After several days of drift, Babu decided to bring matters to a head. For March 30, he announced breakfast, lunch and tea on the house if the team worked all day. They began at 6am. I got there at 9.15am, having picked up Raju at Tambaram. Work was in full swing. We had tea and lunch under trees in the nearby grove, chatting away. A few posts were transported on Babu’s diesel Royal Enfield Bullet.[Sendhil is riding pillion holding the post] Kadhirvelu, the grizzled elder was a role model for the rest, with his diligence. By 5pm we finished planting 71 posts! The total score was 257, encircling 15 acres.
Then I remembered a missing post at the north eastern corner. This point is often deemed the auspicious one in a plot, the Saturn’s Corner. All tasks are commenced from here. This spot was wild and overgrown with thorns and bushes, whe we began. One post was needed to be planted there. We got busy digging a hole. The Bullet fetched a post and it was planted. We were done.
As we were leaving we spotted a snake slither away from us towards a casuarina grove to the north. The team shrieked in horror. Sendhil, in full fright, called out to his mates to ‘come, let’s kill it’. I reined them in and becalmed them. I pointed out that if the snake’s intent was to attack us, it would not be running away from us. They held back with great reluctance. Just then we spotted a second one, nearer to where I was standing, a little away from the rest, towards the snake. This is had regular geometric marking along it 4′ length. Both snakes were the girth of my wrist.
The spotting of the second one alarmed me not so much because there were two now, but because none of us had noticed the second one in nearer distance as we stood watching the first. We were surprised. There was some menace in the air. My lecture on the usefulness of snakes stoppped mid-stream. But I stood my ground. I raised an arm above my head and rotated it like a windmill blade. Snake One, stopped crawling, raised its head, saw the motion and made a u-turn. The second followed the first into the casuarina grove. Everyone relaxed.
We walked away animatedly talking. Kadhirvelu the eldest slowly said, that it was auspicious to have noticed them at Saturn’s Corner on a Friday. In any case, we must not kill snakes on Fridays. I guessed, we might have disturbed its habitat close to where we dug for a post. Maybe there were baby snakes in a nearby pit. The mother snakes might have been agitated.
The pointReturn site is not totally uninhabited after all.
Postscript: Back in the city I called my wildlife filmmaker friend Shekar Dattatri and described the second snake I had seen quite well at close quarters. He made a guess but asked me to verify at a few sites. I did and uneasily concluded I had had a tryst with a Russell’s Viper, not the friendliest of that species.