The Chinese Python
Posted on: 24 Dec 2011
C P Vijayakrishnan
I was on the road one night on my way home after the day's work. The last thing I did was to go through an article in a magazine about the conflict between China and India of 1962 vintage, the remembrance of which always opens old wounds especially if you were a child during that Nehruvian period, a period in which a bright faced young India was marching towards a glorious non aligned future ,where peace and prosperity reigned. It was then painted in the ochre and green of the national tricolor. It now seems the period was Paleolithic or Neolithic if you like, as well as romantic. A rude jolt awakened her, from the romantic to the expressionistic, in the form of an attack from her northern neighbor and as a consequence I missed out on going on the stage as an actor in a children's play.
I was cruising on a bike expecting errant trucks heading from the opposite direction at the time of the day, flouting traffic regulation about the one-way passage. My mind was full of china, and I never expected to meet a python on the road. It would be like meeting Imran khan in a urinal in Bangalore. But that really happened at the Chinnaswamy stadium when I went there to see a cricket match between India and Pakistan. Memorandum
It was a general holiday and there was not much traffic on the road. I passed the Christian college and was nearing the English church usually a busy place with the fish market and the shops nearby. From a distance I could see a thick long plastic rope just touching the side of the road. If any vehicle comes from the opposite direction or some bus bears down hard at me from behind I will have to drive over the rope. Just when I reached the rope I realized that it was slithering like a snake and it was a snake. It was as if the famous philosophical dictum of myth and reality exemplified by the serpent and the rope was being demonstrated in front of my eyes. It was no ordinary snake; it was a python with the powerful muscles rippling underneath its white and brown vest. It was awesome in its wild regality. A python is not an unusual sighting in Calicut these days but I was never expecting to see one on a busy road. We have had pythons visiting us regularly and the leopard once in a blue moon. The mystery of the leopard is always solved in the discovery of the wild cat or some other small creatures of the night, after reports of its sightings in the press and the intervention of the forest department. Pythons were trapped, let loose in the wild and the rare leopard was shot.
A police officer who had once shot dead a leopard was very recently in the soup following his bravura when he aimed his revolver and fired a round at a crowd which was pelting stones at the police. He was later transferred. I had seen another leopard killed by villagers that had attacked them. It lay dead while the villagers nursed their injuries in the hospital ward.
I skirted the snake in time and moved on. I could have called out the few others who were there and alerted them about the snake. Fearing for its safety I moved on. The snake must have reached safely the other side because a friend who passed the same road a little later told me that there had been no commotion and visible sign of a capture. How daring it was for the snake to take on townsfolk and make itself visible under the streetlights in alien territory!
It moved more like a regular army in combat gear than a guerilla fighter. Two days later I saw a photograph of a python along with a report in the newspaper which said that the bushes around Vellayil railway station had become a hiding place to the python. It is still at large. Or is it? Recently a python was saved and caught from the electric lines. A python doesn't evoke as much fear as a leopard.
It is because of the powerful rounded body that the python resembles the mythical dragon. So china and the python got mixed up in my mind. To children who are raised to look upon their country as a lovable entity, endowed with human qualities, a mauling at the hand of an enemy is catastrophic. Though the conflict between India and China is a distant memory, it still can surprise you as a magazine article like a python on the road at night. The memory of the processions we took out when Pakistan and India fought a war, early in their mutually shared history of animosity, is fresher in the mind. Then we had taken out processions at night, abused Ayub khan, the military ruler of Pakistan and burnt his effigy. That year when China and India locked horns with each other, our school had planned to hold children's day celebrations with music and dramatic was to act in a play with a girl and another boy.' Mother! Holidays are here' was the title of the play. It was about the sad plight of a boy who had to spend his time away from home. It was about longing for home, an enduring theme. Rehearsals had started .It was then that china launched the attack and all celebratory programmers were aborted. Nevertheless to my mind it is as if the drama had gone on stage. But the boy had not reached his home. I could still see those characters transfixed on stage.
After tensions were eased China and India had regular contacts in various fields. They used to send teams to international football tournaments. Once I had the opportunity to interview some members of a Chinese football team. Gurkhaland agitation was burning then and the Chinese were playing in Siliguri in north Bengal, close to Darjeeling, which was the center point of the agitation. The only unusual feature of that meeting was that we had to conduct the interview in the presence of some intelligence agents from India. Suspicions about the Chinese were so rife then that secret service agents, whom anybody could easily identify, in the hotel and around the team bus, were always on the lookout for some clandestine meetings .it seemed that the Chinese accepted the situation in so far as they would have done the same with the Indians if they visited their country.
Nehru must have had some special affinity for children. But did Gandhiji or Rajaji love children less? Who knows? Historian Ram Guha says that had Nehru been not there still china and India would have been drawn towards the path of conflict. Historical conditions were such that the border dispute would have escalated into a war. Luckily it ended soon. But Nehru died a broken man betrayed by history. On the day of his death a vehicle fitted with a loudspeaker went along our dusty village road, announcing the prime minister's demise. Usually such a vehicle appeared only when a new film was released in the ramshackle shed of the 'sobha talkies' announcing the film's arrival.V.Vijayan had visualized, in a famous story, a world hit by nuclear devastation where the only two survivors were an Indian man and a Chinese woman. At the end of the story they decide to forego the option of procreation and pull the curtain down on mankind. That time is a distant future. Life does not follow literature. I have a neighbor who is a businessman in china and his wife is from Chinese mainland. They had their wedding in Kerala, the first impression that Emily had about Kerala, she had changed her Chinese name, was the abundance of trees here. Now they have a boy, whom they call Appu at home. He had a customary ponytail of Chinese origin, very authentic, when I last saw him.