Tuesday, June 27, 2023

The Snake And The Mirror by Vaikom Muhammad Basheer - Class IX

Complete Text of The Snake And The Mirror

  1. “Has a snake ever coiled itself round any part of your body? A full-blooded cobra?” All of us fell silent. The question came from the homeopath. The topic came up when we were discussing snakes. We listened attentively as the doctor continued with his tale. It was a hot summer night; about ten o’clock. I had my meal at the restaurant and returned to my room. I heard a noise from above as I opened the door. The sound was a familiar one. One could say that the rats and I shared the room. I took out my box of matches and lighted the kerosene lamp on the table.
  2. The house was not electrified; it was a small rented room. I had just set up medical practice and my earnings were meagre. I had about sixty rupees in my suitcase. Along with some shirts and dhotis, I also possessed one solitary black coat which I was then wearing.
  3. I took off my black coat, white shirt and not-so-white vest and hung them up. I opened the two windows in the room. It was an outer room with one wall facing the open yard. It had a tiled roof with long supporting gables that rested on the beam over the wall. There was no ceiling. There was a regular traffic of rats to and from the beam. I made my bed and pulled it close to the wall. I lay down but I could not sleep. I got up and went out to the veranda for a little air, but the wind god seemed to have taken time off.
  4. I went back into the room and sat down on the chair. I opened the box beneath the table and took out a book, the Materia Medica. I opened it at the table on which stood the lamp and a large mirror; a small comb lay beside the mirror.
    One feels tempted to look into a mirror when it is near one. I took a look. In those days I was a great admirer of beauty and I believed in making myself look handsome. I was unmarried and I was a doctor. I felt I had to make my presence felt. I picked up the comb and ran it through my hair and adjusted the parting so that it looked straight and neat. Again I heard that sound from above.
  5. I took a close look at my face in the mirror. I made an important decision - I would shave daily and grow a thin moustache to look more handsome. I was after all a bachelor, and a doctor!
    I looked into the mirror and smiled. It was an attractive smile. I made another earth-shaking decision. I would always keep that attractive smile on my face... to look more handsome. I was after all a bachelor, and a doctor too on top of it!
    Again came that noise from above.
  6. I got up, paced up and down the room. Then another lovely thought struck me. I would marry. I would get married to a woman doctor who had plenty of money and a good medical practice. She had to be fat; for a valid reason. If I made some silly mistake and needed to run away she should not be able to run after me and catch me!
    With such thoughts in my mind I resumed my seat in the chair in front of the table. There were no more sounds from above. Suddenly there came a dull thud as if a rubber tube had fallen to the ground... surely nothing to worry about. Even so I thought I would turn around and take a look. No sooner had I turned than a fat snake wriggled over the back of the chair and landed on my shoulder. The snake’s landing on me and my turning were simultaneous.
  7. I didn’t jump. I didn’t tremble. I didn’t cry out. There was no time to do any such thing. The snake slithered along my shoulder and coiled around my left arm above the elbow. The hood was spread out and its head was hardly three or four inches from my face!
    It would not be correct to say merely that I sat there holding my breath. I was turned to stone. But my mind was very active. The door opened into darkness. The room was surrounded by darkness. In the light of the lamp I sat there like a stone image in the flesh.
  8. I felt then the great presence of the creator of this world and this universe. God was there. Suppose I said something and he did not like it... I tried in my imagination to write in bright letters outside my little heart the words, ‘O God’.There was some pain in my left arm. It was as if a thick leaden rod - no, a rod made of molten fire - was slowly but powerfully crushing my arm. The arm was beginning to be drained of all strength. What could I do?
  9. At my slightest movement the snake would strike me! Death lurked four inches away. Suppose it struck, what was the medicine I had to take? There were no medicines in the room. I was but a poor, foolish and stupid doctor. I forgot my danger and smiled feebly at myself.
    It seemed as if God appreciated that. The snake turned its head. It looked into the mirror and saw its reflection. I do not claim that it was the first snake that had ever looked into a mirror. But it was certain that the snake was looking into the mirror. Was it admiring its own beauty? Was it trying to make an important decision about growing a moustache or using eye shadow and mascara or wearing a vermilion spot on its forehead?
  10. I did not know anything for certain. What sex was this snake, was it male or female? I will never know; for the snake unwound itself from my arm and slowly slithered into my lap. From there it crept onto the table and moved towards the mirror. Perhaps it wanted to enjoy its reflection at closer quarters.
    I was no mere image cut in granite. I was suddenly a man of flesh and blood. Still holding my breath I got up from the chair. I quietly went out through the door into the veranda. From there I leapt into the yard and ran for all I was worth.
    “Phew !” Each of us heaved a sigh of relief. Somebody asked, “Doctor, is your wife very fat?”
  11. “No,” the doctor said. “God willed otherwise. My life companion is a thin reedy person with the gift of a sprinter.”
    Someone else asked, “Doctor, when you ran did the snake follow you?”
    The doctor replied, “I ran and ran till I reached a friend’s house. Immediately I smeared oil all over myself and took a bath. I changed into fresh clothes. The next morning at about eight-thirty I took my friend and one or two others to my room to move my things from there. But we found we had little to carry. Some thief had removed most of my things. The room had been cleaned out! But not really, the thief had left behind one thing as a final insult!’
  12. “What was that?” I asked.
    The doctor said, “My vest, the dirty one. The fellow had such a sense of cleanliness...! The rascal could have taken it and used it after washing it with soap and water.”
    “Did you see the snake the next day, doctor?”
    The doctor laughed, “I’ve never seen it since. It was a snake which was taken with its own beauty!”

