This is a story that happened quite some time back in a remote rural village in southern India. I shall refrain from naming the village, so as to not hurt the sentiments and feelings of the honest citizens of this village. The story goes like this- On a hot sultry summer evening Ramu, the village cobbler was returning home on a desolate road, which was his usual route everyday, when he was confronted by a strange sight on the side of the road. He thought he saw a snake walking! His usual journey back home from work included a stop at Kalluram’s toddy shop to drink his favorite village brew, a potent and lethal combination of fermented coconut toddy mixed with old unsold sleeping pills way past their expiry dates. The sleeping pills were supplied by Marundhuram, the only pharmacist in the village. Ramu wasn’t very sure about what he saw and he took in his hand the first thing he saw, a broken twig lying on the side of the road.
Now in this village, there are two types of people, the first type worship snakes, make idols of snakes, paint it with vermilion, offer milk, coconuts, bananas and shave their head or tonsure their tongues in reverence of the snake gods. The second types were those who killed a snake, the first instant they saw one and wouldn’t mind eating a cooked one, if it was made spicy enough to go along with their favorite brew. Ramu belonged to the second category. Anyway, coming back to the story, Ramu approached the beast and what he saw on closer examination truly astounded him. The potent alcohol inside Ramu’s belly churned his senses at the sight and Ramu thought he was going to faint. Here was Satan’s representative itself, Satan had empowered his favorite reptile with a pair of legs. This animal was making its way actually walking on its legs protruding from its belly and was crawling away to safety, inch by inch, to get away from Ramu .This was totally unacceptable to Ramu, here was a repulsive and dangerous animal that was the cause of many deaths in the village, armed with two legs now and Ramu wondered what Satan will do next, give the snake wings to fly away? Ramu stealthily approached the snake to hit it when he realized that the snake was as drunk as he was. It was painstakingly slow in its movements and finding it impossible to get away from the self appointed guardian of the village. The snake finally collapsed on its stomach with both legs flattened on either side of its body, Ramu seized this opportunity and gave three solid blows to the snakes head. He stepped back and surveyed his kill and felt immense pride in his achievement even in his drunken stupor .Now, it was time to tell the villagers about how he has saved the village from an evil beast that was sent by the devil, to wreak havoc on the village and its good inhabitants.
Ramu reached his house in an even more inebriated state, as his elation at the killing of the snake combined with the alcohol pushed his intoxication levels up. He felt a new high now, which he never felt before in his forty five years of a rather boring life. Ramu summoned his wife Buddhudevi to his side and regaled her with his heroic deed of the day. Mrs.Ramu was totally stunned by this behavior, not so by Ramu’s story but by the fact that he was actually talking to her today, instead of thrashing her and calling her lewd names. Buddhudevi was so happy that her husband did not beat or abuse her, as was his practice everyday and instead was rambling about how he saved the village from a mysterious beast.
Ramu woke up the next day to a cackle of noises from outside his bedroom. He hid behind his bedroom door and peeped out into his verandah. There were quite a number of people present in his small verandah, mostly women from the neighborhood and a sprinkling of men folk who were all talking between themselves gesticulating wildly, their discussions interspersed with occasional exclamations. Holding the center stage was Buddhudevi, who was seen talking to the other women present there, with an unusual glow on her face and a new found confidence in her body language. Ramu summoned his wife inside and threatened her with dire consequences if she did not chase away the crowd, who had gathered there to mediate on her behalf against his drunken and unruly behavior everyday. His terrified wife assured him that it was no such thing and that the crowd had just gathered, to honor Ramu for his heroic deed the previous day and also get a first hand account of the incident. She also told him that she never told anyone about this incident except to the neighbor woman Gossippodevi, when they met earlier in the morning to draw water from the village well. She also said that she got an assurance from the neighbor woman that, she should never divulge the details of this incident to anyone. She proceeded to tell Ramu that she did not have any idea of how so many people got to know of the incident and it must be her husband’s destiny that he should become famous and be known for his heroism and sacrifice.
On hearing this, Ramu slowly recollected the previous evening’s incident and made a grand entry into his verandah, not even bothering to perform his customary duties like brushing his teeth or going to the toilet. He strode into the room with the airs of a man who was just returning from a hunting party having killed two elephants and a tiger. He was immediately mobbed by the men folk, the women kept a respectful distance and stood immediately behind the line of men mobbing Ramu. Everybody wanted to hear the story of the two legged snake and how Ramu had the guts to go near it, leave alone muster the courage to kill it .Though Ramu could not recollect the story in its entirety and he had forgotten the sequence of events, he somehow satisfied the eager crowd with a little extra addition here and there, giving the story a bigger dimension as regards his bravery and heroism. He even went on to say the snake actually spoke to him in its last dying moments.
He said Satan spoke through the snake, begging him not kill it and that it would have never ventured near the village if it had known that a man as brave and as smart as Ramu was living there. The snake also told him that, it would bless him with wealth unimaginable and loads and loads of subservient adoring women to serve him his entire life, if Ramu spared its life. The second part he said glancing at his wife, subtly indicating to her the sacrifice he made for her and that he was capable of getting many more wives if he wanted to. The entire narration was heard by the dumbstruck villagers, who listened to the entire story without any interruption except with a lot of oohs! and aahs! from time to time.
