“Come,” Maadeva’s father called, toothpaste foaming about his mouth. He pointed to the dirt track running from door to compound gate. A gleaming green snake was making slow progress across it, burdened by a fat blob in its middle.
“It has swallowed something” he said, and Maadeva hugged tight his father’s muscled thigh.
This was in Hassan. Maadeva was six, and he went to school and came back with next-door Partha on his bicycle. Partha was four years older. Maadeva sat edgeways on the saddle bar, his hair grazing Partha’s chin. Going with the older boy meant he arrived too early for his class in the morning, and he had to wait until Partha’s classes ended in the afternoon. An arrangement to keep him safe, even if there wasn’t any real threat to a kid there in those days.
These days the adult Maadeva dreams of snakes all the time. Of big long snakes, vipers and cobras, in woods and pits and endless dried-up runnels. He flies with considerable grace over them, without wings, with a fluid flapping of arms and legs, and he marvels at his flying style even as he dreams. He swoops down and glides and hovers over the snakes, but never in a way to annoy. He’s never been struck or bitten in any of these flights.
The afternoon on the day when he saw the green snake in the morning, when he came back from school, the thing was no more green. It was lying by the gutter than ran along their compound, some ten feet from the gate. It had been bludgeoned from head to tail-tip, and the head had been done into the ground and the length of the body had been beaten every inch so the glinting translucent green had bled and the dull color of sun-dried dirt had taken its place. The rise of the blob in its belly was smashed as well, and the sun had baked the splash from it with fine dust.
Maadeva is a businessman now, and his sprawling main-campus out of town is infested with every type of snake. The guards on campus catch them when they stray near office spaces, and sometimes Maadeva’s guests from abroad shoot selfies with a captured cobra back of them.
In all this snake-business, there’s a snake that resides in the dark in Maadeva’s head. That’s what Maadeva calls his right-hand-man who manages finance in his companies. “Fellow’s a cobra,” Maadeva tells his homemaker wife, “and he’d have ditched me long ago. If he’d been able to do just a fraction of what I can.” This is the one snake Maadeva hasn’t reconciled with, but he knows in his heart he’d be heartbroken if parted from it.
Some of you would know Maadeva is another of Shiva’s many names — Shiva, who wears a rather pretty serpent round his head, its coils tousling his rough tresses, its anterior binding them. Every day Maadeva folds his hands to Shiva, in devout namaskar, before leaving home for work.