What and what not to do when a snake comes visiting

A snake is a snake is a snake is a snake. As a poetic assertion, it’s fine, but not when you find one inside the pond in your garden. ‘There’s a snake in our pond,’ said my husband the other day as nonchalantly as one would say ‘there’s a crow on the tree.’ ‘Sssssssnake?’ I hissed in alarm and jumped. But my jump was nothing compared with the jump Ajay, my son’s friend, gave when he heard about the snake two days later. But then I’m jumping the gun here. Let me go back to the beginning.

My husband is a physisaphile. In case the word is Greek to you, it is...er... Greek for one who loves plants and animals. A snake for him is just a snake, a creature of nature. If the one in the pond had lost its way and fallen in, it was more to be pitied than censured. Not so for me. The primeval fear of snakes, believed to be instinctual and rational, is ever present, and the mere mention of the word ‘snake’ sends me into a tizzy. I concede it is nature’s creature, but one endowed with poison fangs.

I pumped him for more details while keeping a nervous eye on the snake’s present habitat. What if it creeps out? It can’t, he said. The pond has a leak and the water level never rises above the halfway mark. I wasn’t convinced. Surely it can crawl up the side and slide out? It tried, he said, but didn’t succeed. What? I grew more jittery.

Word got around. The lady who delivered milk and the odd-job man filled me in with stories of snakes in the neighbourhood — snakes spotted on cemented yards, snakes dropped by kites on balconies of high rise buildings, snakes wound around trees the scent of whose flowers is believed to repel them, snakes sleeping peacefully over crushed garlic... It looked as though they were able to surmount all obstacles and were present everywhere. I also heard the shocking story of a victim of snake bite not being given antivenom for he hadn’t brought the snake along. Well, really!

‘Do you know there’s a snake in our pond?’ I said dramatically to my son’s friends when they came home two days later and was gratified when Ajay, all of 6 feet and 4 inches, jumped, almost hit the ceiling and descended on the settee in a heap. Krait, said my husband, announcing the make of his new pet with pride.

A former student, who had recently secured top grades for a course work on poisonous snakes and had come by the previous day, had made this alarming identification. Ajay turned pale and immediately pulled his long legs up on the settee, almost folding them into three. I had no idea his ophidiophobia was so acute. ‘Why didn’t you kill it?’ he whispered. My husband replied that it can’t survive long in the pond anyway, so let it be there.

That argument didn’t befit a conservationist and Ajay took advantage of it. ‘How can you think of letting it die a slow, painful death? Call Vava Suresh,’ he said urgently. ‘I have his number.’ Vava Suresh, the admirable young snake catcher whose brave exploits will soon be recorded by Animal Planet, has been the toast of the town. ‘He never kills snakes. He’ll take this one away.’

Vava Suresh was called. He said, ‘I’m coming.’ ‘And I’m going,’ said Ajay. He took two huge strides and was out of the house in a flash. Jayaram, the other friend, stayed, ready to film the capture on his mobile. The stage was set and the excitement was palpable. Vava Suresh arrived and from the safety of the window I waited for the drama to unfold. I saw my husband talk to him, probably telling him it’s a krait, quite big and poisonous. Be careful.

Vava Suresh walked briskly to the pond and in a lightning quick movement, fished it out before Jayaram could even hold the mobile up. ‘Eh, this is just a harmless little rat snake,’ he mentioned offhandedly as he gently caressed its head. ‘Give me a plastic cover.’ As he took it away, he said there were two ‘serious cases’ waiting for him — cobras and vipers.

That was it, a huge anti climax, over in a jiffy. Jayaram took a picture of the snake looking like a worm inside the plastic cover. Krait indeed, I commented, though secretly I was relieved. I think grade inflation has reached new heights.