The story had spread far and wide and by noon, Ramu’s house was filled with visitors from nearby villages and the dead snake also was brought in from the road where it was lying and placed in Ramu’s courtyard. The house now resembled an emperor’s court with Ramu holding center stage as the emperor and the dead snake as his not so worthy adversary. The whole village and its surroundings were filled with discussions on how the village cobbler had attained supernatural powers and vanquished the devil in a long and dangerous fight. Ramu started receiving gifts in the form of coconuts, bananas, rice and sweets and his whole face was painted red by the village women. It was the custom of the village to put a red mark on the forehead of a person as a sign of respect and admiration. As Ramu’s forehead had run out of space within one hour of the news spreading, his entire face was covered in bright red powder and this was slowly making its way to his torso. Ramu didn’t mind this one bit, as he truly believed that his time has come and his destiny has been revealed to him and was smug in the fact that the villagers have at last realized his true worth. Everybody who came to his house would first have a look at the dead ghastly creature and then proceed to pay their respects to Ramu.
By three in the evening, the crowd was so unmanageable, that someone started a line and collected entry fees from the people wanting to have a glimpse of the snake and Ramu. The huge business opportunity present in this situation did not go unnoticed and stalls sprang up everywhere selling incense sticks, flower garlands, coconuts, camphor and also the red powder. All these were offered to Ramu who received all the gifts with feigned humility and a huge grin on his face that revealed most of his broken and discolored teeth. Ramu’s wife Buddhudevi and the neighbor woman Gossippodevi flanked his sides and became the self appointed custodians of all the gifts that Ramu received. Buddhudevi occasionally glanced at Gossippodevi, keeping an eye on her lest she whisk away some of her husband’s rightful gifts and also to ensure, the snoopy neighbor woman doesn’t get too close physically to her husband, the village hero.
By evening, the crowd had swelled so much that there was a waiting period for the crowd before they got to see the two supernatural beings, one dead and the other living. To keep the waiting crowd in good humor, old film songs were played from a blaring speaker. The playing of the songs were occasionally stopped, to give the village headman Thalaram a chance to repeat praises of Ramu and also illustrate his personal achievements of the past one year, as the village headman. Ramu, by this time was getting a little irritated, as till now, none of his admiring visitors had brought him a bottle of his favorite toddy as a gift.
It was the time of the day when Ramu had to have his compulsory drink. This problem was solved when Copporam, the lone police official in the village came too visit him bringing with him a bottle, knowing fully well Ramu’s affinity for the drink. The same official had caught Ramu stealing bottles from Kalluram’s shop and had given him a beating some months back. Not to be outdone in felicitating Ramu, the village politician Korruptoram of the KPIAS party, otherwise known as the Keep People Ignorant And Stupid party arrived with his loyal band of ardent followers numbering about twenty five. The loyal goons started shouting slogans praising Ramu and their dear leader. The wily politician hugged Ramu, with an affection normally displayed only when elections are near and impressed upon Ramu to shed his job as a lowly cobbler and join his party. He reasoned to Ramu that both of them can jointly alleviate the sufferings of the poor citizens of the village. After this, the politician made a speech on the loudspeaker praising Ramu and talked at length about the good deeds of his party. He concluded his speech by announcing the joining of Ramu in their party, which was greeted by thunderous applause from his loyal goons only and nobody else.
Shortly after dusk, the revelry was interrupted by the arrival of four officials in a jeep who wanted to have a look at the two legged snake. They were from the forest department office in a town 100 miles away from the village. They told everybody present there that it was the right of the state to get custody of any unknown species of animals. The villagers got angry and resisted the officials by arguing that certain rituals have to be performed before disposing the body of the devil. They said the village deity has to be appeased in the form of a goat sacrifice or a cock sacrifice. They said this will take a minimum of three days and that the officials can take the animal once all the ceremonies were completed. The officials then changed their tone and insisted that they be given custody of the mysterious snake immediately or the entire village will have to face legal action. A compromise was reached after the villagers got an assurance from the officials that they will hand over the snake back to the village the next morning itself, after the scientific and legal formalities were completed. The officials left the village in the jeep, carrying with them the body of the supernatural snake with two legs. That was the last time the villagers’ saw of the officials or their dead snake.
The next day morning a big crowd assembled in Chairam’s tea shop to drink tea and read the morning paper. There was a small report in the bottom of the front page about how forest officials had got custody of a two legged snake from angry villagers. The report said that the snake was operated upon by a veterinarian to study the causes behind the growth of legs in the snake’s body. The report said a major scientific discovery to be, turned out to be a complete flop after it was found that the two legs were simply that of a frog that was eaten alive by the snake. It said the unlucky frog must have thrashed its front legs wildly in its dying moments and the legs somehow came out of the snake tearing open its body. The report also mentioned that the cause of death of the snake was the frog inside tearing open the snake’s body and not of any external factors.
It has been some years now since the incident and life still goes on like before in this quiet village barring a few changes. Ramu is now the village headman and the leader of the KPIAS party after the villagers elected him to both the posts. Thalaram, the ex village headman and Korruptoram, the ex leader of the party are his personal assistants now. People still flock to see Ramu everyday and they have accorded him a divine status now. Everyone calls him Swami these days; a title reserved to god men or spiritually endowed souls. They bring with them offerings of alcoholic toddy and chicken fry, both Ramu’s favorites. They ask Ramu to bless their newborns and ask him about their future. Ramu’s wife Buddhudevi is the mother head of the village and the envy of all the women. Villagers still gather in huddles and reminiscent about how the village cobbler attained supernatural powers one day and protected the village from a ghastly creature sent by the devil. They also talk about how the government had stolen from the village the rightful name and fame it deserves, by declaring the beast as nothing but a snake that had eaten a live frog and died of suffocation or constipation. The villagers still love and revere Ramu, as can be seen and they are a happy lot. In the village, life goes on as usual…