It’s raining snakes!

6 Aug

The Economist today:

“It’s been raining snakes amid the recent heavy downpour,” reported the Mumbai edition of the Times of India on July 26th, in a news piece about a rock python which “refused to be evicted” from an autorickshaw. The same paper contained reports of three other pythons rescued from a shipping container, and yet another that was found trapped in a fisherman’s net. A lost python spotted on a city beach made the papers the next day. Later that week a 28-year-old man found a snake in the distant suburbs, wrapped it around his neck and walked through a nearby market area as his friends made videos for social media. He died after it bit him three times.

It is not literally raining snakes. But a week of torrential downpours has had the same effect, driving snakes and other reptiles out of their burrows and into the city, where they seek warmth, shelter and gastronomic delights …

If a bloke sees fit to walk a busy neighbourhood – all Indian neighbourhoods are busy – with a venomous snake around his neck, others might conclude he is just asking for trouble. And when we do that, trouble generally obliges.

I of course have been known to sport a very large Burmese python round my own neck, and live to tell the tale. I wouldn’t recommend it though. For one thing they are uncommon heavy. For another we are speaking of a king-size predator with a pea-size brain: any sense of having built a rapport based on mutual trust is likely to be illusory and borne of preposterous vanity.

In any case, as was pointed out later by plain-speaking pals perusing the pictorial proof, my choice of scarf simply didn’t go, colour-wise, with the rest of my kit.

Since my hippie days in the early seventies, India has had a special place in my thoughts and fondest memories. Decades later, after a three week spiritual retreat in Rishikesh, 2000, but before making my way down to Delhi for the flight home, I was contentedly wandering the marketplace of Haridwar, a larger town a few miles down the Ganges.

In one of those cultural exchanges Indian states go in for on occasion, a troupe of girls from far-off Kerala was entertaining the northern crowds with traditional dancing. Very graceful it was too, the girls mesmerising in their sinuous and bejewelled beauty. So mesmerising, in fact, that it was a while before I noticed that the grey-beard standing a couple of yards away and leaning forwards in rapt attention wore two medium sized pythons over his shoulder.

Only in India, I told myself, could such a person be part of the crowd, rather than the spectacle which had drawn it!

But this isn’t about snakes, is it? Or India. It’s about the gathering omens of climatic freakery – the raging blazes and killer heat waves, the melting ice driving polar bears south, the torrential rains washing cobras into Asian taxis; all the merest drops in steadily warming oceans – while the calm and sober voices of newsreaders and columnists discreetly decouple all of it, as they do those endless wars on the middle east, from the logic of a capitalism which must – must – prioritise the pursuit of private profits and the accumulation of personal fortunes over every other consideration.

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