India is the land of snakes, and Goa was not immune to these fearsome creatures. But like all good citizens, villagers and snakes did not intrude on the other’s territory, and life usually went on without incident.
Snakes rarely made an appearance in daylight; they just preferred to coil up in their favourite shady nook and emulate the susegad attitude of rural Goa .
The only snake that would come out during the day was the divod (water snake), about five feet long. Water snakes were harmless, and they would often be seen in the network of open storm water drains that meandered through the village. The hot sun did not bother water snakes because of the cooling effect of water. However, if the stream dried up, they’d have to move to another stream, and this would entail a crawl over land. And coming across one of these snakes during such a trip would give me quite a fright. But I soon learnt to discern the difference between the harmless water snakes and other more venomous types like the cobra.
The simple rule of thumb was that if a snake crawled in a stretched-out ‘S’ movement, it was harmless. But if it crawled with a pronounced ‘S’ movement, it was venomous.
During my jaunts through the forested areas of Saligão, I came across many water snakes when they happened to crawl across my path. Whenever this happened, I’d stop momentarily in my tracks until the rustling of leaves or dried grass had ceased, then run a safe distance before resuming my normal walking pace.
Throughout my school days in Saligão, I never came across a live cobra. The only time I saw a cobra was after it had been killed in the backyard of a home along the main street where we played god’de (marbles). The man who killed it held two twigs in his hands to spread the cobra’s cape and display the ‘U’ marking on its back. I was glad it was dead, because my grandmother used to tell me that if a wounded cobra saw you, it would follow you all the way to your home and attack you.
In time I learnt to be wary of any creepy creatures, including those in human form, whenever they happened to cross my path.