I come from a place which, once upon a time, lay sprawled at the foot of the Eastern Ghats. Back then, the monsoon arrived with unfailing regularity. Narrow rivulets of water ran from everywhere to everywhere. Coconut trees lined up infinitely into the distant horizon. Never-ending panorama of verdant paddy fields stretched bountifully like a lush green giant carpet invited one to take a walk on it. But each step came with an imminent danger of accidently stepping on a highly venomous snake.
One afternoon in December almost 15 years back, my brother and I were on our way to the local pond to take bath. Our friends were already waiting for us at the pond. All of us were on Christmas school vacation after the half-yearly exams.
In those days communal bath in the local pond were of great interest to us. The pond was almost half a mile away from our house. We set off with our friends, we walk past columns of paddy fields balancing ourselves on the narrow mud embankments which served as borders to each column, cross a couple of banana plantations before we get to the pond. In the pond, we do double and triple somersaults and swim for hours. The pond was never clean. The water was usually green in color and in rainy days it would turn brownish. But we never cared.
On that afternoon, we had just done with our usual balancing act on the embankments and were briskly walking over the relatively flat surfaces of the banana plantation when a rustling sound caught our attention. We guessed that to be a snake. We trained our eyes to scale the location. “There!” my brother shouted pointing his hand at a snake, not too far away from where we stood. Once spotted, our first instinct was to chase it. We never thought twice about it because that’s what we always did when we spot a serpent in the open. We got a strange pleasure in watching these killer reptiles run for their life.
We set off to chase. But only when we came close to it we realized that we were not after any ordinary snake. It was the longest snake I had ever seen in the open. It’s long and slender black body cut through the rotten leaves in its attempt to flee. It was a King Cobra.
Rumors were rife for weeks that a King Cobra was on the prowl in the same location. This could be the one, I thought. I had an aluminum bucket in my hand. I hit the handle against the body of the bucket to raise noise as I chased the fleeing King.
Suddenly in one quick movement, the snake stopped, dragged its lower half of the body to the front in one sweep, and turned its head to face us. It must have felt cornered or thought it was better to fight back than run. Whatever the reason, the King faced us fiercely. Its beady eyes glowed in the semi-darkness of the plantation.
The courage I showed in chasing suddenly gone, I stood transfixed within the King’s striking distance. I moved the bucket to the front and held it with both hands outstretched. In case it strikes, I could at least block off with the bucket. In the mean time my brother had slowly retreated back. He whispered, “Joshi step backwards, slowly, slowly”. I could not dare take my eyes off the king. “You watch out, I will go get the boys from the pond” my brother told from behind and ran away. But all I could do was stand rooted to the ground, paralyzed in fear with my bulging eyes fixed on the brooding king.
The standoff continued for a minute. Then the King slowly lowered its head to the ground and once again came back to its fleeing mood. As the snake slithered away from me and out of sight, I silently promised myself that I will never chase or harm any snake in my life again. It took a while to bring myself together. I could not thank God or my luck enough. Friends who rushed to the scene, volunteered to search and kill the snake. I asked them to let go of the king, for the king had let go of me.