Snakes are hogging the limelight these days. Snake thieves are hitting the headlines. A village near Belgaum has been successfully holding dialogues with these carnivorous reptiles to improve bi lateral relations between human and this variety of nonhuman creatures of God, and all this media glare on these crawling creatures had the impact of creating in me an urge to examine how I relate to this creature.
I am not sure how I feel about snakes. Without doubt, I’m terrified of them. But the feeling does not stop at terror. The creepy thing fascinates me too. Terror coupled with fascination is a very complex emotion.
Of course, fascination happens only when I see them in a zoo, or in the guindy snake park where every snake is supposed to be devenomised, or watch them in a movie or TV programme, or when I read about them or watch a snake dancing to the tune of that endangered species called snake charmers.
Guess the Biblical story of the arch enemy who seduced Eve in the form of a snake had something to do with my total dislike and hatred for the reptile in my childhood days. I used to think, as a little child, how much more better off the world would have been had it not been for this hateful creepy creature. I thought about the snake with resentment whenever someone I loved fell sick or died, or when my brothers, who were set after me by amma, chased me around the house to capture me and take me to amma who waited there to pull out my loose tooth. Sigh! Life was so painless before Eve ate the apple. And the concept of paradise caught my childish imagination too. Trees and flowers and hills and mountains and the lion and the lamb lying side by side while all other animals took me for a ride on their backs around parudeesa! I must, however, admit that, as I grew a little older, I began to think, rather guiltily, that life in the paradise would, after all, have been a big bore.
As a child, the only thing that I was grateful to the snake was for being instrumental in the introduction of the practice of wearing clothes. I could never understand why God thought the naked form of man and woman was beautiful and decent enough to allow them to roam about in the paradise with nothing on. After all indecent exposure is indecent exposure, and what sort of God was it that created man so shameless as to be so unselfconscious of and comfortable with his state of nakedness?
As I grew up in the secular India, the intensity of my dislike for snakes diminished. Many of my classmates worshipped the snake. The sanctity of the sarpakaavu went a long way to neutralize the strong negative feelings the creature generated in me. This is not to say that I got over my intense fear of the creature at any point of time. But so long as I didn’t run into it, I conceded that the right to existence was the inalienable right of the snake too.
While in college, I was careful not to talk too much about the snake ‘cos in those days Freud was a craze among students and, a couple of times that I brought up the subject of the snake, my friends warned me they’d be forced to apply Freudian interpretations if I spoke too often about the reptile!
But it was in the world of art that the creature absolutely captivated me. As a high school girl. I used to watch with fascinated envy as Rajeswari did the snake dance. I never tire of watching the actress Sridevi’s snake dances. The short story V mark of Vishnu still grips me. Anaconda was terrible. But DH Lawrence’s The Snake – oh how I loved/love it. How the man has humanized the reptile. The undoing of the Christian identity of the poet in that piece is so convincingly achieved.
I taught that poem to a pre-degree class years back. The piece fascinated me so much that I read up as much as I can on that small poem, and read the poem itself again and again to find that it grew on me. Often times, I used to pick up that dog eared text book which opened automatically on the page which had Lawrence’s Snake, and read it to relish the aesthetic pleasure it afforded me. On one such occasion, on a Sunday morning, when i was all alone in the house and was lazing around in my duster coat, I suddenly remembered that I had to leave the outhouse door open for the workers who would come in at moment to take their tools from that room. Still under the euphoric influence of the poem, I unlocked the door of the outhouse and pushed it wide open. Oh my God, there it lay!! A gigantic snake, coiled into a concentric circle of god knows how many layers. I remember looking at the thing in utter terror. The next thing I remembered was standing on the public road, a few people whom I recognized as my neighbours, blocking my way to prevent me from running further into the road. Their voices seemed to come from a far away land when they asked me “What’s wrong, “and “What happened?”. Seeing all those people brought me to my senses, tho for the life of me I couldn’t remember how I reached the public road. Of course, I must have run faster that PT Usha who had missed the Olympic medal a few days before. Did I yell and scream like a madwoman when I ran? Did I hitch up my duster coat to enable me run faster?
Well, I remember nothing. But one thing I know, the neighbours saw another side of this pardeshi daughter in law who always walked the streets of the neighbourhood with carefully studied dignity.
A snake, I blurted out.
In the verakupura (outhouse)
I walked back slowly behind them who were running with sticks towards the outhouse. As I reached the scene, I saw all of them standing at the door of the outhouse, relaxed and laughing.
“Molly teacher, it’s only a chera (rat snake). Even if you bite it, it wont bite you. And it’s not venomous”.
They threw away their sticks and walked away, throwing amused glances in my directions, no doubt impatient to tell the ladies of the house which included my students too, the story of the city bred daughter in law and the paavam rat snake.
Another Snake blog: http://pareltank.blogspot.com/2008/04/my-mother-and-my-son.html