Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Monkeys of Mashobra

One of the most entertaining experiences from my trip to Mashobra involved the monkeys. Or as I came to think of them: the Flying Wallendas Monkey Troupe. Although the balcony of our house was high up (about third level), the nearby trees were even taller. The monkeys would jump horizontally from those trees to the balcony railing, then scramble up the drainpipe to the roof and launch themselves back down into the trees. Jump, climb, fly, repeat—all afternoon, sometimes solo, often chasing one another.

The monkeys were obviously a family, and their squabbles reminded me of the squirrels back in Providence—round and round the oak tree, up and down the trunk. Sometimes the monkeys broke the monotony by running down the drainpipe and across the patio and the yard. They spent most of their time in the trees, though. The fruit provided easy and plentiful food. When they landed on the balcony railing, it rattled violently, sounding like King Kong’s dental bridge if it came loose.

That rattling wasn’t the only noise that I eventually attributed to the simians. The first night in Mashobra, as I was falling asleep, I was startled by the sound of thunder nearby. I quickly realized it was coming from the roof, made of that pervasive tin I wrote about earlier. I was sure the monkeys were having a bowling tournament up there. Then I realized they were doing their “jump, climb, fly, repeat” routine. It just sounded different from inside the bedroom than it did from the balcony.

One monkey in particular had the most expressive face. Wistful, almost sad. One evening, as he was sitting peacefully on the railing in one corner of the balcony, I watched him from inside the house for awhile. Then I got my sister-in-law’s iPhone to take a picture of him from the window. He turned away at first. Then he jumped down and scurried across the balcony, then up and away.

Perhaps some ancient wisdom informed him that when you are photographed, a portion of your soul is captured and lost to you. Had he been photographed before, I wondered, and lost so much of his soul that he had become sad, and wiser? I speak no monkey and very little Hindi, so I’ll never know. I was certain that we had made some special connection, though, and the morning that I left, I was convinced I had been right.

The car was loaded to the max with our belongings and some household items that were being transported from Mashobra back to Delhi. My sister-in-law was attending to some last minute instructions to the hill house staff. Rather than sit waiting in the packed car, I stood at the edge of the front garden. I noticed my wise monkey friend, observing me from the steps of the house next door. He must have sensed I was leaving. He disappeared, apparently having gone around the back of our house.

Suddenly I saw him again, walking slowly along the wall on the opposite side of our patio, not far from a large tree. He stopped and we exchanged knowing glances. This would be our final interaction. He took a few more steps toward me and paused. Softly, I said: “Goodbye my monkey friend. I’ll miss you. Perhaps some day I’ll come back.”

For a moment, I thought he was going to come even closer, and I wasn’t sure what I would do. He was wild, after all, and I would be foolish to try to touch him. Still, rejecting his overture would be too insensitive. Just then, my sister-in-law came out to the car and my monkey friend ran off. Another romantic interlude (in the classic sense of the word ‘romantic’) scuttled before it was culminated.

It’s probably just as well, because I have a feeling that, like the Flamingos (and the lovers they sang about), monkeys “never say goodbye.”

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