India !

Johannes Manjrekar

Monkey Business

The monkey section is sadly depleted. One empty cage after another, with faded boards stubbornly displaying their strange little quanta of information about inmates long departed. "Orang Utan. Habitat Borneo. Fur of Orang Utan is orange-brown in colour", one board offers by way of explanation, but goes on to add that "Orang Utan means Old Man Of The Jungle in their native language". Another board says, "Spider Monkey. Habitat South Amrica. New World species with prehensive tale. Its tale is used like a fifth leg for climbing and grasping objects."

A gust of wind sends some dry leaves skittering across the cement floor of the five-legged monkey's cage with a sound both scraping and clattering. Fighting off a sudden feeling of desolation, I am about to turn away from the monkey section when I notice a knot of visitors a couple of cages ahead.

The attraction here turns out to be a solitary chimpanzee. It is lolling on a dead tree trunk, one arm hooked through the truck tyre suspended just above it. The spectators are trying to rouse it to some kind of action. They clap their hands, make hooting noises and try to rattle the cage bars much as a monkey might. Only, they're on the outside of the cage.

The chimpanzee looks on with the bored half-interest of a man relaxing after work with a beer, watching on the telly some unredeemed display of stupidity. "Hey Symonds, go back to Australia!” shouts a scrawny young man. "Symonds! Symonds! Symonds!” a little boy chants excitedly, jumping up and down. "This is not Symonds, you ass!” another wit joins in. "Don’t you know Symonds is playing in the Mumbai Test? This one’s his brother."

Someone lights a cigarette, stops himself in the act of slipping the matchbox back in his pocket, and tosses it towards the chimp instead. The chimp is suddenly alert, darts off to retrieve the matchbox and opens it expertly. He tips the matches on the ground, grabs a bunch and bites off their heads. Then he settles back on his log to chew on the match heads. The crowd claps appreciatively.

A man in the uniform of the zoo staff comes up. "He likes to smoke. Want to see him do it? Cost you 20 bucks.”

painted stones line the path
a caged lion’s roar climbs
into the grey sky


Copyright Johannes Manjrekar, 2009