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The Snake and the Mirror Summary in English by Muhammad Basheer
The Snake and the Mirror by Muhammad Basheer About the Author
Vaikom Muhammad Basheer (1908-1994) was a Malayalam fiction writer. He was a humanist, freedom fighter, novelist and short story writer. He is known for his path-breaking, disarmingly down-to-earth style of writing that made him equally popular among literary critics as well as the common man. He is regarded as one of the most successful and outstanding writers of India. Translation of his works into other languages has won him world – wide acclaim. Basheer is fondly known as the ‘Beypore Sultan’. Basheer is known for his unconventional style of language. He did not differentiate between literary language and the language spoken by the commons and did not care about the grammatical correctness of his sentences. He was awarded with Padma Shri in 1982 for his overall contributions to the nation as a freedom fighter, writer, and as a political activist.
|Author Name||Vaikom Muhammad Basheer|
|Born||21 January 1908, Thalayolaparambu|
|Died||5 July 1994, Beypore|
|Parents||Kaye Abdul Rahiman|
|Movies||Mathilukal, Bhargavi Nilayam, Balyakalasakhi, House of Stories|
|Awards||Vallathol Award, Muttathu Varkey Award, Kerala Sahitya Akademi Fellowship, Kerala State Film Award for Best Story|
The Snake and the Mirror Introduction to the Chapter
An astute observer of human character, Vaikom Mohd Basheer skilfully combined humour and pathos in his works. Love, hunger and poverty are recurring themes in his works. The Snake and the Mirror presents a contrast between dreams and reality. This contrast has been depicted in a humorous manner.
Into the lonely and dull life of a young homeopathic doctor, who has just started his practice comes a venomous and life threatening visitor – a snake. The doctor is a great admirer of beauty and when he looks into the mirror, he is full of appreciation for his good looks. The seemingly dangerous situation of the snake coiling round the doctor’s arm turns him to stone in fright. However, the snake spares him and is itself attracted towards a mirror.
The Snake and the Mirror Summary in English
The Snake and the Mirror is a story about a doctor, who had only recently commenced his practice. His earnings were, therefore, meagre. He lived in a small rented room – an outhouse – with two windows and a tiled roof. The tiles were supported by gables which rested on the beam and there was no electricity. He had only sixty rupees in his bag. Apart from a few shirts and dhotis, he had one solitary black coat. The room was infested with rats. However, his dreams and ambitions were in contrast to this.
One hot summer night, he had his meal at the restaurant and returned home. He lighted the kerosene lamp, took off his coat and shirt and opened the two windows. He settled on the chair and took out a medical book to read. There was a large mirror on the table on which stood a lamp. Since it was too hot to sleep, and he had nothing better to do, he sat down in front of the mirror, admiring himself, admiring his looks and smile and planning that he should do to look more presentable. He was a great admirer of beauty and he believed in making himself handsome. He also laid great emphasis on the fact that he was unmarried and a doctor. Pleased with his appearance, he decided to shave daily and grow a thin moustache to look more handsome. The manner in which he decided that this decision was an ‘important’ one, and his ‘earth-shaking decision’ to always keep smiling in order to look more handsome bring out the contrast between the kind of person he was and the kind of person he wanted to be and make the story humorous.
Gradually, his thoughts shifted from self- admiration to planning his future marriage. He wanted to marry a woman doctor who had plenty of money and a good medical practice because he did not have either. He wanted a fat wife so that whenever he made a mistake, he would run away and his wife would not be able to catch him.
He was so engrossed in his daydream that he did not give much importance’to the sudden silence. The rats had stopped scampering and there was a sound of something falling behind him. He brushed it aside, but even before he could turn around to have a look, a snake had slithered over the back of the chair and perched itself on his shoulder. The doctor was extremely frightened as the snake was only a few inches away from his face. Horrified, he sat turned to stone. The snake slithered along his shoulder and coiled around his left arm above the elbow. The doctor felt a crushing force on his arm. Moments ago, the doctor who had been feeling so proud of his looks and his profession, was weak with fright. He thought of various medicines he had and if any was good enough to save him if the snake did bite him. In this moment of fear of death, he realized that he was but a mere human, a poor man, nothing to boast about.
At this moment, he felt the presence of God near him. In his imagination, he tried to write ‘O God’ in bright letters outside his heart. He felt pain in his left arm where the snake was coiled. He realized that if the snake struck him, he did not even have any medicines in his room for the same. That was when he thought that he was a poor, foolish, and stupid doctor. In this way, his thoughts changed from calling himself a handsome, unmarried doctor to calling himself a poor, foolish, and stupid doctor. This sequence of events also provided humour to the story.
