had been let loose. The first of them to be bit
ten by the serpent would, naturally, cry out. im
mediately a snake charmer would open the door
of the room and bring the other out into safety.
bugam dasi would belong to the survivor.
before the two were shut up in the dark
room, my father asked bugam dasi if she would
perform the sacred temple dance before him
once more. she agreed to do so and, by torch
light, to the music of the snake charmer’s pipe,
she danced, with her significant, measured,
gliding movements, bending and twisting like
a cobra. Then my father and uncle were shut
up in the room with the serpent. instead of a
shriek of horror, what the listeners heard was a
groan blended with a wild, goosefleshraising
peal of laughter. When the door was opened,
my uncle walked out of the dark room. His face
was ravaged and old, and his hair—the terror
aroused by the sound of the cobra’s body as it
slid across the floor, by its furious hissing, by its
glittering eyes, by the thought of its poisonous
fangs and of its loathsome body shaped like a
long neck terminating in a spoonshaped pro
tuberance and a tiny head, the horror of all this
had changed my uncle by the time he walked
out of the room into a whitehaired old man.
in accordance with the terms of the con
tract bugam dasi belonged henceforth to my
uncle. The frightful thing was that it was not
certain that the survivor actually was my uncle.
The “trial” had deranged his mind and he had
completely lost his memory. He did not recog
nize the infant, and it was this that made them
decide he must be my uncle.
Sadegh Hedayat, from The blind owl. Born in
1903 into an aristocratic family, which a few years
later played a role in the Persian Constitutional
Revolution, Hedayat studied dentistry and
engineering in Belgium and France before returning
in 1930 to Tehran, where he published his first book
of short stories, buried alive. Regarded as one of
Iran’s greatest writers of the twentieth century, he
composed plays, novels, and criticism and translated
works by Franz Kafka and Jean-Paul Sartre. He
committed suicide in Paris in 1951.
Jean Stapleton, Carroll O’Connor, Sally Struthers, and Rob Reiner in an episode of All in the Family,
created by Norman Lear, c. 1975.