An article of faith

Travelling to moon in a lunar module can be at once daunting and exciting. A truck-ride is neither exciting nor fearsome. Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, walked on it, uttered a few now-immortalised words, and returned home unscathed. On the terra-firma, while getting off a truck after a ride, his ring finger was caught in the door latch and shredded.

There is a bit of irony here. Often what is considered a high-risk area turns out to be safer than the one thought innocuous. And Armstrong wasn’t alone in experiencing this irony. I’m in his august company! I had spent my entire childhood and early adolescence in a wooded village, flanked by a meandering river and a lush, green hill, where being bitten by snakes wasn’t unusual. But seldom had they come my way, if I discount the ones in the grass!  Years later, I was bitten by one in Mumbai, of all the places.

Well, you can’t trifle with snake-bite unless you’re a jilted lover or a poor, indebted farmer. You need to get medical attention forthwith.  So impulsively I rushed to the doctor close at hand for dear life, with a couple of friends in tow. But he gave me short shrift. Snake-bite being a medico-legal case I should seek treatment in the government hospital, he advised. To my pleas for first aid he only had a deaf ear to turn.

The doctor at the government hospital was so genial that he made me euphoric. In fact, I couldn’t have wished for a better doctor. But my euphoria was clouded when he said after examining the nearly invisible wound in my heel that I approach the policeman stationed there to make an FIR. After all, I hadn’t bargained for a situation where one had to cope with police and FIR, as if snake-bite was not agonising enough. The doctor sensed my disquiet, and explained that snake-bite called for such formalities. His empathetic words dispelled the clouds.

With a jovial ward boy leading us, we snaked our way to the policeman through the OPD chock-a-block with patients. After quickly readying the FIR, the constable said, “One copy of this will go to the police station, and one copy...” he stopped abruptly, short of completing the sentence, as if lost in thought. The ward boy seized the opportunity to import a touch of humour into the situation.  “Sir, one copy to the snake, the culprit,” he chipped in. The grim-faced cop roared with laughter in which, well, we all joined. For a moment I forgot all about snake-bite.

As she glanced at the prescription for anti-venom injection, the nurse winced. While administering it, she wore a doleful look. She muttered mournfully, “My sister died from snake-bite last year.”  I was aware of the fondness she had felt for her sibling. Though I could not be insular to her sense of loss, I felt, it was indeed indiscreet of her to remind me, though unwittingly, that snake-bite could cause death. And the reminder could have unnerved me.  But no, for fortunately in the nick of time I recalled an article on snakes by a renowned zoology professor. Reading it was instrumental in removing many a blinker. “The bites of only a few species are fatal. Anxiety and fear, not poison, are greater killers,” the learned professor had written. The recollection of the article boosted my morale immensely.

It was an article of faith!

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