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« Code 10 - Forget About It | Main | Police State On Campus? »

November 16, 2006


A couple more (real) monkey tales here: On an 'ecotour' in the Western Ghats a couple of years ago,when we stopped for a snack at a small store, my daughter dropped her popsicle, which was promptly pounced upon by one of 3 monkeys loitering near us. The successful scrounger deftly removed the wrapper with his teeth and proceeded to gobble it up and threw the stick away.A smaller monkey had to settle for sucking discarded popsicle stick.

Another time, near the Courtallam waterfalls, we saw a whole harem of monkeys with their babies clinging on their back. The alpha male moved menacingly towards me, and I had to beat a hasty retreat from videotaping them.

Let the monkey tales continue- I'm sure many have their own funny (or not) monkey encounters to relate!

Talk of synchronicity, I came upon this photo on the Internets within a few minutes of my monkey comment. The ultimate in outsourcing, I guess!

Did you notice that they prefer attacking women and children?

There was large monkey (a langur or hanuman) who lived within our school compound in New Delhi. He was a pampered beast. The school janitorial staff fed him lavishly. The monkey lived in a grove of trees that was adjacent to the science building and the school gym and the sports fields. My friends and I in the science department were acutely aware of his presence because we saw him all the time through our class room windows. The humanities students, on the other side of the school did not register his presence as well. Every day during lunch recess, when most of the girls congregated around the fields, some one (mostly a humanities student) would have her lunch stolen in a sudden and sometimes violent swipe from the monkey. There was a comic angle to it. Like in a bad movie, where everyone except the victim knows what is coming next, the monkey would find a suitably distracted girl and divest her of her midday meal. It happened without fail - the sudden swoop, the scream and dropping of the lunch box. And it was invariably funny. Amazingly enough, no one got seriously hurt and no one in the school ever thought of getting the menacing simian out of the school premises.

The funniest "monkey see, monkey do" story that I have heard was from my mother. In the large garden of the home where she grew up, there lived a sizable group of monkeys. One morning, one of them stole the eye glasses of an uncle who had dozed off on the backyard verandah while reading the newspaper. The monkey proceeded to put the spectacles on his own nose and it wasn't until mid-day that they were recovered. The story sounded particularly hilarious because as my mother told us, it was clear from the clumsy and tentative movements of the bespectacled monkey that he couldn't see very well through the glasses but still refused to give up his booty!

I love monkeys! This gut emotional reaction does not constitute particularly incisive commentary, but so be it. Once, upon returning from a trip with my family to Southern Spain, which included visiting the stunning Alhambra, charming Sevilla, etc., I was amazed to realize that I'd used up something like 20 out of my 36 exposures of film taking pictures of monkeys in Gibraltar, a destination not really worth recording for posterity, except maybe for the evocative view across the straits to Africa, and the banal peculiarity of 1) encountering an existing British colony in Southern Spain and 2) recognizing the silhouette of the Rock, and mechanically thinking, "that looks just like the Prudential logo," then, "oh. duh." I'd like to say this incident happenned when I was, say, 11 years old; in reality, I believe I was 21.

Exciting as they were in person, the monkeys looked pretty weedy on film once the pictures were developed, and it occurred to me that if I lived in Gibraltar, I might well think of them as sort of large, aggressive, and troublesome squirrels. Still, it's hard, as a child of monkey-lacking North America, to override that over-excited, photo trigger finger pulling response: "Monkeys!"

I think communities whose social/economic position is less secure, which includes minorities and people of all ethnicities who struggle financially or are disparaged by other groups, are often more openly prejudiced, on the pathetic logic of, "I may be [fill in the speaker's group], but at least I'm not a sorry S.O.B. like those [fill in another group]." One particularly odious aspect of Allen's story, though, is that he does *not* fit this model: he's a rich kid from Rancho Palos Verdes playing besieged, Southern good old boy. Perhaps his mother's self-loathing spite mixed with a rich kid's sense of entitlement to create a particularly hateful brew. That explanation fits with Ruchira's excellent point about the subtle lesson for all minorities in Allen's defeat. But it still leaves out the predatory calculation with which Allen used racism as an attache case for a false persona. Blech. A man I'd happily see booted from politics entirely.

Interestingly enough, tying together Ruchira's posts, the monkey that so captured my imagination and colonized my film role was the Barbary Macaque.

"But it still leaves out the predatory calculation with which Allen used racism as an attache case for a false persona. Blech. A man I'd happily see booted from politics entirely."

Exactly, Anna. Talking of false personas, it makes me wonder, what pearls might Borat have convinced Allen to come up with that might have possibly been worse than 'macaca' or the n-word.

Here's another perspective on this issue.

As a Maharashtrian and as a native of Bombay, when I was growing up, I came in contact with people from various parts of India who were, for all practical purposes, immigrants to Bombay. Whenever I would hear them refer to all Maharashtrians as "ghat"s I would feel quite offended. (the term refers to people from the poorer hinterland of Maharashtra who also immigrated to Bombay and worked as domestic servants).

My discomfort was not because I was being considered equivalent to the servants. I didn't care about that. Rather, it was that the immigrants in our midst were completely and often wilfully, oblivious of the culture, history and nuance of the city that had welcomed them and that they called home.

Unless circumstances force them to confront the symbolism of their choices, most people tend to waft through life without much thought.

The Barbary macaca is gorgeous! I too love monkeys even though I have seen thousands of them since childhood. I told this story once before but will repeat it again. My mother, a very gentle and kind woman, did not particularly like to have animals in her immediate vicinity. But because of the rest of the animal loving family, particularly me, she patiently put up with dogs, cats and an aviary of birds in the home. But when in my late teens, I started toying with the idea of a pet monkey, she put her foot down with uncharacteristic determination.

The part of the story about the New Delhi monkeys that I found most amusing was that the villagers don't find these city slickers suitable for their own bucolic surroundings!

The worst behaved monkeys in India live in holy places of pilgrimage where they live unmolested, second in importance only to the reigning deities.

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