A red sand boa is missing from Mumbai’s Byculla Zoo. Hindustan Times quotes zoo director Anil Anjankar as saying: “The snake has not been misplaced... this snake was stolen.”
The authorities have been very prompt in their response to the absconding snake; they have decided to raise the height of the zoo fence. But this is a sand boa (whose main activity is burrowing in the sand) and not part of the Chrysopelea (flying snake) family. The boa could have gone underground when its keepers were looking the other way.
According to Maharashtrian superstition, if the boa and an albino tortoise are killed with the nails of an owl, there will be a shower of money in the house. It is not as elaborate as Shakespeare’s “Eye of newt, and toe of frogge,/Wool of bat, and tongue of dogge,/Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,/Lizard's leg, and howlet’s wing.” But you must remember that for the spell to work, the boa must be more than 3.5 kg in weight. Sand boas, like the wives of some of our richest industrialists, are short and stout.
The boa is an unloved creature. You might conceivably have a crush on a boa constrictor; remember models Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre were pulled up for obscenity for appearing in an ad dressed only in a snake. They were trying to sell shoes. Both the shoe brand and snake have now disappeared.
Vanishing snakes are not a feature of Mumbai alone. In March, a cobra went AWOL from New York’s Bronx Zoo. Twitter celebrities like @shashitharoor and @juniorbachchan should note that the reptile acquired more than 13,000 followers on @bronxzooscobra, an account set up for it on the social media site. The adolescent cobra was found two days later snuggling up to hot pipes in the reptile house.
The missing inhabitants of Byculla and Bronx have enjoyed their hour in the sun. But snakes as a class suffer from an image problem. Why is it always a snake in the grass? Why must Shakespeare compare a thankless child to a serpent’s tooth? Part of the answer lies in Christian mythology: Adam fell for a serpent. The snake fares a bit better in other cultures: ask a Bengali friend to translate the hit song Baburam Sapure. (Incidentally, that must be where ophidophile Sapre gets her name from.)
India too has an image problem and we are trying to resolve it the wrong way. Incredible India sold the country as a land of snake-charmers. Today’s brand managers – particularly the Commonwealth Games and the telecom ministry types – simply sell the country. And opportunistic yoga “gurus” are adding to the image of anarchy; if you contort too much, you can’t help being crooked.
Conventional wisdom is that India’s information technology (IT) prowess has given it new status in the eyes of the world. Standing behind a couple of TCS employees as they try to enter the US gives a different picture. At immigration, they are grilled and treated as people stealing US jobs. A few years ago, when the US economy was in better shape, they were considered cyber-coolies – scrounging on meals, wearing the cast-off warm clothing of others of their ilk, who had done their money-making stint in the US earlier. “Yon TCSian has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much. (That’s Shakespeare again; not for nothing is he the most quoted author in English after the Bible.)
What counts in the West is size. As long as Indian companies don’t make it to the Fortune 500, the country will not be recognised as a force of any sort. Even our scams are small. On the world stage, you don’t win brownie points for large donations to foreign universities. It just shows a lack of concern for Indian universities, which need the money much more. You don’t win respect for trying to buy into glamour.
“The biggest and the most high-profile deal in Indian entertainment,” gushed a local pink paper of Anil Ambani’s decision to invest $1 billion plus in Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks. The foreign media reported that it didn’t matter to Spielberg where the money came from; all he wanted was money, Brother Mukesh Ambani, meanwhile, also has foreign ambitions. He has just joined the Bank of America board. He will end up with several crores in shares and compensation. Now that’s a BoA that you can’t afford to lose in the sand.
The writer is Managing Editor, Business India.