I got up from bed that morning at around 7 O’ clock. Feeling groggy from the frequent sleep disruptions caused by my daughter in the night, I walked lazily into the kitchen to get my usual morning caffeine fix. While opening the door to the outside , I felt something fall on me. Thinking that it was a lizard, I stepped back only to see a slimy intruder which was not a lizard but a snake. I had no idea how it had crawled its way in between the main door and the mosquito net door. Sneaky snake, ain’t it? With a jet black body around 2 feet long, with ragged pale yellowish bands, it resembled a krait. (After checking in the internet about snakes having similar characteristics as this one, I came to the conclusion that it could have been any of the three snakes, viz, wolf snake, krait,monocled cobra, seen in the northern parts of Bengal. Whereas the first one is non-venomous, the other two are lethally venomous. My cousin Meghana, who is much learned than me in the given field, is quite sure that it is a wolf snake. I give credit to her and acknowledge that it is what she says it is.) It was definitely a juvenile. I had accidently stepped on it and had agitated it. It raised its small diamond shaped head, arched its neck backward, only to come down on my right foot with a swift strike. It was a split-second moment. No. It was more of a fraction of a second moment. And in the very next fraction of a second moment, I found myself crushing the snake’s head under my foot. I never expected it to try to strike me. The first time, I didn’t step on it purposely. But the second time, Yes. While squishing the snake under my foot, the thought that came to my mind was a question from a Situation -Reaction Test from my school days.
Fill in the blanks:
If you came face to face with a snake, you would —–
(b) scream at the top of my voice.
(c) scream and run away.
(d) lock the door and run away.
e) kill the snake.
Since the last one and a half years, we’ve been living in the outskirts of the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary in North Bengal. Snakes, monkeys, water buffalo, wild pigs and elephants are frequent visitors to our surroundings. Occasionally, a leopard has also been spotted during night time. This was not the first time a snake was visiting us. Another one had entered my kitchen exactly two weeks back. And same time last year, one had entered our corridor and another one was spotted in our garage. It was because of the timing. It was the month of August. Rains had started and since the marshy areas nearby the forest had been waterlogged, snakes had started crossing over to more dry zones (meaning human settlements nearby) and had started to make themselves comfortable. Other than snakes and rats, no other animal has ever trespassed into our house. I don’t know about the weird coincidence, but each time my husband had gone out of station, we have always had a snake visiting our house. Three times I had let them go, because they didn’t bother me.
But this time, it was different. I tried to kill the snake, not because I wanted to kill it, but because it tried to hurt me, and also because I didn’t want my toddler daughter to be on harm’s way. I found a small broom at arm’s distance. I took it and started hitting it. It is not easy to kill a snake what with a small broom and your feet. So after trying hard for a while, I found out that the snake was motionless. Thinking that it was dead, I ran to get my camera to click some pictures. This time I wanted to show my husband some proof. As I was clicking away,the doorbell rang and my daughter woke up from sleep and came running for me with her usual crying and stuff. She wanted me to pick her up and hold her in my arms. Her tantrums as well as the incessant ringing of the bell disturbed my focus. While this commotion was going on, the snake suddenly, ‘rose from the dead’, and without even bothering to say goodbye, crawled out through the open door and disappeared in the bushes.
I uploaded the pictures on facebook to show my faraway husband, how our slimy visitor looked. The pictures became an instant hit in my friends’ and family circle , because unlike them, I was not living in a concrete jungle. I was actually living nearby a real jungle. So, it was but natural that the pictures of the snake elicited many a response.
After seeing the pics, my mom, panicky and anxious for my safety, called me over phone to tell me that snakes don’t forget and would inevitably avenge those who hurt them. That the mama snake would come to me seeking revenge for hurting her young one. It doesn’t matter where I am. No matter where I go, it will follow me and try to kill me. Ohh…mom, thanks for that ‘wonderful’ info. I know she must have got it from the ‘snake-lore’ of India that the ‘n’ number of Bollywood snake movies have projected. But its a no-brainer…Snakes are not avengers..I don’t think they remember either the human who hurt them or the place where they got hurt. My mother went on to warn me to clean up all the cupboards, walls, floor and all of the kitchen area, since the snake must have spit venom while I was bashing it. Well ! Mom, thank you for being concerned about me, but I don’t think Indian snakes have the ability to spit venom. Only the African spitting cobra spits venom when agitated, and this is India, not Africa.
My husband commented that since no snake has ever entered the house when he was around, meant that he acted as some sort of a natural deterrent for all slimy intruders.
