Snakes are the stuff of nightmares for many of us. Many a hit film has only added to their notoriety, making us view them as entities to be eliminated once spotted. But tell Vidya Raju that and she will look you in the eye and calmly tell you that snakes are one amongst the most misunderstood species. They are generally shy creatures who strike only when they are threatened. And why would Vidya be saying this with so much confidence? The answer is that she has been catching snakes for a long time now and is intimately acquainted with their habits. She is often called whenever a snake enters human habitats and it is child’s play for her to catch and bag a six-foot-long snake. But call Vidya a snake catcher and she immediately corrects you, “I would like to be called a snake rescuer!” She has been releasing or handing over the snakes she has been catching to forest officials.
To understand how Vidya turned into a rescuer of snakes, one must go back several years — to be precise, the year 2000— to the time her husband Commodore NVS Raju was stationed in Goa on INS Mandovi. She used to go for bird watching trips and one such trip changed her life. She says, “I saw a man in our team catching a snake and I was fascinated. The thought flashed through my mind that I too wanted to do the same thing. I did not take any formal training but spent a lot of time pouring over books and studying about snakes — the venomous and non-venomous variety.”
That in-depth study was not in vain, “Today, through years of practice, by just looking at the body movement, I can judge if a snake is aggressive or not.” Vidya got the chance to try out her skills in Goa itself where she caught her first snake — a viper. The area where she was staying had cobras, vipers and pythons regularly being spotted. She recalls her first snake-catching experience. “The first instinct of people is to kill the snake but I requested them to desist from it. I took a stick, a bag and other snake catching equipment and bagged it. I then called up the forest people to help release it.”
Today, Vidya needs a moment to recall the number of snakes which include cobras, vipers, pythons, rat snakes and kraits she has caught and saved. “More than 800, I guess,” she smiles. With her husband being in the Navy, a transfer every two years was inevitable so she has caught snakes in different parts of the country. Her husband was posted in Katari Bagh in Kochi before he retired and she is now settled in Panampilly Nagar. She says, “I like Kerala a lot.” She gets a lot of calls asking for help with catching snakes, “Where there is greenery and natural cover, the prey of snakes — the frogs are aplenty. A snake enters human territory only in search of food. We are intruding into their territory and the green cover is coming down, so why blame them? My number is available day in and night for anybody in need and they can call me any time.” What Vidya wants to emphasise is her family’s support. She says, “My son is also in the Navy and I also have a daughter. My entire family is so supportive that the moment
I get a call asking for help in catching a snake, one will be reversing the car and the other will be stacking my equipment. When my children get busy, it is my husband who ferries me.”
Though Vidya has been bitten while handling the slithery reptiles, she speaks in their defense, “A snake bites because it is trying to defend itself. The snake is also scared when you are trying to catch it. The snake that bit me was defending itself, so I caught it, handed it to forest officials and then went to the hospital to treat myself.”
Vidya is originally from Bihar and is also an avid bird watcher and goes to different districts to spot birds. She is also busy giving presentations about snake awareness and identification at various educational institutions. It is not only snakes that Vidya rescues; she gets calls asking for help with birds like owls and kites too.
Before she ends she quips, “All this keeps me busy.”...