News Karnataka
Saturday, July 02 2022

Unmesh the custodian of snakes… - 6 min read

Photo Credit :

Irshad M Venur

After finishing my busy schedule of that day, I looked at the messages I had received. Among them, one was from Snake Joy. It read, “Bhai… today I have caught my 50th King Cobra, please come….” Along with that, all those calls which he made to share this joy had got registered as missed calls. When I went to his home, along with his 50th King Cobra, Joy introduced his friend who was from Pune. From Pune he had come all the way to Ujire in his Swift Car, after traveling for 20 hours, just to hold the King Cobra in his hands!

He was quite an average looking man . When he gave me his card and shook my hands, I said “Namasthe…” His visiting card made me wonder. It had his photo holding a King Cobra. Until then I had considered him a common man. But when I came to know about him, I came to a conclusion that he was nothing but the eighth wonder of the world.

His name was Unmesh R.Barbhai. He is a native to Jejuri near Pune. Jejuri is 40 kms on the way from Pune to Solapur. You might have heard about Candola temple at Jejuri. It attracts thousands of tourists every year. By profession, he is a fruit seller. But by practice, he is a snake catcher. Till date, he has caught more than 2000 poisonous snakes. Catching snakes is as easy to him as drinking water!

A call goes to Unmesh whenever a snake disturbs any part of Jejuri. Even if it is 2 in the night, Unmesh gets up and goes there. He considers service of people as service of god. When a case of snake bite comes to the government hospitals around Jejuri, the doctor in-charge makes his first call to Unmesh. The rural people used to kill the snake and bring it to hospital. Later Unmesh examines whether the snake was poisonous or not. The hospitals there have a notice where Unmesh’s photo is printed along with his mobile number and the people are requested to contact him if a snake comes to their locality.

Unmesh says that his childhood environment itself motivated him to catch snakes. “When I was young, my uncle brought snakes to home. Catching snakes was his hobby. He would show it to us and make us play with it. The people who lived in our locality killed snakes whenever they found one. This violence caused pain in my heart. My attention shifted to the conservation of snakes. Later this itself became my real business”, says this snake lover.

All right Unmesh, don’t you go at any time to catch a snake? Do you charge those people? I asked him.  When he heard this, his voice softened. He replied, “Do you know one basic thing. 90% of the snake which I catch comes to poor people’s house. They struggle to make ends meet. Will god forgive me if I accept money from them? My fruit business is good. I earn enough money and I am satisfied. That’s enough for me.”

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Snake Joy was searching for a bride. But he could get no one who accepted his peculiar hobby. I asked Unmesh about his family. He gave me an album containing the photos of his family. When I saw those photos, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Unmesh’s son Animesh is 6 year old. He studies in first standard. Poisonous snakes are his friends. I had goose bumps, when I saw his photo wearing garland of snakes. I was amazed to see the photos in which he was catching snakes with rods, just like a professional.

When I asked Unmesh that how could he do this, he gave me the details of his social awareness programmes on snakes. “I organize programmes to eradicate the superstitions that the people have about snakes. I make them understand the bitter fact that snakes don’t drink milk and I explain them that when vermillion and turmeric is smeared to anthills, it falls on the eyes of snakes and cause pain. I celebrate Nagara Panchami by releasing all the snakes I have caught to the forest, in front of people.

Once when I organized such programme in a school, women questioned me, it is general belief that pregnant must not see cobra. If they see it, they will not bear children. What do you say about this?” For everything that I tell people, its my hobby to provide proof. Then my wife, Monali Barbhai, was pregnant. She too loves catching snakes. When I go to other states to buy fruits, she catches snakes if people call me. I shared my plan to produce proof to answer the question of these women. She happily agreed to it. Doing her “Goad Bharai”(Baby Shower), I transformed this family function in to a programme for creating records. Accordingly, Goad Bharai( Baby Shower) took place before the people. I put on her as a garland four poisonous snakes including cobra. She happily accepted them.

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My wife underwent delivery in proper time. My son was born. He too likes catching snakes. No one would dare to allow their child to have such a dangerous hobby. But we did. The entire credit of this must go to my wife. When Unmesh finished his words, I was spell bound.
Unmesh has taught the young men of his neighbouring villages to catch snakes. He hopes that this would avoid any dangers that can take place before he reaches those faraway places during an emergency. He feels that now those young men have become experts in the job and can replace him.

Unmesh has many dreams. He wishes to create awareness among people about the conservation of snakes. “Man can exist if snakes exist. If not, he too can’t. The medicines for 29 human diseases are produced by snake venom. How can we produce these medicines without snakes?” questions Unmesh. He has studied till tenth standard. If you look at his Orkut and Facebook accounts, you don’t feel so. Traveling throughout the country has increased his knowledge. Meanwhile, Sathish Pande of Pune is writing a book on snakes. It will contain photos of snakes caught by Unmesh.
Unmesh has contacts with all the snake catchers of the country. Deepak Mithra, the snake lover in Kolkatta who built park to protect snakes, is a close friend of Unmesh. Deepak, who had welcomed Unmesh to Kolkatta, had come to Pune and had congratulated Unmesh for his achievements. All Kudos to this great guy

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