One sleepy summer afternoon, while helping
myself to a glass of chilled water, I saw a
snake lying curled under the fridge. It could
have been a very poisonous cobra. Very
quickly, I chose my mode of attack: Acid.
Staggering, I reached for the glass bottle
so that I could pour the yellow-green cheap
acid on its slimy body, burning it to death.
"Stop it", the snake hissed in pure Tamil
connecting with me in the language of
my prayer and poetry. "I am an exile."
And I configured mental images of political
refugees. It wriggled out and I saw that
it was balding, almost Rushdie-like, perhaps
with a death sentence too. Controversy was a
crowd pulling catch-phrase, to which I dutifully
succumbed. Acid bottle in hand, I heard the
snake preach to me about living in detachment.
"The perfection of life is when you do not
know the difference between yielding and
resisting." The scrawny being writhed further
and told me of rebirth and reincarnation. Being
a writer I really wanted to take notes. Instead
I began arguing. "Shut up", the snake said to me,
"Karma and the whole stuff that follows it is just
bunkum. You, a crazed agnostic, disagree because
of borrowed ideas." Sharp movements of the red
tongue terrified me. Almost sensing my fear, it
said, "You could never challenge what you do
not comprehend." The snake spoke in circles, in
patterns that could only resemble a snake
swallowing its tail. Whatever. And then it
occurred to me: Speech was the oldest trap,
the charming deceiver, persuasion's weapon
and Satan's first area of expertise. "Stop it",
this time I said the words. "Tell me just your
story. Save the cant and rant for critical times."
My acidic tone gained me a menacing status
and I continued, "You are a mean serpent.
Instigator. Trouble-maker. Sly liar. Undulating
temptation-provider. Unworthy reminder
of the seduction of strength over matter." It
protested in a booming resonant voice, "No, I
am not any of this. I am just an exile, from
paradise. Because of your Catholic upbringing,
you don't even know about the paradise lost
in Hinduism." Who bothered for history or
heritage, except shriveling snakes and failed
writers? At least, we both had something in
common. "Look here comrade, my credentials
are different. In heaven, I was an activist. An
avid dissenter. Before the accession to heaven,
long long ago, I was a mighty monarch on earth,
feared and respected. I was Nahusa the Great.
My subjects were happy, the kingdom prosperous.
And I ruled for twelve thousand years, until the day
when I decided that I could take leave of life. In
heaven too, I was venerated. But one question had
plagued me all the years of my long life, and it still
tormented me in heaven. I wanted to know why
caste was there, why people suffered because of
their karmas. I questioned the Gods, and the learned
sages there. I asked them what would happen if an
high-born did manual work just like the low-born.
I worried about the division of labor, this disparity
in dreams and destinies. You could say I was a rebel
pleading for liberty-equality-fraternity. I had a riotous
history of revolution. The Gods plotted against me,
decided that I was trouble. I was cursed to turn into
a vile snake. I was banished from paradise. For sixty
million years, I shall roam the earth, and then I may
return." This was a different case of the paradise lost.
In this tale, there was no forbidden fruit, no second
fickle-minded woman. Tradition triumphed over reason
and the good were cast away. I let the serpent go,
happy that he had given my hungry mind a story, or
perhaps, a poem to be written on unfair days. I began
to respect snakes — the challengers of hierarchy.
While I gave him the freedom of safe passage
I vowed never to kill serpents. Much later
I realized brutally that this was just another
occupational hazard for choosing a life
where I was to be showing solidarity
with activists and dissenters.