Out Of Anaikatti Travel

Here a hiss, there a hiss

The bronzeback on the tree  

“Akka, look at what I found.” Rahul’s eyes sparkled as he held up a snake skin. My first reaction was to recoil but something about that shiny thing would not let me look away. As we pored over it, I slowly understood how beautiful a snake can be.

Which is why I didn’t run for miles when I found the Silly Cat screaming under a tree one afternoon. “What’s your problem?” my husband asked her very solicitously. The answer was more hysterical meowing. It was the rustling that told us the reason. We looked up to find a long snake moving through the branches. It was all brown and gold with hints of white. It played hide and seek with us in the dappled sunshine. We snapped out of our amazement long enough to take some photos but the snake wasn’t having any of that. It came down the tree and shot away at an amazing speed.

By this time, people had been gathered to see what we were gazing at. “Komberi Mookan”, we learnt, was the local name. We hunted around a bit before we identified it as the Common Bronzeback Tree Snake and then waded into the fight to convince the locals that this was a non-venomous variety. We’re still fighting that battle. Last week, when we found another snake skin on the roof of our cottage, we were regaled with tales of how this particular snake could fly. A charming misconception probably based on the fact that it is an arboreal snake.

This wasn’t our first encounter with Anaikatti’s snakes. When we first visited the village, some years ago, my mother-in-law was walking on the grounds of what would eventually become her school. “Amma, appadiye nilunga, (amma, stand where you are)” yelled the gardener. She froze. From near her feet, a snake uncoiled itself and slithered away. The gardener identified it as the viriyan, which didn’t mean anything to us. Later we found that the name referred to the Common Krait and shivered in remembered fright.

Shouts of “pambu” are common enough but usually by the time we reach the spot, the snake — if it was one — has disappeared. When the open ground next to the school began to be cleaned, we suddenly found snakes of all sizes appearing on our campus. One dropped down from the dining hall roof just before lunch and my husband had much ado convincing the frightened staff not to kill it. Luckily for him, the students were on his side and they managed to manoeuvre it into the bushes outside the campus.

Another time, we heard one of the dogs barking furiously near the wire fence. When we went near to see what was exciting him, the snake decided it couldn’t cope with the reinforcements and took off. So there we were — the snake on one side and the dog, my husband, the watchman and I on the other — running down the length of the plot. At the end, the snake disappeared into a thicket of bushes. “At least now you know I can run as fast as a snake,” I wheezed to my husband, as I clutched at my side.

I’ve been lucky enough to spot a python. Driving home one day, we were surprised to see cars neatly lined up on either lane while people peered at something. “Malai pambu,” my driver pointed to what looked like a thick fat pipe undulating across the road. Looking at it closely, it was clearly thicker than the other snakes we’d seen. We waited patiently and exchanged snake stories as it crossed the road

The latest encounter, however, has left us feeling a bit wary. Velan had put his washing out to dry and was putting them away at home. He felt one towel was still a little damp. In his own words, “I just flapped the towel to hang it on the line and heard a plop. I looked down and there was a snake at my feet.” With great presence of mind, Velan jumped on to the bed and called the gardener. When they tried to push the snake out, it refused to leave and slid into the cracks under the stone slabs that served as steps. When they removed the stones, they found one more snake there. It was with great difficulty that they managed to get the snakes to leave.

When asked what kind of snake this was, surrutai was the answer. The English name, Google told us, was saw-scaled viper. We’re now checking all our clothes and bedding very carefully to ensure that there are no more accidental encounters.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2020 11:44:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/Here-a-hiss-there-a-hiss/article15430455.ece

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