My sister-in-law and her husband called me up with genuine concern for me and the little one. My brother-in-law was so petrified seeing the picture of the snake, that he said he would have fainted if he had been in my place. He suggested that my name should be recommended for the gallantry awards the next Republic Day. They gave me helpful tips on how to ward off snakes and other reptiles by sprinkling garlic water, asafoetida or kerosene at the doorways. Some other concerned friends again gave me some illogical no-brainers like , ‘Oh..you should have killed it and not let it go, coz it will come back with its partner to bite you.’
My younger brother exclaimed that I was trying to showcase Woman. Vs. Wild by uploading my stunts with the snake on facebook. That, just because it was a positive reinforcement to have escaped without getting bitten by the snake, I must now be feeling like ‘the King of the World.’He also commented that I must have locked the house and and got out with my daughter to get help. Yup…what he is saying is true. Any normal ladylike lady would resort to either of the first four options or all the four combined if she came face to face with a snake. Or would get bitten by it. What my brother meant to say was that I am not very dainty or ladylike. Yes I admit I am not a very womanly woman as most of the men expect women to be. And that may be one of the reasons that I ‘jumped’ in to act. But another more practical reason for my behaviour was that I just didn’t have the ‘luxury’ to act ladylike and call for help. It was because it was quite early in the morning, and if I locked the house with the snake inside, I may not know were the pesky little snake will get access to, all nooks, corners, cupboards and the like, were it can sneak in and hide itself from public view. I also knew that I cannot just barge into my neighbours’ house with a fussy toddler in hand, and expect them to be happy with us and treat us well, as long as help arrived and somebody finally caught hold of the snake and finally we can move back to our place. So sometimes, you got to do what you’ve got to do.
Some of my girlfriends remarked that I was ‘super woman.’ One of them commented that I was super- ‘crazy’ too.
One of my cousins, Meghana, who is a strict vegetarian, thought that I was a ‘snake-killer.’ She forwarded me addresses and phone numbers of some animal rights groups in my neighbouring area, hoping that the next time I encounter a snake or any other wild creature, I would call them in for animal rescue instead of bashing it up and leaving it half dead. I am not a vegetarian. Although we belong to the same family, what she doesn’t know is that I am infact, a carnivore of the highest order. If I had been Mrs.Bear Grylls, roaming in the wild with Mr.Bear Grylls, with nothing to eat and drink, and suddenly I found a snake, I would have happily killed it, impaled the whole snake on a stick or something and cooked it over an open fire for dinner. And as I had mentioned before, I acknowledge that she is correct. It resembles a common wolf snake, found in these parts of India.
A friend of mine cracked a joke that if I had been in the Garden of Eden instead of Eve, I would have bashed up Satan in serpent’s disguise, instead of falling for its sweet words and plucking the forbidden fruit, and paradise wouldn’t have been lost for all mankind. Thinking about what he said, I felt that it wasn’t a bad idea after all. Yes, If I were Eve, we would all be still living in the Garden of Eden.
When I showed the snake pics to my domestic help, the lady bowed before the pics saying it was ‘nag devta'(meaning, goddess of snakes). She was very particular that the snake was none other than the cobra. She had just come back from her native village in Cooch Behar, after observing Nag Panchami last week. Nag panchami or snake festival is observed in India on the fifth day of the month of Shravan (July-August). My domestic help said that I have been blessed by the Nag devta. That was the reason the snake didn’t harm me even when I tried to hurt it. And according to her, it also meant that ‘no snake in the world would ever try to harm me.’ She said that such type of people are supposed to have ‘super powers.’ Well, I don’t know about that.
Last, but not the least, my mother-in-law called me up a couple of days after the snake incident, and asked me to explain it in detail. While I was telling her the story, she asked me plainly, ‘But, what if it had bitten you?’ I didn’t answer her question. I just giggled.
No. I didn’t kill it. But poor thing, it definitely needs some hospital time. Looking back, I really feel sorry for what happened between me and the snake.
Dear snake, I am so sorry for hurting you. It was wrong, very wrong on my part to have behaved the way I behaved. There was so much going on in my mind at that point of time, and I didn’t know anything else to do other than hit you back. I hope you’re okay now. Please forgive me and please don’t tell your mama to come after me.
And for myself, I need to buy a good broom since as you can see the sad remains of the old one doesn’t suffice to sweep the floor now.
And one more thing. No,the snake definitely didn’t carry a diamond on its forehead.