Fantastic transfigurations, magical voice modulations, testimonies of extra sensory perceptions, past life regressions… No, we are not dwelling into the delusional makings of a schizophrenic mind, rather, only attempting a teeny weeny peek-a-boo into the silver screens of mystical-snake-portraying cinemadom!
According to Carolus Linnaeus’ ‘Hierarchy of Classification’ all organisms can be broadly grouped into taxonomic ranks comprising of Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Genus, and Species ( Often memorized as the pneumonic – Dear King Phillip, Come Over for Good Soup). Snakes diverge from humans starting from ‘Class’ in this taxonomic classification, the former being part of Class Reptilia and the latter, falling under Class Mammalia. While this difference can be easily understood as snakes being cold blooded, having dry, scaly skin, and do not suckle their young ones, as opposed to humans who are warm blooded, have hair, and suckle their young ones, there’s more to it.
That humans are far advanced is quite evident from the fact that our brains are super accelerated than that of snakes and the other species of Animalia. In fact, in the pyramid of brain evolution, snakes would very well suit the lower, primeval base, as compared to humans who would rule the top most rung, thanks to our highly advanced brain functions.
For instance, humans can engage in intellectual functions of problem solving, strategizing, pattern finding, analyzing, deducing etc. which require very complex brain networking.
Further, our highly evolved amygdala (the part of the brain which is responsible for emotions) facilitates our feeling a plethora of emotions such as joy, jealousy, excitement, betrayal, and so on, which are way beyond the most basal ones required for our existence.
Whereas snakes are yet to move away from their ‘reptilian brains’ which primarily revolve around the ‘survival and species propagation’ instincts such as the urge to satisfy feelings of hunger, thirst, to mate etc.
Thus it comes as no surprise that our species have churned out the likes of path breaking inventors, literary geniuses, and soul stirring artists, while snakes have a zero track record of the same.
So when Archimedes ran the streets of ancient Greece shouting euphoric cries of ‘Eureka! Eureka,’ his eloquence was lost on the ancestor of the present day snake which had managed to slither into a rat hole and succeed in the coup.
And when an almost deaf Beethoven finished his 9th symphony and the whole world erupted in encore, only the grandest aunt of today’s snake counted among those who could relate to his physical challenge.
That notable mathematician Ramanujan made significant contributions to the infinite theory was of negligible priority to the fore father of our contemporary snake, as it blissfully basked, unaware of a time sense.
If you think these major setbacks to effective existence dear reader, then think again, for although not equipped with such far-fetched capabilities, snakes also don’t have to ‘sweat it out’ (another distinguishing characteristic!) about developing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other memory affecting conditions, for they are devoid of a memory in the first place!
But what we see portrayed of snakes in our movies and tele serials are a farthest cry from actual reality, to say the least! For these ignorant beings are dramatized (and my my! with what effects!) as being revenge seekers, possessing super human prowess, harboring a weakness to flute music, having a vengeful memory surpassing lifetimes, being skillful seducers…and counting!
The below is a rather light hearted account of such renderings.
Kindly Note – All characters, names, and events in the following lines are purely non-fictional portraits of highly fictional works. Any felt resemblance to actual events, entities, or persons, whether living or dead, is indicative of your requiring immediate intervention. 🙂
SMOKING IS INJURIOUS TO HEALTH…
SNAKES ARE NOT!!
TALKING WHILE DRIVING KILLS…
BRAKING WHILE DRIVING SAVES…
A petite belle, her long hair still damp from the recent shower, steps out into her garden (A magical garden no doubt, for summer sunflowers and winter pansies are at once, in abundance) to walk among her scenic flower beds (Yes, to the accompaniment of Tralalalas, moonbeams,…what nots).
Lost in the act of chasing a flitting golden butterfly (Duh??!!!), she is bitten by the ‘Oh so vile’ snake hidden in the grass (Please note a change in the background music track from ‘balmy’ to ‘blasphemy’ to the senses, as the snake’s strike – obviously not meant for children, carrying mothers, heart patients, as the disclaimer goes, is cast in repeat action). An ear splitting shriek erupts (How such a fragile looking thorax can muster such a ‘tectonic plates shifting’ scream is a mystery paralleling the Taos Hum mystery and its likes for me!) and the delicate darling swoons (A scream like that would wipe all the air out of a tornado’s vortex, the seemingly bone china head being a puny match! Nevertheless, my ‘Fiercely backed by logic’ theory has just as much room in this scene, as does an elephant, in a pinhole).
