1. "HAS a snake ever coiled itself round any part of
your body? A full-blooded cobra?" All of us fell silent.
The question came from the homeopath. The topic
came up when we were discussing snakes. We
listened attentively as the doctor continued with
It was a hot summer night; about ten o'clock. I had
my meal at the restaurant and returned to my room.
I heard a noise from above as I opened the door.
The sound was a familiar one. One could say that
the rats and I shared the room. I took out my box of
matches and lighted the kerosene lamp on the table.
2. The house was not electrified; it was a small
rented room. I had just set up medical practice and
my earnings were meagre. I had about sixty rupees
in my suitcase. Along with some shirts and dhotis,
I also possessed one solitary black coat which I
was then wearing.
3. I took off my black coat, white shirt and not-sowhite
vest and hung them up. I opened the two
windows in the room. It was an outer room with
one wall facing the open yard. It had a tiled roof
with long supporting gables that rested on the beam
over the wall. There was no ceiling. There was a
regular traffic of rats to and from the beam. I made
my bed and pulled it close to the wall. I lay down
but I could not sleep. I got up and went out to the
veranda for a little air, but the wind god seemed to
have taken time off.
4. I went back into the room and sat down on the
chair. I opened the box beneath the table and took
out a book, the Materia Medica. I opened it at the
table on which stood the lamp and a large mirror; a
small comb lay beside the mirror.
One feels tempted to look into a mirror when it is
near one. I took a look. In those days I was a great
admirer of beauty and I believed in making myself
look handsome. I was unmarried and I was a doctor.
I felt I had to make my presence felt. I picked up the
comb and ran it through my hair and adjusted the
parting so that it looked straight and neat.
Again I heard that sound from above.
5. I took a close look at my face in the mirror. I
made an important decision — I would shave daily
and grow a thin moustache to look more handsome.
I was after all a bachelor, and a doctor!
I looked into the mirror and smiled. It was an
attractive smile. I made another earth-shaking
decision. I would always keep that attractive smile
on my face ... to look more handsome. I was after
all a bachelor, and a doctor too on top of it!
Again came that noise from above.
6. I got up, lit a beedi and paced up and down the
room. Then another lovely thought struck me. I would marry. I would get married to a woman doctor who had plenty of money and a good medical practice.
She had to be fat; for a valid reason. If I made some silly mistake and needed to run away she should not be able to run after me and catch me! With such thoughts in my mind I resumed my seat in the chair in front of the table. There were no more sounds from above. Suddenly there came a
dull thud as if a rubber tube had fallen to the
ground ... surely nothing to worry about. Even so I
thought I would turn around and take a look. No
sooner had I turned than a fat snake wriggled over
the back of the chair and landed on my shoulder.
The snake's landing on me and my turning were
7. I didn't jump. I didn't tremble. I didn't cry out.
There was no time to do any such thing. The snake
slithered along my shoulder and coiled around my
left arm above the elbow. The hood was spread out
and its head was hardly three or four inches from
my face! It would not be correct to say merely that I sat
there holding my breath. I was turned to stone. But
my mind was very active. The door opened into
darkness. The room was surrounded by darkness.
In the light of the lamp I sat there like a stone
image in the flesh.
8. I felt then the great presence of the creator of
this world and this universe. God was there.
Suppose I said something and he did not like it .. .
I tried in my imagination to write in bright letters
outside my little heart the words, ‘O God'.
There was some pain in my left arm. It was as if a
thick leaden rod — no, a rod made of molten fire —
was slowly but powerfully crushing my arm. The
arm was beginning to be drained of all strength.
What could I do?
9. At my slightest movement the snake would strike
me! Death lurked four inches away. Suppose it
struck, what was the medicine I had to take? There
were no medicines in the room. I was but a poor,
foolish and stupid doctor. I forgot my danger and
smiled feebly at myself.
It seemed as if God appreciated that. The snake
turned its head. It looked into the mirror and saw
its reflection. I do not claim that it was the first
snake that had ever looked into a mirror. But it
was certain that the snake was looking into the
mirror. Was it admiring its own beauty? Was it trying
to make an important decision about growing a
moustache or using eye shadow and mascara or
wearing a vermilion spot on its forehead?
10. I did not know anything for certain. What sex
was this snake, was it male or female? I will never
know; for the snake unwound itself from my arm
and slowly slithered into my lap. From there it crept
onto the table and moved towards the mirror. Perhaps
it wanted to enjoy its reflection at closer quarters.
I was no mere image cut in granite. I was suddenly
a man of flesh and blood. Still holding my breath I
got up from the chair. I quietly went out through
the door into the veranda. From there I leapt into
the yard and ran for all I was worth.
"Phew !" Each of us heaved a sigh of relief. All of us
lit beedis. Somebody asked, "Doctor, is your wife
11. "No," the doctor said. "God willed otherwise. My
life companion is a thin reedy person with the gift
of a sprinter."
Someone else asked, "Doctor, when you ran did the
snake follow you?"
The doctor replied, "I ran and ran till I reached
a friend's house. Immediately I smeared oil all over
myself and took a bath. I changed into fresh clothes.
The next morning at about eight-thirty I took my
friend and one or two others to my room to move
my things from there. But we found we had little to
carry. Some thief had removed most of my things.
The room had been cleaned out! But not really, the
thief had left behind one thing as a final insult!'
12. "What was that?" I asked.
The doctor said, "My vest, the dirty one. The
fellow had such a sense of cleanliness...! The rascal
could have taken it and used it after washing it
with soap and water."
"Did you see the snake the next day, doctor?"
The doctor laughed, "I've never seen it since. It
was a snake which was taken with its own beauty!
This poem is a legend of an old lady who angered Saint Peter
because of her greed.
Away, away in the Northland,
Where the hours of the day are few,
And the nights are so long in winter
That they cannot sleep them through;
Where they harness the swift reindeer
To the sledges, when it snows;
And the children look like bear's cubs
In their funny, furry clothes:
They tell them a curious story —
I don't believe 'tis true;
And yet you may learn a lesson
If I tell the tale to you.
Once, when the good Saint Peter
Lived in the world below,
And walked about it, preaching,
Just as he did, you know,
He came to the door of a cottage,
In travelling round the earth,
Where a little woman was making cakes,
And baking them on the hearth;
And being faint with fasting,
For the day was almost done,
He asked her, from her store of cakes,
To give him a single one.
So she made a very little cake,
But as it baking lay,
She looked at it, and thought it seemed
Too large to give away.
Therefore she kneaded another,
And still a smaller one;
But it looked, when she turned it over,
As large as the first had done.
Then she took a tiny scrap of dough,
And rolled and rolled it flat;
And baked it thin as a wafer —
But she couldn't part with that.
For she said, "My cakes that seem too small
When I eat of them myself
Are yet too large to give away."
So she put them on the shelf.
Then good Saint Peter grew angry,
For he was hungry and faint;
And surely such a woman
Was enough to provoke a saint.
And he said, "You are far too selfish
To dwell in a human form,
To have both food and shelter,
And fire to keep you warm.
Now, you shall build as the birds do,
And shall get your scanty food
By boring, and boring, and boring,
All day in the hard, dry wood."
Then up she went through the chimney,
Never speaking a word,
And out of the top flew a woodpecker,
For she was changed to a bird.
Online Lessons with Spoken text and correct pronounciation