Of python love

Maninder Singh  

Saurabh Shankar now works in a pre-eminent position as the Visiting Agent of the Assam Company in Upper Assam. There was a time, long ago and not far away at all, when his sole companion in the planters’ bungalow was a feisty python.

Garden workers, while clearing the scrub in an isolated division of the tea estate, had chanced upon a forlorn baby python. Hearing an unusual commotion, when the young sahib alighted upon the scene, he found a lonesomely winsome slithery heap. It was soon identified as the abandoned or orphaned offspring of a rare Burmese rock python.

Labourers in the tea estates ardently believe in the adage of finders being keepers. In this instance, the finders would have quickly abdicated their duties as keepers and slaughtered the infant python, which they would then have cooked for a community meal and distributed as prasad. A baksheesh from the impressionable planter bought him the privilege of having a wondrously rare python kid as a pet and companion.

Although Saurabh had grown up in the reptile-rich Doon valley, he was mortally scared of snakes. He had read, in the desultory readings of his youthful years, that close contact with the object of a phobia was likely to help surmount fabulously frightful fears.

Keeping a Burmese python was a brave attempt to overcome his abhorrence of slithery creatures. He soon discovered that the young entrant in his life was a fantastically quiet and formidably introverted character. He would recuse himself, in the manner of Supreme Court judges, under some heavy oaken bench and nobody would ever guess it to be there.

It was only when powerful pangs of hunger began to course through its lithe body that the lissome python would surface. Food was needed only once a week. When not hungry, the little Burmese would lie sequestered in some shadowy secret nook.

The washroom was the preferred place, where it would coil up around the pipe leading down from the cistern to the thunder-box. This is where the first of the adventures in the admirable pythons’ young life unfolded.

A friend had dropped in and, wanting to use the washroom, walked in unsuspectingly. Hearing a volley of unusual sounds, the inquisitive little reptile decided to investigate. When the lovely head of the angelic python dropped inquiringly from the skies, the visitor had no choice but to run screaming out, with his trousers like shackles around his ankles. The little being that destiny had so indulgently brought into Saurabh’s life would have been mighty surprised at the fracas. After all, it meant no harm and only craved some human warmth in the solitude of exile from his jungle home.

A second adventure resulted in the kid python slithering out, unobserved, for a foray into the labour lines, where it caused a huge commotion. The “burra sahib” then administered a warning that the mischievous sprite needed to be kept locked up so as not to imperil the orderly life in the garden.

As so often happens, kids grow up and what was once a divine distraction began to look fearsome and deadly. Visitors to the garden bungalow were fond of hanging the rock python around their necks for a lifetime’s photograph, to impress friends and lovers.

What brought the happy story to an end was the attempt to begin another lovely story. Like his irrepressible pet, Saurabh had grown up and needed to marry, if he was not to remain a life-long bachelor. His bride to be and his in-laws were much distracted by his fondness for keeping savage wildlife at home and wondered if the family home could be a safe haven, unless the poor Burmese rock python was permanently exiled to a suitably wild habitat.

And this is how the new bride came into the planter sahib’s life, at the very human cost of a worthy companion blessed with a golden heart.