Friday, April 29, 2011

Monkey mayhem!

This morning my friend and colleague Sushma texted me to say she would be coming in late to the office. Given that we all deal with such things as children's exams, admissions, dropping them off some place and picking them up at another, I did not think much of it, and did not ask why. But when she did come in, with a somewhat harassed expression, we just had to sit down and listen to why.

The corridor outside her house, a green space of potted plants and a bird's nest, a sort of oasis in her urban high-rise, had been totally trashed by rampaging monkeys! Thinking the abundant greenery housed more than just pretty leaves, a gang of four hefty monkeys tore through the vines, pulled down cables that interfered with their search, and finally broke some pots in anger, not having found any fruit or other comestibles. When they finally ran away, Sushma and her husband were faced with a disaster coloured in terracotta and spotted green--bits of broken pots, scattered mud, leaves and tendrils torn and hanging everywhere....

"Our telephone line has snapped," cried one irate neighbour."Make sure you clean our balcony too, there are bits of broken pots here too," said another, one floor below. "My television isn't working--it's your responsibility to see the cable is up and running," demanded a third.

"But when people have a problem like this, don't the neighbours help?" I asked.

"Well, they blamed us for having so many pots and leading the monkeys to think there may be fruit behind all that greenery," said Sushma.

So Sushma and her husband Anup spent the next hour gathering the debris, cleaning their space then then their neighbours', and fixing whatever cables they could, while angry neighbours either looked on or walked away.

The incident brought up several questions, some directly related and others (in the manner thoughts run across mental networks) not.

First of all, why do people immediately jump on others, blaming instead of looking to see how they could work together? Don't they see that this could happen to anyone, that monkeys could have just as easily come to the first floor or anywhere else and created the same havoc there. As on an earlier "invasion" in Sushma's house, the monkeys could have taken a look inside a fridge, sampled their dal and curry, and made a royal mess of their kitchens. When something happens, in our homes, in our streets, in our neighbourhoods, why is the first impulse to look for whom to blame rather than to see what we can do to take care of the situation? Fixing blame can help us find out why it happened and perhaps try to ensure that it doesn't happen again, but it does not help take care of the situation that has arisen in the moment. For that we just need to set aside the why and pitch with a how and a what!

Secondly, how do monkeys experience urbania? What is it that prompts them to leave the shelter of their trees and jump into our homes? Sushma tells me that in this case, the monkeys may have mistaken the lush potted foliage outside her door for a tree-like growth, and they were hoping to find something edible among the leaves. In Hyderabad, and in many other Indian cities, monkeys are not an unusual sight, sometimes travelling in large groups, complete extended families, settling down on terraces and in parks where we see mothers tending to young ones, and aggressive males scouring the dumps and margins of homes for food. Summers seem to bring them out into the city in larger numbers, maybe because of the arid conditions in what's left of our surrounding forests. Just as people travel to the city seeking jobs in the off seasons of agriculture, they too come here for sustenance. And when they don't find it in the "natural" places they move into what we consider our preserve, the built up forests of the city.

All sorts of boundaries blur in the relentless growth of the city. And some new walls are built. We may as well accept that if we destroy the countryside to gain new plush gated communities, some of us will have to deal with the living things that used to populate those areas. So as we move outward, searching for pristine spaces in which to create our billboard communities, the monkeys move further into the city, claiming all manner of spaces where they can find the one thing they are looking for--food.

1 comment:

Reef by any other name said...

Probably the loss of habitat has led to a frustration of kind in these monkeys.When we were kids,monkeys were everywhere but did not really cause so much havoc (unless there was food around).They did litter but the damage was minimum.

But off late,these monkeys seem to like being left completely alone! One of the helps at our apartments -Lakshmi (she takes care of the cleaning of the entire apartments once a week and does other errands) was sort of attacked by one of these monkeys.Poor thing would have been in a bad shape if not for the person who noticed and managed to distract the monkey.Lakshmi has this bad wound on her back and needs to take a lot of injections because of it!

I still don't blame the monkeys though,imagine how furious we would get if we had no where to live and no proper means of food!

And yes,blaming others comes naturally.Probably because its the easiest way out at a lot of times.Also,neighbours blaming each makes me wonder though,how people were so friendly with each other earlier and naturally so. These days,it seems to take much more of an effort to be 'neighbourly'.