Our ‘Out on a stroll in the springtime weather’ Hero, in matching red shiny pants and a green shirt (Dare I miss the yellow tie? This is perhaps what they tag the ‘spring collection,’ heh?) hears the scream (And most notably manages to get away with only a flinch – which is perhaps why he is the ‘Hero’ amidst lesser mortals like myself who are still reeling from the aftermath of it – ear plugs and all), and is at the spot just in time to catch the damsel in distress in his waiting arms before she falls in a disgraceful heap on the ground (My, my, how sweet!!)
The camera angels on her long eyelashes, coral lips, unblemished complexion (On screen of course!) and can we grudge our knight in shining pants as he falters in his step and is momentarily transported to that celestial place where we are given to understand, they manufacture the golden sun, moon and shining star dust, to play peek-a-boo with the angel of his dreams, now in his arms? Anyways, reality gatecrashes in the form of a gentle tremor in the swooning maiden’s nape (A fast dying pulse, for those of you unscientific lot) and our hero pulls himself together (understandably with some effort), retrieves a Swiss knife from his pocket (Given to him by his dying guardian some 20 years back for just such an incident, amidst a fire engulfed backdrop as their only home, where the ‘soon to be strutting hero’ passed many happy hours, is perishing. At this juncture, one cannot help but wonder what our ‘Mr. Always Resourceful’ would’ve pulled out if the scene had the heroine stranded on the 14th floor of a building caught on fire….a light weighing, foldable ladder perhaps?), makes a slight incision (little realizing that he is only further aggravating the situation, were this to be real life) at the bite site and sucks all the venom out (At no point take lightly, the affect created by the background track, dearest reader)
The attempts not eliciting any response in the sleeping maiden, our hero decides to kiss her one first and last time before stabbing himself with the same Swiss knife (yes, you read that right!) that failed to save his beloved’s life (Intended to serve as a cue for the spectator to reach for a tissue box).
And hey presto! The ‘Kiss of true love’ (Delivered by the same mouth that just some minutes back had sucked out venom and blood; Word of caution – Don’t be thrown off your chair by the rose bud that springs out of nowhere to cocoon the ensuing action!) miraculously saves his dearest’s life from the clutches of the ‘Kiss of death’ and she awakes ….to his melting eyes and trruuueee loooovee, to the violin’s serenade.
The duo dancing around a mulberry bush as the heavens rain glimmering stardust and gold.
P.S. – In the meantime, the whereabouts of the poor snake, anyone? Ah, who cares that it narrowly missed being maimed for life by our gentle Diana’s ‘not at all gentle’ heels and has slithered off to a spot farthest from all the action? No no, the jingle jangle of the heroine’s bangle as she dances on a freezing mountain top in a short skirt makes for a much more interesting watch. This most sensitive writer begs being excused from describing hero Sher Khan’s attire. Amen.
A village setting with farmhands engaged in transplanting rice stalks amidst lush greenery, the cuckoo’s call, and vibrant sun rise. A curly haired, moon faced infant strays away from the watchful eyes of his mother (who is engrossed in discussing drumstick Sambar recipe and the last night’s fight in the locality with a fellow farmhand) towards a nearby anthill (which is subjected to being showered with flowers, milk, eggs, incense…the whole deal during festivities, but is otherwise off limits for the remaining part of the year).
A nearby dove takes flight all of a sudden, and the cows tethered in the vicinity take to some frenzied mooing in the dusk-verging-on-becoming-dark (Time sense is just as prominent a feature in these scenes as is common sense, so no surprises there!) and the infant lets out a sharp cry.
Roused midway from describing the addition of diced onions and sautéing it, the ever so vigilant mother realizes that her child is no longer under the banyan tree where she had left him sleeping in a makeshift saree juulaa (which is like a good 3 feet above the ground, so how the toddler got out of it unscathed is of little concern now).
