A SNAKE EYE'S VIEW OF `RODIN OF THE RUBBLE'
Whenever a resident of Chandigarh or its peripheral, urbanising sprawl is bitten by a snake, a belief finds expression. That this is nature's retribution. Before Chandigarh, this was a home of abundant reptiles due to a favourable habitat. And, that Chandigarh was built on the graves of such creatures. So, a bite is payback time from vengeful, displaced serpents!
Who would know this better than the late Nek Chand? In the 1960-70s, working at the dead of night, he secretly cleared a forest buffer zone and colonised it illegally with artistic creations from human wastes and allegedly such natural wastes as pebbles/stones from Shivalik choes. Chand was then nearly booked by the administration, which had earlier colonised the entire lands! The rest is not just history, but a lesser known and seen 'tail of hisssstory'!Snake rescue expert, Salim Khan, caught 15-16 spectacled cobras, rat snakes and rock pythons from within and around Chand's kothi at the Rock Garden in the last three years, apart from nabbing many more specimens from the Garden's larger sprawl. One of Chand's favoured statue makers, Joginder Kumar, nabbed a six-foot python at night from his hut, next to Chand's house. On another occasion, a rat snake got marooned in the ladies toilet and the fairer sex had to use the gents washroom as the UT forest department did not respond to SOS calls from the garden's stall owners!
Khan recalls that Chand was perturbed, and grilled him to find a way to make his kothi ''snake-proof''. Not only is the garden surrounded by jungle and swamps, where one can see sambar herds while driving down the Kaimbwala road, there are enough water pools and hiding places in Chand's creative structures to attract snakes. Daily mounds of human garbage/litter attract rodents/birds and these serve as prey for snakes. After a cobra was rescued from Chand's backyard by Khan in July 2013, I spoke to the famed 'Rodin of the rubble', 'Peerless potter of peeling potties' or 'Dreamer of debris', as you may have it!
``The Rock Garden has hundreds of snakes that come in from forests and Sukhna Lake. I dread the night because I fear I may step on one of these cobras and it may not spare an old man like me. The lighting in the Rock Garden is not good, and there are plenty of dark spots where snakes move about in search of prey at night. I had a lucky escape earlier when a cobra was shedding skin and I just about avoided it. The cobra that came in on Friday (July 12, 2013) was well within our backyard. I have taken extra precautions to make sure snakes cannot slip into my house by inserting wedges underneath the door. I even had recovered a 10-foot-long skin of a snake and preserved it for many years till the lizards got to it and finished it. But the good fortune is that despite so many snakes in the Rock Garden, no human has been bitten here,'' Chand told me then.
Well, apart from its aesthetics, the true message of Chand's legacy is recycling. He will find redemption for his colonisation of jungle and retrievals from choes if humanity learns from him to recycle more. To cut wastes, and ease pressure off an imploding, ravaged earth.
The next time you discern a hullabaloo at the top of a tree and can't see an eagle/hawk/kite disturbing the smaller birds and squirrels, be sure it is the agile rat snake raiding the cradle. In a rare moment of natural history recorded recently by Punjab State Wildlife Advisory Board member and award-winning conservationist Nikhil Sanger, he clicked a rat snake constricting a common myna chick in a nest made in the hollow of a 'desi deg' tree. This was at Mussapur village, 10 km from Nawanshahr. The snake had tombed two chicks in its stomach before the third was on its way. Sanger inserted his cellphone into the hollow and clicked the deathly embrace.
Sanger says spectacled cobras and rat snakes commonly haunt trees in hot season as frogs/toads have not appeared due to lack of rains and empty agrarian fields do not provide cover. He also rescued a rat snake that had imprudently climbed a tree in the Nawanshahr DC's office! The problem is that people spot snakes on trees, collect in excited mobs, pelt stones and block the terrified snake's exit.