In the verdant Neem
Placid as statues
Stretch and decide to recline
Managing the steep incline
In the verdant Neem
Placid as statues
Stretch and decide to recline
Managing the steep incline
Amber embers in charcoal
Piercing and pensive
Ashen down and endless tail
Graceful swirls that never fail
Peddler of blessings and cures
Preys on naivete
A crimson faced simian
Dolent eyed companion
A monkey scrambles
towards the temple steeple
On high speed a fan
The trident a crumpled frown
An angry priest chides the clown
Ever heard a monkey chasing its brethen for money ? This is a fact and a hilarious one at that.
This is a tale about a monkey, who like you and me works from nine to five, five days a week, takes an afternoon siesta on the sly and makes a good sum of money each month.
I’m driving to work as usual one morning and stop at the traffic light. Within a couple of minutes, a bicycle pulls up with a wiry looking man in his mid thirties with a bored expression of ‘been there done that’. He’s coming closer now, squeezing between my car and the road divider in order to rest one leg on his right side for balance. The bicycle seems rather heavy so I strain my neck over the high seat to get a better look. To my delight, sitting on the carrier is the stately visage of a langur with an air of self preservation and composure, as if in deep contemplation.
‘What is a langur doing on the back of a bicycle?’ I muse, and with this thought roll the window cautiously to get a better look. The two are oblivious of my curiosity. The red light turns green and it is time to go. But I can’t get this question out of my mind and so decide to signal the cyclist to stop.
I park my car on the kerb, step out and wave again. The cyclist is coming towards me, wobbling as he strains hard on the pedals to keep balance. ‘What is it madam ?’ he asks almost accusingly assuming am about to admonish him for brushing so close to the car at the red light. Without wasting time I ask him about his simian companion. ‘Oh him’, he smiles ‘his name is Chalu (cunning)’. ‘Why are you carrying him on your bicycle like that’ I ask. ‘We’re going to work’, is the matter of fact response. ‘What kind of work?’ , I try to say this gently trying not to offend. He seems a little exasperated now. ‘You don’t know Chalu? He’s famous in this city. He chases monkeys and frightens them away. He works Mondays to Fridays from nine to five in North and South block depending on where he’s needed and is a government employee. And you know he also earns rupees five thousand a month’.
My mouth drops, and the giggles begin to escape. ‘A monkey making money ! ‘ the very thought makes me laugh louder. A mind picture emerges and the tears are flowing and am unable to stop.Trying hard to suppress another outburst, I notice Chalu looks me squarely in the face as if to say ‘what’s so funny‘. He’s visibly offended and shows his displeasure by expanding his chest and sitting tall looking down at me from the top of his nose as if I just crawled from under a brick.
Chalu’s expression is enough to make me serious again and I ask the man to describe a typical day in his life. ’Come and see for yourself’ is the trite reply. ‘Ok ‘ I say and decide this is worth my time. I call the office and tell them am taking the day off. Chalu and his companion accept my offer to drive them to South block. The bicycle is loaded in the boot only partially and both man and beast choose to sit on the back seat.
The drive is swift and we are at South block in no time. Chalu has been left loose. It is only now one has a chance to get a good look at him. Tall and well built, his grey white coat glistens in the morning sun contrasting sharply with the black circle for a face, as he stretches to full length. Matching hands and feet complete the picture perfect illustration against the red sand stone backdrop.
Life has begun to creep back into those brown soulful eyes and a sense of importance is taking over. Chalu is king here and everyone knows it.
He is on his own now surveying the scene looking for trouble when a bunch of rhesus monkeys climb the wall and enter one of the buildings. Action starts almost immediately and in a jiffy, long strides and tail are a silver blur as he hurtles towards the parapet. His country cousins are a pedestrian and scruffy lot with matted, tawny coats and magenta bottoms in comparison to Chalu, who conducts himself with majesty and is immaculately groomed, as if fresh out of a salon.
‘These rascals are at it again’, he seems to say. Tearing files, stealing lunchboxes, pinching people’s morning tea and even resorting to slapping if not relented to. Chalu is going for the window and drawing closer. There are squeals and loud bangs as he negotiates furniture while punching and driving them away. He makes sure they’re out of boundary before catching his breath and returning to us.
Chalu is offered tea and biscuits as a reward. Although feared, he has many admirers who’ve been rescued from the simian scourge. He slurps while drinking the tea, dipping the cookies every so often. Whilst he sits there, I watch this beautiful creature and feel a tinge of sadness and wonder. Is he better off in the wild or with us humans, am not sure. But I can see that he and his companion share a great rapport and the empathy is palpable.
