The real villains
The Common krait, India's most venomous species, carries a reputation of being a silent and nocturnal killer. It may strike a sleeping human without a warning hiss, even climbing a bed and snuggling close for warmth. As the human takes an unconscious turn while sleeping, the krait, reacting out of fear, bites him hard. But in this case, the krait behaved chivalrously. Aarti, a resident of Nawanshahr, was driving her Activa scooter around 9.30pm near the DC's office recently when she felt a snake crossing her hand. She stamped on the brakes and the snake disappeared into an opening near the headlight.
The krait had been hiding in the scooter for the past many hours and had emerged after being buffeted by winds on the moving scooter. A crowd of onlookers gathered, among them two seemingly helpful youth. Aarti had not been bitten but was trembling with trauma. She handed over her mobile phone worth Rs15,000 to a youth as she lacked composure to call her relatives for help. Finally, snake rescue expert Nikhil Sanger arrived. He fished out the 2.5-foot krait, which was hiding under the flap of the Activa's battery, after a perilous 90-minute search. But Aarti's relief was short-lived as she belatedly realised that the youth had absconded with her mobile phone.
The Gods must be crazy
The parivaar of former railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal seems to have a fetish for animal sacrifices and rituals. On May 10, a few hours before Bansal resigned, the family sacrificed a white goat in their Ashoka Road residence in Lutyen's Delhi in a last-ditch effort to seek divine pardon for Bansal and save him from the looming political guillotine. Last week, a baby spectacled cobra was found trying to sneak from under the door of house no 50, Sector 28, of Bansal's lawyer son Manish. The cobra was promptly dispatched to the snake gods by a vigilant guard. Cobras appearing in houses are not considered "auspicious" by everyone.
So, snake rescue expert Salim Khan was summoned to check the house for more snakes. Khan did not find any, but as he was leaving, Bansal's high-profile wife Madhu requested him to provide a snake that could be fed milk and then freed as part of "snake pooja" to ward off the evil spell hanging over Bansal. Khan was assured he would be handsomely rewarded for providing a "suitably holy snake"!
A wiper for Rajmata's sins
What memorably takes the snake cake is the rituals undertaken by Haryana governor Jagannath Pahadia's wife, Shanti, in August 2011. To cleanse the soul and invoke divine blessings for prosperity, Salim Khan was summoned to the Raj Bhawan and directed to bring a serpent. Khan had rescued a Russell's viper from a Manimajra house and he took it in a plastic can to the Raj Bhawan. He was ushered into the sanctum sanctorum of the Raj Bhawan where a few mortals have set foot, and was greeted reverentially by His Excellency before Shanti, affectionately called Rajmata by her staff, took over. Dressed for the "snake pooja" in a florid suit and decked in heavy gold chains, the portly Rajmata was warned of the pugnacious viper's deadly bite. The warning was well served because the Rajmata had desired the viper be released so that she could bow before its head, a pious posture of propitiation that could have attracted a nasty "peck" from the cooped up and irritated serpent.
So, Rajmata instead poured milk into the can with trembling hands, but her prayers only elicited menacing hisses from the viper. Then, Rajmata took the viper can and disappeared into her temple room and emerged after 30 minutes with an assortment of offerings for the Saketri Shiv Mandir priest. Khan was directed to release the snake at Shiv Mandir. The governor's personal assistant, a Raj Bhawan sedan and its driver were deputed to take Khan to Saketri. But there, the poojari, Swamiji, insisted that Khan release the viper within the temple's prayer room, hoping devotees would offer heavy donations. However, the viper would have certainly bitten devotees. So, Khan refused and freed the viper in the jungles.
Epic migration of tiny tots
I was traversing a muddy and tractor-riven track through a dense jungle in search of a "killer" leopard ahead of Parol village, a few km from the PGIMER. The leopard had triggered hysterical media reportage. Villagers were reportedly not even stirring out of their homes. While the demonised big cat I did not find, the miracle of life presented itself in a most obscure fashion. What caught my eye was armies of what I initially thought were tiny and grey insects. On a closer look, I discovered these to be baby toads.
There were thousands, many getting crushed under vehicles, but their huge number ensured survival of some and perpetuation of the species. The spectacle was akin to viewing from an aircraft the epic migration of wildebeest across crocodile-infested waters of the African Serengeti plains. The baby toads were similarly desperate to cross the deathly track. According to Varad Giri, a senior scientist with the BNHS, toads breed in stagnant water and sometimes breed in large numbers at the onset of monsoon. "Due to this, all babies emerge at the same time. Though very common, not much is known about toads. Toads are terrestrial and visit water only to lay eggs," explains Giri.