“When I was younger, which was quite a while ago, I used to live in a town called Sheikhupura which was very underdeveloped at the time. I stayed there at a hostel, or a dormitory at a boarding school where I was preparing to give my matriculation exams – which today would be the equivalent of an O-level or a SAT exam. So you can guess how young I was at the time”. Dr. Rabia narrated the opening lines of her story with lots of enthusiasm. The doctor is an avid reader of our magazine and as is the case with most of our dedicated readers, we invited her over to our still make-shiftey studio in an attempt to capture details of that one most memorable and perception altering event of her life.
Who is she though? The doctor says she is a care-giver for the unfortunate masses. She is a licensed gynecologist that provides facilitation to the underprivileged members of society at a welfare hospital in Lahore, Pakistan. Her story, the one that she selected to share with us today is called the 100 year old snake. The story is about a legend found in Pakistani folklore, a legend that most Pakistanis would barely be familiar with.
“This one time, I decided to stay back during the summer holidays. I was one of the few girls that decided to do so as all of us had our good enough reasons of not going back home. Mine was to gain a head-start on the rest of the class by being able to prepare for the exams before the start of the semester”. Sheikhupura, even though significantly under developed today was mostly forest and agricultural land back in the 70s – the time period during which the event occurred. The town was famed for hosting monitor lizards – large lizards that grow up to 3-4 feet in length.
“One day, as I was making my way from the library, which was located on one side of the football ground, to the dorms/hostels, that were located on the other side I witnessed a scene that would be the starting point of the single most insane experience I would ever have in my life”. An excitement appeared on Dr. Rabia’s face as she narrated the oncoming events of the story after the introduction. The kind which appears when people talk about miracles that they experienced in their lives.
“A giant snake appeared out of the bushes that were on the far end of the ground, perpendicular to where I stood. The ground beneath my feet rattled wildly and I was unable to grasp the books in my hand any longer. The scene was simply too shocking”.
“I stood there frozen. Unable to do anything. My knee jerk reaction, after re-obtaining my senses was to wait for the giant reptile to pass without making a move, so that it wont notice me”. A small snake is barely noticeable if its passing in front of you in the dark. Most of these reptiles slither so fast that if you were to catch a glimpse of that snake it could be classed as a rare sighting. Surely, this was a small snake that simply scared her, we inquired. The description were certainly exaggerated!
“NO!” Dr. Rabia replied loudly to our skepticism. “It wasn’t a snake! More of a monster” , she added. “The snake was as big as the one in that movie, what do you call it”. We believed she was speaking about the movie Anaconda so that is what we replied with. “Yes Anaconda”, she said. “The snake was so large in length that it would not seem to end”. Where was this mysterious snake going we wondered? “Into a well on the other side of the ground”.
“As it dropped into the well, it kept on going and going and going until it finally stopped about an hour or so later”. Dr. Rabia, then ran off towards the groundskeeper or the ‘Choukidar’ as they are known in Pakistan. She narrated her experience in horror to him, expecting that he would go into his room and load up his gun to find and kill the giant serpent. Instead, the reaction she got was very surprising – the man was not at all scared ! On the contrary, he said he was very happy for her!
And why was this so? “Well..according to him. The snake was not a snake at all. The snake was rather a man. A man whose life had exceeded 100 years in age. The man was a ‘buzurg’ or a saint. At least, that was what legend foretold. The groundskeeper told her that she was lucky to have witnessed a ‘Holy sighting’ or a ‘Ziarat’ of the saint. Much fortune awaited her in the future!
“Life continued ahead for me. I always remembered this moment of my life in concrete detail and would not be able to forget about it for times ahead. However, following the usual events one experiences such as marriage and family, it did sweep into the back of my mind. The girls at the boarding school did always speak of this legend, but me being the skeptic that I was did not believe them until I saw it with my own eyes”. Following the event, the aspiring doctor that she was back then, she did manage to pass her matriculation and then her FSc. (equivalent to an A-level or a High School Diploma) with flying colors – which according to her was a big enough miracle in itself. She then finally got into medical school and her dream of being a doctor was achieved. A dream in which she faced a lot of challenges – overcoming every single one quite smoothly. Everyone knows getting into medical school is just as hard as finally passing it. And for her, both those life objectives were significant achievements in themselves. It was as some mysterious force was aiding her at each point.
“No one believed this story of mine and soon I had completely forgotten about it”. After all, no one had any reason to believe her story. Nothing in Shiekhupura’s wildlife profile fitted the description of what she had seen. Snakes that were 30 feet long only existed in the movies she was told each time she would try to tell someone the story.
“After I got married, I was blessed with 4 beautiful boys, which for me was a kind of a gift from God”. She moved from her mother’s home to her husband’s following usual Pakistani tradition. During all that time between her marriage and from when she first saw the massive reptile, she never again was to see the saintly snake. This was to change however, after a little while.
