The Snake Song by R K Narayan
“The Snake Song” is one of the prominent short stories of R K Narayan which makes good
use of the supernatural and is structured on the ancient Indian concept of atithi devo bhav. The story is about knowledge, fear, charity, forgiveness, solitude, dedication, tradition, desperation, and escape. This short story is taken from his collection Malgudi Days. The narrative voice of the story’s unidentified narrator shifts during the story to the voice and experience of a talkative man. One thing to note is that the Talkative Man does not allow the narrator to ignore him when discussing his understanding of music from the start.
The people were returned to their homes after they were quite happy with the musical performance. One of them was a chatty man who appeared to be dissatisfied with the performance. He appeared depressed. Some individuals questioned him if he disliked modern music. They inquired as to the source of his dissatisfaction.
In response to their inquiries, the chatty man stated the following. He was from Kumbum, a little town some eighty kilometres from Malgudi. There lived a master musician. Despite being the finest musician, he lived in obscurity (hidden/ unknown to everyone) and was unknown to anyone outside of the community. He used to play concerts just at the local temple. The talkative took on the musician’s housekeeping tasks. The environment around the musician would educate one. Music was taught to the chatty man by him. He learned to play the flute in order to get fortune and fame.
He was the owner of a tiny cottage. He was practising when he heard a knock at the door. He pushed open the door. A Sadhu approached and asked for something to eat. The man turned the Sadhu away, stating he had no time for him. He then shut the door behind him. The knocks were repeated after fifteen minutes. He opens the door and sees Sadhu standing there. The man became enraged and strongly reprimanded the sadhu. The sadhu informed him that he was not there to request food, but rather to listen to music. This time, the man became enraged and ordered the sadhu to leave the house. In response, the sadhu became enraged and cursed the man before leaving the house. He cursed him, telling him that it was the last day of music and that the next day he would trade his flute for a handful of dried dates.
He man’s heart was pained when the sadhu left. He began to mull on the sadhu’s statements. He left his residence with a lantern in quest of the sadhu, but he was unsuccessful. He was expecting the sadhu would return to his residence. But he didn’t show up. So he prayed to the Gods to keep him safe from the impending danger. He was lost in the music once more. In Punnaga Varali, he began to play the Snake-song. As he played the snake song, he began to associate the serpent with other gods.
He was startled to see a black snake inside the house between the door and him. In terror, he paused the song. When the song ended, the cobra glanced at him and moved a little closer. His instincts told him to keep playing the music. As a result, he continued to play. The cobra was listening to music. It appeared to be enjoying the music. It stood extremely near to him, making no movement.
He began to play a new song after playing the same song three times. The snake gazed at him and let out a dreadful hiss. It appeared to be a warning not to change the melody. So he resumed the snake song, and it adopted its carven posture once more. So he played over and over till he was utterly weary. The snake did not appear to move at all. He had been playing the same song all night and was utterly exhausted, thinking he would die shortly. He was well aware that if he interrupted the song, he would be murdered the following minute. Finally, he threw away the flute and prostrated himself (laying extended with his face down) in devotion. “O! Naga Raja, you are a god; you may kill me if you want, but I can no longer play,” he said.
He opened his eyes early in the morning to find the snake gone. His flute was close to the doorway. Then he met his master and told him about his adventures. He should not have played the Punnaga Varali at night, according to the master. He also warned him that if the snake encountered him again, it would undoubtedly kill him. The teacher advised him to discard his flute and forget his music. He sobbed at the notion of renunciation. But the teacher encouraged him, stating that all would be well if he found the night’s visitor, the Sadhu, and requested his forgiveness. The man continued his hunt for Sadhu. I’d been looking forward to meeting him for a long time. All of his attempts were unsuccessful. He had been looking for him up to this point. If he comes upon him, he will fall down and beg his pardon.