Coming back to writing for pleasure, at leisure, after what seems like a lifetime of servitude to the 200-word copy that enriches my bank account month after month, makes one feel like a man coming home to his wife after a fling with his mistress. Not that I would know it personally – never had one of the two, while the other didn’t last too long!
I realised while chatting with a classmate that there’s a part of my life that seems so distant now, as if it was another lifetime altogether. And the realisation about this ‘missing’ part of my life came about through a discussion on monkeys. Yeah, right, go ahead, laugh, make those silly wisecracks!
It was, to paraphrase an old saying, not just many moons ago, but many full moons ago, about 16 years back, when life was uncomplicated. All one had to do was get up in the morning at 5, get ready for work and report for duty before 7 am and then stay on not just till the bovines came home, but even the bats came home. That, in a nutshell, was life in my previous avatar as a hotelier – again, of little repute, ill repute and no repute. Take your pick.
Given this schedule therefore, the singular off-day from work was more precious than Aladdin’s fabled treasure and more seductive than the mythological Menaka who disrupted Vishwamitra’s meditation. So there I was, waking up leisurely way past the sunrise time in the complacently paced city of Udaipur, stumbling out of my room at the hotel’s guesthouse where all the out station managers stayed in individual quarters.
The guest house admittedly was beautifully situated – right at the boundary of a forest that itself overlooked the famous lake, yes, the same that housed the Lake Palace hotel. And while the proximity to the forest ensured a continuous supply of oxygen, it also ensured regular and unannounced visits from our ancestors.
So on one particular off-day, having slept through the breakfast service at the guest house, I proceeded to the first floor terrace where the common kitchen was situated – having stored a loaf of bread along with a jar of mixed fruit jam the previous night that I had planned on having for breakfast with tea.
Being up unusually early – it was just 7:30 am – I was a bit surprised to hear some noises coming from the kitchen as I neared my destination. The door was slightly ajar, indicating some one was indeed present inside. All the other rooms, which were occupied, were closed, so I wondered who could it be. Shouldn’t have bothered.
What I saw next – and what I am about to narrate – can make it to Ripley’s believe or not and 16 years down the line, I can still vividly recall the imagery of that early spring morning.
Seated inside the kitchen were three monkeys – two on the cooking slab and one atop the refrigerator, who apparently was the leader of the pack. For convenience sake, I call him Henry (don’t ask me why, it’s just a name that stuck). The trio of course were quite obviously hungry, for Henry had led them into the kitchen and even as the other two sat, had proceeded to raid the refrigerator. Opening the door, he proceeded to take out the bread loaf and then the bottle of jam and a bottle of ketchup that was also lying there.
Standing there transfixed, more with fear than with wonderous amazement, I watched Henry unscrew the new bottle of jam, hop over to the washed utensils section and pick up a spoon, scoop out a spoonful of jam, tear open the loaf packing and apply the jam on the bread slice. Next, he served a slice each to both his friends (I say friends because they all looked of similar size and build) who relished the offering.
The next round of slices was served with ketchup applied after pouring it on the slice. Me, you ask? I just stood there, rooted to the spot – scared out of my wits having heard horror stories of monkey bites. I must have moved, for suddenly one of them looked towards the door where I was standing. I let out what I imagined was a blood curdling roar – I think it came out more as a shriek.
Henry launched himself like an ejected missile towards the door and I still don’t remember how I managed to shut the door and bolt it from outside – for the force with which he struck the door nearly sent me reeling over the ledge of the balcony. Shrieking like a mad man, I ran down stairs, waking up my other colleagues and the guesthouse caretaker. Like an idiot, I blurted out “monkeys, kitchen” before the caretaker understood and asked his helpers to get bamboo sticks.
Ultimately all of us carrying bamboo sticks and making a racket managed to scare off the monkeys. A decision was also made to keep some food on a daily basis for these rascals to prevent them from becoming too hungry and having a repeat incident.
What still amazes me – and I can’t get the picture out of my head – is the way Henry went about his business of preparing breakfast for himself and his friends, his grasp of how to apply jam on a bread slice, his knowledge of what was a loaf of bread, a bottle of jam and a bottle of ketchup and the function of a spoon. But what I remember most were his social graces – feeding his friends before he fed himself.
I don’t know what became of Henry and his friends – a monkey’s lifespan is usually two decades and it’s nearing that much time since the incident occurred – but it was something of a surreal experience to see that level of intelligence in a primate straight from the wild.
Of course Henry and I never became friends – I mean, he did ruin my breakfast. That’s unforgivable.