Kiran Kumar was walking to school in Visakhapatnam’s Malkapuram one morning, when he noticed a commotion outside a sweet shop. He was in Class VII then. “Traffic was blocked for up to half a kilometre around the shop,” he remembers. He asked around, and was told that a cobra was spotted inside. “I said, all this for a snake?” People around mocked at him and Kiran, driven to prove himself, walked right in and caught the snake. Suddenly, Kiran was a local hero. A Telugu newspaper carried a report on the incident the next day.“But I would say it was just luck,” says the 36-year-old, who, years later, founded his own voluntary organisation, Snake Saver Society, in his hometown. Over the past 17 years, Kiran has rescued and released hundreds of snakes that happened to stray into human habitation. With not much earnings to speak of from his unusual profession, Kiran has trained 18 others who also rescue snakes. “I would ride 30 kilometres on my bike to catch a snake, and those who seek my service would call me 50 times by the time I reached the spot.” But once he got the job done, they would offer him a meagre ₹50. “I would never hear from them again,” he says, speaking over phone.
In fact, he found it quite a task to find a woman to marry because of his association with snakes. “I had nine weddings cancelled,” explains Kiran, who finally found someone, and has a six-year-old son. So why does he do this? “It’s difficult to explain,” says Kiran. “I just love snakes, I don’t know why. I don’t want people to kill them. That’s why I will do anything to rescue snakes.” It is this obsession that drew him to Bengaluru-based siblings Shrayansh and Shrinkhla Pandey. He is the subject of The Uninvited, their 18-minute documentary film. “We were researching on snake catchers in Karnataka when we happened to chance upon Kiran,” recalls the 26-year-old Shrayansh. “In fact, we were considering another snake catcher of the same name.” But they soon realised that the Snake Saver Society received more than 10 rescue calls a day. “Kiran uses his bare hands to catch snakes, there are no tools in the picture. We found that he was skilful and passionate,” says Shrinkhla.
The siblings travelled to Vishakapatnam last year, spending 15 days with the man. The Uninvited shows Kiran swinging into action the moment he receives a rescue call. He peers into roofs, enters water tanks, scrambles up pipelines…all in search of snakes that lurk within. The filmmakers had their share of unnerving moments during the shoot. “I’ve never seen a rock python up close. It was so agile,” recalls Shrinkhla. The siblings hope that the film shows people what rapid urbanisation is doing to our snakes. “Industries and construction projects can appoint snake catchers such as him,” says Shrinkhla. This is what Kiran hopes will happen someday. “I wish we have some Government support, some sort of help and respect from the general public,” he says. Just before we end the call, Kiran adds excitedly that his son is a keen observer of snakes. “Jatin too is not afraid of them,” he adds. The Uninvited can be seen on The BeBop Channel.