The Serpentís Tale

 

Durlabh Singh

 

 

 

 

 

It is over a year since I moved to this location. Well, a snake has to live somewhere like everyone else and protect his body from elements of heat and cold. It is so hard to find a suitable dwelling nowadays, when the spread of human beings has become so virulent all over the planet. I suppose one could survive within the undergrowth of vegetation in a forest, but sadly all those forests near me have been wiped out by human greed for more and more land.

 

Before I moved to this place I was living in temporary accommodations, in burrows constructed by little creatures of the earth. As you know, those small animals and crawling things do not occupy their homes all the year around. When their offspring have grown up and gone they normally move out, to new pastures or for a breath of fresh air so to say, and then I move in. I have changed my dwelling so many times during my manhood or snake-hood, as you might say, that this habit has been ingrained in my mind so much that I would like to change my dwellings very often - otherwise life gets so boring.

 

If I find a good burrow of comfortable disposition as to accommodate my long delicate body, I will stay put for some time. It has to be free from sounds and movements of other small creatures, as I want to lead a peaceful and contemplative life. Being of a philosophical nature I would like to ponder on the meaning of life and other important things in the universe. It may seem funny to you but man is such a vain and cruel creature who always thinks himself superior to all the other forms life on this planet and thinks that he is the only one to have the right to meditate on such important matters.

 

I hope some of you sensitive folks of humankind will think some day about the enormous cruelty and destruction man has brought to this world. My mother used to say that man is made in an image of an alien monster who was sent specially to plunder this beautiful planet and to destroy all its rich variety of many forms. Man does not like variety, he is bent upon reducing all reality to uniformity, to suit his poor mind of single dimension. He does not really like life as life is appreciation of variety and I think he is mostly inclined towards death and monotony.

 

He says that he is made in the image of his God but to me, to reduce the almighty to human imagery is a blasphemy against Him. But he is so drunk with his own silly importance that he will not listen to anybody else who thinks differently.

 

I know it is unpleasant to contemplate such issues, but in spite of it I have to live my own life.

 

Enough of these speculations as I am going to tell you about my life experiences.

 

I have chosen my main dwelling on top of the hill overlooking the village so that I can keep a watch on the villagers and their movements. I am also concerned about my own safety lest someone from the village come upon me suddenly when I am asleep and attack me.

 

The other day there was a big gathering in the village and everyone was making speeches to impress others. It was an election of some sort I reckon, to elect a governing council for the village. They selected five people and then there was more noise and more shouting when they further elected the sarpanj or the head of the village council.

 

It was an amusing time for me to see all the people gathering every Sunday to see the village council in session and the sarpanj holding court, making decisions on quarrels between different factions and sorting out land disputes, matrimonial disharmonies and such other mundane matters. Soon the sarpanj began to take more and more active control of the council and of the people. He created a sort of hierarchy among all those peasants. I observed that when he spoke people were in awe of him and nobody contradicted him.

 

Soon he began to be surrounded by gifts of all kinds. He wore a bright coloured turban which was given to him as a gift from people of the village. He constructed for himself a high couch in the style of a throne and when he sat on it he looked great and his words began to be treated like the words of a god and everybody bowed to his opinion. The village carpenter carved him a big lathi out of fragrant sandalwood tree which he banged on the ground to emphasis his point and when he shouted all the people out of panic hunched down with their tails between their legs. The whole process was hilarious. I have observed the birth of democracy and of dictatorship simultaneously.

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I was impressed by the village sarpanj's tactics. If you have power you have everything. People will respect you however stupid you may be, but on the other hand no one will take any notice of you even if you have plenty of good qualities and a high dose of intelligence. I think the whole thing has to do with power and its politics.

 

All my life I have been trampled over and now I wanted to lead a different kind of life. I decided to act. I decided to follow in sarpanj's footsteps.

 

I began to go near the village and my path took a semi-circular route in which I often stood erect over my coil. I did the same thing over the hilly abode. With my black shiny colour I must have been an impressive sight. I noticed awe in people's eyes. One day a school kid noticed me and ran away panic-stricken. Soon more and more people saw me and began to panic and afterward I was the talk of the village. A group of school children came with stones to hit me but their aims were bad and they missed me completely. I was so angry and ran after them but lost them as they disappeared into the village at great speed.

 

They swore at me and called me bad names such as Kalu and shouted: that snake Kalu is bad and frightful and likes to attack the poor school kids.

 

It was not true, as I did not want to attack anybody, I just wanted to frighten them thus establishing my power over the realm, just like the sarpanj. I did not mind being called Kalu as I am of black colour and the name suited me fine.

 

The other day the villagers organised themselves into a big group and came armed with lathis and stones, as to strike me dead and even the village dog joined and took the lead. Who did they think they were to strike a poor serpent who had not bitten anybody and was just trying to imitate their sarpanj, whom they respected and worshipped? Surely I deserved the same respect and worship.

 

I stood up, erecting my body in a mode of strike and this stopped the villagers in their tracks, but the stupid dog did not take any notice. It jumped to catch hold of me, with its mouth salivating and its fangs pointing. In that instant, I instinctively caught hold of its neck and bit it in order to protect myself. Otherwise I would have been torn to pieces by the stupid dog.

