15
Nov
10

Mrs. Naja naja

The term ‘beasts’ belongs properly to lions, leopards and tigers, wolves and foxes, dogs and monkeys, and all others (except snakes)….’The Peterborough Bestiary’.

I wonder why? I mean, why not snakes? They can be fairly beastly.

I am not saying that I find them repulsive; it’s just that I am not particularly enchanted by the serpentis species. Incommodiously, they slink around with great stealth; you can’t hear nor smell them, and snakes….they have this hissterical effect on people!

Then, there are these incredible myths and legends and stories and superstitions attached to them, e.g., cobras mate with rat snakes; some snakes grow a beard as they get older; if a snake is killed its partner (invariably the female) will trace you – no matter wherever you are; snakes drink milk; snakes carry a diamond in/on their forehead; flying snakes can pierce somebody’s forehead or put out their eyes; there are “two- headed” snakes, and so forth!

One grows-up, listening to these fantastic tales with people swearing and vouching for something that their grandparents had probably heard from their grandparents! The innumerable festivals with untold deities, sub-deities and other over-enthusiastic religious fervours of the homonis species adds to the ever growing clan of believers who continue to respect, fear and worship snakes, mainly the cobra.

Incidentally, it was the snake that entered the Garden of Eden. Hmmmmm…Isn’t it so? Not the lion or the leopard or the tiger or the wolf or the fox or the dog or the monkey – but the snake – that slithered in!

So, here is a story from times of yore, about a Naja naja that skulked into my life, which, I am sad to say I had to ultimately kill.

*

This happened almost one score and five years ago and it didn’t even come about in a forest. But then, those days the cities hadn’t turned into concrete jungles. There were trees and other foliage all around and one could still see and hear birds.

It was an old house I was living in. There were new residential complexes coming up slowly all around, but we still had plenty of greenery and fields left untouched. Ours was the oldest building and we had maximum trees scattered within the compound. And, there were snakes. On many occasions I had seen the beautiful Common Wolf Snake; the Indian Rat Snake; once very fleetingly the Brahminy Worm Snake in a termite mound; and most noticeably this big, large and long cobra with an attitude problem.

The cobra was held sacrosanct by the neighbourhood. Their faith in the ‘nāg devata’ was so strong that there were accounts of the snake entering kitchens to drink milk. And it was said that there was a ‘Mrs. Naja naja’ too, who dutifully accompanied her mate and always remained at a respectable ‘sati savitri’ distance.

*

Thrice I had come face-to-face with the cobra.

Each time it had puffed, raised itself, spread his hood and smiled lasciviously at me. But I had remained outside its striking distance. We would stare at each other refusing to budge and eventually it would flicker its tongue and go away.

I knew that one day I would have to kill it or it would get me.

*

It was a tranquil afternoon and I was contemplating a snooze when a chorus of alarm calls shattered the peace – Mynas, Bulbuls, Oriental Magpie Robins, White-throated Fantails and Sat bhaiyas along with the sharp chiridth chiridth chit chit of the squirrels.

Gradually the clamour became shrill and desperate, indicating a threat more dangerous than a mere cat. This prompted an investigation.

Ignoring the look of disapproval from the pampered-half-breed-golden retriever sprawled on the bed, I made my way outside. The congregation was above the huge terracotta pots that were kept in one corner of the open verandah.

Those who have been blessed with wondrously enchanting sojourns and stays within forests and have really learnt to listen to nature – will appreciate the fact of constantly being vigilant. It is a matter of life and death. And so, one learns to react to alarm calls and gradually tunes the mind to the various fine points of such calls indicating different kinds of threats. Mind you, total silence or absence of a particular type of noise can also be an alarm call!

But I digress…..

The pattern and sound of the alarm calls indicated that it was not a four-legged animal. The threat still existed but whatever was worrying them was not moving any more. The squirrels had eased down their danger levels though they were still concerned as they chit chitted and fluffed their tails, but some were relaxed enough to nibble their food. The birds, however, especially the resident Fantails were still at it. They made flying-sorties over the pots and then went back to flutter nervously near their nest. They all pointedly looked in one direction. It had to be a snake.

*

Warily I checked the surrounding area – flower pots, tree trunks, grass, and hedge – but was not able to spot any thing. So, I made my way around the cluster of pots, ready to jump away at the slightest sound or movement. I could identify no danger and mind you I was looking for a snake.

The cries of the birds indicated how dismayed they were at my futile efforts and I think it was in sheer disgust that a Fantail zoomed past my left ear and hovered centimetres above a flower-pot and without a break swerved and flew away! The remarkable thing was that the troublemaker had been identified, and lo and behold, sight was awarded to the most bungling species. The threat was clear. There it was curled under the huge terracotta pot; between three lichen covered bricks – our, Mr. Naja naja!

*

I could neither see his head or tail but I was positive that the split tongue tasted me even as I stood there.

The birds seemed to be chirping merrily, all occupying bandstand seat, as it were, knowing very well that a member of the meanest, weakest and most dangerous species on earth – humans – was at the moment their ally, and they waited for events to unfold.

I threw some sand, then pebbles and mud balls and finally a few well-aimed stones to no avail. The cobra just tightened his coils a little more and remained where it was with no indication of its extremities.

I managed to locate a long bamboo stick and very carefully poked the snake with it. I was awarded with a very fast, oily movement and a ferocious hisssssssss.

At this particular moment, I only wanted the snake to leave the compound before it became dark, and so, I gave him another prod.

With inconceivable speed it lunged at me and I hopped aside to avoid its attack. The bandstand of birds disintegrated as they all flew up and began their shrill calls, joined now, by the excited barking of ‘Fluffy’ the retriever, from inside the house.

“This is it!” I said, not only to myself but the snake too, who was now behind another large pot.

