I stood on the pavement opposite the park watching a small rhesus monkey trying to get free of the crude leash that held him captive. One end of this leash was tied to the wrist of a sinister looking individual, who snored away with his head resting on a bundle of undistinguishable contents. Standing there I could feel the agony, anger and the need to be free in the small creature, which suddenly leapt upon the sleeping man jumping up and down. What followed was an ‘animal rights’ nightmare, for the wretched owner sat up spewing invective of the worst kind and proceeded to give a brutal beating to the young animal, which cringed and screamed in vain. Unable to take it any longer, I crossed the road and pulled out all stops in my Lahori vocabulary against the outrage I had just witnessed, ending with a threat to summon the police. The episode ended, with a decent sum of money changing hands and an addition to my assets in the form of a little simian, who soon found himself inside a ‘cat carrier’, being driven by a ‘crazy’ old man (for this is what I was referred to, when the news of the transaction reached my kin) to the Margalla Hills. It was a satisfying moment, when the occupant of the cage happily disappeared amongst the trees.
Monkeys in my reckoning are enigmatic creatures – highly intelligent and therefore very sensitive. It was during my walks in the hills around ‘Daman e Koh’, that I came across a troop of these funny creatures, who sat amongst the trees just staring at me as I passed under them. Suddenly a large male bared his teeth, uttering what could only have been ‘threats and dire consequences’. It was at this very moment that my ‘funny streak’ decided to surface, with the result that I too let go with an ‘award winning’ imitation of something between a big cat and a banshee. Absolute silence reigned for a few moments, followed by the disappearance of the apes led by the one that had hurled the threat. The next day found the same troop in position at exactly the same spot, but I was allowed to pass without any incident. Although the frequency of my forays in the hills has reduced, I still find my friends (for that is how I see them now) eating wild figs unconcerned by my presence. The high point of this relationship came just a few days ago, when I rashly cradled a tiny youngster, who overcome by curiosity had ventured to an overhanging branch within my reach, without a whimper of protest or threat from its family.
It was almost six decades ago that ‘Bandarwallah Chacha’ appeared on our drive. Well past his prime, this individual was always accompanied by two full grown monkeys sitting contentedly on his shoulders and contemplating the world around them. The happy couple was Mr. Abdul Bagaroo and Ms. Mung Phali, who along with their master - the inimitable ‘Punnoo’ had put together a remarkable comic act, that induced side splitting laughter. The remarkable thing about the trio was the mutual affection that immediately became evident to onlookers. ‘Punnoo’ treated his performers as if they were his offspring and was rewarded with unrestricted love. As years went by, I saw ‘Bagaroo’ and ‘Mung Phali’ turn grey until one day ‘Punnoo’ failed to appear for his weekly visit, never to be seen again.
My latest encounter with the funniest member of the Ape Family occurred just two days ago, providing the thread for this week’s piece, when I saw a car stopping at the point, where the road begins winding up to Daman e Koh. The front door opened to disclose an old man with a walking stick and a paper bag. The individual walked slowly to a clearing some distance from the road and placed the bag on the ground. To my immense joy, he was immediately surrounded by a group of monkeys, who feasted on the contents of the bag in an amazingly disciplined manner. I drove on carrying the image of a white haired old human, with a face that radiated happiness at what he was doing.
The writer is a historian.