Summary of The Snake And The Mirror

The narrator, a doctor, shares a suspenseful incident with a group of people. On a hot summer night in a rented room, the doctor notices the presence of rats. He sits down at his table, grooming himself and daydreaming about his appearance and future plans. Suddenly, a snake falls on his shoulder and coils around his arm, its hood dangerously close to his face. Paralyzed with fear, the doctor feels a crushing pain in his arm and realizes the imminent threat of death. Desperately, he looks toward a mirror, hoping for divine intervention.

To his surprise, the snake, seemingly captivated by its own reflection, unwinds from the doctor's arm and explores the mirror. Seizing the opportunity, the doctor quietly escapes and runs to a friend's house for safety. The incident concludes with a humorous twist: the thief who later looted the doctor's room spares his dirty vest, displaying an ironic sense of cleanliness.

When asked about the snake's fate, the doctor admits that he never encountered it again, suggesting that the snake's infatuation with its own beauty may have played a role in its departure.

Thinking about the Text

I. Discuss in pairs and answer each question below in a short paragraph (30–40 words).

1. “The sound was a familiar one.” What sound did the doctor hear? What did he think it was? How many times did he hear it? (Find the places in the text.) When and why did the sounds stop?

The doctor hears a familiar sound in his rented room, which he identifies as rats. He mentions hearing the sound twice in the text. The sounds stop when a dull thud occurs, signifying the fall of a snake onto the ground. The snake's arrival and the doctor's turning around to investigate happen simultaneously, causing the sounds to cease.

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2. What two “important” and “earth-shaking” decisions did the doctor take while he was looking into the mirror?


While looking into the mirror, the doctor decides to shave daily and grow a thin mustache to appear more handsome. Additionally, he resolves to keep an attractive smile on his face at all times for the same purpose. 

3. “I looked into the mirror and smiled,” says the doctor. A little later he says, “I forgot my danger and smiled feebly at myself.” What is the doctor’s opinion about himself when: (i) he first smiles, and (ii) he smiles again? In what way do his thoughts change in between, and why? 


When the doctor first smiles, he has an attractive smile and believes he looks handsome. However, when he smiles again after forgetting his danger, it is a feeble smile. His thoughts change because he realizes the gravity of the situation and the imminent danger he is facing, which dampens his self-perception and confidence.

II. This story about a frightening incident is narrated in a humorous way. What makes it humorous? (Think of the contrasts it presents between dreams and reality. Some of them are listed below.)

