Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Sunday, Feb 04, 2007


A scaly affair
A snake in the house makes for more drama than expected.

Illustration: Surendra

Come quickly, the household staff telephoned Anthony and pleaded. There's a python in the backyard eating one of our ducks. Sure enough, Anthony, hurrying to the yard, saw a magnificent specimen lying in a stupor, its middle swollen with fowl.

Snakes in Kerala estates not being exactly an uncommon phenomenon, the gawpers had all gone back to whatever it was they'd been doing. One of the more intrepid workers picked up the somnolent serpent and put it in the nearest "prison", an ancient washing cauldron that lay in antediluvian splendour to one side of the yard. The reptile seemed only too happy to sleep off the banquet.

The officials arrive
After which, Anthony called the officials. The concerned officer was "not in seat" and it took some time and a few more calls before a couple of men, both wearing pristine white shirts neatly buttoned at the wrists, turned up. They didn't look too eager to open the prehistoric washing machine and take a closer look at the captive. "Hmmm," said one. "So it is a python?" Anthony bit back the retort trembling on his lips: "Well, actually, I was hoping you'd tell me what it was."

The second official pursed his mouth and said firmly, "You can't kill it." Anthony took a deep breath and said, "No, I don't want to. That is why I called you." At which the two officials retired for some private consultation. A more confused duo Anthony was yet to see.

It seemed they had a problem. The "official" place to release the snake was in a forest 250 km away. "You mean there are no forests hereabouts to release it in," asked Anthony incredulously. No, the snake could be released only at the "official" place, he was told. "Can your worker accompany us there?" asked one of the men. "No, he is needed here," said Anthony, firmly.

It seemed there was yet another problem. They had no transport. "Can you," began one man, caught the look in Anthony's eye and stopped. Another whispered powwow followed, at the end of which they announced that they would take the snake to the forest ... by bus. Anthony had, by this time, mastered the art of keeping his face expressionless.

A gunny bag and some rope were fetched. The forest officials looked at both as if they'd never seen such things before. Then they stood to one side and watched while Anthony's men deftly put the still indolent snake into the sack and secure the mouth of the sack. This took some time since the reptile had curled about the rusted handle of the cauldron, so a tugging game ensued; finally, the snake tired of the game and abruptly, let go.

Sent home
The handing-over ceremony was brief and rather unceremonious, since it involved thrusting the sack into the extremely reluctant hands of the officials. After which, they departed and Anthony heaved a sigh of relief. Maybe dense jungles (even if they were a 250 km away) would be better for such a resplendent python, he reflected charitably.

One of the snake catchers/ workers remarked sardonically, "It will end up as "fish" in the nearest toddy shop, saar, wait and see." Only, it didn't. The next day, Anthony read that a snake had been found tied to a milestone just outside the town. Now he's hoping to meet one or both of those white-shirted men, preferably with a length of rope at hand, and maybe a milestone or two close by.

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