Saturday, August 27, 2005

Our animals and other family

"Khushi was tiny, blue-eyed, and absolutely delightful. He wanted to climb all over my shirt, sit on my shoulder and generally look at the world from there." Uma blogs about the first kitten she took to the Jeev Raksha hospital in Pune.

And I sorted the monkey problem, with or without the langur (see Urgent: Langur Wanted post). Or rather, they sorted it out for me. The house we live in is a quirky place in the middle of Nizamuddin, which still has vast green areas surrounding it; we have a fenced-in verandah overhung by a sprawling Bodh tree. The first band of bandars who dropped in settled in pretty fast, didn't bother our many cats (one set lives Inside, one set lives Outside), and beyond the occasional raid on trees for fruit, didn't really hassle us. I got kind of used to their visits; the mothers would snooze on the branches keeping half an eye out on their kids and making "I need a babysitter" faces; the bulls reclined luxuriously and got the younger bimbo-type monkeys to groom their fur for lice.

Then they disappeared for a few days, and we assumed they'd moved on. That's when Band of Bandars Two came in and created havoc. They were aggressive around humans; two of them had trailing ropes around their necks, so they must have been pressed into service at some stage by a madari, and had probably escaped. They made it clear they didn't like or trust humans, and I suspect they'd been treated badly: the marks on their necks from the rope were livid. It was a band of misfits, clearly; the bulls were young and aggressive with each other, and there was no clear leader or older bull. There were babies, whose response to humans was to first chitter in absolute fear and then make threatening gestures; the mothers looked young, exhausted and defensive. We didn't get the same sense of "family" off them as we had from the first troupe; they seemed to be suspicious of each other, like stragglers who had banded together out of necessity, or perhaps they had been part of a larger band that had been dispersed.

For the first few days, we had a lot of trouble doing the peaceful co-existence thing: they rampaged everywhere, broke through the fencing, chased anyone they saw, destroyed anything they could find, and went after the kittens and dogs who live in the compound. Thankfully, no one was injured. But while we went looking for a langur man (for reasons I explained earlier), we also warned everyone living in the compound not to respond to the monkeys' aggression with a similar display of force. (The langur man was located, but his langur had, I kid you not, gone to the hills on holiday. I hope she had a nice time.)

In a few days, I thought I saw a change. The monkeys seemed to settle down; perhaps they just had more food and water at hand and they were no longer on the run. They started looking at us with puzzled curiosity: maybe I'm imagining it, but I thought they began to figure out that we weren't going to threaten them or beat them. Then I started asking the baby monkeys not to do certain things (shake the fencing, throw muck through the fence, pee through the fence--you know, all the stuff human visitors do at the zoo). The first few times, they responded with aggressive displays and posturing. Then that was replaced by a sort of toddler's tantrum; they'd stop doing what they were doing, but only after they'd made it clear it was their idea to stop, not mine. After a while, they started listening without prejudice, especially to my husband. Then the older monkeys began to relax around us. They'd listen if we asked them to please quit jumping on the roof. They weren't friendly, they were still wary, but I had the sense a truce of sorts had been called. The destruction of property stopped completely.

Just as we were settling down in this new, cautious detente, the old band of bandars came back and reclaimed their turf. I haven't seen the smaller, more aggressive troupe for the last few days, and while I'm happy to have the "family" I know back--we kind of waved at each other shyly, the mothers said, oh hello, you're still there?--I wonder whether those dudes and us would eventually have settled into some sort of mutually comfortable routine.

I know most people in Delhi hate urban monkeys, often with reason; they are hugely intelligent, can figure out locks and doors, can be destructive and have been known to bite. But they're migrants, just as much as the endless flow of people who come into the city, and they're migrants because we've built office blocks and apartments in the green spaces where they used to live, without offering them anything in return. We feed them at temples, we leave garbage dumps (think fast food centres for simians and other animals) tantalisingly strewn across the city, and then we chase them away. Most of these monkeys seem to spend their lives moving endlessly from one neighbourhood to another, driven off by violent methods, or by the langur man I was thinking of bringing in. I don't quite know how to deal with them, but so long as they're not bothering me, I don't see why I should chase them away. They're citizens of this crazy city just as much as any of us, I guess; they're part of the ranks of the homeless and dispossessed who live in Delhi. The humans sleep on pavements, the monkeys sleep in trees: sooner or later, someone tells them to move on, and so the cycle continues.

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