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Book Review: The Mark of Vishnu by Khushwant Singh

The snake often emerges in Indian fiction as a multi-faceted symbol. Khushwant Singh seems to have made a tacit agreement in the use of Serpent as a symbol in his short fiction – The Mark of Vishnu.


Khushwant Singh weaves a story around the superstition and blind reverence towards the snakes. The servant Gunga Ram, though a Brahmin was illiterate and full of superstition. He believes in the trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, - the creator, the preserver and the destroyer. He is the devotee of Vishnu. And therefore, he smears his forehead every morning with V mark sandalwood paste to honour Vishnu. To him all life was sacred even if it was of a serpent or scorpion or centipede. Daily he puts saucer full milk outside the hole near the wall and says: this is for Kala Nag.

And by the morning finds the milk gone. The boys make fun of him, by saying that it is drunk by the cat. For, they are science students and know that the snakes don’t drink the milk and have also seen many in their science lab. But Gunga Ram does not agree this. Then the boys say they would kill Kala Nag. And the day comes, when there is a heavy rain and every hole is full of water, Kala Nag is seen basking in the bleak sun. The boys attack him and beat heavily and when he is weak they close him in a biscuit tin and bring it before their science teacher. The teacher opens it and Kala Nag with his hood spread attacks the teacher, who with fear and quick movement escapes.

Then the serpent waits for a while and then begins to move towards the door. There he sees another obstacle – Gunga Ram keeping saucerful milk before him – then Gunga Ram falls prostrate on the ground in full reverence. The serpent with all the anger bites on the forehead exactly where he has smeared V mark. The poor servant collapses with his hands covering his face. He is blinded and turns pale. There are little drops of blood on his forehead, which the science teacher wipes out his handkerchief. And there is V mark where the serpent has dug his fangs.

Gunga Ram, the devotee of Vishnu, is punished to death because he fails to understand fully the form and function of Kala Nag. Though he loves and reveres Kala Nag, but his love and reverence emanate from the superstition and improper comprehension of his deity. This shows how the serpent, if viewed irrationally and ignorantly, turns into a destroyer.


This post first appeared on Kevein Books And Reviews, please read the originial post: here

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Book Review: The Mark of Vishnu by Khushwant Singh

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