The moment he accepted his true worth, the Gods appeared pleased and the snake of its own free will left him and sat on the table in front of the mirror. The doctor got up silently and rushed out of the door. Next morning when he came back, all his belongings had been pilfered but for his dirty vest which was too dirty even for the thief.
The Snake and the Mirror Title
The Snake and the Mirror is a very apt title for this frightening tale presented in a very humorous manner. The story narrates a young doctor’s encounter with a snake. The doctor is sitting on a chair, looking at himself in the mirror when a snake lands on his shoulder and coils itself around his left arm, its hood only three or four inches away from his face. The doctor sits turned to a stone, but reprieve comes when the snake turns its head, and looks into the mirror. It sees its reflection and is so enamoured with its image that is slithers across to the mirror, sparing the life of the narrator.
Thus, the story revolves round the snake and the mirror. The vain narrator, who has been at the centre of the narrative until the snake appears, turns into an unimportant spectator. It is the snake who is so enamoured of its own reflection that it spares his life. Had the snake not moved to the mirror, and had bitten him, he would have surely died for there was no medicine in his room for snake-bite.
The Snake and the Mirror Setting
The setting of the story is a hot summer night; about ten o’clock. The young writer returns to his room after a meal. The room is a small rented one and is not electrified. There are two windows in the room. It has a tiled roof with long supporting gables that rest on the beam over the wall. There is no ceiling. The room is infested with rats.
The Snake and the Mirror Theme
The humorous narrative is based on the theme of human vanity and fears and how they affect people. The young doctor is a homeopath, struggling with his poverty and a fledgling practice.
However, he is vain about his looks and as he admires himself in the mirror, he thinks of ways in which he can look more handsome – by smiling more, or by growing a moustache. He also hopes to marry a fat woman doctor with a large practice and lead a happy life. The sudden arrival of a snake on the scene turns him to stone, but fate intervenes, when the snake, attracted by the mirror, decides to ignore him. The narrator takes this opportunity to make good his escape. The snake seems to be almost as vain as the doctor himself, and is too busy gazing at itself in the mirror to bother about the escaping prey.
An additional theme in the story is how crises make people turn to God for help.
The Snake and the Mirror Message
The Snake and the Mirror gives the message that faith in God and humility in thoughts are what make a person strong enough to face any adversity. The doctor in the story is cured of his arrogance after a close brush with death. He is young, arrogant, lull of himself, because he is unmarried and is a doctor. As he sits admiring himself, his only thought is of improving his looks.
However, faced with death, he realizes the futility of worldly possessions as he prays to God as he feels “the great presence of the creator of this world and this universe.” He feels maybe he was being taught a lesson for his arrogance and his pride in his appearance. Thus, the lesson learnt by the narrator is the writer’s message – one should never be proud of one’s beauty, strength or achievements.
The Snake and the Mirror Humour
The story presents a contrast between dreams and reality. This contrast has heen depicted in a humorous manner. The young doctor has just started his practice and, so, his earnings are meagre. He lives in a small rented room, which is not electrified and is full of rats. He has only sixty rupees in his bag, he has few clothes, and a solitary black coat. However, his dreams and ambitions are in contrast to this.
He admires beauty and he believes in making himself handsome. He lays great emphasis on the fact that he is unmarried and is a doctor. He decides to shave daily and grow a thin moustache to look more handsome. He describes this decision as an ‘important’ one. Later, he also makes an ‘earth-shaking decision’ to always keep smiling in order to look more handsome. This contrast between the kind of person he is and the kind of person he wants to be makes the story humorous.
He has thought about the kind of person he wants to marry. He wants to marry a woman doctor who has plenty of money and a good medical practice because he did not have any of those. He wants a fat wife so that whenever he runs away making a mistake his wife is not able to catch him. However, the woman he marries is a thin and slender person who can run like a sprinter. This contrast between the kind of wife he wanted and the kind of wife he ends up marrying adds to the humour of the story.
Ironically, the snake too is as narcissistic as the doctor. It coils itself around the petrified doctor’s arm, and spreads its hood, just inches from the doctor’s face, when it suddenly turns its head and sees its reflection in the mirror. It unwinds itself from the doctor’s arm and slowly slithers across his lap, onto the table towards the mirror to enjoy its reflection at closer quarters. The fact that the snake also wishes to admire itself in the mirror, like the narrator, and leaves the narrator alone also creates humour.
The fact that the thieves decamp with the narrator’s meagre belongings, but for a dirty vest is also funny.
The Snake and the Mirror Characters
The young homeopathic doctor has been portrayed as a person who is vain and arrogant. He admires beauty and he believes in making himself handsome. He lays great emphasis on the fact that he is unmarried and is a doctor. He decides to shave daily and grow a thin moustache to look more handsome. He describes this decision as an ‘important’ one. Later, he also makes an ‘earth-shaking decision’ to always keep smiling in order to look more handsome. However, in contrast to the preoccupation with the external appearance, is the dirty vest that even the thieves leave behind.
