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?”


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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...

Read an Excerpt


    - Jahangir

      and Nur


    - Paru