June 23, 2022

#08-215: Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

Rikki faces Nag

Note: This story was included in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book; it is another example of the author's keen observations of interactions between the animals of India.

Get Ready: Have you ever had an unusual pet? Or do you know anyone who has? What was it like?

A mongoose is a small carnivorous animal native to Europe, Africa, and Asia, not unlike a weasel. Timon, Pumbaa's friend in The Lion King, is a meerkat, an African form of mongoose.

But the most famous (fictional) mongoose of all time is from India: Rudyard Kipling's "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi."

"Rikki," as he was called, was named for the chattering sound he made. When he was still very young, a summer flood washed him out of his burrow, and he floated until he passed out, waking up in the middle of a hot garden path.

Standing over him was a boy named Teddy who said to his father, "Here's a dead mongoose. Let's have a funeral." But Teddy's mother suggested they dry him off and wait, as he might not be dead.

Sure enough, Rikki awoke, and quickly became part of the family, sitting on Teddy's shoulder and tickling him under the chin. He roamed the house in the daytime looking into things (mongooses are very curious) and at night he slept on Teddy's bed--when he wasn't patrolling the house.

One day he went out to explore the garden, where he met Darzee the tailorbird and his wife, but also came face to face with Nag, a king cobra a meter-and-a-half (or nearly five feet) long. While he spoke to Nag, the snake's wife Nagaina struck at him from behind, but thanks to Darzee's warning, she missed.

That afternoon Rikki killed Karait, a small snake just as deadly as a cobra, when it was about to bite Teddy. The mongoose can kill a snake by a well-placed bite in the spine.

As you can guess, the family offered Rikki plenty of food that night! But he ate little, knowing that "a full meal makes a slow mongoose." He was still thinking of Nag and Nagaina.

That night, Rikki overheard the two cobras making a plan to kill the family so Rikki would leave and the garden would be theirs again. After a ferocious fight, Rikki killed Nag in the bathroom where he had lain in wait for Teddy's father. The next day, Rikki destroyed most of Nagaina's eggs, but afterward he found her on the veranda ready to strike Teddy!

Using the cobra's last remaining egg as bait, he lured her away. Teddy was safe, but Nagaina snatched the egg and raced for her burrow. Rikki caught up to her and clenched her tail in his teeth: a very dangerous move, as he was dragged into the burrow behind her. Darzee, watching from above, assumed him dead, but after a time he emerged triumphant. From that day forward he kept Teddy's garden free of cobras.

At Nag's death, Darzee sang a song, part of which went:

Sing to your fledglings again,
Mother, oh lift up your head!
Evil that plagued us is slain,
Death in the garden lies dead.
Terror that hid in the roses is impotent⁠--flung on the dunghill and dead!


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. burrow
  2. carnivorous
  3. chattering
  4. clenched
  5. ferocious
  6. funeral
  7. lured
  8. spine
  9. triumphant
  10. veranda

  1. a hole in which an animal lives
  2. an open porch around a house
  3. a ceremony for the dead
  4. grasped tightly
  5. victorious; successful
  6. the backbone
  7. attracted; tempted
  8. meat-eating
  9. fierce; intense
  10. making noises quickly, like a monkey

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for June 23, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. a; 2. h; 3. j; 4. d; 5. i; 6. c; 7. g; 8. f; 9. e; 10. b