The monkey’s (Bonnet Macaque to the foaming-at-the-mouth naturalists) exterior calm belied his cruel intentions. I should have known better. Monkeys in Chittoor, back in 1984, were omnipresent. They stole your utensils, ransacked your kitchen, terrorised kids, and violently shook innocent boy’s head( who was reading a book in the verandah). Yes, the last one featured yours truly. I used to be a firm believer in the saying ‘leave the monkey alone.’ So when a group of monkeys descended on our terrace, my mom ran inside the house and locked the door. She reailsed that I was still lounging outside, in the lawn, reading a book. And, she warned me, “Dei come inside! The monkeys are all over the place.”
I closed the book, turned to look at her and smiled one of those patronizing smiles, and said, “Mom, if you don’t bother them they won’t too!” and I continued lounging, watching the Alpha male lead his group: they climbed the compound wall and ambled towards the gate. Alpha sat on the wall at the gate and watched his subjects trickle out of the house. He was a handsome, well built monkey and appeared, from what I saw, to be a good leader. He was chewing on something. Some food that he had stored in those sacks near his throat (yes, Macaques do that.) He was glancing around and his gaze rested on me. The hair on the back of my neck stood erect. Time stood still as I stared at his moist, dark eyes. And he climbed down from the wall.
“Dei! Get inside da!” My mom said. Of course she wouldn’t step out and come to my help. But I wasn’t worried, I mean, I left him alone and he should return the favor. The only thing that bothered me was ‘what if this monkey was a book-lover?’ And you know how book lovers are. If you carefully observed them you’ll notice the unmistakable similarities between them and monkeys.
He took a step towards me. Alpha didn’t look agitated. On the contrary, he looked like he just walked out from under the Bodhi tree. He was composed and even serene. Despite the constant, reassuring thoughts I manufactured in my head and my mom’s incessant ‘Dei’ my heart started banging against my ribcage. Something told me I had to do something to keep Alpha at bay. My mind raced: should I stand up and growl to show him who was the boss? Should I just say ‘shoo’ ? Or maybe I should go prostrate, for it serves two purposes; it can be a message ‘I am your subject Alpha! Accept me. Take me! Whatever. And, lying prostrate it is very easy to play dead. I had read somewhere that animals don’t harm you if you play dead. I found that nugget of truth a little too hard to digest. So what if the animal doesn’t believe you are dead? You will be, eventually, all right but hey!
Now he was even closer. A few rapid strides and there he was sitting right in front of me on the ground. He just parked his monkey ass down as if he ran out of ideas on what to do next. I realised I had masterfully moved my feet and now was sitting in a fetal position. My mom said ‘Don’t look into his eyes!’ So I looked away, at the Kanakambaram plants that were in bloom. And epiphany struck. I recalled what Dr. Venkatesan used to tell kids just before he jabbed those evil syringes in their butts. ‘Be calm. Say Ram, Ram.’ And, if the kid still wailed, the legendary Doctor slapped the same bum on which he’d just administered the injection and said, “Didn’t I ask you to chant Ram, Ram?” I don’t know why I recalled it at that moment but the connection was made. Lord Hanuman loved to chant Ram, Ram. Thereby chanting Ram’s name can tame this tresspassing monkey?
So I started slowly at first “Ram Ram Ram Ram Ram…” Alpha appeared bored. And he yawned, exhibiting his arsenal of teeth. My heart skipped a beat and I desperately wanted to pee. The chanting of Ram’s name wasn’t helping. Now, as a 12 year old, I believed in god… only on the days of my exams. Otherwise, I didn’t give too much thought about such lofty questions like ‘are you a believer?’ All that mattered was that I had to pass my exams. And of course the prasadam at the temples. Despite that I was upset that the chanting didn’t work its magic. I wanted to kill Dr. Venkatesan.
Alpha walked behind the chair where I couldn’t see him. I heard the tearing of papers. My book. I loved that book, ‘So What Happens to Me’ by Chase. It had a beautiful cover. That of a young lady, scantily clad, educating boys like me on what the future held for us. Of course that cover was covered another newspaper cover. The Hindu’s Editorial. Most excellent book cover material I’d say.
My mom was now screaming some gibberish. And I was actually a little relieved. The idiot wanted my book. I hated Alpha. That was that, I thought. And I was all set to get up and leave when I heard my mom making really strange noises. She was shaking the iron grill gate violently. I really didn’t understand why she was panicking over the loss of a book!
And Alpha climbed on my chair, held my hair with both hands and shook me like I was a rag doll. So ‘Ram, Ram’ which I was still chanting became ‘Rambambambambam’ like from this song.
Next, I thought, he was going eat my ears or just pluck my head off and keep it as a trophy. And he stopped, just like that! Jumped down, and as he walked away, he looked back. It was like he wanted to say, “We need more people like you.”
That was the day I decided that I will be an atheist forever.