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Saturday, March 25, 2006 

Rattle and Hum

The first sign that something was wrong was in the frenzied and raucous behaviour of the crows, swooping and rising. I slowed down and went to the stormwater drain on the side of the road, and saw the snake. Even as I watched, it struggled to raise itself over the smooth sides, and slipped back halfway.

A prominent bulge midway led to my initial guess that it was a baby python. It had probably swallowed something a bit too much, and its movements were sluggish. Or maybe it was just tired, after several such futile attempts.

I looked around, and almost absurdly, the area, overgrown with rough grasses and shrubs, did not seem to have a single tree nearby from which I could break off a branch. Feeling slightly foolish at my trepidation, I gingerly placed a hand on its tail. Furious hissing resulted, and I hastily backed off.

It’s a python, I told myself. The vast majority of the snakes in India, especially this part of the country, are harmless. The scales were not diamond shaped, which fact, I dimly recalled, was supposed to indicate it was not poisonous. Snakes do not have the ability to whip back over their length, so if one lifted the snake by its tail, it should be OK. Thus fortified, I tried to lift the snake again. Or rather, I managed to wrap my fingers around its tail and lift it an inch or so off the ground. If the hissing earlier was furious, the snake went into frenzy this time. Again, a hasty backpedal and communing with self resulted.

Look, you REALLY think you know enough about snakes, asked a voice. Well, it should be safe enough, don’t be a wuss, said another. Yeah, right, you know it should be safe enough, the point is that the snake may not, said another, and I never had found that joke funny earlier too. I am only trying to help, said a voice. Refer earlier reply, said the other. What do you intend, say here, snakie, snakie, nice snakie to convince it ? Run a bit ahead, you’ll get a branch, suggested one. Look at the crows, and the snake is already tired, said another. I filled in time by using the phone to snap a couple of pics, and the snake showed no signs of amiability with respect to the helpful bleeding heart human trying to help it out. Yeah, super, I thought, idiot, if only you had spent that energy in climbing.

One lovely fact is that our Bharat Varsh never lacks for rubbernecking crowds. 5.45 AM on a deserted hill road, with no soul in sight, when I stopped. 20 minutes later, the list included watchman from somewhere going back after night shift, a family out for Sunday morning walk, and three assorted tramps with no credible reason to be there. All of whom seemed to spring out of nowhere. Here, use my stick to kill it, urged watchman. I requested him in polite tones to put it where the sun did not shine, and he lapsed into aggrieved silence. The husband, thankfully, proclaimed in loud tones that there was nothing to be frightened of, this snake was non-poisonous. Son looked up with admiring eyes and wife clung for support to the intrepid hero, who maintained a safe distance from the drain. The tramps were discussing in avid tones about the possibility of cooking and whether it would be better to boil it or just turn it over a fire. I noticed their bravado too stopped of actually approaching the snake.

The sun was starting to come up, reminding me that I had a long way to go. Inspiration struck, and I asked the tramps to help me lift up a couple of stones. Their eagerness seemed to indicate approval of my supposed plan to crush the snake, but it was replaced by sullen silence when told to just lay them a couple of feet ahead of the snake. I prodded the lazy sonofawhatnot in the tail again. It hissed, and I said wearily, less of that, pal. Just move. Eventually it trundled onto the first stone, and then emboldened by the grip, climbed up and out.

The sun was really hot for the last 45 minutes of the walk back, and I cursed snake, bleeding heart, incipient summer, hill and world in general heartily.

A friend rang up a day before Holi. A common acquaintance had died, leaving behind 6-year old in hospital with a heart defect. One sympathised, with the detachment of distance and lack of contact, and gave useful tips on change of bank accounts and insurance. He rang again a couple of days back. Major paperwork had been completed, and accounts and insurance and pensions taken care of. The kid was now safe to travel. Parents had arrived and attempted to take care and needed care. One had been remedied, the other was being done. Tickets had been booked and hell he had a backlog of work. And he couldn’t believe it, one moment the man had been rummaging for money in wallet and the next moment he had keeled over dead, and a puddle of blood was on the floor. And things would never be the same and… Of course they won’t, I said. Go to the place and see, they would have placed a rack over the discoloured tiles and it will have strips of Frito-Lays wafers and shaving blades now 5 in one, newly introduced. No sanitary napkins, because in India PoP buys are mainly made by men. He paused, and asked in different tones, what PoP meant. Point of Purchase, I said neutrally.