1. (i) The kind of person the doctor is (money, possessions) 

(ii) The kind of person he wants to be (appearance, ambition) 

2. (i) The person he wants to marry

(ii) The person he actually marries

3. (i) His thoughts when he looks into the mirror

(ii) His thoughts when the snake is coiled around his arm

Write short paragraphs on each of these to get your answer.


1. The contrasts between the doctor's dreams and reality contribute to the humor in the story. On one hand, the doctor desires wealth and possessions, as evidenced by his meager earnings and the fact that he only has sixty rupees and basic clothing. However, he imagines marrying a wealthy woman who is also a doctor. The irony lies in his desire for financial security while being content with his own modest circumstances.

2. The doctor's expectations regarding his future spouse also add to the humor. He envisions marrying a fat woman with a good medical practice, primarily to prevent her from chasing him if he were to make a mistake and need to escape. However, in reality, he ends up marrying a thin person with the ability to sprint, completely opposite to his initial desires. The contrast between his imaginative preferences and the actual outcome adds a comedic twist.

3. The doctor's thoughts when he looks into the mirror are humorous due to his self-absorption and superficiality. He focuses on his appearance, wanting to look handsome and make his presence felt as an unmarried doctor. He contemplates grooming himself, growing a mustache, and maintaining an attractive smile to enhance his perceived attractiveness. The humor arises from his exaggerated concern with physical appearance in the face of imminent danger.

In contrast, when the snake coils around his arm, his thoughts undergo a drastic change. The humorous element lies in the stark shift from his vanity to a state of fear and helplessness. His thoughts are no longer centered on his appearance but rather on his impending peril and the lack of resources to protect himself. The abrupt transition from vanity to vulnerability creates a comical juxtaposition in the narrative.

Thinking about Language

II. Expressions used to show fear

1. "I was turned to stone." 

This phrase suggests that the author was frozen with fear and unable to move or respond.

2. "I sat there holding my breath." 

This expression indicates that the author was frightened and in a state of suspense, holding their breath as a reaction to the fear and tension caused by the snake's presence.

3. "In the light of the lamp, I sat there like a stone image in the flesh."

This expression suggests that the author was frozen in fear, resembling a motionless statue illuminated by the light of the lamp.

III. In the sentences given below some words and expressions are italicised. They are variously mean that one

• is very frightened.

• is too scared to move.

• is frightened by something that happens suddenly.

• makes another feel frightened.

Match the meanings with the words/expressions in italics, and write the appropriate meaning next to the sentence. The first one has been done for you.

1. I knew a man was following me, I was scared out of my wits. (very frightened)

2. I got a fright when I realised how close I was to the cliff edge.

3. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw the bull coming towards him.

4. You really gave me a fright when you crept up behind me like that.

5. Wait until I tell his story — it will make your hair stand on end.

6. Paralysed with fear, the boy faced his abductors.

7. The boy hid behind the door, not moving a muscle.


2. I got a fright when I realized how close I was to the cliff edge. (frightened by something that happens suddenly)

3. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw the bull coming towards him. (very frightened)

4. You really gave me a fright when you crept up behind me like that. (frightened by something that happens suddenly)

5. Wait until I tell his story — it will make your hair stand on end. (makes another feel frightened)

6. Paralysed with fear, the boy faced his abductors. (too scared to move)

7. The boy hid behind the door, not moving a muscle. (too scared to move)

IV. Report these questions using if/whether or why/when/where/how/which/what. Remember the italicised verbs change into the past tense.

1. Meena asked her friend, “Do you think your teacher will come today?”

2. David asked his colleague, “Where will you go this summer?”

3. He asked the little boy, “Why are you studying English?”

4. She asked me, “When are we going to leave?”

5. Pran asked me, “Have you finished reading the newspaper?”

The Snake and the Mirror / 63

6. Seema asked her, “How long have you lived here?”

7. Sheila asked the children, “Are you ready to do the work?”


1. Meena asked her friend if she thought her teacher would come that day.

2. David asked his colleague where he would go that summer.

3. He asked the little boy why he was studying English.

4. She asked me when we were going to leave.

5. Pran asked me if I had finished reading the newspaper.

6. Seema asked her how long she had lived there.

7. Sheila asked the children if they were ready to do the work.

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