GANDHI on the Kannadiga with the cobra

A car stood on the tarred road, parched land spreading endlessly away around. In it were three men, two of whom were asleep. The car had engine trouble, and the driver had wandered off on foot to find help.

In the back seat the only one of the three still awake was Anantarao Chikodi, a frail, birdlike boy, one of the workers of the nationalist movement in his area of the State. Beside him was a small, shrivelled man whose cheap spectacles had slipped down over his closed eyes and now hung from the tip of his sharp nose.

His name was Gandhi.

In the front seat, similarly buried in sleep, was another local Congress worker, Deshpande. The year was 1924, and conditions in the rural areas [of North Karnataka] were by no means secure.

Chikodi was looking around anxiously for the driver. To be in charge of Gandhi, after all, was to be in charge of a national treasure, when he saw someone else.

This was a very large, very black, very naked man with a beard. He had a live cobra coiled around his neck: his only form of attire. He looked very menacing, and he approached the car and glared at Gandhi.

Chikodi did not want to disturb Gandhi, but he wanted to protect him and felt, not unreasonably, considering the size and ferocious aspect of the visitor, that he needed help. He reached over to wake Deshpande up, but Deshpande was as terrified as he.

In the midst of all this, Gandhi awoke.

He looked calmly at the beard, the bloodshot eyes, the cobra, and the naked black body of the intruder, and smiled his peceful, childlike smile.

“Don’t worry,” Gandhi said to Chikodi, “this gentleman won’t harm us. He is from Karnataka.”

Thereupon he returned to an untroubled sleep. When Chikodi looked up once more, their visitor had disappeared.


An anecdote, narrated by Anantrao Chikodi, then an eminent newspaper editor, to Dom Moraes in 1975. Excerpted from The Open Eyes, A Journey through Karnataka, published by the Government of Karnataka, 1976. Illustrations by Mario Miranda.


Cross-posted on sans serif