The Snake-Song by R.K. Narayan
In The Snake-Song by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of knowledge, fear, charity, forgiveness, isolation, dedication, tradition, desperation and escape. Taken from his Malgudi Days collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator though the narrative voice changes during the story to the voice and experience of the Talkative Man. What is also noticeable from the beginning of the story is the fact that the Talkative Man does not allow the narrator to ignore him when it comes to discussing his knowledge of music. He continues with his story regardless of the narrator’s decision to ignore him and it is through the Talkative Man’s relaying of his story to the narrator that the reader learns just how dedicated the narrator was to learning music from the master musician. The Talkative Man spent every day with the master musician in the hope that he would one day be able to play the flute. It is also noticeable that when not working for the master musician the Talkative Man spent his time practising the flute. It is by spending his time with the master musician and practising the flute that the Talkative Man becomes more knowledgeable when it comes to not only playing the flute but with music in general.
However despite the knowledge that the Talkative Man acquires from the master musician he still does not know that he should not play punnaga varali at night. It is because of this lack of knowledge that the Talkative Man encounters difficulties he could not have imagined. Difficulties that most likely stem from the Talkative Man’s inability to be charitable to the homeless man who called upon the Talkative Man for assistance. There is a sense that the homeless man has in some manner placed a curse on the Talkative Man and the Talkative Man knows that the only way he can return to normality is by asking the homeless man for forgiveness. The Talkative Man has also broken with tradition by playing the punnaga varali and is paying a price for his naivety. Though knowledgeable in some aspects the Talkative Man is still somewhat naive. Just how focused the Talkative Man was on learning music from the master musician is also noticeable by the fact that he isolates himself. Spending the majority of his day with the master musician. It is as though the Talkative Man has made a conscious decision that learning from the master musician is the most important thing in his life.
Narayan also appears to be exploring the theme of fear. The Talkative Man is afraid of the cobra. So afraid that he continues to play the flute till he can play no more. It is as though the cobra has taken control of the Talkative Man’s life. He has gone from being a peaceful student with the master musician to being a tormented player of the flute. The flute no longer bringing any joy to the Talkative Man. Where once he had aspirations to play the flute in public after he talks to the master musician he realises that he can no longer play the flute till he apologizes to the homeless man. Should he play the flute again there is a chance that the Talkative Man will again encounter the cobra and return to the fear he first felt when the cobra appeared in front of him. In reality there is a sense of paralysis in the Talkative Man’s life. On one hand he wants to play the flute yet on the other hand he knows that it will cause him more trouble. The Talkative Man despite not playing the flute is driven by fear even though the cobra may or may not reappear.
The end of the story is also interesting as the reader realises just how important the flute is to the Talkative Man. He feels so strongly about begging forgiveness from the homeless man that he lives his life hoping that he will see the homeless man again. If anything the Talkative Man is desperate to see the homeless man again so that he can lift the curse from him. It might also be important that the Talkative Man has experienced no happiness since he stopped playing the flute. He appears to be living his life based solely on the hope that he will see the homeless man again. The reader aware that music provides the Talkative Man with joy and happiness and the reader senses that music also allows the Talkative Man to be free. Something that he has not been since the homeless man called on him. Music also allows the Talkative Man to dream (of playing the flute in front of others). It is a tool that the Talkative Man used to escape. However he has not had the opportunity to escape from life in any manner since his meeting with the homeless man. The reader left feeling that the Talkative Man is not only desperate to meet the homeless man again but in order to progress through life he more importantly needs to see the homeless man again.