Wildbuzz | Tricity’s Rikki Tikki Tavi | punjab | Hindustan Times
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Wildbuzz | Tricity’s Rikki Tikki Tavi

A young man saucily remarked that residents were being regaled with a free porn show featuring entwined viper lovers, adding, “Give them some privacy, guys!”

punjab Updated: Oct 01, 2017 16:52 IST
Vikram Jit Singh
Salim Khan in a Panchkula bungalow garden; and (right) a captured viper.
Salim Khan in a Panchkula bungalow garden; and (right) a captured viper.(Vikramjit Singh)

A pair of Russell’s vipers decided to make love, merrily, and rather in the open, in an unkept bungalow garden of Panchkula’s Sector 25 on the evening of September 28. The lovers were spotted and a flash mob of residents cordoned off the garden as darkness crept in. Flashlights were requisitioned from homes and shone to keep the vipers pinned down. Hefty youths mounted vigil with sturdy ‘lathis’. The serpents were under siege. The residents were fearful of the vipers slithering into their homes at night.

The lads wanted to kill the vipers but baulked at entering grasses and confronting the long, solid serpents. On the other hand, aged and pious ladies pleaded for a serpent “darshan!” A young man saucily remarked that residents were being regaled with a free porn show featuring entwined viper lovers, adding, “Give them some privacy, guys!”

Calleth the hour, calleth the saviour. It was time for Rikki Tikki Tavi ‘Khan’ to stage an appearance. The saviour summoned was not Kipling’s mongoose but a man: the agile, Salim Khan, the tricity’s snake-rescue specialist. He arrived on his rickety scooter and hawai chapals to capture the vipers.

The vipers’ golden eyes were glinting in panic and rage as Khan tiptoed into their grassy bunker. One false step and a viper could have got the better of Khan in the garden where dark shadows made a mosaic with flashlight beams. The docile of the two vipers fled along the compound wall, where Khan placed a bucket filled with foliage horizontally. The viper went straight into the bucket, thinking it was a thick bush. One prisoner of war (POW) captured! The other viper was not obliging. The pugnacious fellow, already irate at the forced disruption of mating and subject to bawling humans and intrusive flashlights, went for Khan launching a strike by lifting half the body into mid-air, fangs bared, like a taut elastic releasing forcefully from a Z-shaped coil.

When Khan catches snakes in such dangerous situations, his mind shuts out the crowd’s cacophony and his eyes rivet on the serpent like a battle-hardy mongoose. The lithe Khan leapt back and warded off the viper’s aggression with a stick. Some more tense manoeuvres in the foliage, and the viper again launched a counter-attack. Khan, who is 5 feet five inches, 48 kg and a Taekwondo disciple, sprang back like a mongoose, keeping just out of reach of the long fangs. As the viper floundered with exertion, Khan dumped a bucket on top of it. Second POW captured!

The crowd cheered, the relief was palpable. Khan’s work on saving snakes and humans from each other is the stuff of local legend. This is acknowledged not just by many grateful households and mute snakes but by the then Punjab CM PS Badal, who honoured Khan at the 2011 Independence Day function in Amritsar.

The vipers were taken to the nearby Ghaggar for release into the ‘sarkanda’. There is abundant water and food here and no human disturbance. The aggressive lover headed for the river on release and when good ol’ Khan tried to coax it to change course towards the ‘sarkanda’, his good intentions were rewarded with one final leap at him by the furious viper. Rikki Tikki Tavi Khan deftly side-stepped once again! After some manoeuvres, both vipers made it to the sarkanda.

Moonlight shone on the gurgling Ghaggar, stars twinkled like wedding lights and it seemed the cosmos was showering blessings on a divine union. The vipers could resume their honeymoon on a Venice-like waterfront.

The Bikaner Camel Corps deployed in Egypt, November 1914. (IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUMS (UNITED KINGDOM))

OUT OF AFRICA

It was not just the inferno of Africa which sapped the strength of troops of Indian princely states fighting in World War I. Mosquitoes and rhinos hounded them relentlessly too. And to add to the misery, they were banned from hunting the abundance of game that roamed the vast wilderness of the African war theatre.

“A patrol under a British officer fired upon a gazelle for camp meat. That came to the notice of higher headquarters. After that, the British GOC, East Africa, banned hunting by troops as bullets fired at animals gave away the patrol’s position to the enemy,” historian and author, AN ‘Tony’ McClenaghan, told this writer in a fascinating aside to his well-received presentation, ‘Contribution of Indian Princely States to WWI’, under the auspices of the Centre for Indian Military History.

The officers and troops, instead of indulging in a spot of hunting for the pot luck or camp bushfire meat as they were accustomed to in India, turned into fair game themselves! “Rhino and lion attacks were reported, such as a soldier of the Imperial Services tossed up in the air by a rhino but surviving. When troops crossed rivers, there were lurking crocodiles and hippos. I estimate that two soldiers each were killed in rhino and lion attacks,” McClenaghan added.

Soldiers on Imperial Service in Africa faced the menace of the Jigger flea, which afflicts the feet and slithers under toenails. Black fever, malaria and dysentery laid up many others. Mules and ponies of transport companies were ravaged by Tsetse flies. All in all, Indian man and mule must have been glad to ‘Get the Hell Out of Africa!’

Writer can be contacted at vjswild1@gmail.com