The day slides into evening punctuated with lunch and high tea. Chalu has been on his rounds and ensured his country cousins do not venture inside the hallowed precincts of our bloated bureaucracy.
As the day draws to a close, I thank Chalu and his companion for a thoroughly engaging experience replete with mirth, oceans of empathy, and giving me a glimpse of another world.
We have a dear friend in Aditya who lives in a palatial house deep in the walled city. He’s a portly gentleman with a wide girth and an infectious beetle leaf stained smile.
Whenever we visit, he always manages to regale us with monkey tales and his experiences with the simian clan who are frequent visitors and marauders of his home. When no one’s looking, they are either in the kitchen ravaging the fridge for goodies or pinching papads and badis which are home prepared and laid out on the terrace to dry. It is not uncommon for them to use brute force when they want something really bad like a radio which they tried to snatch from the servant the other day while he was enjoying an afternoon snooze. When he resisted, he was slapped and scratched repeatedly on the face, punched in the stomach and his hair yanked. There were shouts and shrieks as he came tearing down the stairs in a state of visible trauma.
One of the funniest stories though is about a dream Aditya had repeatedly for months unable to understand it’s significance. As he narrated this to us hoping for an interpretation, we sat transfixed waiting for the worst.
‘I sleep on the terrace under the stars these days because it is pleasant and have this recurring dream about someone tickling my toes‘ he went on sipping his drink’. ‘When I wake up though, there is no one there ! What do you think it could be? Why does this particular dream keep resurfacing ?’
We all fell into a deep silence trying to interpret and reason about the dream, when one of us suggested that he stay awake that night for a while and watch. Perhaps it was someone playing a prank, one of the kids in the family. Oh ! they were a bunch of little horrors and were quite capable of such a thing. He nodded violently and said ‘l think you’re right, it is one of those rascals for sure. Am gonna catch them and then we’ll see’. Then all of a sudden he went pale and said ‘ But if it’s not them then?’ ‘Don’t worry we all chimed in chorus, watch tonight and we’ll manage the rest later’. After a sumptuous dinner and lots of laughter we went home, hoping that the truth would finally emerge for Aditya.
Meanwhile, it was late and our friend prepared his bedding on the terrace determined to catch whomsoever the little scoundrel was. He lay down and closed the lights,staring at the moonless midnight blue expanse spangled with stars trying hard to keep awake. A couple of hours past. He looked at his watch. It was about one in the morning and there was no sign of anything. He heaved a sigh of relief.’ Thank God, it’s not for real, I must have been dreaming’ he mused, when there was a slight thud. He turned his head in the direction of the sound and caught a shadow scurry behind one of the many pillars. Instead of getting up, he froze. Eyes wide open pretending to sleep.
There was silence for several minutes and no movement. ‘I must be imagining again’ he thought and was slowly drifting into a deep slumber when he felt a presence. His sleepy eyes flung open to see lo and behold a fairly large silhouette of a somewhat human form sitting close to his feet.
‘Oh no, I hope it’s not Yamraj – the God of death he prayed. It is too early for me to leave yet, I have so many things to do. My business,children to marry off, grandchildren to enjoy. Please go away, whoever you are‘. His prayers were humming in his head with great speed now as the anxiety began to build, when he felt a strange sensation in his toes. He pinched himself to check he was awake. Indeed he was ! The tickling began to increase and when it became unbearably itchy, he jerked violently. There was a loud shriek and the silhouette stood and began to run. It was then that our friend realized it was a monkey.
There was a sudden rush of anger. This monkey had been tickling his toes all along for months and led him to believe he was dreaming ! He felt such a fool and with all emotions in a whirl, picked up a stick which he kept beside him and ran after the creature.. The truth is that monkeys are swifter than humans and our friend had little hope in catching him red handed. So even though he ran with all his might, the monkey scaled the wall and was gone in a flash.
The next day we decided to meet and hear about what happened. When he related the previous night’s incident, there was a giggle followed by bursts of unleashed laughter. Our friend had also started laughing and decided that the terrace would either have to have a barbed wire fence or else he’d have to sleep indoors.
The mystery was solved only partially. The monkey was the toe tickler. But the rest remains unsolved. Why did he tickle Aditya’s toes every night religiously for months. Was it his karma ? Was he cursed ? or did it give him some sort of vicarious pleasure ? One will never know. The image of this long ago tale however, continues to remain fresh and entertain in quiet moments.