Saturday, July 2, 2016

Snakes

Snakes

By: Amritha Ayem
Translated by: T. Kirupakaran


It appeared to me that Sasi’s house is situated somewhere on a desertlike sandy stretch where, in the mid-night, cool wind blows and in the days, rays of hope from the Sun reflect on the clouds and touch the Earth. The cool wind of the calm fullmoon gently touched my body and reinforced that idea. A brinjal garden, tractor – garrage, paddy–store, mango trees, coconut palms, arecanut palms, a kennel for dogs and a flower garden lined the white, sandy court – yard of his huge house. On the white sand, long black snakes were chasing after small black rats. When the wind blew heavily the snakes and the rats dissolved into the air. When the wind blew heavily the snakes and the rats dissolved into the air. When the leaves reappeared the chase continued. Again and again the chase got continuing. Both before and after the chases, when the rats multiplied in number, the snakes in turn multiplied too. The chases became struggle of life. The fittest lived either by surviving the struggle or by turning the back to it. Then, becoming everything, the supportive and the accustomed-to-bear-all-burdens nature triumphantly selected the snake-rat chases. The rats too kept on running, putting the burden on the wind and the moon. The snake-and-the ladder game kept continuing. The rats, in their life-struggle got bitter by the snakes, climbed a span up and slid a cubit down. The firm-minded rats too, continued in their efforts to escape the odd. The life-shadow was dissolving away on the platforms of dark expanse. While my glance was still deepening on the white-sand-modern-art court-yard I began to realize one aspects of life.

Black is sorrow. hatred. It is in some kind of Dracula nights, the nights haunted with the howling of jackals that come piercing the mid-night, that this black, cloud-like darkness begins to shroud the moon and create fear about the mid-night. I look at the moon-light and try to discern whether the object in the moon is an old woman or a hare. The hare fails. Today the sea will flow overwhelmingly and the fishermen will keep their boats and canoes a bit away from the shore. The sea, wearing a sari with golden border, a ‘pottu’ of moon–size on the fore head and silver flowers on the flowing hair will appear like a ‘sumangali’1.

Both the sea and the moon are women, then, why does the sea roar that much? Contemplating on this I looked at the wrist. It was five minuets past ten o’clock. Sasi came and sat on a chair beside me. “Sasi, if both the sea and the moon are females why then only the sea is  turbulent on full moon days?” I asked. “ The linear pull attracts each other, it seems” he said. It is on a fullmoon day that the snake would start to devour the moon-woman and eject  venom. Thinking, that this is one such fullmoon day and likening the turbulance of the sea to the wailing of the sea-woman by beating the breast and the stomach, I looked at Sasi. It is customary that the nightmares about snakes originate during night hours.

At that juncture, I saw the boy from the neighbouring house came running along the foot path that linked the two plots calling  “Sasi, Sasi”.  “What happened?” asked Sasi slightly perturbed. “Something must have stung amma, she’s groaning out of pain” replied the boy. At once Sasi and I dashed to amma’s house. There, she looks healthier than we expected. Usually, I would go through Amma’s plot to get to Sasi’s house. That is a short cut too. Whenever I went there she would greet me with a blooming face. Though she is not a relation to me I usually called her amma. I look at amma’s face. the severity of pain began to show in her face.

“Amma, what happened? I asked “I lay down here to sleep and felt as though something stinging me. It’s paining , but it will be all right.” said amma. “Let me see the spot” I tried to have a close look at it. There were two pin prick-like marks. I immediately understood what might have happened. At once I beckoned to amma’s son to take her to the adjacent room, disclosing the fact that she has been bitten by a snake, telling her other son  that the snake is somewhere around here and asking him to search for it and kill it or catch it alive, failing that, at least to find out its species, I rushed with Sasi to Kovindan annan’s house to fetch an auto.

You might know Kovindan annan. He is the one who rushed those twelve victims, to hospital, few of the m with brain dashed out and limbs severed, of the brutal shelling last month in the neighbouring village, making three trips without charging even a single cent and saved the life of ten of them. Last week it was the same Kovindan annan who took  to hospital as asthmatic Muslim women who came to Kanesh “parisariyar”2 for treatment, saved her life and provided her meals without accepting a single cent. One day in the midnight when the case of taking a pregnant woman to hospital was abandoned by others for fear of the pile of sand sags barbedwire fence he was the one who, braving the odd, took her to hospital for her maiden delivery and saved both hers and the baby’s life by threatening the lazy and undutiful nurses that their names would be published in the daily for neglect of duty. All this he did without accepting even  a single cent. It is certain that he would have saved several; campus students by taking them to hospital in the night. Kovindan annan is really the James Bond of that area. As we all knew snake-mongoose fight would often take place in the forest. It is the mongoose, though received several bites from snakes, that would defeat and kill the snake in the end. Then the mongoose would run in search of a medicinal herb, an antidote for snake venom to eat it and save his life. Finally, the mongoose would identify the herb by seeing humanism in the root and courage in the boughs. I hope Kovindan annan also must be knowing about this life –saving tree.

