Sunday, June 13, 2010

Langur tamashaas

A uniquely Bharuch experience is that of the visiting troops of langurs which thrived in the abundant tree population of the town though of late, the number of trees have been reduced drastically due to the various signs of 'development' thereby reducing the appearance of our simian neighbours as their super-highway of a continuous network of trees connecting woods to human residences has been broken up into seperate sections. By 'langurs', I mean not the small but aggressive furry plain monkeys that you see in most Indian temples but the silver/golden hued, black faced human child sized creatures that let out a scary 'hoop hoop' sound to announce their arrival, crashing and swinging through the trees before landing up in our flat's verandah or in the garden of the house we used to live in earlier. The Bengali word for 'langur' is Hanuman, the monkey-god of Ramayana fame and the behaviour of these creatures is so human like that the mythical stories of Jambuvan and Sugriva do not seem too far from reality.

From the bedroom window of the fourth floor flat where we used to stay earlier, there was visible and audible a Bhatiji Maharaj (Don't know the details of this Godman. Sorry!) temple. Audible because the devotees there had a tendency to break out into cacophonous devotional songs every evening sometimes going through the night and to our chagrin, the devotion was expressed through a very loud microphone arrangement. On the roof of the aforementioned Bhatiji Maharaj temple was where the langur troop would first set up base camp before exploring our neighbourhood. The leader of the troop would be easily identifiable from the outset. He would be the biggest in the group and the least frivolous. He distinguished himself by assuming a central position casting a stern glance around on all the females of his troupe while they tended to the mischievous baby monkeys which clung to them as if glued and then at the younger males who would take a momentary break from their rough-and-tumble games when the patriarch's eyes fell on them. After all, he was the alpha male and no one wanted to get in his way. Fights would break out between other members, teeth baring and chattering noises included while some of them seemed just too happy at being born a monkey. The carefree running, jumping, swinging and hooping that characterized their movements embodied a philosophy that you don't need no money, no car and no house, when you can scale multi-storey buildings for a joke.

The reaction of people in our neighbourhood to their primate (that word encompasses ape/monkey or ape-like/monkey-like animals for those who aren't clued into Discovery Channel lingo) guests ranged from the nonchalantly ignorant to screams worthy of the Zee Horror show especially when a langur thought nothing of taking a stroll through a human household, sitting on a dinner table and eating a banana from the ones on display. The moment the hooping sound of the approaching langurs was heard, a symphony of slamming verandah doors gave indications as to in which houses the army of Hanuman was not welcome. In fact, one of these langurs managed to make a heavy contribution in breaking my sister's toe. My sister and me were engaged in the usual brother-sister skirmish when she landed a solid blow in between my shoulder blades and ran out of the flat to the roof just above our floor. Blood boiling for revenge, I followed suit but halfway up the stairs, I saw a big langur sitting casually on the stairs and enjoying the show. "Baador![Bengali for monkey]" I shouted to my sister already on the terrace and rushed back to the safety of our flat. My sister came down the stairs on hearing the warning and halfway down the stairs came face to face with Mr. Akshay Kumar (as we nick-named the creature in retrospect, my sister's then favourite hero). She screamed out loud and Akshay Kumar decided to jump onto her shoulder to allay her fears. Turned out that it wasn't a good move to make to impress a girl and my sister out of sheer terror jumped down a flight of 12 stairs in a single monkey like leap with Akshay still hanging on. Her notions about being a langur were a little off the mark though and as she landed on her toe, it was promptly fractured. Akshay meanwhile ran off deciding that this was definitely not his Twinkle.

Not all the langurs were this eager to expand human-langur brotherhood though and most of the time would just sit around on the trees surrounding our flat complex or up on the water tank, watching us play cricket. Jeff  Corwin had told us innumerable times on Discovery Channel that one should never stare into the eyes of a primate as in their language it is interpreted as a sign of aggression. We did try once or twice eliciting a fierce, teeth gnashing reaction from the subject of our testing and came to a mutual agreement that this was not the way to go. The langurs lived happily in their own world of shaky water pipes, precarious window ledges, "I'll eat your ticks and you can eat mine!", multiple feet leaps from tree branches to buildings and vice versa, and if their and our own worlds intersected then it was best to look away and they'd just bound away looking upon us as inconvenient but harmless subjects of their kingdom.

Once in a while, like their human counterparts, there turned up a psycho case. After a first few attacks and bites on unsuspecting people, the word would be be sent out all through town of the mad monkey. When the 'monkey man' scare about a half-monkey, half-man creature throwing people off roofs happened in Delhi and all news channels covered the story, a guy driving a white Maruti van in a very residential neighbourhood in Bharuch, Gujarat was cornered by a mob for being THE "monkey man". Why should people who share space with real langurs think that a human being driving a Maruti van is the guilty runaway 'monkey man' from Delhi is totally beyond logic but it is just an illustration of how much news of a mad monkey (no matter that it was seen a 1000 kilometres further north in Delhi) affected the psyche of Bharuch's townspeople. For us kids, it was especially terrifying. Cages with all sorts of monkey enticing goodies would be set up around the society to trap the aggressor and most of the time end up catching greedy but completely sane monkeys (if there is such a category). Until the main suspect was apprehended, we would walk around with our eyes scanning the surroundings in 3-D. Think of the situation as one where you need to be on the guard from a mad dog that can climb trees or swing down from electricity poles to give you a rabid bite and then you get the idea.

But these rare periods of concern apart, it was mildly exciting and tremendously entertaining whenever the tribe of our ancestors showed up. The crunching sound of sheet metal as the bigger, heavier ones bounded over parked cars chased futilely by barking street dog gangs made for an exciting entry. Kids and even some adults gathered and enjoyed with a broad smile on their faces, the antics which we ourselves might have revelled in were we born a few million years ago.

1 comment:

R I T I said...

:P :P :P :P Not his Twinkle huh ...