Without expectations of reward or recognition

BAPU SATYANARAYANA writes: Recently, my grandson, who lives in the United States and is himself very knowledgeable about animals, expressed a desire to meet SnakeShyam when in Mysore, for he had heard of his name and fame on the National Geographic Channel.

I contacted Shyam who invited my grandson to join him at a lecture-demonstration he had arranged for children in one of the schools. Suffice to say it was a riveting experience to hear him talk about snakes in general and why we should not fear them in particular.

Shyam (born M.S. Balasubramania) said he had “officially” caught 18,360 snakes since 1982; more than twice that number unofficially. What had begun as a hobby in childhood has turned out to be a selfless service to society, catching the reptiles and releasing them safely into the forests.

Free of cost.

A driver by profession, Shyam attend distress calls at any time of day or night, and has possibly saved hundreds from snake bites with no more than a pillow cover and a badminton racquet frame as his equipment. Over time, he has built up a larger-than-life reputation.

For the lec-dem, Shyam had brought several snakes, mostly non-poisonous. It was fascinating to see the children hesitant at first, and then fearlessly handling them as they moved around their bodies. The highlight was a long cobra that Shyam took out from a wooden box to a collective  gasp from the audience.

It was held high (in picture) for all to see. It spread its hood wide, and it was a magnificent and awe-inspiring spectacle. He answered questions directed at him by the children with aplomb.

Shyam explained that in India there were 248 varieties of snakes; but only 5-6 types were poisonous. He advised them against blindly putting their hand in thick bushes, in search of say lost cricket balls, for the danger of a snake bite was always a possibility. Etcetera.

While closing his demonstration he impressed on the children to pay respect to the environment, their parents, farmers, their teachers and gurus, and to soldiers.

Later, I had a brief chat with Shyam. The son of two retired government school teachers (M.R. Subba Rao and A.M. Nagalakshmi), said he ferried children to school to run his family. Besides he has to keep the snakes and feed them before he takes them to leave them in their natural habitat.

He has a license issued by the government and has to keep a meticulous account of the snakes he has caught in a register to be verified by the authorities. He says it has become tough to make both ends meet for he has to spend money on petrol to take the snakes to the forest.

Though he gets some money when he is called for lectures and demonstration, it hardly compensates for the expenditure.

“Snake” Shyam is not only doing a great service to society at personal cost, but at great personal risk. I earnestly hope that the government of Karnataka recognises his services. The least it can do is to pay him a monthly honorarium.