Knowing full well that he was not going to move from this place, I swiftly went inside and took out my shotgun.

*

Even though the retriever had never retrieved any thing in his entire life – his basic and instinctive hunting nature – was triggered by the anticipation of a romp. He was baying with delight and all ready to charge out.

I loaded both barrels with No. 4 cartridge and went out again. The snake was still there, waiting.

I looked around for the bamboo stick, picked it up, switched-off the safety and was planning to give Mr. Naja naja another prod, when he suddenly came towards me again.

The explosive sound of the gun shot not only shattered the late afternoon but also the spine of the snake with only a thin string of skin keeping its two parts attached. But it still drew closer with its mouth wide open. With no possibility of a clean second shot, I instinctively swung the barrel of the gun and knocked him back.

The adrenalin was running high in my body and I couldn’t hear the birds. I couldn’t hear anything as all my senses were concentrated on the snake that I wanted to put out of its misery.

In spite of its fatal injury it slithered away towards a tree and took shelter under some dry leaves.

*

The barking of the dogs, the shrill cries of the birds and the gunshot had attracted some neighbourhood women – two of whom were watching me from their balcony. The sight of me standing there holding a gun and staring at them with glazed eyes was probably not very appealing, because they squealed and instantly retreated.

I made my way towards the tree where the snake was lying and sure enough, it lifted itself, extended the hood and reacted ominously. Aiming carefully, I fired the second barrel and blew his head into pieces.

With a heavy heart but devoid of any guilt I picked up the remains of the dead snake and consumed it to fire in a nearby field.

The birds had followed me to the field and soon settled down to their normal conversation comfortable with the knowledge that the danger no longer existed.

*

Till today, I find it amazing how the snake had managed to survive even after the shot that more-or-less cut his body into two. And, how it still had the strength to drag his bottom-half?

Nothing much to it that day except the fact that when Fluffy was eventually released he went berserk sniffing and marking the entire area till he ran out of urine. He was also, exceptionally snugly that night and hyper sensitive to sounds and movements.

I had to smother my laughter when he responded ferociously to his own inadvertent fart that made him jump-up in consternation, search and snarl at invisible foes. Finally, he regarded me with great suspicion and waited for further ‘pfhoooienns’ to emerge.

Oh! The jaunts, mysteries, imaginings, battles, smells, pursuits and minutiae of the doggie mind!

*

The following day, after I returned from work, I decided to inspect the area where the snake had died. This was to ensure that there were no remains left as I didn’t want Fluffy to be picking any scraps.

The area was clean except near the tree where I found lots of ants scurrying away with miniscule tit-bits. Craning my neck for a better look I hunkered down and instantaneously my right buttock experienced excruciating sharp needle-jab pain.

“Aaaarrrgggghhhhhhhhhhhh!” I howled, as I tried to disengage myself from the earth’s gravity and travel to the moon, convinced that I was carrying a butt-load of snake venom.

As I was striving to propel myself as far away from terra firma, my mind was going through all those crazy snake stories and the one that kept on repeating itself was about the mate, the ichhadhari nāgin, coming back to take revenge. Believe me, I am not an irrational person and don’t believe in all these nonsensical snake stories but I am embarrassed to say that at that particular moment I was positive I had been bitten by the revengeful Mrs. Naja naja.

Somewhere in the midst of all these crazy and panicky thoughts were concerns as to who the hell would suck the poison out from my naked arse or where and how would I tie the tourniquet?

*

Miraculously, I found myself standing clinging on to the tree trunk with my posterior still smarting like mad. Frantically, I tried to locate a snake but saw nothing. So, guardedly, I examined the ground that had been shadowed by my buttocks.

Covered by leaves I found burnt-out incense sticks. I had obviously plonked myself on these. Some had pierced through the cloth to make their presence felt. My quiet sob of relief was soon replaced with a burning rage to find those responsible for my near death experience.

*

It was the neighbours who done it!

The sanctimonious, cowardly, superstitious, nosey-parkers had been extremely perturbed and agitated on realizing that I had killed the ‘nāg devta’. However, they didn’t have the nerve to face me. So, to make amends for my sins and probably theirs, they had, during my absence, performed a small puja at the killing grounds, as it were.

All I can say now is that it was clearly an unsuccessful jump towards the heavenly abode and perchance the most phenomenal bum trips I have ever made.

Beastly things – snakes!


4 Responses to “Mrs. Naja naja”


  1. November 16, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Loved this piece… “butt-load of snake-venom” has me in splits. The only thing better would be to have you narrate this in person 🙂
    I must say that I’m also very impressed that you can actually shoot a snake….those things are FAST and super slinky no?!

    • 2 bichhubooti
      November 18, 2010 at 1:30 pm

      Well! I am a fairly good shot or at least used to be…at one point of time. However, do notice the use of a ‘shotgun’ and in this case a double-barreled 12 gauge. These are generally a smooth bore firearm also known as Scatter-gun/Pepper-gun/Riot-gun OR a close quarter combat weapon. The Italian version is known as the ‘Lupara’ (sawn-off shotgun) associated with the Cosa Nostra. The cartridges contain “a number of ball shot” – lead or steel pellets that spread upon leaving the barrel. These are termed as ‘birdshot’ or ‘buckshot’ depending on the shot size.
      So, didn’t really have to aim when I fired the first barrel.

  2. 3 effem
    November 18, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    WOW! I checked this site after such a long time and was thrilled – REALLY – to read this piece So vividly described I was almost there, (cowering behind you of course!).
    You are amazing my friend!
    I thought I had stories, but they are so…..er…..domestic by comparision.
    Snakes are beasts.

  3. 4 Amishi Gandhi
    January 13, 2011 at 9:11 am

    Fantastic – am still laughing. Dont ever stop writing.


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