My inspiration for this recurring thread in my Sunday pieces stems from one my favourite writers Gerald Durrell. Good old Mr. Durrell has not only been gifted with a wonderful wit, but the ability to put it on paper, leaving the reader riveted to whichever of his works one may have the privilege of imbibing at that particular moment. Gerald’s (if I may take the liberty out of sheer affection, of addressing him so informally) genius is enhanced by the fact that he loves nature and its children – a passion that forms the central theme of his wonderful writings.

Now I am no Gerald Durrell, nor will be – ever, but I have laid claim to have been inspired by him and another pen wielding giant cum Nobel Laureate, the late Rudyard Kipling. The complete works of both these unique individuals adorn the racks in my personal library and their worn condition is evidence of having been read and reread many times.

By now, readers must have come to terms with my footloose nature, an undiminished yen for the outdoors and affinity with ‘creatures great and small’. All three of these traits have often come together to land me in trouble during my wanderings in the wild, such as my encounter with the ‘Monkey King’.

It was some years ago that I heard of a story regarding a band of furry simians that had become a nuisance to locals in the Nathiagali area. A few weeks later, I found myself cozily ensconced in a hut overlooking the road that links this beautiful hill station to Kalabagh and further ahead, Abbottabad. Taking an afternoon walk amongst the dense growth of pines and cedars close to my residence, I got the eerie feeling that I was not alone. The rustling of leaves above me made me look up to find a troop of monkeys staring down at me. I then made the cardinal mistake of delving into my rucksack and producing a banana (my usual brand of sustenance during such ramblings). A moment later, I found myself surrounded on the ground by a gang of apes, who just sat there ominously, as if waiting for someone or something to arrive. Suddenly a twitter ran through the besiegers, which in no time escalated into agitated body movements. To my utter amazement and perhaps fear, I saw a large male monkey appear from the undergrowth and sit down right in front of me. As if in response to a silent signal, the rest of the troop converged on what was apparently their leader. Alone in the forest, with a banana in my hand and some more in my rucksack, the only thing I could do was to slowly place the pack on the ground, extract the rest of the fruit and a couple of chocolate bars. I put the goodies on the ground and without making any sudden movement, backed up the way I had come. Overcoming a rising curiosity to conceal myself and watch the imminent feast, I kept on walking as a rising chatter arose from the spot, where my encounter had taken place. I narrated the events of the afternoon to a zoologist friend on returning to Islamabad and was told that I had met the Alpha monkey aka the Monkey King and it was only my subservience body language that had saved me from serious harm.

Another time, I found an injured crow on the road to my house and got down from the car to see how I could help the bird. The urge to do so, came from the notion that crows were highly intelligent and therefore innovative. I also knew that these birds were oft misunderstood, notwithstanding which, they made excellent pets. I walked up to the injured bird, oblivious to the fact that a dozen of his kind were sitting on the overhead electric line. As I stooped to pick up the bundle of feathers, all hell broke loose, as accompanied by viscous cawing, black and grey ‘missiles’ with deadly beaks swooped down at me. I had the common sense to ‘fleet foot’ my retreat to the vehicle in record time. When I looked at the spot, where the injured bird had been lying, I couldn’t believe my eyes – it had gone. To this day, I have not been able to figure out if the crows had deliberately baited me into a trap; had I been the victim of a ‘bird brained’ practical joke or had I dreamt it all.


The writer is a historian.