“My husband’s family’s home right now is in a highly urbanized area. There aren’t many trees there and the whole place is populated with fashion stores and restaurants as the city has expanded to become large enough to consider the area its center”. The area of Gulberg in Lahore; the area where her house is located, really does serve as the urban center of the city today. The area is famous for its main boulevard, called the MM Alam road – appropriately named after a Pakistani war hero and ace pilot – features large office blocks, high end stores, restaurants and shopping malls. In such a place where humans are found in the plentiful, cold blooded reptiles don’t stay since they are scared of humans and prefer areas with mass vegetation as its easier for them to hide and burrow deep into the ground. Humans also locate every chance to kill and attack them and contrary to what most of us may think, animals are very smart and know how to avoid getting killed – they vacate urban centers back into the wild.
Gulberg was not like this 10-15 years ago. Like the rest of Pakistan, it had a lot of vegetation in the urban areas. A key feature of the city of Lahore after all were the majestic trees aptly populated on the sides of the roads. Dr. Rabia’s house overlooked a large ground which people mostly used for evening brisk walks. The ground had a very old tree in the corner right next to her home. Other than that her home’s own lawn had a bunch of palm trees.
“Three families lived in the home. We lived on the top most floor and the kitchen on that floor was located close to the gallery”. In Pakistan; around a decade ago, people mostly bought fresh milk delivered straight from the farm. This was before large companies introduced the packaged milk bottles and cartons into the market. The milk arrived in large steel containers that were provided by the families that purchased the service themselves. Dr. Rabia’s family also bought this milk and as was usually done back in the day, her maid would take the milk from the milkman and boil it. It was assumed that the boiling would get rid of impurities. She would then leave the milk opened in a pot to cool down.
“I started to notice a strange pattern after a while. The amount of milk that was ordered and the amount that we would actually use around the house never added up. There was always less milk in the pot”. She never understood why this happened, and assumed that her maid and other servants were taking some home. “Nothing wrong with that”, she would think to herself and ignored the event.
“Then one day, my youngest son, who was 4 or 5 years old at the time went to the roof to get a dropped kite. Lahore has a very colorful festival called ‘basant’ in which every one flies kites in spring time. Many kites would fall down onto people’s roofs and kids would run off to collect these kites so they could show them off to their friends”. To her surprise, her son would come running down 5 minutes later with crocodile tears in his eyes. “Mama, there is a huge snake on the roof!” he would shout and wouldn’t stop crying. She did not believe him, and decided to go to the roof and check his claim out for herself. As she had expected, there was nothing there.
“A few days later the scene would repeat itself. Except this time it was the trusted family electrician who had gone to the roof to get some work done. He came running down in exactly the same manner and almost fainted making the same claim”. Now, this she could not ignore, after all why would the trusted family electrician make such a thing up?
“Baji, Inna Vadda Saanp” (M’am, the snake is a monster!) he shouted again and again in Punjabi, before running away and saying that he would never come back for work to her house. After two such incidents, the doctor seriously thought of calling the animal control service. Unfortunately to her dismay, no such service existed back then and her maid proceeded to give her a commendable suggestion. They would call in the ‘Saperas’ or the legendary Pakistani snake charmers.
“Have you had any milk missing recently?”, the snake charmer asked when he first came to her home. “Yes” she would reply, now quite fearful of what he was about to say next. “Then its most definitely a snake”, the serpent catcher replied.
“He then asked me if there were any access points from the roof into the kitchen and I told him there was the chimney which didn’t have a netting to stop reptilian intruders from getting in”. He then told her there was most definitely a snake living there. Her reaction? “I was disgusted that we were sharing our milk with the serpent”. From that day onward, milk was to be carefully bottled up and secured in her home all done under her own supervision. Anything left out in the open was chucked away into the dustbin.
He told me he would get rid of the snake. She left him to do his job, but just like her son and the electrician, he came running down after an hour or so. He wasn’t fearful of the idea that it was snake he was dealing with. What he feared was that he was dealing with a hundred year old snake!
“He told me it was impossible to get rid of the snake, as it wasn’t a snake but rather a saint. Some saints, he told me, would turn into snakes if they lived beyond a 100 years”. She was immediately reminded of the snake she had seen when she was just a teenager.
So what did she do this time? “I spoke to my husband and told him that no one is willing to get rid of the snake”. To her luck, the family downstairs had moved to the United Kingdom that very year and her husband suggested that they move to that floor.
Has she seen the snake since then? “No, I haven’t, but the experience was very scary”. Today, Dr. Rabia’s family is well settled. Her oldest son is married and is off to China on scholarship with his better half, her husband holds an esteemed rank in the Punjab Police service and is a trophied police officer and also a Treasurer of the International Police Association.
Did any other miraculous event take place in her life after her second sighting of the saintly serpent? “Well, my youngest son, the most handsome one from all of my sons had a very terrible motorbike accident. He broke almost every bone in his body”. What happened to the son after that? Was this the son that had seen the snake?, we asked enthusiastically.
“Yes he was the same one”. He miraculously survived we were told and all his musco-skeletal functions were restored. Every bone in his body healed appropriately and today he runs around without any aids.
So does she now believe in the miracle of the saintly snake?
“Time will tell” she says.
The “Your Story” section features interesting stories found in the lives of our readers. Any events that have had a profound impact on them and changed their lives forever. Would you like to share your story with us?
If you would like us to share your story in our next edition, don’t hesitate to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us an email of what your story is about and we would get in touch with you. Hopefully, we will give you a call and invite you down to our studio for a cup of tea!