Calling “annan”, “annan” I patted on the gate of Kovindan annan. Shouting in reply, annan comes out. He studies my face through a shocktinged smile. No sooner I told him the matter that the auto pulled at amma’s house with a lantern.

I went near amma and called her out. “mm” she replied in  a low voice. Her eyes were rolled up. The head wobbled when I held it and fell aside. I guess it is the work of cobra or ‘karuvalalai 3’  that belongs to family Elaphidae. “Have you found out the snake?” I, asked “no” came the answer. I closely examined the mat amma slept on. It struck me that something was under the mat. “Sasi, come here, I’ll lift the mat quietly you give a blow on its head O.K.’. Sasi got ready and I lifted the mat. The beautiful black snack that bit amma was peacefully sleeping, coiled, on the spot where exactly amma’s head was. The snake had spoon-shaped head and a body of shining black skin like that of ‘sungan’4  fish with workings in ash black lines on it. It is ‘Kandan Karuvalalai”   unmistakably. It’s zoological name its ‘Bangarus Ceylonicus ‘ . Sasi and I had sweet relationships with venomous snakes like these. We have caught and collected a number of venomous snakes for our department museum. Sasi landed a heavy blow on the snake’s  head, put it into a tissue bag and took it to the auto.

Amma, Sasi, snake, Kovindan annan and I sped to hospital in the auto, On our way past Krishnan Kovil, white-sand triple junction and the University Campus, an anthill began to loom out among the pile of sandbags and barbed–wire fences. It was partly sympathetic and partly ridiculous to think about the anthill. what a pity. the whit-ants make the cells and snakes occupy them. White ants are creature of social life. Picking granules of sand little by little by their tiny mouth, ejecting saliva drop by drop and rolling the sand into tiny clods of mud the make these wonderful structures to establish the kingdom of their own.

While they run their kingdoms happily with their wives and children the anthills will be encroached and the ants will be ousted. It seemed that all the anthills found along the winding road would have been formed in the same way. Now, there was not a single sign of life on the road except for us and the noise of cicadas in the background. As soon as we reached hospital, if we told the doctor that Common krait had bitten her, he would administer one vial of anti-venom serum mixed with ten milliliters of saline or ten vials of distilled water into amma’s body by injection and soon she come back to life. For this to happen we should get to hospital quickly. But we cannot. Instead of hundred meters we will have to detour one and a half kilometers down the rough and dusty by-route full of craters and mounds and stones. One will have to take 10 minutes instead of 10 seconds to get to the place. It so happened one day that when a victim of snake-bite and those who accompanied him came to the village where the ‘Coconut Research Center’ is, and waited in front of the anthill they were all killed by that venom which came dashing with a great noise like a fire-bowl from the nearby anthill. Likewise, on another occasion a woman of full pregnancy who was wriggling out of pain in a bullock-cart in front of such an anthill was stung dead and safe deliver followed.

The same thing happened to snake-bite victims on their way to hospital on bullock-carts from ‘paduvan Karai villages, west to the Base Hospital which is seventeen kms South to my campus. In the end, they all died pathetically, either with their heart or the nervous system affected due to snake-bite.

How many of us in the world know about the anthills of King Cobras looked after by the King? What is there in this world that is more brutal than this? Who said there are no King Cobras in this country?  Protection was not given to four families of venomous snakes under the act number 49 of 1993. But the king cobras were empowered by the act of 1982 to become kings and Gods.

They become Kings and gods by governing and by giving and taking the lives of people at the desired time. King Cobras are worshiped too. Snakes are nocturnal creature. Forming into small groups, they would impose unofficial curfews on their own during the night. If we happened to go near the anthill they would bite for sure.

Now our auto stops in front of the piles of sand bags round the anthill. Stepping down from the auto with a lantern, I walk up to the outer circle of sand-bag piles. Putting out the head-light Kovindan annan follows me driving the auto very slowly. But one should not do like this. First, someone should get to the spot with lantern, explain the matter, prove his identity and finally convince them. But it is and exception with Kovindan annan if the matter cries haste. That is personality. It was terrifying to get nearer and nearer the anthill.