Everyone runs in the direction of the infant’s cry (lost in the din being created by the mother’s shrill decibels filled lamenting) and the horrific scene that greets them could well be traded with being struck by thunder a hundred times.
For a coiled serpent, in all its hooded viciousness is within striking range of the infant, and the baby, sensing his mother’s presence starts wailing more lustily, little realizing his precarious perch, as the scene would have us believe (In truth, the infant’s feisty cries could’ve been easily avoided if his mommy dearest had concentrated more on fixing him his bowl of Cerelac than in perfecting the right drumstick Sambar, but tis too late!).
In a matter of minutes, naïve turban clad farmhands going about their daily duties, magically transform into spade wielding, blood-seeking avengers, and just as abruptly have their self-proclaimed super powers come to a halt when they encounter the cornered reptile (The fact that they outnumber the snake 50:1 is no consolation at all – for them, or for the terrified ophidian).
As lesser mortals quake and are mulling over resorting to more nonviolent means of appeasing the gods with an offering of milk and eggs, a flying spade which narrowly misses one of the huddled member’s ear as it goes swirling in unimaginable formations, crashes into a hundred splinters in front of the hooded reptilian.
As the viewer looks to the source of the rotating weapon expecting a martial ninja, they encounter – A shoe. Yes, the flat side of a shoe raised high in air for impact, and it slightly shifts, to uncover a cigar and a supposedly rakish smile-sporting face in summer shades (remember tis getting dark? But huh! Who cares for such nonsensical trivialities?).
As the crowd watches agape, all attention now riveted from the crying infant to this modern day messiah in jeans (and of course shoes), the path on which he walks suddenly transforms into see-through glass (God Almighty, Take me now!). For how else does one explain how his every footstep (in slow motion, as he walks with swinging arms and the ‘melts rocks, hearts are no match’ smile) is captured from beneath – every speck of dirt and pebble in the sole of his shoe, with such prominence that any budding actor would die or kill to share in that kind of screen space.
The hero walks towards the child’s mother who with folded hands, is crying alternate tears of incoherence and deliverance, and smiles (The kind that one reserves for viva examiners or the traffic police when caught on the wrong side of the road). Deliberately (As though he was deciding between red wine and white wine from the menu at a restaurant), he removes his shades, revealing penetrating eyes (If we are talking of penetrating a slab of melting, gooey butter on a simmering pan that is) and hands them over to a nearby bowing vassal, in full isstyle.
Next, he turns his expert (For nothing else will do!) attention at the wretched serpent and stretches his arm (Whoosh!) and magically, a levitating log (Yes, those are here to stay) appears from nowhere (whoosh whoosh whoosh) and shoots in the direction of his doomed victim – a nearby coconut tree (#@%!@@). Hold on, simple beholder, for the tree in turn is shook violently (as birds freeze midair from the impact and ocean waves momentarily pause in their motion of crashing into one another) by the impact and releases a big coconut which comes crashing on the snake.
The villain thus assassinated, our hero now pacified, returns his magnanimous attention to the stupefied crowd (can we dare blame them?) who in a moment regain their ‘senses’ and cheer their savior to the heavens.
Post accepting like 5 rose garlands, flashing his poster smile and stopping an aged person from touching his feet and instead hugging him (For the scene would be incomplete otherwise), our most tender hearted hero lifts the infant (who by now has stopped crying, perhaps recognizing a strong contender for attention in the hero and giving up) off the ground and hands him over to his mother (The full-paisa-vasool scene)
The entire village gathers to celebrate the season’s harvests and to make offerings of sweet Pongal to the village deity (Yes, you guessed that right, the backdrop for a song in praise of our hero as he walks, on a path strewn with flowers by starry eyed girls).
The toddler grows up to become the apple of the entire village’s eyes as he wins umpteen bull fights, fights goons processing country liquor in his village and for teasing the women folk , and would move mountains to get drumsticks for his mother’s special sambar. That a snake died – both a literal and a figurative death on his account is but an insignificant memory, long forgotten in this upcoming hero’s (part 2 of the sequel) glorious story.
