Excerpts from THE JOURNEY HOME: AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN AMERICAN SWAMI by Radhananth Swami. Mandala Publishing. Paperback. 356 pages. $16.95

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Before I could blink, he darted toward me and wrapped the monstrous serpent around my hips. Slowly, the serpent crept upwards, encircling my waist and chest in its cold, strong coils and locking my arms against my trunk. Its face was only inches from mine and I could practically feel and smell its breath. Its slitted eyes stared into mine, its forked tongue flitting in and out. My heart pounded and my limbs trembled as the snake tightened its grip. Nightmarish hallucinations, spinning, and paranoia seized me. Meanwhile a growing crowd of onlookers encircled me, keeping at a safe distance.

Suddenly, a man stepped forward and spoke in English. “What is your name, sir? What country are you from? Why are you in the coils of this dangerous snake?”

“Please help me,” I gasped. My captor tightened its grip as soon as I spoke. It was as if the serpent jealously demanded my total attention.

The big, bearded man in the red turban came up and stared me in the eyes as if I were a foreign invader. Waving his hands like weapons, he shouted at me, “50 rupees.50 rupees.” Finally, someone in the crowd explained to me in English. “He will only take the snake off if you give him 50 rupees.”

Straining, I somehow spoke, “But I have no rupees.”

The onlooker warned, “Then you will remain like this,” and nonchalantly departed.

My mind went blank, and fear and humiliation rushed through me. Everyone stared at me, a strange foreigner encircled by a snake. Perhaps they thought I was part of the act. A painfully long half hour passed with the snake licking its lips and from time to time staring into my eyes. All the while, the old snake charmer played his hypnotic song and the cobras swayed.

Thoughts seared my consciousness. It was only my first day in India. Gazing at the teeth of the snake I wondered, Is this the place I risked my life for? What would my mother and father think to see their son so far from home in this condition? With no other recourse, I closed my eyes and prayed. If you have something for me to do in this world, Lord, please help me. As I offered this simple prayer I felt a small burst of inner peace.

 

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