The other night my cook spotted a cobra in front of our outhouse washroom. True to its nature, the three foot reptile reared up stretching its hood. A great hue and cry ensued and it was after reinforcements arrived that the snake was killed with well-aimed blows from a steel rod. I have since then, embarked on a quest to acquire a pair of mongooses, which I intend to release on my premises in the hope that they will stand up to their reputation of dispatching any venomous reptiles that may venture into my garden.

The mongoose or ‘neola’ is part of a group of thirty four species, one of which is the Grey Mongoose that inhabits the Subcontinent. It varies from 24 to 58 cm in length (not counting the long bushy tail) and is known for the ability to fight and kill venomous snakes, especially cobras. This dominance is a result of lightning agility, a thick coat and acetylcholine receptors that render it immune to snake venom. It is perhaps for this reason that ancient Egyptians venerated the creature. Mongooses are also associated with deities of wealth amongst Buddhists and Hindus, who consider its sighting as lucky.

This amazing rodent-like creature was immortalized by Nobel Laureate Rudyard Kipling in his celebrated tale titled ‘The Jungle Book’, wherein Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, a young mongoose saves his adopted human family from a Krait, followed by a similar rescue of the ‘darzi birds’ from ‘Nag and Nagaina’- two large cobras. A mongoose also features in Bram Stoker’s novel, ‘The Lair of the White Worm’, where the main character, Adam Salton, purchases one to hunt snakes.

My association with this wonderful furry creature, dates back to childhood days (thanks to an uncle, who taught zoology at the Punjab University old campus). It was on Saturdays that I accompanied this popular relative (who later became the Vice Chancellor of Quaid-e-Azam University) to the zoology lab, with its squirrels, guinea pigs and off course - mongooses. These creatures were totally domesticated and bore names such as ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Margaret’. I soon developed a special bond with them and was in turn rewarded by their total trust, as they scampered up and down my head and shoulders.

It was much later during my professional career, that another member of the mongoose family entered my life. I was staying in a canal rest house near Bahawalpur, where my evenings were spent walking along the watercourse or lolling in an old colonial era planter’s chair in the verandah. I had during an earlier visit, undergone a harrowing experience with a huge steel grey cobra, while engaged in my daily stroll along the canal bank and had narrated the encounter to the old caretaker cum ‘chowkidar’, who looked after the premises.

The evening was relatively pleasant as a rare light shower had brought down summer temperatures, but increased humidity – an ideal environment for creepy crawlies to emerge from their lairs. I must have dozed off, since I did not see or hear the ‘chowkidar’ approach me, clutching something wrapped in cloth. I looked closely and saw two tiny eyes and a quivering nose protruding from a fold in the cloth. I spent the next week in ecstasy as ‘Mowgli’ adopted me as surrogate parent. I brought the little imp (for he was devilishly naughty and creative) and let him have the run of the house to the great discomfort of my golden retriever Jenny. Overtime, the dog resigned herself to the new arrival.

It was during the second year of his joining the family that I noticed an agitated Mowgli darting in and out of the ‘mehndi’ hedge separating my rear lawn from the vegetable patch. Then all hell broke loose as a raging ball of fur broke through the hedge, with its teeth firmly planted in the neck of a medium sized snake. I watched as the bite sank deeper and deeper, with the snake coiled round the furry body. With a tremendous shake of the head that almost severed the reptile’s head, my mongoose cast the dead snake aside. I stood rooted to the spot as the victor did a jig chattering loudly, sniffed at his lifeless victim before beginning a long ritual of grooming on a nearby table.

My current search for the four-footed friend has so far not borne fruit. I am however happy in the knowledge that somewhere out there is a pair of furry creatures just waiting to become an overdue part of my family.