The Snake Charmer makes furtive contact with a porter on one of the trailing camels. He gets much-needed supplies in exchange for bribes. They part ways with the caravan and press on relentlessly toward the west.
On the sixth day, they round a corner past scrub and rocks, and
are surprised to find two figures on horseback blocking their
path. Paru and the Snake Charmer try to turn around. Two more
men on horseback block their retreat.
The Snake Charmer curses and draws his dagger, readying
himself for a fight.
Paru puts her hand out. “Stop, stop! It’s not the same men.”
The Snake Charmer lowers his dagger. The men seem to be bandits. The leader has a flowing, black moustache. He is
handsome and greasy.
“What do you want?” Paru calls.
“What do you think?” the bandit leader replies.
Paru thinks he wants her body, and her hand rises self-consciously.
“I want everything to come off,” the bandit leader says. “Your
necklace, your bangles, all purses, hidden money pouches, bags.
Everything. I won’t make you take your clothes off... if you’re
“Go fuck your mother!” the Snake Charmer says, ready to
Paru puts out a restraining hand. “What are you going to do,”
she tells him. “They’ll kill us.” She starts removing her necklace
and bangles. “Come on!” she urges the Snake Charmer. “Take out
your money.” She takes a leather pouch out from her waist and
drops it onto the sand. Scowling, the Snake Charmer removes his
own pouch and drops it next to Paru’s.
“You can put the dagger down,” the bandit leader advises the
Snake Charmer. “The donkey,” he says motioning to the basket
atop the donkey.
The Snake Charmer unties the basket. It is heavy. He struggles
to lower it to the ground.
“What’s in the basket?” the bandit leader demands.
“A king cobra,” Paru says eagerly. “About twelve feet long. The
poison has not been removed.” She smiles shyly. “I can dance
with the snake. Want to see it?”
To contact us:
The land opens out to large vistas. It is at once bleak and
beautiful in the way that only Rajputana can be. In the evenings, a massive orange sun obscures the horizon, melting into a welter of shivering mirages and hilltops. In the cold nights, the waning moon dominates a spotless sky.
The Snake Charmer’s estimate of four days was overly optimistic. After five days they are still trekking. They encounter
a trading caravan headed south towards Surat. There are twenty
camels, their black silhouettes standing out against the orange
evening sky. Four soldiers guard the caravan riding on either side
on tough, worn-out Arab horses.
The bandit leader looks at the basket for a long time. “That’s all
right,” he says finally.
The bandits make them sit in the sand. They search every last
corner of Paru and the Snake Charmer’s things, giving the basket
a wide berth. A bandit finds Paru’s scroll. He opens it curiously
and tries to read it.
Paru tenses. Her hand moves stealthily towards the knife
hidden under her ghagra. The bandit looks at the scroll for a long
time. Paru measures the right moment. Then he drops the scroll
indifferently onto the sand. Paru relaxes.
The search concludes quickly. There is very little besides the
two money pouches and the Snake Charmer’s knife. The bandit
leader tries to hide his disappointment. “Take your choli off,” he
says impassively to Paru.
Paru takes her choli off defiantly and drops it in the sand. The
bandits regard Paru’s breasts.
She sits, waiting for the next step.
The leader looks at Paru’s small enticing breasts. “I want you to
sit there the way you are, until you cannot hear our horses
anymore,” he says unexpectedly. “We will be watching. If you
move too soon, we will come back and kill you.”
He turns his horse abruptly. The men give Paru parting looks,
then turn their horses after their leader. They raise a cloud of dust
as they ride off.
Paru and the Snake Charmer sit silently until the sound of the
horses recedes. Finally, there is only the rustling of the scrub and
the buzz of a large desert fly.
Paru gets up and stretches. She picks up her choli. “Come. We
have to get moving.”
“Moving!” The Snake Charmer says outraged. “We have just
been robbed, woman! We have lost all our money!!”
“I took care of that,” Paru says. She opens the basket. Maharaj
uncoils himself and heads out over the soft sand. Paru dips her
hand into the basket. She takes out a handful of coins and lets
them fall back.
“What... what is that!”
Paru looks at him seriously without answering. It is the money
they made together from the dances with Maharaj.
They start moving again...