Suddenly the snakes were everywhere. A big fat rat-snake that used to be seen slithering around the water-lily tank had disappeared and no snake had been seen in the area for quite some time. This peaceful time was disturbed by two events. First, the empty tile-roofed old house opposite my brother in law, Sunnychayan’s place was demolished. Soon afterwards it was reported that several small vipers were killed near the demolition site. It was widely discussed and we came to the conclusion that the snakes had been forced out of their habitat under the old house. There was a lull then, my sister in law Susan, staying two doors from our house gave us the story of another snake sighting. Jittu, a young guitarist returning home saw the big snake, allegedly a cobra, in the lane opposite to the demolished house. It stood with raised hood and the scared youngster waited in paralyzed terror. The snake slithered off somewhere.
Then my husband told me that he had seen a snake, which he assured me was a harmless rat snake, coming from the house next door to our right, crossing our compound and moving to our neighbor on the left. Thereafter I was alert and careful even when I went to feed the fish in the lily tank or to look for ripe papayas or hot tiny Kaanthari chillies to spice up the thoran.
A few days later, my husband’s sister Susie staying in the suburbs rang us . ‘Yesterday night, when I went out to gather the dried clothes from the clothes line, I stepped on a snake. It wound itself round my leg, but did not bite me.’
‘What did you do?’
‘Prakash (their son) was at the site where a water pipe had burst and so Achayen took me to the doctor. They checked and said that I was not bitten, but warned us that we should immediately go to the MedicalCollegeHospital should I develop any discomfort later in the night’
I relayed the story to my sister in law Susan, who remarked “There is something wrong. So many snakes all at once and that too within our family’.
We have three Susans in our family, Susan the elder brother’s wife, Susie the eldest sister and myself, Susan the youngest brother’s wife.
Then came the worst incident of all. On the evening of the day that we had invited guests for dinner, there was a sudden hullabaloo from outside. The young woman and her children occupying our ancestral tiled house at the back of our residence were outside, crying ;’Snake ! snake!’
My husband and I rushed to the house, and the lady told us that there was a snake hiding in the heap of dirty laundry in their bedroom. She had been sleeping with their younger child, a boy of two and the elder, a ten year old girl had woken her up.
‘Amma, amma, there is a tail protruding from the clothes in the corner. What is it?
Amma had looked and found that it was a dark and long tail of a snake.
My husband immediately took a stick and was trying to rush in when I stopped him. He had recently fractured his tibia and was still only hobbling around. “If the snake tries to strike’, I said, ‘you would not even be able to move aside. Don’t be foolish.’
The lady called some workers who were building their new house nearby and two North Eastern men who could hardly understand what we were trying to tell them came and went in gingerly to the bedroom. They poked at the heap with the stick and said that the snake was behind the washing machine. After a while they said that it had moved behind the wardrobe and then had disappeared. After some more poking around, they left. The family also left to sleep at their parents’ place as they were not sure whether the snake had left or was still hiding among the cupboards and book shelves in the house. Next day the house was given a through cleaning up and no snake was seen, but a big frog was located under the washing machine. Perhaps the snake had come in to catch the frog.
Next night my sister in law Susan called again. ‘Two snakes,’ she said, ‘ were seen by Anil just now in his backyard. Don’t go out in the dark without shoes or a light and don’t allow Kochan to go out at all’ she said. Anil’s house was behind hers. Kochan is my son nearly six feet tall and thirty years of age, but being the youngest grandson, he is still considered a baby as his name. Kochan meaning ‘small boy’ implies.
‘Something is wrong’, she added broodingly, ‘Don’t you think so? Snake twining round Susie’s leg and now snakes in and around our place. St. Gregorios is the one who protects us from snakes’.
My husband’s other sister Leela rang me from Ernakulam ‘When we found a snake on the bed in our house at Palavila, Appachen (her father in law) went to St. George’s church at Palayam and prayed there and thereafter no snake ever came to our house.’
St. George is depicted in Icons astride a horse with a lance pointing at a dragon or snake at the feet of his mount. I have often wondered about the meaning of the Icon because Icons are not portraits and are intended to point at a transcendent reality. I had concluded that perhaps the dragon depicts the shadows and dragons in our psyche and St George helps us reconcile them. Some stores of St. George say that he tamed the dragon which followed him from his lair into the city.
Anyway, I looked up about snakes in the Internet and came to understand that there were deadly snakes other than the Cobra in Kerala and most of the snake bite deaths came from the bite of the Krait. It was long and had white marks down its back and its bite, unlike the bite of the Cobra a Krait bite was easily mistaken for that of an insect or rodent, but soon death would overcome the victim. September and October were the breeding season of snakes. Aayilyam of Kanni and Tulaam, (September-October) are the days of the festival at Mannarsaala, the temple dedicated to snake God Naagaraja in Kerala. This was the season of snakes and with kids rushing barefoot around the compound we could not afford to take any chances. Some had suggested calling up Vava Suresh, the famed snake catcher who was adept at catching King Cobras and dangerous snakes. But we were not sure about the location of the snake which seemed to appear at different places. Moreover my husband and one of his brothers were sure that it was only a harmless rat snake come to catch rats inhabiting the compound and digging up our plants. In such a case, calling up Vava Suresh would be an impertinence.
Whatever the reason for the snakes appearing around our place, next day, we went to the Church of St. George in the City and prayed there. We also left requests for remembrance at the altar during the Holy Liturgy for our departed as well as for ourselves and lit candles at the Kurishadi, the small prayer kiosk in front of the Church which is frequented by the passers by who come in out of the crowded street for a moment to pray.
The calm serenity of the Church which is left open for pilgrims was a blessing in itself. Suddenly there were no more stories of snakes. We have not sighted a snake thereafter.