Even when the Indian cobra reared up, with its hood expanded, just a few inches above her head, 13-year-old A.S. Abhirami did not shudder. For, the snake was an obedient student in the hands of its teacher, the city-based snake catcher Vava Suresh, who handled the venomous ophidian as though it was child’s play.

Cobras, vipers, tree snakes…for Abhirami and 50 other students at Rangabasha, the ongoing State-level acting workshop for school students in the city, the close encounters with various species of snakes proved to be a thrilling experience.

The session, organised by the Kerala State Child Welfare Council, began on a sombre note with the participants lighting candles and offering a silent prayer for the Delhi girl who died on Saturday morning after she was gang-raped in New Delhi recently.

Following this, Vava Suresh, who was welcomed with a huge applause, spoke about the snakes before he took out his first pet – a giant Indian cobra – out of a sack.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about snakes. They may have deadly venom, but they will attack you only if you stamp on them. We should be aware of our native snakes and its characteristics. There are about 80 snakes in the State, of which 20 are venomous,” Mr. Suresh, who has been handling snakes for more than 25 years starting at the age of 12, said.

Taking out his favourite reptile – a cobra – from the sack, Mr. Suresh approached the children, many of whom had moved away in aversion and fear.

“Do not fear, when the snake is in my hand,” the snake expert said, taking a seat amidst the children, much to their surprise. Though tempting it was, no one dared to touch the venomous snake. However, Mr. Suresh did not disappoint them. He held out containers with other mildly venomous and non-venomous snakes and passed them round among the children.

Next, it was time to take a closer look at the venomous teeth of the Russell’s viper, a deadly poisonous reptile. As Mr. Suresh forced open the snake’s mouth to show the exposed teeth, a sound was heard – not the snake’s hiss but the children’s gasp of fear.

Mr. Suresh then spoke on the precautions to keep snakes away from homes and first aid in the event of snakebite.

The final treat was a large non-venomous python. As soon as it was taken out of the sack, the snake coiled around Mr. Suresh’s hand with its tail, even though he held on to its head tightly. The children, this time, shed their fears and came forward to touch and feel the giant beauty.