Narayanan works on the farm where our current house is located. He is hard of hearing. But a tireless worker. He starts his day at 5.30 or 6, by cleaning the cattle shed and milking the cow, and works almost non-stop till he ends his day after 6 after handing over the evening’s milk to the milkman.
I keep hearing about snakes in our village. Most of the snakes that they see are reported to be kraits or cobras. I’ve heard our boys talk about 5-headed snakes. I keep pondering if they can really identify snakes or if, out of scare, they think of every snake as venomous.
I was reading a book on snakes by the renowned snakes expert, Whitekar (translated into Tamil). It had fairly extensive details about snakes, with their Tamil names, and black and white photos.
Narayanan was passing by. Suddenly seized by either an urge to test his knowledge of snakes, or a thought that he might be interested in going through pictures of snakes, I showed a photo on the book and gestured to him, asking what snake it was. He can’t read. But immediately after glancing at the photo, he said ‘Russel’s viper’ (கண்ணாடிவிரியன்). He also correctly identified the common krait (கட்டுவிரியன்) and Indian cobra (நாகன்) on the previous pages.
“My father died after being bitten by a Russel’s viper. I must have been younger than your daughter then. My youngest brother was a few months old,” he said.
“In those days, our houses were all damp during rainy days. He was bitten while he was asleep. He kept insisting that it was nothing for a long time. Then my mother saw a viper, and killed it. Later she saw four more coming from behind a drumstick tree. Where were cars and buses during those days? Especially at night. By the time we arranged a cart and took him, he died. He had been bitten below his knees. My mother had tied a cloth on his thighs. But one lady had removed it. The poison rose to his head quickly.”
“None of us studied. After I grew up, I was bitten by a common krait. But my employer had a car. He took me to a Chritian Mission hospital in Kerala. They kept a stone which sucked out the poison.”
“Then…you know my brother, Ponnusamy…he was cutting some maize stalk for the cows. A Russel’s viper zapped around him and bit him on his knees. It was 8pm. We took him on the K.P.K. bus to Pollachi. Even then, we had to spend over 10000 rupees.”
He further spoke about rat snakes and cobras. The details and physical features that he mentioned were more or less similar to what I find on that book.
However many books I read, I doubt if I could identify snakes correctly, or if I am bitten, whether I would know how to react. Whenever even bees or wasps build their hives inside our house, we go running to Narayanan. Who teaches who?
Which system of education can impart them the learning that they gather from their experiences, dangling between life and death? Can we, at the least, not alienate them from their experiences and environment?