“Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” by Rudyard Kipling is a short story about a mongoose who protects a family from two cobras.
- Rikki-tikki-tavi, a mongoose, is washed by a flood into the garden of a bungalow in colonial India. He is taken in by the family who lives there and quickly endears himself to them with his energetic, curious, and friendly nature.
- The mongoose saves Teddy, the young son of the family, from being bitten by Nag, the cobra who has been terrorizing the garden.
- After killing Nag, Rikki kills Nag’s mate, Nagaina, and earns a permanent place in the family’s home for his bravery.
Last Updated on September 19, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1052
A song-like poem serves as prologue to ‘‘Rikki- Tikki-Tavi,’’ prefiguring the battle between the mongoose Rikki-tikki-tavi and Nag, the king cobra. The struggle between the mongoose and snake is the central focus of the story and the poem, which foreshadows the conflict but only hints at its resolution and creates a sense of suspense and expectation before the story even begins.
In the first paragraph the setting and the main characters are introduced: Rikki-tikki-tavi, who is established as the hero, with the help of Darzee the tailor-bird, fights a battle in the garden of a bungalow in colonial India. Rikki’s curious and energetic personality is also established.
Rikki-tikki-tavi, washed by a flood from his parents’ home into the garden of a bungalow, lies unconscious in the garden path. Teddy, the boy who lives in the bungalow, happens upon him with his parents. They take him into the house and revive him. Rikki-tikki-tavi regains his energy and endears himself to the family with his energetic, curious, and friendly nature.
That night he sleeps with Teddy, much to the consternation of Teddy’s mother. Teddy’s father reassures his wife that Teddy is safe with a mongoose because, as the natural predator of snakes, he would be able to protect Teddy if one were to enter the house: the expression of fear and the realistic threat of poisonous snakes foreshadows Rikki’s future conflict with the local king cobras.
The next morning, Rikki explores the garden. He meets the tailor-birds Darzee and his wife, who are mourning because Nag, the garden’s resident king cobra, ate one of their babies. As Rikki is conversing with the birds, Nag, who knows that Rikki the mongoose poses a mortal danger to him and his family, emerges to confront Rikki. He is described as ‘‘evil’’ and ‘‘horrid,’’ as well as foreboding in size and strength. Nag introduces himself as being marked by Brahm himself, the greatest god in the Hindu pantheon, creating a reference to the sacred status of snakes in Hinduism, the predominant religion of India.
As Nag faces off with Rikki-tikki, Nag’s wife, Nagaina, makes a surprise attack on Rikki from behind. However, Rikki escapes unscathed because Darzee warns him in time. The snakes, defeated, retreat into the grass.
Rikki, who has not fought snakes before, returns to the bungalow, feeling confident about his quickness against the snakes and gaining confi- dence in his skill. Teddy runs up the path to pet Rikki, only to be confronted by Karait, the ‘‘dusty brown snakeling’’—a fatally poisonous snake who hides in the dirt. For the first time in the story Rikki’s eyes glow red—the sign that a mongoose is about to attack. He manages to leap onto Karait and kills him with a swift and strong bite. Teddy’s parents run out from the bungalow just in time to find Rikki killing the snake. They are very grateful to him for protecting Teddy.
Later that night, after the family has gone to bed, Rikki patrols the house. He runs into Chuchundra, the cowardly muskrat, who hints that Nag may have a wicked plan in store that night. Soon after talking with Chuchundra, Rikki overhears Nag and Nagaina plotting outside the bathroom’s water sluice. They plot to kill the human family in order to get rid of Rikki-tikki-tavi. Rikki also learns that they have a nest of unhatched eggs.
Nag sneaks into the bathroom to lie in wait for the humans, and Nagaina leaves. Rikki is afraid, but he is driven by loyalty to the family and by his honor as a mongoose to attack the snake. When Nag finally falls asleep, Rikki leaps onto Nag and grabs hold of his neck. He bites and hangs on while Nag thrashes about, until the snake is dead. The big man, hearing the commotion, runs into the bathroom with his shotgun and shoots Nag, but the snake has already been killed by Rikki.
The next morning, Rikki, who knows he now has to face Nagaina, enlists the help of Darzee and his wife in destroying the snake and her eggs. Darzee is busy singing a triumphant song about Rikki’s defeat of Nag, much to Rikki’s annoyance. Darzee informs Rikki that Nagaina’s eggs are hidden in the melon patch, but he does not understand why Rikki wants to harm them. Darzee’s wife, however, does understand that ‘‘cobra’s eggs meant young cobras later on’’; she distracts Nagaina by pretending her wing is broken, buying Rikki time to destroy the eggs.
While Rikki is destroying the cobra’s eggs, Nagaina, who is angry with the big man because she thinks he killed Nag, heads up to the house to attack the human family. Rikki, with a warning from Darzee’s wife, runs up to the veranda and finds Teddy and his parents sitting within Nagaina’s striking distance.
Rikki shows her the last of her eggs to distract her from the human family, and he tells her that it was he who killed Nag, not the big man. Rikki draws Nagaina to fight, but rather than engage Rikki she manages to rescue the last of her eggs, and she rushes towards her lair. Rikki, in hot pursuit, follows her down into her cave. Darzee, who witnesses Rikki’s descent, begins to sing about Rikki’s imminent death.
After a highly suspenseful period, however, Rikki emerges dusty and exhausted from the lair and announces that Nagaina is dead. The Coppersmith bird, the garden crier, announces Nagaina’s death to the whole garden. The birds and frogs rejoice, and Rikki-tikki-tavi is rewarded for his efforts both by being considered a hero by the denizens of the garden and by being given a permanent place in the human family’s home, where he remains as their protector for the rest of his life.
The story closes with a reproduction of Darzee’s unfinished song of triumph, ‘‘Darzee’s Chaunt,’’ which he composed after the death of Nag. The style of the song, which calls on the birds of the garden to praise Rikki for delivering them from the evil Nag and Nagaina, is reminiscent of Christian hymns of praise, and like the heroes of ancient, classic epics, Rikki is immortalized in these songs of praise.