If you visit the narrow lane located close to the Governor's house in Roshanpura area and ask about Salim bhai saanp wale (snake man), everyone is well-versed with the small office of this snake man-Madhya Pradesh's very own Austin Stevens, who claims to have rescued more than 2 lakh snakes in last 29 years.
Half of the office room is deluged with nearly 100 snakes caught by Salim bhai and the remaining part is full of trophies and citations of Khan—which narrate the tales of selfless service rendered by this man.
Salim Khan (47), who served as a peon with Bhopal Municipal Corporation has been catching stray snakes for free for past 29 years.
“This year I caught around 11800 snakes,” he claimed.
Power centres like Governor House, Chief Minister's House, Mantralaya and Chhar Imli–where the residences of ministers and top bureaucrats are based-seek his help regularly when they encounter these ‘unwanted’ guests in their premises.
Khan once caught a 87 kg and 16 feet-long python from Chief Minister's house during the tenure of the then Chief Minister Digvijay Singh in year 2002.
Moreover, he has been bitten by reptiles multiple times including venomous cobra on four instances says that he has been bestowed divine blessings, which saves him always.
Khan learnt the art of catching snakes from his uncle Ammu Pahalwan-a deputy ranger of forest department.
“It was me who saved snakes in Bhopal as people used to kill them on the very first sight, fearing it might click the photograph of the person it encounters ,” Khan said. He also added that he caught 2 lakh snakes which were saved from being killed.
Each fortnight he releases snakes caught by him at either Budhi forest or jungles of Pachmarhi.
He also used to treat people bitten by snakes but discontinued after government refuse to offer him any help when he was himself bitten by a reptile and had to shell out Rs 48,000 from his pocket for the medical treatment.
“Whenever I go to catch a snake, I don’t know whether I will return home or not as snakes symbolized kaal (death), so I never allowed my son and daughter to learn this art,” he said. He has taught these skills to Deewan Ahuja –a school teacher from Bairagarh in Bhopal.
He, however, smilingly recounts the 2009 instance, when he had handed a snake to the then union MoEF minister Jairam Ramesh and media had lambasted the minister for conveying a wrong message by posing for pictures holding a snake in his hand.
Khan is in charge of the snake centre at Van Vihar national park where the incident took place.
A Muslim by religion, Khan believes in communal harmony and has shivling (Lord Shiva's idol) established inside his office.
The selfless man organized a grand puja on Naag Panchmi followed by a bhandara (mass meal).