My friend, Shriram, has a way with snakes - he can identify the different species of snakes at a glance and knows which are poisonous and which are not. He has trained under an ophiologist.
But such expertise comes only after proper training and Shriram was a novice once upon a time. Shriram's "friendship" with snakes began while he was in college. Shriram has a good baritone voice and speaks with ease before the public. He had compered at several college functions. It was at one such function that he was spotted by an ophiologist. The man was impressed by Shriram's oratorial skills. After the function concluded, he approached Shriram and told him that he was on the lookout for a person who could explain to the public, especially the city folk, about the usefulness of snakes. Shriram would be trained. All that he had to do was to explain to the people how to recognise snakes, their usefulness, how to deal with them if encountered without warning, and such other things. An assistant would accompany Shriram to such public gatherings and it is he who would display the snakes while Shriram was explaining. Shriram agreed.
My friend received his classroom training and it was now time to actually do some field work. A public show was organised at a place in the city and Shriram, accompanied by the assistant, arrived at the spot.
"Do not worry. All that you have to do is describe to the audience the various species of snakes, and as you do so your assistant will draw out that particular snake from the box and hold it aloft for the people to see," Shriram's mentor once again assured him.
Shriram could seen no inherent dangers in the plan and readily agreed to put his oratorial skills to test before the audience.
So, Shriram began telling his audience that barring a few species, most species of snakes in India are non-poisonous. snakes are among the most timid creatures and will not bite except in self defence. Snakes are the best friends of the farmers since they check the rodents which destroy the foodgrains.
Shriram had warmed up to his talk and the audience was also impressed. It was now time to tell the audience about the common snakes found in the country. He chose to tell about the rat snake first, a harmless species. As he began the narration, the assistant dutifully drew out a rat snake from the box but, instead of hoding it aloft for the audience to see, thrust it into Shriram's hands.
For a moment Shriram was dazed. He hesitated ... but only for a moment. He had been telling his audience how harmless the snakes were and if he hesitated now, he would become a laughing stock. Though he was shivering in fright, Shriram held the snake and completed his narration. He, however, admitted to me later that he had nearly wet his trousers. After that initial fright, Shriram has now become an expert snake handler.
Making a spectacle of myself
In the early years of college, I developed a sudden infatuation for spectacles. It is probably because people said that it is only the scholarly people, who study a lot, who have to wear spectacles owing to the strain to their eyes.
I was nowhere near to being a scholar but wanted to appear as one. Spectacles does give one a dignified look, so I thought then.
The idea having caught my fancy, I really started believing that my eyes were strained and I was seeing blurred images.
"I need spectacles," I told my mother.
Mother paid no heed. She was accustomed to my occasional melodramatic swings.
But I persisted for days together saying my eyes are going weak. Mother was really concerned now. Maybe, for once, the son was speaking the truth!
So, off we went to the nearest opthalmologist.
"I need spectacles," I told the opthalmologist.
"We will see to that, first let me examine your eyes," he told me. The opthalmologist was much more incredulous than mother.
He held a torch to my eyes, whipped out his prescription pad and wrote down the name of some eye-drop.
"It is nothing but the summer heat," he told mother.
But I was not the one to give up so easily. "I need spectacles," I insisted.
"Okay," the doctor sighed and made me sit before his optometric equipment.
He told me to close one eye and read the chart in front of me with the other while he inserted lenses into the machine to determine the correct 'number'.
He inserted a lens and asked me whether I could read the chart easily. I couldn't even see the chart, leave alone read its contents.
The doctor tried another lens.
I could see the chart now, but could not make out what it contained.
The third lens was better. I could see the alphabets but they were blurred.
The fourth was the best, I could see the chart and I could read from the top to the bottom very easily.
"We have found the right lens for you," the doctor said as if he had made a huge dicovery.
The process was repeated with the other eye.
The opthalmologist went back to his seat and handed over the prescription he had written down earlier and said that would be all.
"What about the spectacles?" I spluttered.
"You won't be needing one," he answered.
"But, I could see very clearly when you inserted the fourth lens. Now, again, I am seeing blurred images," I told him.
"On the fourth occasion, I had not inserted any lens at all," the doctor said and dismissed me.
Well! What more could I say? I did not insist on a second opinion and 20 years later, I still do not need to use spectacles.
The last day for practical submissions was approaching fast. We had to complete our journals and get them checked by the respective professors. Those who failed to complete the journals by the due date would not be allowed to appear for the practical examinations.
On the eve of the due date, I just managed to complete the remaining journals but the physics journal remained incomplete. I had got the results of one experiment all wrong. I asked my friend to hand me over his journal and copied down his results without any remorse.
The journal was now complete and I handed it over to the professor concerned with a sigh of relief. However, my relief was short-lived. After some time, the professor called me and accused me, very rightly, of having copied the results. I was surprised. I had handed over the journal only a few minutes back and, therefore, was taken aback that the professor should have detected the misdemeanour so soon. There were at least 50 students and each student had submitted at least fifteen practical sheets. How, then, could the professor have detected the misdemeanour within such a short time? I realised my friend, whose results I had copied, must have spilled the beans.
On any other occasion, I probably would have owned up my wrong-doing. But the realisation that the friend had betrayed me, made me very angry and I maintained that I had not copied. The professor persisted in his accusations but I stood my ground. Finally, the professor allowed things to pass and my journal was accepted. I emerged out of the laboratory feeling victorious and sneered at the friend.
This was a small incident and over 20 years have passed since then. But the incident is still vivid in my mind and troubles me even now. I wish I had not cheated then. I would have had a clear conscience. So what if the results of my experiments were wrong, the journal would still have been accepted. But, now, I will have to nurse this guilty feeling forever!