The Chronicles of Snake Charming

I have a theory on “why India was stereotyped as country of snake charmers”. Let me walk you through that with some history, a book review, and eventually, the reason will reveal itself.

For almost 15 centuries the Middle-Eastern Merchants (Jewish, then Arab) meticulously monopolized the stuff that flows into Europe from India (and SE Asia). These included the goods (cotton, Spices), Science (Astronomy, Algebra and so on) and culture (Chess, etc.). While they did a fine job selling these, they kept most information as top secret ensuring dependency and exclusivity.

However, the Europeans were a curious lot. They wanted little more knowledge on all exotic stuff such as elephant army, cotton farming, Indoor plumbing toilets and so on. The great Marco-Polo had increased their curiously through his chronicles. Between the centuries of Alexander’s Army and Portuguese colonizers, there were good 18 centuries during which, Europeans pretty much did not know anything about India.

And whenever they asked an Arab, he maintained: “Dude.. I’ve already promised you 30 min delivery on Pepper shipment otherwise one Pizza free for you! don’t ask anything more than that !!” So what do Europeans do? They invent stuff! They let their imagination run wild and went to on write chronicles of their travelogues of India, China and the rest of the known world. Even if they did not get a chance to visit east!

One of such published literature was “The Travels of Sir John Mandeville “. A book which was published in 1357 eventually went on to become instant superhit best-seller! The book was work of pure imagination, often childish. The stories explained was of literally out of this world. There were dragons, One-eyed giants, goat faced people and so on and on and on.

I will leave you with one illustration from this book. Image 5 is for Cotton Tree.

In his defence, it did indeed answer many questions on the rest of the known world. For example:

  • How does wool manufacture? Answer Chicken: and I quote him “In that country be white hens without feathers, but they bear white wool as sheep do here.
  • How do Camels survive the desert? By eating air! And I quote his book”And there be also in that country many camels; that is a little beast as a goat, that is wild, and he liveth by the air and eateth nought, ne drinketh nought, at no time.
  • Cotton Tree : Answer: Cotton and Lambs grow together from Tree.There grew there [India] a wonderful tree which bore tiny lambs on the endes of its branches. These branches were so pliable that they bent down to allow the lambs to feed when they are hungrie.“.

This, in fact, makes a lot of sense – Wool maketh cloths, cotton maketh fabrics – Indian Lamb must grow on a tree along with cotton. Genius!

Imagine this, 600+ years later the book still sells for $9.99 on kindle!

Let’s fast forward 7 centuries. If someone went to the same audience and said India’s favourite pastime is Snake Charming, and they commute to the office through flying carpet, they would believe him right? Wouldn’t they?


  1. I have a feeling that Arabs did not claim the number system as theirs. It was some over-excited Roman emperor attributed it as Arabic number system (and later Indo-Arabic). I don’t have sources on this one. If anyone does, please share.
  2. Decimal system can not be attributed to India alone. All cultures who have 10 fingers independently developed Decimal systems. India’s contribution is Decimal Placeholder system (i.e. 0, 10^1, 10^2… Right to left) !. Without this, we can not imagine how computation would’ve worked. !
  3. To give you an analogy to above – inventing the wheel was probably very easy – you just sit an observe rolling stuff. But the person developed axle was genius!

A little bit about Mumbai waiters

Mumbai mistreats her waiters!. I am not talking ‘marginal’ rudeness – a relatively significant degree of misbehavior as compare to other megacities. Surprisingly, not a single post has been written about this issue in the entire internet except some discussion on Reddit. Looks like, not many are batting for waiter community.

Okay, let me put my case. A couple of years back, I had an opportunity to travel to Mumbai and to stay there for a month. It was for a business trip, hence obviously, my staple meals were at Mumbai’s restaurants. My experience started on the same evening I landed in Mumbai. The gentleman who was waiting on me was literally peed his pants for getting my order wrong. I had to beg him to calm down. He thanked me for not abusing his female blood-relatives, which he says, is a general trend for the crime of getting an order wrong!!

