When I was growing up, I was very clear that I wanted a dog for a pet. Unfortunately, my parents were equally sure we weren't going to have one. So, it fell under the long checklist called ‘When I grow up…'.
One of the things I asked Rom when we first met was what pets he had had when he was young. He was in a different league altogether — a fruit bat, black kites, rose-ringed parakeets, drongos, mongooses, civet cats, a fox, a jungle cat, tarantulas, a macaw, monitor lizards, a jungle crow, a gila monster, various snakes (of course!), and many others. I followed that up with an endless stream of questions on what they ate, how they played, what they were like. He, perhaps, felt he'd made a mistake admitting he'd owned these creatures at all.
By far, his favourite pet was an Indian python that lived under his bed in the school dorm for about four years. Rom remembered basking in the sun on cold mornings in Kodai, with his pet and some of his friends. If anyone came by, one of them casually flung a cloth over the snake, and, surprisingly, no one in the school found out!
During vacations, the python would travel back to Bombay with him. When Rom's grandma, Amma Doodles, didn't feel like meeting guests, she'd invite them cheerily: “My grandson has come home for vacation with his pet python. You must meet them both!” Surprisingly, the guests usually had somewhere else to go that they just happened to remember! A few, however, were intrigued, and couldn't be put off. Rom would then have to bring the sleek snake out for the visitors to gawk at.
Once, when Rom was about 16, the snake got loose in the apartment in Bombay, and couldn't be found anywhere. He searched high and low, in every room and cupboard. Nothing. How was he to tell the others on the block without causing pandemonium? So, with the help of his mother, Rom came up with a plan. He knocked on every door in the building, introduced himself, and asked: ‘I've lost a pet. Have you noticed anything unusual?' Usually people just retorted: ‘No.' However, some asked: ‘What pet?' to which he replied in a mumble: ‘It's a very friendly… cuddly… loveable… python. Very small; just eight-foot long.” Nobody had seen it!
Ten to 15 days went by with no news. So, Rom figured the snake could live at a steep bushy slope the apartment building overlooked. That was anyway a wild jungle with peacocks (that woke everyone up at 4 a.m.), cobras, rat snakes, birds, and large bandicoots.
Then one day, Amma Doodles had to make a trip to Delhi, and Rom went up into the store room to get the suitcases. He moved a whole pile of trunks, and in the six-inch gap made by the wooden slats, lo, and behold! There was the fat python coiled up neatly.
How had it jammed itself into the tiny space? It was going to shed its skin, and at this time, snakes seek a quiet place and lie still. In its newfound freedom, the python had just gone from one room to another, when it could have gone just anywhere.
A year later, before he left for the States, ostensibly for higher education, he gave it away to a friend.
Subsequently, I had my fill of pets too: baby pythons, sand boas, star tortoises, and crocodiles. Some arrived at my door unbidden as orphans: mongooses, toddy cats, a hare, a koel, and, they all left when they became adults.
But, once we moved to the farm, I got a dog — actually, several!, and, finally, my world was complete.
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Keywords: pet pals