The Snake Charmer

This is a short story about friendship and betrayal. Set in a village, somewhere in Rajasthan, India, the story explores what it's like to be a Snake Charmer, the Master of Venom.
The story has a cliffhanger ending, and I did it as a coursework for my AS English Language. Do let me know what you feel about the story and the language.

    The wind blew carrying a chill with it that forced the villagers to shiver and clatter their jaws. It had been exceptionally cold for past few days, beckoning everyone to come out of their small, clustered mud houses and sit by the bonfire in circles by the great Neem tree. The men sat chattering continuously about their day's work, harvest months, this years estimated crop yield, and landlord. The women sat in a small group of their own, conversing quietly and giggling occasionally. The children played around the flaming twigs and woods with keen vigour as the twilight faded away in the horizon and the velvet blanket of night spread in the sky with twinkling stars embedded in it.


    From behind the tree, wearing muddy pajamas and dirty white kurta with a dark blue woolen muffler, came Harish Kaka. The children immediately stopped playing and surrounded him, prodding him to sit by the great Neem tree and narrate a story in the grand manner he did it. The elders too agreed. Everyone loved his stories. He scratched his dirty but completely white beard and sat down at his favorite spot, supporting his tired back on the trunk of the great Neem tree. The women stopped their discussions and joined everyone else in the audience. Thus began the narration of a master story-teller in a manner that has lost the way in the hands of time...


* * *


        Bansi sat by the well, playing his been, the flute to charm the snake, as the cobra danced to his tune. He was a bit nervous. Anyone would be, after all it was the eve of the day he had been waiting for the past seven years. Bansi rotated the been in a rhythm and the cobra went up and down, hissing in intervals and following the flute with his head. Bansi's father stood there, observing the performance expressionlessly, like a good examiner would. Bansi's act finished as he wrapped up the been in a red cloth and packed away the snake in a basket.


    "Was it ok father?" Bansi asked nervously.


    "Yes my son, don't you worry." came an affectionate reply.

   Bansi was sixteen, the right age to go and earn his living and support the family. He was a sapera, a charmer of snakes, a master of venom. Born in a family of saperas, he had promises to fulfill. He had to meet the tough expectations of his clan. So far, he had done so in the best manner possible. He was a humble person with respect for everybody in his heart. He trained hard with his snake, whom he had adopted at the age of nine. He worked according to the way his father had taught him and hoped to become a great sapera, just like his father.


    Bansi started walking towards his friend Jai, who practiced outside his house. Jai was a man of opportunities and skill. He was as good as Bansi at charming the snakes, so they would be competing for work. The others were good too, however not like Bansi or Jai, who were both of same age and had found two snakes together under the tree, each adopting one. 


    Jai was the son of the legendary sapera, the one who had managed to go to the city for ten years straight and then for another five years straight after a break of a year, which was voluntary. Jai had inherited his skills. Bansi sat besides Jai. They talked for a while and then Bansi went home, retiring for the night. Tomorrow was a big day...


    The sun rose the next day, glaring down on the village and threatening to scorch the entire life out of it. Today was the day it was going to be decided. Today, one young man from the village was going to the city to earn a living at the annual festival. The favorites were Bansi and Jai.


    Bansi stood facing Jai, just before Durga Chacha, the great man who took people to city, came to see who was the best sapera to be taken. Bansi stood there with a colourful cloth tied on his head in a circle and a white, fading dhoti draped loosely over his thin, bony legs.


    "Best of luck, Jai." Bansi said.

    "You will need it more than me." Jai replied, his tone rude.

    Durga Chacha came in a great orange truck with a devil's mask hanging by the bumper and sat down on a chair that Jai's family had brought out for him. He ate all that was offered to him, accounting for his obesity. He called upon all the candidates and asked for a performance. Jai was a first one. He put on a good show, making the cobra dance around in a fantastic way that mesmerized the people around. His performance was so good that two contestants pulled out. After him came three other people who seemed to be of no comparison to the mighty Jai.


    All this while, Bansi stood patiently. He was practicing his tune and humming it under the breath. He was sure he had a better show than even Jai. At last his turn came. He took is position, took out his been and started playing the tune. The cobra did not come out of its basket. He opened the basket and what he saw horrified him. His cobra, the venom, his pet, lay dead in the basket, its head cut in half. He looked around in shock to spot a contended smile on Jai's dark, evil face.



* * *


    The wind did not stop throughout the narration, but no one moved. All the men, women and children sat transfixed by the story that had just been told. There was a complete silence as the wind rustled through the leaves of the great Neem tree.

    "What happened after that?" asked a child, with his voice shaking.


    Harish Kaka smiled, "That is another story. Some other day, some other time."

The End

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