The doctor, however, can assess himself critically and humorously. He honestly admits that as a new practitioner of medicine, he could not earn much and had to rent a poor, rat-infested house without even the facility of electricity. He is materialistic and admits that he wanted to marry a rich lady-doctor. He is opportunistic enough to want his wife be fat as it would help him run away without getting caught when he would make some silly mistake.
The doctor is a chauvinist, who has a poor opinion .of women. He is not above marrying a woman for her money, and running away from her, when he has done something wrong.
The young doctor has presence of mind to sit still without panicking when the snake crawls on him. He doesn’t jump or cry out but keeps his cool and casts his mind around to remember if he has any anti-dote to snake-venom in the room. He makes the most of the opportunity when the snake is absorbed in its reflection in the mirror and makes good his escape.
However, his ability to admit his follies and laugh at himself makes him quite endearing. The encounter with the snake helps him realise that to be alive is more important than to look good. His arrogance turns into modesty after his encounter with the snake. This witty side of the doctor is seen again at the end of the story when he remarks that the thief did not take away his dirty vest because he had a sense of cleanliness.
Similarities between Doctor and Snake
Both the Doctor and the Snake display a narcissistic trait that renders them hot oblivious to their surroundings. The Doctor admires beauty and he believes in making himself handsome. He lays great emphasis on the fact that he is unmarried and is a doctor. He decides to shave daily and grow a thin moustache to look more handsome.
He describes this decision as an ‘important’ one. Later, he also makes an ‘earth-shaking decision’ to always keep smiling in order to look more handsome.
The Snake is coiled around the Doctor’s arm, with its hood spread out, its head hardly three or four inches from his face, when it looks into mirror. So enamoured is it by its looks that it slithers off to look at its reflection. It forget the reason why it was there, probably hungry and chasing some rats.
The Snake and the Mirror Summary Questions and Answers
Who narrated his encounter with a snake? To whom? Why did he narrate the incident?
The narrator of the incident was a homeopathic doctor. One day, when the narrator and some others were discussing snakes, the doctor was reminded of his own encounter with a snake and he narrated the incident.
When and where did the incident with the snake take place?
The incident took place in the narrator’s room after he had taken his meal in a restaurant and had returned to his room at about ten o’clock in the night.
Why did the narrator have to light the kerosene lamp on reaching his room?
The narrator had to light the kerosene lamp because it was ten o’clock and it was very dark. The room did not have electricity and the narrator had limited money and could not afford a better place.
Describe the narrator’s room?
The narrator lived in a small, poorly furnished rented room infested with rats. It was an outer room, its one wall facing the open yard. The room had two windows and its tiles were supported by gables that rested on the beam over the wall. There was no ceiling. The room was not electrified. Outside the room there was a veranda. The room was meagrely furnished; among the few pieces of furniture, there was his bed, a chair, a table with his medical books, usual accessories, a kerosene lamp and a mirror on it.
What circumstances prompted the doctor to live in a small, poor house?
The doctor had just started his practice and his earnings were meagre. Therefore, he lived in a small, poor house because he could not afford to rent a better and more comfortable accommodation. Besides, he was not married at that time so he could manage in a small rented room until the time he got married.
The doctor was not a man with many material possessions. Elaborate.
The doctor had just started his practice. Therefore, his earnings were meagre. He lived in a small rented room, which was not electrified. He had only sixty rupees in his bag. Apart from a few shirts and dhotis, he had one solitary black coat. His room was full of rats.
Why was the narrator awake despite the lateness of the hour?
It was about ten o’clock on a hot summer night when the narrator reached his room. He made his bed and lay down on it, but he could not sleep due to the heat. He got up and went out to the veranda for a little air, but there was no wind. So, he went back into the room and sat down on the chair.
What did the doctor do after coming back inside?
The doctor sat on the chair and, opening the box beneath the table, took out a book, the Materia Medica. He opened the book at the table on which stood the lamp and a large mirror. At once he was tempted to look into the mirror and he set about making himself look handsome.
“The sound was a familiar one.” What sound did the narrator hear? What did he think it was? How many times did he hear it? When and why did the sounds stop?
The narrator heard the familiar sound of movement of some animals on the beam. He thought that the sound was being made by the scampering of rats as always. He heard the sound thrice. After the third time, the sound stopped. This was probably because of the appearance of the snake and the disappearance of the rats in fear.
What were the narrator’s feelings as he looked into the mirror?
At that time the narrator, who was unmarried and a doctor, was a great admirer of beauty and he believed in making himself look handsome. He felt he had to make his presence felt by improving his appearance.
He began to comb his hair, adjusting the parting so that it looked straight and neat in order to appear more handsome.