The July rains brought relief from the blistering Delhi heat. I sat on my window as the rain dripped from the ‘chajja‘ above. At times I would stretch my hand out and let the rain wet it. Other times I just sat and watched.
The faint smell of wet earth had travelled with the blowing breeze. “It is going to rain soon!” ,mother had said yesterday only.
Rain had changed the entire landscape. Everything appeared so fresh, new and sparkling .Everyone loved the rain; but the maybe the frogs loved it the most. Suddenly there were a large number of leaping frogs in the garden. Whether it was the cooler environs of the outside or it was their desire to mate, they were certainly rejoicing in the rain. Snails too came out, perhaps they were sticky and sweltering and wanted to wiggle in the rain.
“Sanju the pakodas are ready!” ,called mother from the kitchen,”Get Radha too!”
The smell of hot onion pakodas sizzling out from the kadhai ,accompanied by ‘imli‘ sauce and the sound of rain on the roof made the entire mood very indulgent.
Shanti, the housemaid had gotten her seven-year old son Raji with her that day .Usually, the boy loitered around the neighbourhood whilst the mother worked in houses, but today, the incessant rains had compelled her to bring Raji along. Raji, dressed in a white shirt and khaki shorts sat on the porch making paper boats and leaving them in the steady waters flowing from the drain pipe into a shallow nallah running by the porch.
A high-pitched shriek from the bedroom upstairs startled everyone. Mother rushed upstairs, only to find Radha standing frozen by her bedroom wall. Shanti, me and Raji ran up too.
There on Radha’s bed lay a curled up snake, its head stood upright. He was as amazed to see us as we were to see him.
“Cobra! Cobra!”, shouted Shanti pointing at the snake. For some reason she thought that every snake was a cobra. Radha freaked out more on hearing that it was a cobra. Big tears rolled down her cheeks and I thought she was about to faint.
Raji ran down instantly and came back with a stick. “Come Sanju baba we ll scare it away!”, said Raji who did not waste a moment and repeatedly hit the stick on the floor in front of the bed.
I don’t know whether that scared the snake or it got plain bored but the snake slithered its way out of the bed and perched itself on the window. From there it did not move despite of our best efforts.
Mother grabbed Radha out of the room and locked it from outside.
We all went back to the kitchen table and began to console Radha who refused to leave mother. Raji meanwhile got applause for his display of bravery and presence of mind. Now Radha though elder to me was scared of reptiles. Lizards had her running for her life and this was a snake.
“Snakes usually don’t come out in the rains. They love basking in the sun!” ,began Shanti.
“The heavy downpour must have flooded his hole, that’s why he came out! That cobra!”,continued Shanti, who by this time had left all the house hold chores and was comfortably squatting on the floor below.
“It was not a cobra Shanti! Stop scaring Radha!”, said mother getting irritated.
” Why don’t we kill it!” ,said Raji fresh with the enthusiasm gathered by his recent act of bravery.
“Oh! no Raji! Misfortune befalls on people who kill snakes. It’s very inauspicious!” ,said Shanti warning her son.
“But we can’t just let it be there!”, replied Raji, displaying unhappiness with his mother’s decision.
Now in India, snakes are worshipped as they are associated with Lord Shiva and Vishnu. Killing them is supposed to bring bad luck.
“We will call a snake charmer!” ,said mother settling the argument.
She quickly got up to get her telephone diary. She rang up Mrs. Sen, whose maid’s husband knew a snake charmer and requested that he be sent soon.
It was not even an hour after the conversation with Mrs. Sen, that the snake charmer arrived ,despite the heavy rains. Dressed in a saffron kurta, white dhoti and a bright red turban he called for mother.
“Memsaab!” he called out loud from outside.
Shanti got up and opened the door.
The beads around his neck clinkled as he walked in. The snake charmer was a man of a pleasant disposition.”Where is the snake?”, he enquired smiling.
“It’s in the bedroom upstairs” ,said mother as she lead him upstairs. Raji and me followed mother. Radha, preferred to stay down with Shanti.
The snake charmer pulled a flute like instrument from his cloth sack and began playing a tune. Simultaneously, he removed the lid of a small basket that he had placed in front of him. As if drawn by the tune the snake left the window and came down to the floor, very near to the snake charmer.
Raji and me exchanged surprised looks. We both were witnessing this for the first time.
The snake continued to wiggle for a while before he crawled into the basket. The snake charmer sealed the basket with its lid and slid it in his cloth sack.”It’s done!” ,said he as we witnessed the drama close in front of us.
We all went down. Mother offered him a little money in return of his services which he politely refused.
As he prepared to leave, mother asked him, “Which snake was it?”.
“Cobra!” he replied as he disappeared in the rain.