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Updated: May 9, 2014 19:01 IST
melange: inside view

Close encounters of the Simian kind

Khyrunnisa A.
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Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar
The Hindu Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar

When the author had a rendezvous with monkeys

The trouble with monkeys is that they monkey around too much. ‘Be on your guard, there are monkeys about,’ cautioned the hotel attendant as we set out on a walk into the wild beauty of Chail, a hill station in Himachal Pradesh. ‘Yes, I can see that,’ I beamed indulgently in the direction of two boys, live wires who were driving their parents crazy as they tore about the place.

‘Not those, Madam, but these,’ he waved an arm towards a board placed prominently near a tree: ‘Beware of monkeys.’ I looked about me. What monkeys? There was not even the whiff of a monkey about. Ah, the typical over-protectiveness of natives towards visitors, I thought. ‘Not to worry; live and let live,’ I said as we left, armed with a bag.

An hour later we returned, lungs bursting with fresh air, cheeks flushed with the exhilaration of a brisk walk, to be greeted from a distance by the same hotel attendant with a big, enthusiastic wave of his hand. ‘How happy he is to see me!’ I thought, pleased. ‘Such warm, affectionate people!’

As I raised my right hand to return the gesture, the bag I was carrying in my left was expertly snatched away by someone with the smooth ease of a practised bag snatcher. ‘What the...!’ I turned to see a monkey saunter off stylishly with it. The bag contained my life’s possessions; well, almost – my glasses, purse, mobile, keys and some fruits. The last named was something both the monkey and I wanted to get our teeth into.

Without a second thought I leaped after the monkey who never expected this counter attack and stopped in its tracks to look at me, bewildered. The grounds now rang with my lecture, according to my husband, my best ever, starting with a ‘How dare you...?’ and ending with ‘... don’t you dare!’ It was short, powerful and effective. No student has ever responded to my lectures as that creature did.

I snatched my bag back from the limp fingers of the shell shocked monkey who recovered sufficiently to call me choice names in its language before scampering away to safety, its tail between its legs. Well, to be honest, I’m not sure about the location of its tail for I was too intent on holding on to my bag for dear life. The hotel attendant, who had actually been trying to warn me about the monkey’s intentions by waving, now viewed me with new respect and said he had never witnessed such an incident.

Apparently no monkey had been seen to surrender a bag it had appropriated. But then, as he explained, ‘No one has ever talked to a monkey like this before.’ Well, I wouldn’t have, either, if I had had time to think. The thought of losing the bag had given my heart foolhardy courage and my feet wings, and the rest is history.

Did you know that, contrary to popular belief, monkeys, like most of their evolved relatives, actually eat, sorry, relish, non-vegetarian food? We discovered this during an outing with friends to a place whose fearless simian population was notorious for food snatching. We had decided on dry lunch and had taken sandwiches with us. Our friends were vegetarian, so I had prepared tomato and cucumber sandwiches while a few had chicken filling.

Alert to a possible foraging assault from the monkeys, we selected a peaceful looking place that afforded an excellent view of the surroundings. We made elaborate plans about how to react if the monkeys descended on us.

But alas for best laid plans! We got completely involved in the problem of figuring out which packets contained vegetable sandwiches and which the chicken; but we need not have bothered for three lithe monkeys came from nowhere and took it out of our hands. Literally.

One minute we were gazing down at the packets, the next we were looking up at them in the secure hands of the chattering monkeys who had climbed to the safety of a rock. They ripped open the packets and believe it or not, threw away the vegetarian sandwiches and tucked into the chicken. What a waste of good, wholesome food!

We gazed and gazed but could not be gay in such jocund company. We watched, salivated and returned home, hungry. Whenever I think of that day, my heart with nostalgia fills and remonstrates with the primates.

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