This story was told to me by a friend and every time I think about it, it sends shivers down my spine. It is a true story and I reproduce it here just as she told it to me…
When I was doing my M.Sc., I stayed in the college hostel where the post graduate students could occupy rooms individually without sharing it with another student.
During the months of March and April, many of the students would flee like migratory birds to their hometowns for the vacation and our hostel would wear a somber look. Just a room here and a room there retained its occupants. Nerds like me and my friend Saila were one of the few who liked to stay back and catch up on our studies.
During these months, the corridors which were once the hub of activity teeming with chatter and noise would look forlorn and empty.
I remember vividly that it was 9pm on the night of March 31st. when this unnerving incident happened. Saila who was in the room adjacent to mine and I, were standing near the washbasin cleaning our hands and faces like we did every night before going to bed. The wash basin was at the end of the corridor on the ground floor, where our rooms were located.
We were engrossed in mindless talk, when we heard that one word which was sure to rattle anyone.
Someone had spied a snake making its way across the hostel grounds and they were alerting the others.
Saila and I dashed outside. Who can stay undisturbed after knowing that there was a snake loose nearby?
A search went on for the snake. We could not believe that the sylvan surroundings around our hostel held dangerous reptiles.
Standing at a safe distance we peered around the bushes and trees. We let our eyes skim the length of the dimly lit corridors. No movement caught our eyes.
One by one the girls gave up the search and bid us good night. We too walked back warily to our rooms. The corridors seemed longer and bleaker. Every movement outside reminded us of the snake on the prowl.
Saila suffering from acute Ophidiophobia (that is revulsion of snakes) was petrified. Beads of sweat dotted her brow and despite her fair complexion was looking ashen.
“I cannot sleep in peace, till they find the snake.” She said woefully.
“Why don’t you sleep in my room then. I am kind of scared myself.” I suggested but Saila declined.
“No, thank you. I think I will stay up and read for a while.” She said and went to her room. I went to mine and settled for the night.
I had hardly closed my eyes when I heard Saila knocking at my door. She had come over with her pillow and blanket. She wanted to take up on my offer to sleep in my room after all.
Saila spread the blanket on the floor and positioned her pillow.
“Sleep on the cot with me. It is large enough for the two of us.” I offered. She declined and lay down on her blanket.
The night wore on. One by one, other room lights were switched off.
A mild breeze blew outside and the branches on the trees silhouetted against our window moved in a gentle dance. We two girls lay, one on the cot and another on the floor, in a state of anxiety and suspension.
“Where do you think the snake could be hidden?” Saila wondered aloud and I said jokingly, “Surely not in this room. Sleep peacefully.”
Sleep at last claimed over me,
I was jostled awake one more time by Saila who had jumped into my bed and said “I feel uneasy. Let me sleep on the cot.”
I moved aside and gave room for her on my bed. We made ourselves comfortable and I fell asleep soon. I don’t know when Saila managed to do so.
The next day was April 1st. That is April Fool’s Day. The girls in the hostel went around playing harmless juvenile pranks on our hostel watchman, gardener and maids.
There was much hooting and laughing as the workers were fooled and they too joined in the merry making feeling pleased with all fun the girls were making them part of.
At around 10 am, the maid who normally cleans our rooms came with a broom and asked if I needed my room to be attended to.
I replied in the affirmative and added, “please shift the trunk there and clean behind it too. It has been gathering a lot of dust.”
The woman went up to my trunk lying in the corner, moved it aside in one easy shove and then stopped dead.
There, all coiled up on the floor was the snake.
Beautiful and shiny. Evil and scary.
The maid could not move, she could not talk. She could only point a shaking finger at the bluish black venomous creature on the floor which getting disgruntled at being exposed was rearing up its head in a defensive pose, its forked tongue quivering menacingly.
Luckily Saila was not in the room with me then or I cannot vouch for the consequences.
I dragged the maid who was literally asphyxiating with fear and locking my room, made the hundred meters dash up the stairs faster than Usain Bolt.
Reaching the warden’s room, I could only stutter, “SSS N A K E.”
“Don’t joke my dear.” she laughed.
Talk about bad timing. She thought I was playing a prank on her on April Fool’s Day. By then some more girls had come to the warden’s room and joined her in laughing at me.
It was some good moments before they took my words seriously and I was all the time wondering if the horrendous reptile had escaped.
The gardener and watchmen were summoned. They came with long sticks and killed the snake. But not before it had put up a big struggle and had drilled the fear of death into our hearts.
There was much excitement the whole morning, with the girls from other rooms coming to inspect where exactly the snake had hidden. They made me repeat the story again and again, wondering if I would continue to occupy that room for the rest of the term.
When all of us had sobered down, I told the shell shocked Saila, “Lucky you slept on the cot with me and not on the floor. What would have happened if the snake had started to forage for prey in the middle of the night?”
“It was scrounging around your room in the night.” Saila replied. “I definitely heard something that scared me and made me scramble into your cot. Kind of like a steel object clattering on the ground.”
I remembered the tumbler in my room.
It was like this. I always bring back a glass of hot milk from the canteen to my room in a steel tumbler. I like to drink it at leisure while flipping through my books.
We went to my room immediately and found the tumbler overturned on the floor, with its spilt contents drying all around it.
That night with all the excitement about searching for the snake in the grounds, I had not drunk all the milk and had left most of it behind in the container. It was this tumbler that the snake had overturned and frightened my friend.
Was the snake in my room looking to drink the left-over milk?
Do snakes drink milk and go away happy and satiated without harming anyone, like in all the Indian masala movies?
Jokes aside, nothing would have stopped the snake from sinking its venom into Saila if she had inadvertently put her hand or leg over it in her sleep.
To think that Saila came into my room to be safe from the snake and the very creature she was trying to escape from, was lurking right next to her.
But for providence and a steel tumbler, things could have turned out differently.
Mind you, it was no ordinary snake.
It was a Krait.
Or Kattuviriyan as it is known in the local lingo.
And according to learned sources, the Kraits are a species of highly venomous snakes, responsible for most of the deaths by snake bite in the sub-continent.