Just when you think you’ve seen it all

I’m utterly speechless.

One of YouTube’s commentors tries to explain things –

This is a rite of passage in India. It has not fangs and it’s mouth is sewn shut. Also, it has no constricting force so it’s less dangerous then a dog or cat.

… And discussion on urban-mythbusting website snopes.com seems to concur. Any mutineers have insight here? I mean it’s one thing to teach a baby not to fear *this* snake but rue the day he should start fearing all snakes.

92 thoughts on “Just when you think you’ve seen it all

  1. Randomizer,

    I actually had an encounter with a Cobra in the garden of my home in India. My son was around 3 at that time and there was a real fear that he could be bitten.So I kept him indoors for a couple of days and we did what anyone in India does: called a snake catcher who caught the Cobra and then released it in the jungle. I am truly sorry about your dog but that still does not give you the right to mock at someone else’s religious beliefs .Thats all

    I am NOT disputing your right to save your life or that of anyone dear to you by killing a snake if the situation demands. Just don’t be intolerant of others beliefs because they concern a species that you dislike.

  2. Randomizer, I had not read your # 48 before I sent out a response. Thanks for clarifying

  3. I actually had an encounter with a Cobra in the garden of my home in India. My son was around 3 at that time and there was a real fear that he could be bitten.So I kept him indoors for a couple of days and we did what anyone in India does: called a snake catcher who caught the Cobra and then released it in the jungle.

    wow….i mean. i dont even like seeing a spare ant in my house..

  4. Puli, See I am not the tree-hugging type or PETA activist but I really feel that we humans are encroaching more and more onto the habitat of wild animals.So these kind of encounters are not exceptional.We need to learn to share this earth with all kinds – humans and animals:-)

  5. Cruel to the snake, but probably no more cruel than factory farms, or what is done to tigers in India. For the kid it is probably fine.

    Now zipping through Delhi traffic with your whole family on the motorbike, baby holding onto the handle bars, woman side saddle on the back with her dupatta swinging precariously close to the back wheel, with no helmets on anyone? Katharnak! Maybe the American ‘press’ would lay off of Brittney Spears and put more attention where it should (err..Paris Hilton??) if they saw this.

  6. Fear or disgust of reptiles is considered mostly to be an acquired trait.

    I haven’t read through all the comments on this thread – and haven’t seen the linked video.

    Nevertheless, I’ll wade in, to contest this assertion, especially from a veterinarian. I think we should be aware that ‘fear of snakes’ – or slithering creatures in general – is considered by evolutionary psychologists, Steve Pinker prominent among them, to be an innate trait. It’s even found in monkeys raised in labs who have never seen snakes before in their lives. They flee instinctively when a snake enters their cage. There is a reason for it – many snakes are poisonous, and it makes sense for the brain to evolve a ‘flee’ response to a slithering form on an unconscious, innate basis.

    Secondly – for people who think they have to go into rural areas to find snakes in India – think again. I lived in Delhi and Chandigarh in the north – and Bangalore in the south – both in recently settled areas and in neighborhoods that have been lived in for decades – and snakes – cobras in particular, have been quite commonly found – in people’s houses, in their gardens, in the grass, in rocky areas, in drains, in ant-hills (supposedly a favorite location for cobras) – everywhere that seems half way likely or plausible. It’s actually quite common in Bangalore to find snakes in professional environments – this gentleman caught 463 snakes at the National Aeronautical Laboratory campus over the past decade as its resident snake catcher. I don’t know what the situation is on the Infosys campus. Perhaps someone will tell us.

    Thirdly, while I recognize the good work snake catchers do – I would be quite happy if charmers didn’t exist, and subject their infants to this nonsense, and if people did not have ‘pet boas’ that got lost and wandered everywhere in an apartment building. Pet snakes are a contradiction in terms. It is not plausible to me that snakes can experience or reciprocate affection or display fidelity, obedience and other characteristics one seeks in household pets. Having a snake as a pet is a dangerous fetish. I’ve also heard of drug dealers keeping ‘pet’ snakes to terrify their clients and competitors. I wouldn’t be at all unhappy if ordinary people who lived in apartments were banned from having snakes as pets. Let’s leave that to the professionals – herpetologists, museums, zoos, and snake farms.

  7. Randomizer,

    I am calling a snake a snake, not a cuddly, stuffed toy. I was Chennai-based and have rural working-class paddy-farm laborers for relatives, so I am aware of the real dangers, not just the occassional excitement in concrete cities where an occassional snake turns up (only to be deftly caught by skilled snake-catchers who will invariably be sent for–the point of my original post).