Slapping, I believe, is not the recommended way to stop incipient hysteria, but it is effective. Err, yes, he said, got to go, lots of backlog. And hey, I’ll be in your town sometime next week. Zindagi, mere ghar aana, I said, and bring your own bottle. Heh, he said, better rush, and I’ll see you when.

And I looked at the phone, and the pictures of the snake. And wondered if helping with bank accounts and stormwater drains, all add up to subliminal obeisance to unacknowledged gods, urgent pleas to unknown ears. Or, like long distance affection, a desperate attempt to put together a puzzle in which one knows a piece is missing.


A naturalist I know has just informed me that

a) It was a Russells's viper. One of the few venomous kinds around in India.

b)Russell's Vipers, and rat snakes to some extent, CAN whip around length of body, so holding it by tail not exactly recommended.

c) Stoopid of me to publish theories without verification.

Well, OK. Dear reader, if you are trusting enough to fiddle with snakes on my sayso, mmmmmm ....

Would you know my name, if I saw you in Heaven ?


Very well-written and for once, something I could follow. And look ma, no ghazals!

A: :) ... praise from higher planes indeed! And look ma, no guzzling either!
errr... perhaps that explains the no ghazals :)

nice writing style. enjoyed the read.

Very nice. Could have killed yourself, wiseguy. But since you didn't, and came back to write this - very nice.

Am surprised at the lack of guzzles though. Considering where it headed in the latter half.

M :Ohh, ya doan get off THAT easy !

Nope, we take reality stone cold sober. It's only life we show a guzzle to!

I saw a python in Bharatpur but had it started moving, I would have been scared stiff.

By the way, do write something about your teaching experiences some time :)

Never done a first aid course? Never seen pics of the BIG FOUR? But for the grace of god...and we'd never have known.

Mridula : If it had moved, you would have been scared stiff. Hmmm. Looks like you were moving and it had been scared into stiffness!

As for the teaching, :)

Pec: Yes, but slept through most of it. No, funnily enough have seen the remainder in real life plenty times, never had come across this. ( And no, I did not think they were pythons either. Wide berths given and plenty screaming for help).

That last para was wonderful, especially the last sentence. Also got my word for the day... rubbernecking! Had I read that word out of context, I would have assumed it meant something entirely different. :)

Ooops - the BIG FOUR would be big game in Africa.These would be the BIG THREE - unless u want to give the King Cobra its due and count it as separate from cobras.


PS: Seen the remainder??? all of em? King Cobra? - if yes? *deep bow*

pec : Seen King Cobras, yes. But they are too rare to be a part of the Big 4.

1.Spectacled Cobras : There is a place in India where, I kid you not, they are part of the local scenery, and are commonly found. Local experience has it that will not attack unless attacked. And given its size, difficult to step on accidentally or something.

Russell's vipers : As seen, all too easily mistaken for baby pythons :)

Saw-Scaled Viper : Seen once. Loudly screamed and climbed a bench, in college. Another revelation was that I thought only the saw scaled mattered and the Russell's variety was an exotic one not commonly around :)

Common Krait: V common, seen several times.

Oh well, one lives and learns. Or just learns :)

Chetan : Rubbernecking... yep, I can see the doubletake :)

This is a much better way to see it though ...


King Cobra - where seen?

NO WAY - anyone could mistake a russles for anything but, or a python, baby or otherwise, for anything but. The triple chain of diamonds is SO VERY distinctive - nothing else like it.

U forget the monocled cobra, the pit vipers and the banded krait.


Pex : As indicated : half baked knowledge here,googled a bit. Stopped since scope of ignorance seems to be expanding!!

Will call naturalist again. Only, since last reaction was "If you found this cute, please die", I think I shall have to lay pff the hissing motifs!


Snakes and banks and long distance affection? Methinks there's a connection somewhere. Care to tell :-P?

That was me.


Me: The moment we figure that one out, we most definitely shall! But as indicated, subliminal obeisances, puzzles with pieces missing ...

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