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Believe it or not: A telling simian saga

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At the outset, I insist that only the believers read on. Sceptics and cynics please stay away. After thus alerting the spoilers, I will recount this story, but first some background.

We live in a small town in Haryana and run a nursing home that occupies a small part of a vast compound, which has a garden, vegetable patch and fruit trees. Monkeys are frequent visitors, and apart from the occasions when they go on the rampage, tearing clothes and uprooting plants, it is a story of peaceful coexistence. They take the fruits and vegetables they like, and we eat what is left. Since they are considered Hanuman’s kin, no one wants to be overly stern with them.

Initially our staff would shoo off the monkeys with sticks. On a good day they would run off, on a bad day they would impudently stare back. Then one day, which you will agree was worse than other days, a monkey snatched our stick and waved it threateningly back at us. Feeling utterly belittled, we then tried to scare them with firecrackers, but to no avail. That is when, out of desperation, we bought an air gun.

Initially, the sight of it was enough to scare them. I still wonder how the monkeys knew that firearms are fearsome gadgets. When the novelty wore off and the enemy figured out that we just aimed but never fired, their respect for our gun died. Now we were left with no choice but to shoot at sight and show them that we meant business. And so we would fire in the air on seeing them. Sure enough, it sent them scurrying for cover.

After a while we ran out of pellets and started firing it unloaded, thinking the sound and sight of the gun would be enough to frighten them. Soon enough they called our bluff, and started ignoring our dry firing. They stepped up their destructive activities, awaiting our next move. Clearly it was a game of wits and we were losing.

A walk-in patient

And then one day, something happened which, we thought, would change the dynamics of our relationship. A monkey walked into our hospital through the front gates. Yes, you got that right; he walked on his hind limbs with an upright, almost humanoid gait. Didn’t jump over the boundary wall, which was until then the preferred route. Moreover, he didn’t leap around, leer or try to scare children. The menacing look, the threatening demeanour, all gone.

He then walked to the rear of the hospital and quietly lay down on an empty bed. That’s when we noticed: he had injured his hand and it was bleeding. He lay there pleading with his eyes. Most of the staff, having heard stories of monkey bites, was scared to do the needful. A male nurse bravely went ahead and dressed the wound. During the whole procedure the patient lay very still, without even a whimper. Afterwards, he gratefully walked out of the front gates.

For a few weeks thereafter the monkey menace ebbed and I thought we were being rewarded for the good deed. I began to dream of eating ripe, succulent fruits fresh off the tree. But soon enough, the simians returned to their usual misdeeds. Maybe our patient was from a different group; maybe he was low in the monkey hierarchy and couldn’t influence the behaviour of the rest of his clan; maybe word of the incident didn’t spread in the simian community because they don’t share stories. We had no way of knowing.

In any case, our mind was preoccupied with more pertinent questions. How did the monkey know we were equipped to tend to his wound? Dressings and operations are done indoors, away from their gaze. What made him temporarily give up his simian habits and try to emulate humans? Did he think we were more likely to treat him if he behaved like one?

And the most important question of all. Did he think that by walking upright he could pass off as a coveted member of the homo sapien erectus species? Is that the only difference he perceived between us?

This incident stays fresh in my mind, and since it happened before the era of readily accessible phone cameras, I can offer no photographic proof.

As for those who are shaking their head in disbelief, you shouldn’t even be reading this!

dr_manjugupta@icloud.com

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 12:39:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/believe-it-or-not-a-telling-simian-saga/article8548559.ece

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