    Please recognize that there is no individual Animal-Rights arguement going on here, at least not on my part. Having said that I do want to reinstate my admiration for a belief system that i find ultimately makes (big-picture) ecological sense, despite an apparent “bizarre” factor and despite it creating problems for a human-centric arguement. I find it fascinating especially because I find that all of us–people from India, even people who consider themselves Hindus–don’t realize, generally speaking, how much we subscribe to the Judeo-Christian view of a world with humans at the top (or center) of the world and every other creature subjugated to our personal or collective needs. Sometimes belief systems such as snake-”worship” sort of give an insight into the traditional ecological awareness that were part of the social fabric of that locale. Whether I personally fear a snake or hate a snake or love a snake coiled around my neck for photo-op purposes is irrelevant to my appreciation/awe of the intrinsic knowledge that our ancestors in the sub-continent seemed to have had. (How we, as modern Indians, relate to that type of history is a big discussion in and of itself, of course).

    Nuff time wasted already

  8. Chachaji,

    Fascinating stuff, if you don’t mind and I am not being an asshole do you mind sharing what parts of Delhi did you live in, it will be interesting to know.

  9. i never got ow a mongoose can fight a cobra. a cobra is this bad ass poisonous snake. the mongoose is a little rat quirel thing. seems messed up that it can take out a cobra.

  10. Here come the “did you have to fight cobras as a baby” questions.

    Just when I’d heard the last of “do you eat monkey brains for dessert?” Damn.

    Oh, and now that the video is over I have resumed breathing. Whose job is it to sew the snake’s mouth shut? That seems pretty bold in itself.

  11. Just when I’d heard the last of “do you eat monkey brains for dessert?” Damn.

    the ironic thing about that question in elementary school is that i was a vegitarian and the poeple asking me were eating pig entrails for lunch….

  12. @malathi -

    I am in awe of the Ecology/Evolution as well ( which is why I am an atheist ) but frankly, I’m pretty sure that snake-worship arose out of fear of the reptile and a lack of understanding it, rather than the ecological awareness and intrinsic knowledge of our ancestors, which (if i’m not mistaken )you seem to be hinting at in your comment(#57).

    http://www.urantia.org/papers/paper85.html is an informative page on the origins of worship(from stones to animals) for those interested ..

    So rather than our ancestors’ insight, it was the lack of it I believe that resulted in these religious beliefs, resulting also in the veneration of the snake. [It's also interesting to note that Snake worship is not an Indian thing alone, in fact it has European roots as well.]

    We are not at odds with our opinions though, Malathi. I agree that if possible, it’s best to conserve. But in all other cases, I believe in ‘may the best man(or creature) win’ … especially if it is staring at you in your courtyard.

  13. Better this than having a 15 year old with no formal medical training do a C-section on women to get into the Guinness World Book of Records!

  14. chachiji – your comment was quite interesting. I too have often wondered why people associate snakes with “pets”. I knew a fellow who lived a few blocks away who had hundreds of snakes (+- venom)/scorpions/spiders/other ickies in his house (he was a breeder and considered himself a professional). Nonetheless, none of the other folks in his urban apt building knew about his tenants nor did his landlord. Thank god I didn’t live in that place! He did invite me in once to take a look…I quickly declined.

    Perhaps a high-rise apt building in Mumbai would be best for me!

    Brown – yeah, this medium does make it difficult for detection of tone – no worries!

  15. Folks, think of the frustration this snake experienced. And see what it felt forced to do next!

  16. I feel smug knowing I have an actual cobra story to tell here. When I was a tween, a cobra was sighted late in the evening outside the loo of our rented house (this was Bangalore, circa 1980s and this house had a loo with an external entrance). It was an interesting intersection of religion (worship of the cobra as a sacred animal) and life (being scared to death of it). There was quite a debate on what to do and good sense ultimately prevailed. We had a couple of guys come in and whack the cobra. It’s one of those childhood memories that’s burnt into memory- the cobra was asleep when struck, woke up, lashed out at a plastic bucket nearby, but was eventually killed. The laborers who killed the cobra then cremated it and I think we had to give a piece of gold and a silk cloth etc to cremate with the cobra. Also, I have this bizarre memory of a large dead frog sticking out of the dead cobra- the poor animal had had a big meal and was taking a nap.

  17. I actually had an encounter with a Cobra in the garden of my home in India. My son was around 3 at that time and there was a real fear that he could be bitten.So I kept him indoors for a couple of days and we did what anyone in India does: called a snake catcher who caught the Cobra and then released it in the jungle.

