'As it coiled around the stick and the gardener started to walk out, our house help kept reminding him about the fact that Russell's Vipers jump and can jump towards you,' reports Keya Sarkar.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
It is an annual ritual.
Before the onset of summer, we buy bleaching powder and carbolic acid. The bleaching powder is sprinkled in front of every entrance (we have only seven) to the house from the garden and cotton dipped in carbolic acid is hidden in corners inside the house in a manner such that the broom cannot reach them.
All this to keep snakes at bay.
This year we forgot.
Last fortnight, our house help was sweeping the long corridor that runs through the house. In this season, typically, there are lots of things put in the sun in pre-pickle or post-pickle stages.
In the evening they are brought into the house and kept in the corridor. So the cleaning woman has to take all trays and jars and put them back in the sun before she can start her sweeping.
That day all the others had been transferred and she picked up the last tray of red chillies.
That's when she saw a little something on the grey granite that borders our corridor.
Her first thought was it was a string, which had been used to tie the innumerable bags that come into the house.
But soon her trained mind made her look closer. And that's when she called us.
"It's a chandrabora," she said.
Although I know little about snakes, my 12 years of living in Santiniketan has at least taught me a few names. I knew that a chandrabora was a Russell's Viper.
But I had seen so many snakes in the garden, which were huge but which the gardener had declared harmless, that I could not imagine how this tiny Russell's Viper could be so life-threatening.
Anyway, as the woman stood with her eyes focused on the snake in the corridor (in order to track any movement) we made calls to our gardener to come and save us.
The snake made no attempt to move. In fact, to me it looked dead.
But our gardener who soon arrived looked as much alarmed as the woman and promptly went to gather two long sticks.
As soon as he attempted to pick the snake up, I realised it was far from dead.
As it coiled around the stick and the gardener started to walk out, our house help kept reminding him about the fact that Russell's Vipers jump and can jump towards you.
The idea was to take it across our boundary fence and let it go. But we have a largish garden and our gardener's walk till the boundary seemed a long one.
Having succeeded, he lost no time in doing the carbolic acid and bleaching powder number.
I have a tribal acquaintance from Jharkhand, who is one of the finest workers in the lost wax or dokra method that I have known, and he does a lot of work for my craft shop. He happened to visit that evening carrying a gift.
Earlier this year, in fact in the beginning of winter, he had brought me a litre of mahua seed oil, which the tribals use as moisturiser. I have fallen in love with it and was quite eager to see my latest gift.
It was the mahua seed cake formed after the extraction of the oil. "Put bits of it in the fire when you cook. Your house will be free of scorpions and snakes," he said unaware of the drama in the morning.
After he left, I looked sadly at my gas stove and wondered how I would honour his gift of love.
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