Raju at PGIMER before he lapsed into coma on July 17. Photo credit: Vikram Jit Singh
July 16 is observed as 'World Snake Day' to create awareness about the planet's most misunderstood creatures. But the fact remains that India is home to an estimated 45,000 deaths annually due to snakebite, the bulk being the rural poor. Venomous snakes have successfully infiltrated human habitats and it is advisable that these be removed as is the globally-accepted norm.
I could hardly plead for any other course or cause when I met the gasping Raju, a daily wage labourer, who had been bitten by a common krait on the left earlobe's top at 3.21am on July 17. It was an unprovoked bite, a syndrome associated with the nocturnal krait, which even climbs beds and bites sleeping humans. His brother, Mohammad Raza, had very sensibly rushed him to the PGIMER Emergency rather than take recourse to tantriks.
Raju told me he was sleeping on the floor when the snake bit him. I showed him pictures of different venomous snakes and he positively identified the krait as the culprit. Though Raju had been put on anti-snake venine serum, Dr Ateet told me that he was in danger of lapsing into a paralytic attack and respiratory failure due to the venom's neurotoxic effect. A few hours after I met him at the PGIMER on July 17, Raju lapsed into semi-coma and was put on life-support systems. A worried Raza told me that the doctors were hopeful of Raju recovering in a couple of days as venom effect weakens.
Meanwhile, there was another spot of snake drama. A 2-foot spectacled cobra was discovered by the CISF personnel guarding the parking behind court room No. 10 at the Punjab and Haryana high court on July 15. A rambo constable caught the cobra by the tail and sought to hurl it away into the bushes like an Olympic shot-putter. The cobra was unfortunately hurled onto a tree, where it grasped the branches, and quickly climbed to 30 feet and out of reach of the CISF. Snake-rescue expert Salim Khan was summoned and he climbed the tree and rescued the quaking cobra.
HOUNDS OF 'BARKERVILE'
Photo credit:Nitin Sarin
The three stray mutts that aviation lawyer Nitin Sarin and his wife Kismet have adopted would just not stop howling outside the window of Nitin's `naani's' room at her Sector 8-A, Chandigarh, bungalow the other night. Well, naani has little patience with mutts, especially when they turn into the proverbial 'hounds of barkervile'! So, Nitin was hard-pressed to quell the racket. For two hours, the mutts barked up a tree that had grown from a sapling gifted to naani by Fortis following her bypass surgery. The mutts were finally put under detention and a curious Nitin shone a flashlight up the tree. He found a very placid common palm civet, whose luminous eyes, he captured in this marvellous photo. The cool civet had been cocking a snook at the frothing dogs!
The civet is a resident in the neighbourhood and Nitin has seen it 10 times in the last three years. He suspects its base was the neighbour's house, but since the neighbour has built up the back portion recently, the civet had probably got displaced.
The encounter with the civet left Nitin thrilled, though it was not as nerve-jarring as the time when a cheetah jumped onto the top of their Land Rover while on a safari to Masai Mara (Kenya) in 2011.
The civet is a reclusive, nocturnal creature, and an omnivore. Mammals' expert Vivek Menon describes this civet species as "fond of the fruit of palms and honey, thus earning its reputation for having a sweet tooth.... Can be found around human inhabitations and is known to stay in attics and rooftops, and climb trees near human dwellings".
Photo credit: Vikram Jit Singh
Yoga and Indian classical dances see artistes undertake complex manoeuvres and strike intricate poses, stretching beyond limits, the human sinew and sense. I came across this dying tree flanking the jungles rising from Mirzapur check dam, 25 km from Chandigarh in Punjab's SAS Nagar district. Perched at a height, with a backdrop of the dam's waters, the tree's decaying and leaf-less form uncannily brought to mind such accomplished human harmony of mind, body and soul.
The tree will crumble with time and return to earth to nurture it and repay its debt. The tree's 'burial immersion' was fated as 'deemak', attrition and age overwhelmed it. But it is the most environment-friendly disposal of death's wastes as compared to humans, who light pyres of limbs of murdered trees. Or, colonise the earth's underworld and doom it with a parking crisis of coffins.