After this, such a situation was Baader-Meinhof [2] experience for me!

Over the next four weeks, I experienced at least 3 such instances where waiters sweating for ridiculous things such as serving spoons for noodles and forks for biriyanis. Apparently, Mumbai focuses her (maybe his) days of frustration on the last person they meet before they retire for the night – a waiter.

I have seen a customer pouring his drinks on the floor just because it had an extra ice cube in it. It apparently diluted his otherwise perfect drink!! (There is a scene in Movie Satya which is very much relatable)


About a year later, I happen to dine with an acquaintance who dropped by from Mumbai. I confronted him with this observation, just after his yelling session (at waiter) related to some watermarks on his plate. Unsurprisingly, he denied the trend and said he did not observe any such a thing.!

This post might have come as a generalization on Mumbaikars, I wish I could make it more specific. The only fact I can confirm is that the yellers were never women. Women just sat next there uncomfortably and embarrassed while their heroes ran their mouth.


  1. Having stayed in all megacities including Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune, and Bangalore. I have seen many such instances across, but Mumbai seems to have it at a higher degree of occurrence.
  2. Baader-Meinhof is a frequency phenomenon. Once you observe something interesting, suddenly you will start following them everywhere. For example, suppose you are watching the news and Arnab says something with a new word-usage; say… ‘Categorically’. Then you switch channels; Rahul Gandhi interview ‘… I categorically, oppose….’; Switch to DD for Ramayana “Matoshri… I categorically agree…”. Then Switch to Sports Pakistani wins the match “… Boys categorically Played well…”. This is an oversimplification, but you get the point.

Missing the fun part

General perspective of “fun” during events and travel has changed a lot, or I probably belong to older generation. Now, people are worried more on documenting fun stuff happening rather than actually enjoying them. Concern is more on bringing the proof home, what if people don’t believe you? Moreover, this documentation proof will have more weightage if it is posted on the spot, through a Smartphone!

Photography now includes a bunch of clicks in timer mode and “photographer’s” head inserted in every damn photo, of which there are four of each kind – horizontal, vertical, zoomed out and in. Just in case first one doesn’t come up well. I get more irritated when, that photographer chooses me over the timer, to do this dirty work.

past to present - at the gigs
People care too much about documenting experiences rather than enjoy them while they happen.

image via

Alright, context is Xmas holidays (BTW, my status is “not going anywhere in this freakin freezin cold”). I almost booked a package trip to Europe where they promise to show six countries in seven days – on a bus! I read reviews about them, fact is – they certainly do. They keep up their word of showing you all six countries in time, on schedule. But in order to ensure that they will give you only 15 minutes for each famous place! “Ah, this is Eifel tower, there is ticket counter – be back in 15 minutes!”. This is not for me, this package for that bunch of photographers, who will manage to click fifteen hundred photos in fifteen minutes, with of course – hugging, pushing, pulling and hanging Eifel tower from a distance.

I don’t have to prove anyone that I’ve been to so many countries with so many monuments visited (from the outside). My travel idea is different– an old school one. I miss those days, when my friends had time for real travel, fix a start date/time, fix a vague destination, keep end date flexible and just start! These things don’t happen any more.

Some samples, now, if you did not understand my irritation yet:

  • please trust me on this; I am not making this up. Upon a question how was your Scotland trip, one of my friends gave feedback: “Edinburgh has nothing, just some old buildings. Rest of the Scotland just mountains and cold, total waste of money!!”
  • In Welsh trip our group “democratically” chose not to take mountain railway, since it was expensive!
  • I haven’t met a single guy who agrees with me that; a walk on south bank is better than a round in London eye.
  • can you believe Madame Tussauds is one of top ten attractions in London! All you can do here stand next to celebrity wax model and click!

Hope you guys don’t have these problems this holiday.