 

The dog gave a loud howl and fell to ground yelping intensely as the venom began to take effect. It frothed from the mouth and there was a trickle of blood oozing from its nostrils as it entered into the throes of death. It died after only a few minutes and I felt sorry for it. You see I did not have any choice, it was simply to put up a self-defense. All the villagers ran fearing for their lives and I was left alone and in peace.

 

The village was quiet afterwards and with the advent of the rainy season life became less hectic. People spent most of their time stuck inside as a protection from the constant rain. The rivulet outside the village took the shape of a stream, which suited the village children as they swam and splashed in it. Even the temporary waterholes suddenly became pools, adding to their enjoyment. Soon the episode of the snake was forgotten, though everybody avoided the territory of the serpent Kalu. They avoided the direct road out of the village and took a detour to avoid being bitten.

 


A sadhu or a holy man with his saffron robe arrived in the village and was forced to stay in the village as the ground outside it was waterlogged. To take advantage of this lull, he decided to give daily teachings on religious matters. He organised sat sang for the people, women and children during daytime and the men during the evenings. A dais was constructed for the sadhu to deliver his sermons from. Everybody sat on the carpets or the on the floor to listen to him. Temporarily the sarpanj lost his privileged position of being seated on his throne. He had to sit on the floor like everyone else. He was not very happy about it and wanted the Sadhu to leave soon.

 

Sadhu's sermons were about the right views of life. The right views pertaining to right understanding, as there were merits and demerits in one's life. He taught them that stealing was demerit, lying was demerit, harsh language was demerit, destruction of a living being was demerit and ill will was a demerit. The last two touched the raw nerves of the people, who thought that only a saint could carry out those teachings, as it was beyond ordinary mortals like them. They were all carrying ill will against the creature who could bite.

 

The Sadhu gave them instruction on right conduct also. People have to avoid demerits and follow the path of merits which will bear fruits in this life and in future lives to come. Only a few people paid much attention to the meaning of his message.

 

At last the rains stopped and the Sadhu was ready to depart. People warned him about Kalu but he ignored their pleas. He travelled the direct road out of the village.

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The Sadhu with his orange robe flying in the air was coming up the hill and Kalu saw him. He prepared himself for a possible confrontation, as it was an affront to his power and prestige. The following conversation took place.

 

Kalu -Do not come into my territory, it is an insult to me. I will harm you if you come near me. I am just warning you.

 

Sadhu -I do not intend to do any harm. I am just passing through on my way to my destination.

 

The serpent stood up ready to attack but Sadhu was not frightened, which surprised Kalu as no one had shown such courage before.

 

Kalu - Can't you see my terrible face? I put fear in all people. Get away as otherwise I may attack and bite you.

 

Sadhu - Yes I can see you are a wicked being who likes to attack people. You are accumulating bad karma and you will be born even in an uglier state in your next birth.

 

This effected Kalu as he realised that one's action not only affects the present life but probably even lives to come.

 

Suddenly all the aggression in him was gone and he urged the Sadhu for more instruction as to how to lead a life of merit and thus to avoid future suffering.

 

The Sadhu sat down and gave him a long sermon as how to have a right view of life and thus lead a meritorious life which will benefit all. The chief instruction given was to stop biting other creatures and thus lead a less wicked life.

 

The Sadhu left him and Kalu pondered upon his teachings a long time.

 

A month passed and the Sadhu was returning after conducting his business in a far off land. He remembered Kalu and wanted to pay a visit to see how he was getting on. So he went up the hill to search for Kalu near about his hole but could not find any trace of him. He searched the surroundings until he heard a faint moaning noise. At last he found Kalu in a bad state of health. His whole body was covered with wounds and he was reduced to a skeletal form.

 

Sadhu asked the reasons for it and Kalu told him that it was all Sadhu's fault. The serpent had carried out his instructions and stopped biting people. First the children were amused but then started teasing him. They laughed at him as to what kind of serpent he was who could not even bite. Soon the villagers came to take their revenge. They hit him with stones and sticks but Kalu did not retaliate as he had given his word to Sadhu. They chased him and he escaped death only by hiding within a deep hole to which the villagers had no access. Now the snake was in a terrible state, being hurt and starving. He had not eaten any food for days.

 

Sadhu was aghast at the cruelty shown to Kalu. An animal understood his teachings better than humans.

 

He asked the snake why he did not hiss when attacked as at least to frighten people away. Kalu told him that he never gave him such instructions for hissing.

 

Sadhu admitted that it was his fault and he should have warned Kalu about the wickedness of people.

 

If one was good, humans will take advantage of one's goodness and even kill in order to show their power over the weak. One cannot live in this world without a certain amount of hiss, otherwise people are bound swallow you just like a piece of cake.

 

Sadhu nursed him until Kalu was ready to move and one night they slipped out of the village under the cloak of darkness. It was now noon and they had covered about two miles. Kalu was exhausted with all that hard work and they rested under the shade of a peepal tree.

 

They still had to cover another twenty miles to Sadhu's Dera where Kalu was going to live under his protection. It was a pleasant spot to rest and a cool wind blew. Kalu felt sleepy. He wanted to doze. Sadhu was close by and he felt secure. It was nice to have such kind friends.


© 2004 Durlabh Singh.

Durlabh Singh is a writer based in London, who has been published in over 200 publications worldwide. His latest book of essays & poetry is CHROME RED (ISBN 1898030464). His aim is to add new expressions to the contemporary literary scene.

 

durlabh@durlabh441.freeserve.co.uk