This time, the action takes place some 20 years thence as a teary eyed hero recounts his most guarded and sorrowful flashback (To a gathering crowd comprising of the heroine who is nursing a glowering cheek – evidently slapped by the hero in response to a playful rebuke she made which deeply hurt his sentiments, inspired the slap, and the barrage that is to follow).
‘A small hut by the sea side, a happy family of parents and our ‘still waiting to shed the baby fat’ hero who takes it in turns to go piggy back riding on each of his parents.
That theirs is a family which is low in materialistic gains but richest on the more, meaningful assets of life is undoubtedly demonstrated … All in one song (Father buys mother bangles with the meagre pennies earned from toiling day and night, the mother foregoes her morsel to ensure her family is well fed, they visit a temple and share a coconut piece amongst themselves, sleep on a coir bed and point at the full moon as they complete each other’s lines and the waves gently crash in the background….and all that seemingly never ending saga).
And then one day, calamity strikes.
In the form of a large, black snake which would’ve struck our little hero (and thereby saved us this entire litany, but hell! Life’s unfair like that) as he is returning from the village fair, having bought his most priced passion – a wooden horse, along with his dotting mother.
But no, the epitome of sacrifice pushes her son away from harm’s way and instead of making a run from there (as ‘common sense prevailing’ folks might do), throws herself on the snake’s way, suffers a bite, froths from her mouth within seconds (easy there lady!), makes her miserably crying son promise to be good, grow up to be great etc. etc. and dies.
Thereby resulting in a shattered home from the heartbroken father taking to drink, and the son having to relocate from their most beloved ancestral home, and all that jazz.
The story finished, the hero looks to the heroine, and she runs into his open arms, crying her apologies for provoking him into slapping her. The crowd (though with some super human effort) manage to swallow the big lump in their throats (God be with you if you mistake it for puke, dear reader) and wish the couple years and years of togetherness (no doubt of some slaps and make ups) and happiness.
Take home from the story – Never judge a man for raising his hand on a woman. Dig deeper (And take leave of your thinking part of the brain while you are at it) and you’ll realize – that a murderous snake invariably always has a hand (okay, a fang, a tail, a scale, an anything!) in it.
The above citings would only constitute part 1 of the evidence, if snakes could ever file litigations against the cinematic denizens. For part 2 would be entirely dedicated to the pitiful allegations made by just one particular species of the snake race – The Spectacled Cobra, or the ‘Icchadhari Nagin’ as our most lucrative film industry has portrayed it to be.
Trust me, if the ‘Icchadhari Nagin,’ which translated means ‘A shape shifting serpent’ could really perform magic tricks, as popularized by our Indian cinemas, its trademark would’ve been the ‘Vanishing trick’ – far from all human interference!
Alas! The mere witless being that it is, the Spectacled Cobra has unknowingly and most blamelessly, invited the contrary and consequently been subjected to much untoward attention.
Snakes aren’t shape shifters, vengeance seekers, magical beings in possession of precious stones, and all the other fantastic portrayals that our media and folklore hear-say has painted them to be. Rather, they are simple beings which are some millions and billions of years away (if the evolutionary need ever arises that is!) from developing more complex characters of a complex memory system and emotions – traits that are a given among us humans, and form the crux of ‘being hurt,’ ‘holding grudges,’ and ‘subsequent plotting.’
In other words, snakes are purely instinctual beings striving to satisfy their basic existential instincts of hunger, thirst, mating, and self-defense. Their wiring is so primeval that even ‘Motherly instincts,’ commonly witnessed among other species of the animal kingdom while birthing and nurturing their young ones, are present in ‘minimalistic to verging on null’ degrees in these beings.
So while ‘Humanifying’ snakes may seem like a great fuel to the imagination, we urge your attention to the fact that such a tendency has targeted the poor snakes to practices, which are far from ‘Being human!’ That said, in our efforts to scale over the walls or ‘Deewar’ of apprehensions built around understanding the real snakes, we appeal to your more ‘delicate movie-goer senses thus –
Vijay: Aaj mere paas paisa hai, bangla hai, gaadi hai, naukar hai, bank balance hai, aur tumhare paas kya hai?
Ravi: Mere paas maa hai!
Snake: Mere paas tho maa bhi nahi hai!
# Vote for saving snakes, choose conservation. 🙂