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Us And The Monkeys
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Us And The Monkeys
A walk through a busy street in madras provides some critical insight on life...
[1,456 words]
Afreena Rahman
I am a 17 year old newbee - any constructive criticism will be appreciated!
[December 2004]
[email protected]
Us And The Monkeys
Afreena Rahman

I walk down the street and notice just how many people there are in my city of Madras, India. Cars are jammed in the streets, forever honking their horns; as if it is something the drivers are addicted to - a habit that is as natural as breathing or heart-beating. The smell of gasoline is overwhelming that I think must be unique to India alone. All kinds of vehicles line the streets, from cars to trucks, from rickshaws to autos, and even a lonely cow cart with an angry master holding a threatening whip. I can imagine all the people I can’t see inside the vehicles sweating and irritable, all wanting to go somewhere, all impatient. Around them are still people hording around the place like insects, like locusts, swarming to get wherever they need to go; but by the constant buzz of human activity you wonder whether anyone reaches a destination, or if they are forever walking, running, jumping over pits on the broken pavements, mothers holding their children’s hand tightly, painfully as if the sea of people will steal their kids away in a flash should they neglect them for even a fraction of a second. The children are looking around frantically trying to absorb everything around them, the sky musty with smog, the traffic lights, the driver yelling violently at each other about who should turn first out of the windows, the muddy water puddles they jump over, a lost chapel on the sidewalk.
And though all around me the scenery is the same, it seems like I am the only one noticing it. And I feel a light tug at my heart. And suddenly I feel sorry for the whole world.
I pass by vendors selling sliced un-ripened mango – deliciously seasoned some salt and chili powder (but never pepper). The sweet mix of hot and sour juice in the sultry day only makes you want to go back and ask for more. Few people but children, still innocent and oblivious to the games played by their adult parents, truly relish this taste. But everyone else is too absorbed in a world of deceit and strategy they do not have time to stop and enjoy what their children are able to. Other vendors sell peanuts and a mixture of spices and pastry, ridiculously overpriced. Other vendors stand in front of department stores selling accessories and handbags, waiting to trap foreign ladies who always fall victim to the five-fold original prices. The local women are much too experienced – mostly because they themselves sell sweet-scented jasmine flowers strung together by banana tree fibers for a rip-off price. I am reaching a train station – open to sky of course, and it looks empty compared to the crowded streets. Here are men, mostly old, dressed in the distinguishable red shirts and kailis or dhotis. Porters. And there is no reason for the deceit to stop here. The porters start with 50 and some even 100 rupees to carry luggage and are brought down by wary travelers to as low as 25 rupees. I buy the mango that has been tempting me ever since the crowded streets on the platform (they seem to follow you everywhere) and sit down to enjoy the only thing at the moment that is pure. The breeze is refreshing and the coconut trees in the distance sway gently. I hear a screech and turn. I see a monkey that sits some twenty yards away from me, sitting on top of a flight of stairs. There is no use trying to hide the mango – it has already seen it. And if there is anything I have learned about monkeys from my cousins who live here, it is never to make them angry; just give it up. Like the people here, even the animals will fight violently for what they deserve – and a little bit more. And it is the little bit more that throws everything off balance. I throw a small piece of the mango to it and it lands some feet away from it. It immediately climbs down the stairs and picks up the piece gently. It delicately holds the piece between its forefinger and thumb and bites of a piece with its teeth – like eating a banana. It almost makes me laugh – except I know warily what’s coming. The monkey quickly finishes off the piece and saunters towards me – stops about ten feet in front of me, and stares. I do nothing. It comes even closer and I am nervous. It stops again about three feet in front of me. Too close. We do nothing and it seems to be a stalemate when it suddenly lashes out at me with its paw. It does not touch my skin, but I yell out and stumble back, dropping the mango slices. The monkey calmly picks up what I bought and deserved, and walks back, clearly not giving a second thought about my disappointment, but already swimming in its pride of outwitting me. I get up, and a few amused faces look up at me. Self consciously I dust the bottom of my jeans and walk out.
By the exit, I am met by (I say met by because he thrusts himself at me) a small boy of about six or seven. He is wearing a very dirty shirt that was perhaps once white, and a pair of navy blue (now dusty white) shorts. His hair is dark brown, uncombed and quite clearly he is poor. In one hand he is holding a plastic bag with something inside. In the other he is holding samples. “Teepeti”. Matchboxes. I do not need matchboxes, but how can I explain that to the kid who probably has nothing to eat. Yet, I am sure he knows very well the greed and deceit involved in living in the streets. I also know that his mother must be nearby watching to see if his son has successfully put on a most exaggerated expression of self-pity. If he does not convince a customer to buy the once again over-priced matchboxes, he will be further tutored by his parent to put on an even more pitiful countenance the next time. Yet despite knowing all this, I feel pity for him, and his mother, and buy three matchboxes, all put together in another separate bag. I look at him while he is fumbling with the bags about his life and schooling, making it sound as casual as possible. He tells me he has, in fact, no parents, and just a sister of twelve, who takes care of him. I feel another tug of pity, another kind this time. I feel sorrow for him and going against all instinct, I give him an extra ten rupees, even though that is not very much. He takes it hesitantly and smiles a little. I am about to take the bag from him when I see he quietly slips in an extra box of matchsticks. I leave, feeling a little embarrassed and a trifle guilty.
It is time to go home and the sun will set soon. I walk home, a little more hastily than I had come, as if now I am part of the frenzy I witnessed only an hour before. I still see people bargaining their goods; I know it will continue throughout the night. And I wonder what has made our world so busy, so obsessed with cheating the people who can trust us to get the most out of anything. Small vendors to big businesses are all the same. Even the monkey knows no better – and I am starting to wonder whether we are a bad example to the monkey. I reach my home and push in the keys. But still, there is still some hope, I guess. I think about the poor boy with no parents. How sad he looked and how selfless he was when he gave away the extra matchbox when he could have sold it to another customer. It was starting to rain, and I am thankful I reached in time. I take off my coat and empty the pockets – the bag with the matchboxes. I empty them on the kitchen table, and go to the bathroom to take a dry towel to dry my slightly wet hair. When I come back with the towel still in my hands, I simply sift through the matchboxes, suddenly aware of how light they are. It suddenly strikes me and I am moved but yet I find the situation funny. Following instincts (like I should have always), I smashed down the boxes hard with my fist, laughing lightly.

Empty, of course.



"Enough is too much baby. Just chillllton dude...whats goin on between u and the monkeys?? i dont like this monkey business!! plz reply asap..." -- Maaz, Dubai.
"hey thanks a lot...no seriously...thanks alot... - A.Rahman" -- Afreena.
"wat the hell was tat ?? i spent 15 whole minutes readin TAT ?? hehe...jus kiddin dude...altough i dont no wat the hell u were thinkin wen u rote tat, i jus wanna say " Jus Chilltonnn dude... enjoy urself and stop screwin over the monkeys in Madras!!" anywayzz , im still gonna give u a 10 on 10 ..... Tats the Shittt !!!" -- Ebrahim , Sharjah, UAE.


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© 2004 Afreena Rahman
December 2004

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