    Hi Runa. As someone who also has had encounters with cobras in gardens – and elsewhere – in India – I wonder if calling a snake catcher is really the first thing one thinks of? I mean, I didn’t know that there were professional snake catchers just freelancing out there – the person I linked to at the NAL grew into his role, and wasn’t exactly trained for it.

    Usually, on discovering a snake, whether in the garden or the basement, or under a pile of any kind of stuff left undisturbed for a while (snakes like quiet, cool places) – one organizes a posse to hunt down the snake and yes, if it doesn’t get away, to catch and kill it. Also, since snakes aren’t fond of the single living arrangement, a lookout is also posted to all in the area to watch out for the partner(s). A snake is too dangerous a thing to encounter in your living environs and then to wait for a snake catcher to come, catch it, and release it in the wild. I’ve never killed a snake myself, and hope I don’t have to, but my father has had to kill several that invaded our house(s)when we were kids.

    And brown, that was in both North Delhi and South Delhi, and several places in Bangalore.

  18. It is unethical and extremely dangerous, in my opinion, to put a cobra in front of a defenseless child.

    To say nothing of making a video of the thing (which I still haven’t seen, based on people’s comments). Jeez. What kind of person would make a video of an infant child playing with a cobra? I know the Mutiny discusses pr0n and snuff facetiously – and only facetiously – but I mean, this kind of thing is real, and really is beyond the pale. I hope people who have seen it and been disgusted flag it to youtube as not suitable for children, never mind that there is a child in it.

  19. To satiate dinesh, this is usually done by the kid’s parents, and they were just doing it to give him an early start and get him a world record while at it.

    Also, “rite of passage in India”. Really? Learning the rope trick, I can understand. Dodging elephants while riding cows, sure. But, playing with snakes? That’s the craziest f@#%king thing I’ve ever heard!

  20. was it just me or did anyone else see the snake’s tongue come out right at the end? just for a split second – just before it wrapped itself around the baby.

  21. Better this than having a 15 year old with no formal medical training do a C-section on women to get into the Guinness World Book of Records!

    What is the deal with Indians and the Guinness Book? I thought it was all over until I heard about that boy, which is appalling, by the way. I remember watching one of those GBoWR specials on TV as a kid, and we had the long nails guy, the lightbulb eating guy and various other dedicated.. well, freaks. This seems like some sort of sick twist on colonialism to me.

  22. To say nothing of making a video of the thing (which I still haven’t seen, based on people’s comments). Jeez. What kind of person would make a video of an infant child playing with a cobra?

    Are we now assuming that the parents/caretakers of the child made the video and put it on YouTube?

    What does it say about us that we are as critical, if not more (and up in arms, outraged), of a possibly rare custom (that we understand nothing about) as the average person online from another culture, say a Czech or a South African or a Nebraska farmer or a Japanese? Nobody does anything without personally feeling good and smug about it, so we need to look deep inside us to figure out what makes us feel so jolly-good righteous in front of our computer watching a sensationalized video and giving no benefit of doubt to the parents’ intentions.

    Oh by the way, from what I hear, evolutionary psychology does not have the last word on instincts; it has its share of critics. I neither have the energy nor the necessary knowledge to reduce their academic discourse to convenient one-liners here.

    I am in awe of the Ecology/Evolution as well ( which is why I am an atheist ) but frankly, I’m pretty sure that snake-worship arose out of fear of the reptile and a lack of understanding it, rather than the ecological awareness and intrinsic knowledge of our ancestors, which (if i’m not mistaken )you seem to be hinting at in your comment(#57). So rather than our ancestors’ insight, it was the lack of it I believe that resulted in these religious beliefs, resulting also in the veneration of the snake.

    Randomizer, I don’t know…How can you reduce centuries and centuries of observations, discourses, practices and collective knowledge exhibited by millions of individuals in the sub-continent into neat, currently-dated, mutually-exclusive packets of fear vs awareness, understanding vs ignorance, etc? I thought that it was the work of say, cliched white missionaries in “dark” Africa to see things so clearly black and white, to sweep all local rules/customs/practices/interpretations as irrelevant and ignorant to the modern world, to see nothing beyond the face value of a custom.

    Even personally, don’t we sometimes arrive at the “right” insight or solution after several false attempts, after several misconceptions, after several personal biases and beliefs. And sometimes we don’t arrive anywhere at all, although in another part of the world (or in a different time period) someone else may arrive at an understanding and lives an Eureka moment.

