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‘We are family’

Sowmiya Ashok
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Heart to heart:Monkey handler Hansraj with a little one.Photo: R. V. Moorthy
Heart to heart:Monkey handler Hansraj with a little one.Photo: R. V. Moorthy

Hansraj grins as his “children” nibble at each other playfully and roll around on the mud at his feet. Ramu, the more mischievous of the two, climbs up a tall plant, his weight bringing the branch down, and on to his sister Basanthi’s small head. She flays her small hands about in an attempt at getting back at her brother. Failing, she runs and pauses in between Hansraj’s feet only to catch her breath before the routine begins again.

Forty-three-year-old Hansraj, who is part of the Eco Task Force at the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary on the outskirts of the Capital, is all that these two orphaned nine-month-old monkeys have. He is their guardian, father and for all practical purposes their mother – having lost their own to an electric shock last year. “They came to me when they were as small as my palm. I used to feed them by dipping my finger into a bowl of milk and dabbing it on their small mouths,” he says.

Kha le, kha le…kao …” he coaxes the young ones to eat a banana just like a mother would. It takes very little to convince Basanthi to start peeling the yellow exterior and sink her small teeth into the squishy interior. Ramu has, however, disappeared behind a bush, he resurfaces briefly and two leaps and he is back on Hansraj’s shoulder.

The young ones were brought to the sanctuary as part of the civic body’s drive to clear stray monkeys off Delhi’s streets. Now, they have Hansraj to care for them and in return they growl at anyone who even comes close to him. “I will keep them with me even after I retire. I know it’s illegal to keep monkeys, but I will get special permission to care for these two,” he says.

Basanthi has now disappeared under Hansraj’s shirt, Ramu follows…


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