Halting the auto, Kovindan annan came to me, got the lantern from me and called out in a different language. Despite the repeated calls not a single snake came out sometimes the snakes might have thought it was the mongoose that called them. Because they could easily sense the differences between mongoose and non-mongoose. “We must take amma to hospital without any delay” I hastened Kovindan annan. I have studied that there are four families of venomous snakes in this country and collected specimens of them for our department museum. It was at the famous Medical College in the capital that I knew all about these snakes in detail. One day I cut off the head of the caste-snake that bit amma once boiled it in the solution of potassium hydroxide and pulled out its fangs. It looked like a boomerang made of fishbone. Cobra’s is a bit longer but for vipers it is more curved than that of others. How many beautiful snakes in howmany different colours. Indeed, snakes have numerous weapons, some spherical, some long and some others curved in shape to attack their enemies. There are small snakes in red colour with black stripes., there are sand-coloured ones, curved, coiled end eel-tailed with spots like that of a leopard.  There are those that have triangular head and yellow skin on the side with working of irregular squares tinted in black and white. What about the sand-coloured ones with spoon-shaped head; their shining black skin, like that of  ‘sungan fish’ will have light black stripes.   There is another kind which is camouflaged with green colour tinged with light yellow and having humped nose. One cannot say that kind  from the branch or the leaves of a tree. Of all the exotic things I saw, so far, the one that I like most is the dilated hoods of a snake. How true is the saying that one requires million eyes to see the gracefulness of cobra dancing with its dilated hood. The zoological name  in Latin is Naja naja naja; perhaps may be the abbreviation of na-ga-ra-ja. Cobra is the only snake that shines in the show business without any loss.

Hissing violently, throwing fiery glance and looking here and there, flinging the forked tongue out, like the dough for rotti pressed against the rotti plate by a bottle it would dilate its hood and dance. It would curve the body, bend backward, rise up a bit and dance. The dilated hood of it would look like the shoe-cactus minus prickles. we wear a pair of black glasses at the front but a cobra does it the other way. It wears them at the back. The central part of the hood would be neither flat no spherical but a little elongated and would look as though fastened with a slender black belt from top to down. From the edge to the center black rhombus-shaped scaled with red center would cover the hood on all four sides in three columns. The fire-bowl eyes would look both straight in front and side-ways at the same time. Scales like that of a crocodile whould cover the upper surface of the nose on the upper jaw between the two eyes, When a cobra flung its forked tongue out and opened its mouth wider it would remind us of a baby with tender red lips. Below the tongue would open a cavity into the throat and two others on either side of the forked tongue. The upper jaw would hide within it the pair of fangs. A cobra opening its mouth is really beautiful to see. What is beauty? Is it the colour? The combination of colours? or the symmetricality?  There in danger too in beauty and beauty too in danger.


Snake  don’t bit people purposely and end their lives. Instead they give life to them. Even now it is the snakes that human families at Alikambe, Thampane and at other places. If snakes don’t dance on the streets just think howmany families will be on the streets. It is the snakes that destroy the evil insects, farmer-hostile rodents and various other pests and maintain balance in the ecosystem. If we trample on them while walking or move our legs or toes while sleeping, out of fear, they will lunge, plunge the fangs deep into the flesh, hook into it and then inject venom into us as an act of defense. In our country there are only four families of snakes which causes death It is not true that snake-bites are incurable. Wrong first aids and lack of knowledge about the treatments for snake-bites are the main causes for deaths. It is in Sri Lanka that the death rate of snake–bite is the highest. Two deaths per day. Only two? What a comparison. It is we who should be careful about the snakes. Snakes don’t only look graceful by their shapes or dilated hoods.

Had Bharathi lived today he would have sung as follows:

A snake in khaki hue
Another in deep blue
One in dark green
One with stripes on the skin
In the thicket one
An in the busy city another
Whatever the colour they bear
At biting they are same everywhere
Their fangs do deadly venom bred
And end the lives of people indeed.

Now, there comes toward us, a snake in green with limbs, crawling through the hole of sand bags and dilating its great hoods of hat. at that moment, in the last minute brightness of the dying flame of the lantern as though blown off by a  sudden gust of wind, foaming at the mouth, eyes rolling up, the body turning bluish and the chest heaving amma drew her last breath. the snake that bit amma in the full moon light lay peacefully in the tissue bag. One of the snaked that killed amma began to speak now.

1)A married woman 2)A native physician 3)Common Krait 4)Stinging cat fish 5)The place of setting sun

(Third Eye, Eighth Issue)



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