A close relative of mine suffers from herpetophobia, the fear of snakes and similar creatures. It is so acute that a TV channel would be rapidly changed the moment a snake came into the picture. I found this amusing but little did I know that I would soon have a few encounters with these reptiles.
When I was transferred to an office on Wellington Island in Kochi, an island known to have a sizeable population of snakes, I initially stayed in a guest room on the top floor of the office which would be deserted after office hours. I was advised by my colleagues not to come down the stairs in the dark since I might have an encounter with a snake or two.
After a few weeks, I shifted to the old staff quarters on the island, to a room on the ground floor, in an ill-lit compound overgrown with grass and a few coconut palms. I would often go out for dinner and come back home when the area would be quite dark. One evening I noticed some movement in the grass. The next day I arranged for the housekeeping staff from office to clean up the compound. When I returned in the evening, the grass had been mowed. In one corner there was, curiously, a heap of twigs and leaves.
I asked the supervisor why that had been left there. “Oh that,” he nonchalantly replied in Malayalam, “is because the snake is there”. He went on to assure me that it was harmless and advised me to leave it alone.
I stayed in that house for a couple of years and I found that the supervisor was right. Though I had a few glimpses of the long, dark chap, we both had decided not to disturb each other. On a visit back to the place years later, I enquired about my garden friend from my old maid and she told me that he was fine and still lived in the garden.
I had an experience with another snake of the same breed during my stay there. One day I had to leave early for office along with my colleague who stayed upstairs. I got ready and opened the front door only to bang it shut in haste. Lying right in front of the door was a long, thin, green serpent. I waited for my colleague to come down the stairs and shouted out to him to get the snake away from my door. He called out a few moments later and told me that it had been driven away. He was a graduate in agriculture. Apparently the colour, the shape and the scales were clear indicators that it was a harmless one. I left the place soon after, and to this day I am grateful that these creatures had followed a policy of live and let live.