What would it be like to have a chunky python at your home for a guest? While the very thought of it gives you the jitters and makes you feel creepy, the Raju household at Kataribagh once hosted a 3.5 metre long python for a few days.
Vidya, wife of Commodore NVS Raju serving under the Southern Naval Command, had caught the python from a house in the neighbourhood. As forest officials failed to turn up on time to take delivery of the slimy creature for its release into the wild, the Raju household sheltered the timid reptile in a room without fuss. “I felt a little sad when I handed it over to the forest authorities a few days later,” says Vidya, who has rescued over 100 snakes — including vipers, checkered keelback, green viper, pythons and rat snake —over the past 12 years.
A primary school teacher, her foray into what has traditionally been a male domain was by sheer chance. In year 2000, Vidya’s husband was posted at INS Mandovi in Goa when she took to bird watching big-time and became an active member of the India chapter of World Wildlife Fund. On several treks organised around that time, the sneaky creatures came crawling to her and she picked up a passion for catching serpents.
“I am not afraid [of snakes] and if it is of poisonous variety, I take all precautions before trapping it,” she says with nonchalance. Ever since her first catch, wherever the family shifted base, Vidya has been of help to anguished families stricken by the morbid fear of snakes. “There’s very little awareness about the creatures. So there would be panic and in most cases, the members of the family would huddle together in a room and cry for dear life,” she says.
Vidya’s number figures on the emergency call list in most naval departments and some schools around the Naval Base, where thick vegetation and undergrowth offer the perfect ecosystem for snakes to thrive. Occasionally, her service is sought by the outside world as well.
The moment there’s a call for help, Shweta, Vidya’s daughter who’s pursuing an MBA, brings on her mother’s snake-catching accessories such as her boots, the mandatory gunny sack and a stick. In no time, Vidya is chauffer-driven by her husband to the snake-infested household.
If it is daytime, Vidya makes it a point to organise a motley gathering, comprising mostly students, around her to offer a lesson or two on the snake in hand. Thanks to her popularity, she’s called in to make presentations at schools about reptiles. “I tell children not be scared of the creature. They should not kill it either.”
Sometime ago, Vidya made deft use of her association with the Blue Cross Society to deepen her understanding of reptiles. The sight of Blue Cross volunteers cleaning the injured fangs of a cobra with anti-septic to ease its pain taught her the value of compassion.
Sitting at her home with her husband Cmde Raju and son Saurabh, a lieutenant in the Navy, Vidya says she’s on alert round-the-clock as swift response would save a snake’s life and a family from horror.