scorpion-sting cures about which I know very little but still
feel tempted to digress a little and write about some of them. Apart from
absorbent stones and plant extracts ammonia in an aqueous solution, rubbed
immediately into the site of the sting has some effect, and it is said that a
bit of old gramophone record powered and applied to the spot, is a sure-fire
remedy. But the most extraordinary cure I have seen is rectified spirit (even
methylated spirit will do) in which a few scorpions have been picking for some
time. When I was in the Deccan, the medical officer of our state, a sound man,
always kept a gruesome bottle of the stuff handy, he told me that for a long
time he himself had thought that the effectiveness of the bottle was purely
psychological, but that one day a little child, only months old, stung by a
scorpion and in agony, was brought to him and that the tincture had worked,
within minutes of the application of the liquid to the sting, the child ceased
to scream and writhe, and very soon it stopped even sobbing and later recovered

I have personally witnessed the cure by mesmerism only,
after half an hour, the victim began to feel the pain again but by then it was
already bearable. Anyway, if someone stung by a scorpion comes to you in unbearable
pain, do not get all scientific and discuss the futility of all cures; apply
some remedy at once, and summon to your self the will-power to have faith in
your cure for the time being.

Physicians numb the pain with a narcotic, such as morphia.
Crushed ice applied in a pack to the stung flesh also numbs the burning and
pain, but learn a lesson from my own criminal stupidity and be careful not to
overdo the application. Long ago, when my mother got stung by a scorpion and
could not stand the burning sensation (she could not stand morphia, either), I
sat up the whole night with her renewing the packs of ice, and in the morning a
surgeon had to amputate the frost-bitten finger.

To return to the giant scorpion, it is much less dangerous
when full-grown and frightening than in its slam youth. Once the spread of
middle-age overtakes it, its heavy carapace and body encumber its stiff-jointed
legs, and it can run and sting quickly no longer. It develops a rocking rather
inebriated gait — the Tamil name for this scorpion, “dancing legs”, literally
translated is highly expressive — and eve in an emergency its speed is limited.

It is essentially a creature of the scrub, and seldom enters
human dwelling, and when it does, its large size and slow, socking gait result
in its getting discovered and executed, No account of the creature can be
complete without Hilaire Belloc’s verdict on it:

The scorpion is as black as soot,

He dearly loves to bite —

He is a most unpleasant brute

To find in bed at night

To those carping purists who wish to point out that the
scorpion does bite, for being slow and unsure of its aim, it likes to hold its
victim securely between its pincers before stinging. And anyway the sheer
profundity of the last two lines places this masterpiece well above such petty

This was published on 8 December 1963 in the Sunday Statesman