The sight of a five foot long slithering reptile is bound to give the shivers to any ‘right minded’ individual (barring snake charmers, zoo keepers and snake hunters). The snake is a creature that generates fear, loathing and mystery, notwithstanding the fact that not all snakes are venomous. However, it is only the experts, who can tell the difference, whether one is harmless or otherwise.

One of my previous pieces featured a huge serpent with long hair in the basement of my great grandfather’s home, inside the walled city of Lahore. According to an unbelievable narrative passed on to my mother by her grandmother, the monster never threatened the old lady, who made frequent trips downstairs to fetch grain, for grounding into flour.

There is another tale told and retold about the female cobra, which does not rest until, she has made short work of the person responsible to kill her mate. My paternal grandmother often said that since the female had the ability to see the image of the ‘murderer’ in the dead male’s eyes, it was imperative that the head, including the eyes be thoroughly crushed. This grand old lady often told the story of how my grandfather was relentlessly pursued by the avenging female for weeks, until she was disposed-off with a shot gun blast, while attempting to climb his bed.

The country side around the Federal Capital is a popular snake habitat showcasing deadly ones, such as the Banded Krait and the Cobra. I have on two occasions seen these being dealt with effectively in a rather unorthodox manner, which reminded me of how Anarkali is reputed to have met her end. While the accepted method of dispatching this reptile is through the accurate use of anything heavy that can be wielded for the purpose of striking, throwing and crushing, there are some interesting stories that advocate out-of-the-ordinary methods.

It was once believed that if the shadow of a first born male was cast upon the snake, it would slow it down to facilitate easy disposal. Now I can imagine, the panic laden search for a first born son that may extend beyond the family premises to the neighborhood and even if one was located, the effort to make him volunteer for the task. I can conjure up the image of such an individual trying to jockey himself in position, so that his shadow may fall upon the victim (I am led to wonder, if on an overcast day or at night, a torch might come in handy).

There is another story that suggests dipping a stick into the dark tar and nicotine laced muck, often found in the water container at the base of a ‘huqqa’ or ‘hubble bubble’ and shoving it into the mouth of the reptile. An ancient member of our domestic staff swore that the toxic brew killed within seconds. I remember a long ago time, when we discovered a snake inside our Lahore home, which speedily sought refuge under the huge wooden ‘almirah’. While efforts were being made to get the creature out into the open, we saw the proponent of the ‘huqqa’ theory appear, wielding his black slime covered weapon that stank of tobacco. We watched with mounting excitement as futile attempts were made to shove the ‘deadly stick’ into the snake’s mouth. The intruder was finally dispatched as it emerged into the open, no thanks to the ‘huqqa pani solution’, the smell of which lingered in the room for days to come.

Another myth that has continued to do its rounds to date, is that snakes are charmed by the sound of the ‘been’ (snake charmer’s musical instrument). Now snakes do not have ears, something which is amply compensated by sensors along the base of its long body that detect the slightest of sounds. Serpents also lack a keen eye sight, so in the opinion of zoologists, it is not the snake charmer’s music that makes a hooded cobra sway side to side, but it is the movement of the ‘been’ that prompts the reptile to follow, what it perceives to be a threat.

So dear readers, next time you spot a snake and need to kill it, do not even think of searching out a first born or scouring the neighborhood for a ‘huqqa’ – just dispatch it the tried and tested old fashioned way.