    Anyway, I am neither a sociologist nor an anthropologist to get drawn into such discussions. Judging by the previous paragraph I am not even capable of spreading bumper-sticker wisdom. I am an opinionated vet who cannot stand sweeping first-world mockery and indignation (whether it comes from whites or browns) when it comes to human-animal interactions or larger environmental issues in the third-world, especially when the people discussed about are not here to talk back or explain themselves.

    Damn, now I am behind on my paper by a whole day.

  23. I saw this a few weeks ago — Im assuming it was de-fanged so the baby just feels like its been hit by something soft and mushy

  24. chachaji # 69, Hi, Actually my experience was that it was fairly easy to find a professional snake catcher. I think that is true for many towns in India. These guys actually get paid by the govt wildlife dept ( I think) for the venom that is extracted from the live snake.That venom is used to create antidotes to snake bites! My personal belief is that if you can protect yourself without killing the snake thats the best option. Of course it depends on the situation. I also believe that close encounters with wildlife are best left to experts.

  25. My Delhi snake experience was neither in a garden nor near an ant hill, the natural habitat of the urban snakes according to chachaji’s report, but on a busy eight-lane city street while waiting for the traffic light to turn green.

    While stopped at the light, I spotted a far away historical monument, of which Delhi reportedly has 1,900. Seeing a photo-op, I immediately rolled down the glass and trained my camera on the monument. Wanting a close-up, I pressed the zoom. Instead of a growing picture of the monument as the zoom whirred, I saw in my view finder a slowly growing head of a cobra. I was scared out of my wits. While I frantically tried to roll the window up, the guy holding the cobra made several aggressive moves to thrust the snake closer to my face.

    I was told by my driver that this was an extortion racket. These guys were paying the police off to look the other way while they scared motorists into coughing up some money just to get rid of them. They pretend to be harmless entertainers showing their snakes off for a little tip, but they are not above using scare tactics to boost the collection. Next time I am shooting monuments with my window all the way up.

  26. Next time I am shooting monuments with my window all the way up.

    If the hood is a-rockin’, don’t come clickin’.

  27. @malathi -

    “How can you reduce centuries and centuries of observations, discourses, practices and collective knowledge exhibited by millions of individuals in the sub-continent into neat, currently-dated, mutually-exclusive packets of fear vs awareness, understanding vs ignorance, etc?”

    Our ancestors may have known a tremendous amount about the environment, and the creatures in it, I agree, but it cannot be an explanation for the reason it gained religious importance, which is what we are specifically disputing here. Historically, religious figures have always been the result of the ‘mysterious’ and the ‘unknown’. For instance, the Sun (Ra) for the Egyptians, Thor for the Vikings, and hundred other gods for the Greeks, rain gods, animal gods, the list goes on… Once these elements (rain, fire, water, planets ) are explained by Science, they lose their ‘mystical’ significance and worship of it declines.

    To be concise, my point is: that which is thoroughly understood, is very rarely worshipped.

    The case of India and the Cobra might be a rare exception to this general trait of religious origins, and I cannot claim to disprove that. In the meanwhile, we can only agree to disagree.

  28. While this particular incident might have been motivated by tradition/custom/ignorance, there was another one motivated purely by publicity which got quite a lot of attention. The late Steve Irwin (of stinger flicking good fame) took his one month old son within snapping distance of a crocodile.

    Also, despite my joking in #71, have people heard of this custom in some community or village? This is really news to me!

  29. “While this particular incident might have been motivated by tradition/custom/ignorance, there was another one motivated purely by publicity”

    Remember the infamous Michael Jackson dangling his baby from the balcony of a hotel building?

  30. Am I the only one who finds this incredibly, incredibly cruel to the snake? Sewing a living creature’s mouth shut… are you kidding me?!! Those bastards.

  31. While there is certainly a great danger to the child, it is quite common for communities with a tradition of rare skills such as raising snakes (as the Irulas) to train their children young. As it does for any number of trades. This is not only a common pattern among ‘pre-modern’ but also contemporary communities. I have seen Rom Whitaker’s children – who could barely walk learning to play with snakes, along with their Irula friends. Dirty, difficult, dangerous? Sure. That’s why some of us choose to gush over the works of quack economists, while others choose to go out into the wilds and study nature.

    Randomizer, you are on an interesting track re beliefs, traditions etc., Since this thread has gone cold, we will take up your notions on another thread one of these days.

  32. Remember the infamous Michael Jackson dangling his baby from the balcony of a hotel building?

    Yes, I didn’t mention it because Jacko seems to operate in an alternate wacko universe where he can fuel his Peter Pan complex by building a ranch called Neverland to invite kids for (at best) questionable activities, change his skin color and all of his features by deconstructive surgery, and do the moonwalk.