Recently I saw a sensational news item on T.V. about two snakes coiling around each other, standing upright on their full length, coming down to the earth, rolling and again standing straight. For some of the onlookers it entertaining but to some it was a frightening sight. I read somewhere that this is a snake’s way of showing its love to its partner. This news item reminded me of a similar incident which I witnessed a long time ago.
In the Army, it is common for officers to be posted to remote places, sometimes very close to agricultural lands or forests. We were usually accommodated in huge, isolated bungalows with plenty of open spaces around the house. We once had to stay in one such big house with many fruit trees like mango, jackfruit, blueberry, raspberry, a big tamarind tree with an old money plant coiling round it, several seasonal flowers, two big lawns and also a vegetable garden. We had a mali and a sweeper to look after the garden. To water the plants and trees, there was a Persian wheel. In spite of such a comfortable life we used to have some tension filled moments. This was because of the sudden appearance of snakes due to our proximity to agricultural lands. Once in a while we had to encounter these slithering creatures – black cobras, brown cobras and snakes with heads on either side, and of various sizes. Oh! It was terrible. There was a standing order from the Commanding Officer that whenever a snake is sighted by the residents, a gunman with a loaded gun will be sent to that particular residence to drive the creature away. But the irony of it was the communication system of that place in those days was so outdated that only a messenger could be sent on foot or by bicycle. By the time the gunman came the snake would have disappeared, slithering away to a safe place. The local civilians were against killing these creatures. They used to politely refuse to kill them, saying, since these snakes have not harmed them ever why should they harm them.
One evening my husband and I were coming home after a walk. Suddenly, I noticed a pair of light brown cobras standing upright on their full length, about four feet high, coming down, standing up again, facing each other. It was a spine chilling sight. I showed this to my husband. We both very discreetly walked away from the dry open nullah where the snakes were playing.
The next afternoon, I was waiting for my husband to come home for lunch, when my cook came asking me to come out and see something in the garden. As it was winter I expected to see some new flower or fruit coming up in the Raspberry tree. I became curious when the old couple staying in our servants’ quarters were also watching something very intently. The cook signaled to me to be silent and pointed towards the top of the Raspberry tree. What I saw was really frightening. All along the tree the same two light brown snakes we saw the previous evening were standing coiling round the tree with their hoods straight and stiff. They both were facing a group of parrots which were protecting their eggs in the nests among the branches. Evidently, these two snakes had come to eat the eggs and the agitated parrots were screeching, ready to strike the snakes with their sharp beaks.
This struggle was going on for the last half hour or so, which attracted the attention of the cook who was sitting and basking in the garden. He in turn called the couple and me. Since nobody knew when the drama would end, I told the cook and the old couple to go on with their work. As all of us were trooping into the house, my husband appeared in the verandah and asked us the reason for the commotion. When we told him about the incident, he immediately went into the house, loaded his gun and came out to shoot the snakes. The cook and the old couple begged my husband not to kill the single remaining snake as the other snake had already left the struggle and disappeared somewhere. There is a common belief that out of a pair of snakes if one is killed the other will definitely come back to take revenge on the person who killed its mate. But not heeding to their request my husband tried to shoot at the second snake twice, but both times the parrots came in between and he missed his shots. The old man told my husband “Sir, you are a good shot but still missed the aim twice. It is God’s desire that you should miss the target. If you had succeeded the other would definitely have come back to take revenge. Please leave it now.” Even I found this episode a bit too much and tried to talk him out of shooting the snake. God knows what made him listen to us, but he went inside the house. We had a very late lunch that day. After some time the second snake also slithered away as it was fed up of the parrots’ persistent vigilance and quiet was restored in the garden. I can never ever forget that incident in my life.