Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Cobra By the Tail

Here's another true story from the files of Mama Ruth. Year--1953.
The wind picked up, blowing my hair in every direction. India’s monsoon rains had been over for a week, and at last the ground was drying out. Banyan leaves, much bigger than a man’s hand span, swirled all over the yard. Sometimes they piled up into a pyramid, only to suddenly be lifted and strewn to the four winds. My three-year-old Sandy and I had been walking across the compound, and Sandy was laughing--"The wind is tickling my legs."

"Time for your nap, honey." As I swung her up in my arms and took her in the back door, I heard the preachers singing in the church. Forty delegates to our South India Church Conference had descended on our mission compound. They stayed about four days. My job as hostess was to see that food was available four times every day. I provided three regular meals, plus four o’clock tea. Mother and Dad Seamands (my husband's parents) stayed in our best guest room, and two others in our other corner room. The rest sorted themselves out in the boys’ and girls’ hostels and slept on their bedding rolls. They didn’t mind, they’d all been raised in villages and always slept on the floor.

Conference committees convened in our Belgaum church, which sat left of our house, about half a block across the compound. The path from house to church was shaded by a large grove of banyan trees. Their limbs grow out and down, tendrils at the end of each branch burying themselves to become another tree. In between the roots of these trees, snakes claim their dwelling place.

While I was putting Sandy to bed, I heard Dad Seamands humming as he came in the front door. He called to me, "I forgot my notebook. We’re having a great meeting."

"Mommie, I’ll sleep a lot better if you tell me a little story first." Sandy’s bright blue eyes twinkled up at me."

"OK, just a short one. I need a nap, too. Once upon a time there was a little girl who loved to swing on the banyan branches..."

Later I heard what happened. Dad Seamands--"Tata" (honored grandfather)--picked up the notebook from his room and headed back down the front steps toward the church. About a quarter of the way back he glanced down--and right in front of him a full-grown, five-foot cobra was disappearing into its hideout between some banyan roots. Tata knew he should kill it, but he had no weapon.

Cobras move fast and so did Tata. Without considering the danger, he swooped down and caught hold of the cobra’s tail before it disappeared into its hole. He had a firm grip on the big snake. It couldn’t crawl backward to get its head out of the hole. Neither would that giant on its tail let go.

So it writhed.

There stood Tata, all alone in the yard with a cobra by the tail. Almost forty of his colleagues, intent on business now, carried on their meeting a few yards away.

Tata began to shout, "HAAAWOOO, HAAAWOO, HAAAWOO! SNAKE, SNAKE, SNAKE!!" At first his preachers didn’t hear his shouts; they were too intent on business. Dad began to tire, wrestling that powerful snake. Finally, "HAAAWOO" floated into the open windows of the church.

Instantaneous action! Churches always empty when a cobra visits. Tall Indians, short Indians, stout and thin Indians poured forth pell-mell, nearly falling over each other. They became boys again, racing up the small hill to kill a snake, just like they used to do in their villages.

In shock, they suddenly stopped to laugh. They couldn’t help it. Their Patriarch, in such a pickle! "Oh, TATA! You got the devil by the tail!"

I heard the commotion and ran to the front porch in time to see the show. The preachers raced to the wood pile (I cooked on a wood stove so had plenty) and each grabbed up the biggest stick he could find. They surrounded their hero. While I shivered, Tata began to very slowly pull the big cobra backward out of the hole. The brave stick infantry beat it almost to death before its hood came out. A snake is seldom dead until its head is crushed, so they kept on beating. Crush it, they did, though its body kept jerking in its death throes. They all stood and watched until it was still.

One less cobra to bite somebody on our compound.

They dragged it to a fence row where a marine squad of crows would finish the mopping up detail. Dad massaged his sore hand, and the forty devil fighters straggled down to the church.

I flopped on my bed thinking about the truth of what I'd just seen. Cancel your committees, dump your deliberations. Fighting the devil is what church councils ought to be about.


Kay said...

Wonderful! Wonderful story.

Julie Carobini said...

Blech! You're right, fighting the devil is ugly work, but it's got to be done. I like the part about the squad of crows mopping up the details. Could they be angels in disguise? :)

april penny said...

That's a great story!

Nicole said...

What a legacy this woman has! Wow.

rose mccauley said...

What an interesting story and how great a painter of word pictures you are, ruth. I started Cast a Long Shadow today and am glad we are sitting together on the flights to and from Dallas. Perhaps you'll tell me a story. I can't wait!