Monday, July 13, 2009
Pssst…. it’s all about snakes
A former Navy Commander in Kochi has eaten more than 150 snakes in the past two decades
By Shevlin Sebastian
When John Chacko was a teenager, he would spend his holidays with his aunt, Susan, in Manjapra, 30 kms from Kochi. It was an area that abounded in snakes. One day, Susan casually told John that if he caught a snake she would cook it for him.
Armed with a stick and accompanied by his younger cousins, John set out into the paddy fields and the adjoining jungle. Two hours later they had killed three snakes.
When John gave the snakes to Susan, she said, “Don’t be foolish. I was only joking.” So the group felt disappointed. Then John’s cousin, Anna, said that if he cut and cleaned the snake she would cook it.
So, John took a knife and cut off the head. “I remember studying in school that the venom is located in the sac in the head,” he says. When Anna cooked it, the group was worried whether any poison had spread to the rest of the snake's body.
Eventually, John took a small piece and placed it in the mouth, waiting to see what would happen. “But after two minutes, when I found that nothing was happening, I chewed it a little,” he says. “I found it was tastier than chicken and beef.” Soon, the others ate the snake and for the next three days they caught and ate several snakes.
That was the beginning of the snake-eating habit of John, and with experience he learned how to catch a snake efficiently.
“Try to hold the snake by the tail and simultaneously place a stick behind the neck and force the head to the ground,” says John. “Then you have to grip the neck from behind so that the snake does not bite you.” Astonishingly, in two decades, he has never been bitten by a snake.
John joined the Navy and, at one time, he was posted at INS Chilka at Balugaon in Orissa. Because the forest was being cleared to make way for a golf course, a lot of snakes were spotted. “I gave an order that any snake that has been killed should be sent to my house,” he says.
As soon as he received a snake, John would take off the skin. In the snake’s body there are two long transparent pouches. In one there is the heart, liver and globules of edible fat, while the other contains the stomach and the intestines, which are to be thrown away.
Since the flesh is hard, it has to be cooked in a pressure cooker, to soften it. “When you add onions, green chillies, garlic, curry leaves, and fry it in oil it is quite tasty,” says John, with a smile.
John’s neighbour at Balugaon was a Brahmin officer, Ravi Vishnu. His seven-year-old daughter, Anupama, would frequent the house. One day she saw John and his wife, Maya, cooking a snake. Anupama said, “John Uncle, please give me a small piece.”
Maya said, “She is a Brahmin.” So John said no, but Anupama pleaded so much that he was forced to give a piece. “She was very happy,” he says. When Anupama returned home, she told her parents, “I ate a snake in John Uncle’s house.”
Later, Vishnu told John, “I was shocked! Here I am, a Brahmin who has never eaten meat in my life, and my daughter had eaten a snake! In the night I used to watch her, to see if her tongue would stick out or not.”
Nobody’s tongue stuck out, but John was particular about what snakes he ate. “A snake has a thick bony skeletal system, so the meat is on the surface. If you kill a thin snake, like a krait, there is less meat to eat.”
The fat reptiles included the rat snake, the viper, and the python. “My favourite is the python,” he says. He has fond memories of a python, which he had caught near Willingdon Island.
“It was ten feet long and weighed more than ten kilos,” he says. There was so much of meat that his son and he were able to eat it continuously for ten days. Incidentally, Maya is a vegetarian and has never eaten a snake, although she has cooked it numerous times.
Today, John stays in Kochi, having taken premature retirement from the Navy. The chance of catching a snake is receding, as the city expands rapidly, but, despite having eaten more than 150 snakes, he is always on the lookout to have his next one.
(Names have been changed)
(The New Indian Express, Chennai)