General Non-Fiction posted February 27, 2021


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personal memoir

The Cobra

by Sanku




I was around six when this incident happened. It is one of my few childhood memories that has stayed with me vividly. We ( my parents,my brother and myself) were sitting on the wide front verandah of my father's official quarters and eating roasted peanuts. Dusk was gathering and my brother was recounting the day's happenings in his class. It was my mother who suddenly drew her breath and said , "Snake, snake".

Peanuts were immediately forgotten and, standing up, we peered into the semi darkness and saw a brown ribbon slowly moving towards us. It seemed it was purposefully crawling to keep a personal tryst with us. Like most people we had a healthy fear of these reptiles. And me, I was petrified. My father whispered to my brother, "Go and call Muthu".

My brother ran into the kitchen. Muthu was our occasional cook. We children used to call him Muthettan as a mark of respect .(the suffix 'ettan' means elder brother) We took his services when we were having guests or when we wanted to make jams or pickles. He worked in a ''tea shop" that belonged to his brother just a kilometre from our home. Why it was called a ' tea shop', not a restaurant, I never understood since breakfast, lunch and dinner were served there.

Muthu also had a special fame in that village. He was uniquely unafraid of snakes. And he loved or rather enjoyed killing them. There were no SPCA or any such animal rights organisation in those days. Snakes, when perceived to pose a threat to human lives, were killed. Simple logic. Though we belonged to a community of snake worshipers, this did not cause any heartache for Muthu.

Muthu came running from the kitchen leaving the gently simmering jack fruit pulp which was on its way to becoming jack fruit jam. He came wiping his hands in the ubiquitous cotton towel which was present almost always on one of his shoulders, usually the left. He went down the steps and stood silently watching the dark form slowly slithering forward.

"He is a vile one", he said.

"No, Muthu, I think it is a harmless rattlesnake, let it go", My father opined.

The snake stopped creeping as if sensing an air of animosity. Its tongue flicked in and out of its mouth. Emboldened by Muthu's presence I came down the steps to stand behind my mother and tried to take a peek at the intruder. It's body was yellowish with darker stripes.

I wondered if snakes were loners. Why were they always spotted in singles?

Muthu looked around and located our 'cricket bat' lying under the Hibiscus bush. The bat was actually the leaf stalk of a coconut frond cut down to roughly the length of a bat. We played cricket with the 'bat' and a ball made of the narrow coconut leaf fronds woven intricately and expertly into a ball. (There were no toy shops in that village. We played with whatever was available around us). Both the bat and the ball were Muthu's handicraft.

Muthu took our bat and in a soft but swift movement stood right in front of the snake. And he waited...

Tense moments passed. We were all holding our breath. The snake was now ready for a battle. As if in slow motion Muthu raised the bat .The snake then lifted its head and its neck expanded to form a majestic hood with the characteristic V shaped spectacle mark. A cobra! Of course Muthu was right.

The snake hissed at him. Totally unafraid, he lowered the bat and the snake closed its hood. Muthu again raised the bat, the snake again lifted his and this raising and lowering went on for a few minutes. As we watched with bated breath, Muthu gave one swift blow on the snake's hood. And it fell dead. Just like that.

He gave a satisfied grunt and threw down the bat with a flourish and whipped his white cotton towel and gave it a good shake, a gesture equivalent to the bowlers shaking their fists when they have bowled out a batsman. He took the bat and with one end lifted the dead snake and held it high for all of us to see and walked away with his trophy.

There is a myth that if you kill a cobra, its mate will seek you out to take revenge. So for many months we put crushed garlic all around our house.(to repel snakes and I am not sure if it is another myth)

As for me, Muthu became my hero and I decided when I grew up I would marry him. My father worked as a Forest Ranger and the very next year he was transferred and posted elsewhere. So my devotion to Muthu died a natural death.

Later, through one of my father's colleagues, we got the news that Muthu had died, ironically, from a snake bite! One early morning he had just finished milking the cows when he felt the nick on his right foot. Though he was taken to the primary health centre, it was too late.

For quite some time I used to wonder if it was the mate's revenge.




Non-Fiction Writing Contest contest entry

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My native state in India is Kerala and we boast of weird 'snake fans'.
Thank you, helvi 2 for this picture.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by helvi2 at FanArtReview.com

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