A snake is loose in the fenced yard—
Someone saw a king cobra slip under the gate into a family’s yard. “A Snake in the Grass” by R.K. Narayan tells the story of a family’s horrifying afternoon spent searching for the king of all snakes: the cobra.
The family consists of a mother and her four sons. It is a habit of the family to take a nap in the early afternoon. The elderly servant Dasa garners the blame for not keeping the yard neater so that the cobra would be more visible.
‘You are the laziest servant on earth,’ they said. ‘If the snake is not found before the evening. We will dismiss you.‘
The narrator supplies the events of the story from a third person point of view. The reader learns about the family from this perspective. From the details of the story, it is learned that the story takes place during a war. The family apparently is moderately wealthy. One son attends college. Regardless of the quality of the servant, the family can afford to have one.
The mother becomes over wrought by the prospect of the cobra in the yard. The sons along with Dasa use bamboo-sticks to poke into the bushes. Eventually, they bring out the knives to begin chopping down the garden and flowers.
An old woman begs in the street. The sons tell her to be quiet. She reminds them not to kill the snake. The beggar reminds them of abhishekam, a 48 day religious ritual. The mother agrees; the family apparently is religious. Although shy, the cobras are supposed to reside in the temples. Cobras are revered in Hinduism and killing one is considered bad luck.
An old snake charmer stops by and tells them to send for him when the snake is found. This seems reassuring.
In the early evening, the family sits together on the porch resting. Dasa comes with a pot that has a sealed stone on the top. Proudly, he contends that the snake is inside the pot. The mother compliments the servant. To follow the religious tradition, she places some milk in the pot. Heroically, Dasa takes the pot to the snake charmer.
Soon after Dasa left, the youngest son sees a cobra emerge from a hole in the fence. It goes back toward the gate he had entered. He turns and looks at the family and casually goes through the fence.
The family is left to wonder what was in Dasa’s pot. Were there two snakes or should they have checked the servants’ pot more closely? It seems suspicious. Spending the afternoon looking for a cobra—an adventure this Indian family will not soon forget.