We used to walk to a village, sit in front of a house and start playing the Been (wind instrument). Children and grown-ups would gather and ask us to perform with the snake. When we were done we would ask for a donation which most of the people made. we got enough to eat and to buy the needed material. We would catch a snake sometimes or cure a man of a snake bite, which was a good source of income. Those were the good times. Now, no one has got time to see us perform. Instead, people ask us to do some real work. what is the real work anyway? Isn’t being a snake charmer and an entertainer, enough?
Earlier we used to sell medicines made from herbs. now there are no herbs. There’s no place for them to grow. These days you can’t find any forest or natural woods. Whatever little was left on the roadside, farmers have sprayed it with the pesticides. So, we make an annual visit to the mountains to places like Chintpurni, Jawala ji, where we get the herbs and a chance to visit our Gods. Moreover, our medicines are not compatible with the diseases people get these days. we can just cure common aches, small furuncles, a snake bite but this heart attack, hernia which is becoming common with every passing day is not in our reach. So, selling medicine is also not an option for survival anymore.
My wife is the head of this group. Our members do not go to a hospital until there’s no other choice. We do not reach out for the court or a police station, we solve our issues right here, within ourselves. You are well aware of our government, they have nothing but false promises to offer.
About education. First, we make our kids go through a course here in the community itself, we teach them how to charm a snake, cure a snake bite, how to make and sell the herbal medicine. We do send some of our kids to school but we are a community who doesn’t believe in the typical labour. We have lived on our snake-skills from generations and that’s how we are trained. The reality is hitting us gradually and we are changing.
Story by: Gurdeep Dhaliwal