“Snakes can lead to triumph, just as ladders can be descended: my grandfather, knowing I would die anyway, administered the cobra poison. The family stood and watched while the poison spread through the child’s body… and six hours later, my temperature had returned to normal. After that, my growth-rate lost its phenomenal aspects; but something was given in exchange for what was lost; life, and an early awareness of the ambiguity of snakes” (169).
This event is a significant moment in Saleem’s life in two major ways. The first being that had the doctor not given him the poison, he would not have survived. Secondly, this event gives Saleem a unique perspective on good and bad and, in conjunction with his fascination with Snakes and Ladders, chance.
The game is based purely on chance and not at all on skill. Because ladders lead a player closer to victory and snakes take them farther away, it could be looked at simply as a game of good and bad with the ladders representing good and snakes representing bad. His life experience showed him that these things usually happen in pairs and that good and bad often balance out. After hearing of the assassination of Gandhi, his family lived in fear of an outbreak of conflict, the snake. “But for every snake there is a ladder,” and they discover that the assassin was not Muslim.
However, Saleem’s experience with the snake venom showed him that snakes can be a savior. Even though snakes are traditionally a sign of evil, he owes his life to their existence. Without snakes, there would be no venom, and without venom there would have been no cure for his typhoid. So in this situation, the snake is ironically the ladder. But as in all situations, there is also a metaphorical “snake” which in this case is the loss of his rapid growth-rate.