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Days of the snake charmer

Illustration of a traditionally dressed Indian snake charmer with snake

Illustration of a traditionally dressed Indian snake charmer with snake

He was tall and robust. He would appear from nowhere one fine morning and squat somewhere in the porch with his wife or sometimes his son and start playing his familiar snake charmer’s flute — a Pungi or a Been .

Hearing his folk music, we children would rush out of the house. He would continue playing in anticipation of the elders to appear. All in the family would soon spread around the settees to see his snake show.

He possessed a vast knowledge about not only snakes but most reptiles. His folklore revolved mainly around different species of reptiles. He spoke a tribal dialect but made sure that everyone understood his language and accent. He would open the intricately woven box made of palm leaves in which the snake was kept.

As soon as the lid was open, a hissing snake would appear with its hood. In case it was a bit lazy, he would poke its hood with the Been for it to show its fangs. We children would shudder in fear. He would reassure everyone and ask us to enjoy the spectacle. His knowledge and lecturing skills could challenge any herpetologist.

It appeared as though he treated our house as a platform to showcase his talent. Much to his liking, everyone paid complete attention. And to the questions posed about snakes, their habitat and prey-base, he took pride in answering calmly.

After the show, he would hand in packets containing herbal antidotes to elders with instructions for emergency use.

His wife and son were equally well poised and adept in handling snakes.

One other reason for this childhood experience etched vividly in my mind is the costumes the snake-charmer and his family wore. A colourful turban-like head gear with complex art work, and multi-hued clothing patterned and pinned with hundreds of sequins gave out an aura. Perhaps, the women in their community were the creators of this unique designer clothing.

You would be surprised to know what his expectations were in return for his snake show. He preferred our home-made masala and chutney powders, pickles and other culinary items to money. He would rather demand these things from my grandmother.

He would create a loud scene to impress upon her how much he longed to take the masala powders home to share them with his relatives. Everyone at home, despite yielding to his unusual demand, used to find his demanding and dramatic quirks amusing.

Before leaving, he would do one routine check for traces of snake movements in and around the house. Almost every one at home used to see them off when he left with his family; such was his charm. What a charming snake-man!

sujith_sandur@yahoo.in


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Printable version | May 15, 2022 4:51:29 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/days-of-the-snake-charmer/article38307610.ece