A slow coach monkey learner
This article belongs to Sweet Grace column.
Right from my school days I had a great fascination for monkeys, at their way of playing and fighting etc. Whenever there was a monkey show on the roadside I just couldn't help stopping and watching the drama or skit executed by them. One monkey charmer had trained his pet monkeys to play husband and wife and for the delight of the onlookers made them fight for two minutes and then they would make up with a kiss.
In later days, I used to enjoy my visit to the zoo and the area I spent some 10 or 15 minutes was invariably the monkey cage. I wondered if the monkeys were ever aware that we human beings were looking at them and revelling at all their antics? Or, did they fool around only to amuse themselves? I never found out.
"How do they spend their time at their natural habitat," I wanted to know. For such a research work I was required to go into some thick forest. Being a city bred fellow, such visits appeared impossible. And then… then… a grand opportunity came my way when I attended a seminar in a hill station some 300 miles away from Chennai city.
The spacious compound was full of tall oak trees where some 50 odd monkeys had taken residence. Ah, was I thrilled !. After the seminar proceeding was over for the day, I stuck my neck out of the window and sighted these fellows. They always stayed on the trees and seldom came down. Where was the need to come down anyway? They had all the fruits, flowers and leaves they needed right on the trees.
"Óh, no sir," the caretaker apprised me. "They do love to come down and steal something in the room of the guests. Once they see me and my man Friday, they would charge out to the trees. On several occasions, Friday and I had thrashed a few chaps mercilessly with our long stick. So, they are dead scared of our presence. One shout from either of us, they would leap out and perch on the tree branches?" The CT paused and confessed, "They would also then make faces at me and show all their teeth in mockery once they are in the safety of a height of 10 feet from the ground…" He laughed at his own joke.
I couldn't tell the CT and Friday that I loved to see all their buffoonery and clowning; I relished every bit of their pranks.
On the second day of my seminar, I came out of my room to the tree area. None of the monkey would climb down. Perhaps they mistook me for the ferocious CT.
Most of them were in groups; some were family groups; some were young fellows and some loners. The family group consisted of nursing mothers with a little fellow pasted to their abdomen. One particular mother monkey caught my attention. Her little sonny was perhaps about 3 months old and the mother desired that she train him to be on his own. "How long are you going to be on mother's milk, boy? Isn't it time that you stood on your own legs and ate flowers and fruits from these trees?" The sonny boy seemed to agree with her. "You have to be very watchful of the treacherous CT. Never get down to the ground, OK? Always remain on the trees, OK?
And you must learn to jump from one branch to the other. Otherwise, how could you pluck the fruits on the branches above or at the next tree? "
"Now, here is the first lesson on branch hopping," she said and displayed a demonstration jump to the next branch which was some 2 meters away. The sonny boy was very keen to do the feat himself but was terribly afraid. The mother encouraged him. She was a good teacher too. First, she explained the flying-act by word of mouth coupled with movements of her hands. When she asked, "Have you understood?" the little young man nodded his head in the affirmative. Then she demonstrated the flying operation in slow motion for his benefit. Here again, she explained – keep your front legs stretched out and use the back legs to push forward: like this, not like this, but like this. All right? From the student's point of view, the whole thing appeared very simple and almost a child's play.. "Yes, I can do that mummy," he said confidently and plunged to the next branch. Alas ! The poor fellow fell to the ground with a thud. The mother dived down and picked up her son. "Thank God, you aren't hurt. Lucky the CT isn't around either. That monster of a fellow….." she growled and gnashed her teeth.
In the meantime, the frightened student had developed cold feet. "No, I can't do branch-flying. You carry me like before…"
"What? Don't you want to be a man yourself? Idiot of a son…"
The son felt offended at the reprimand and also at the abuse. He was a very sensitive fellow as well and sulked for a while. But, mother didn't want to give up. Having pacified him, she went through the whole drill and showed the jump once again.
The student wasn't impressed at all. His fear became all the more pronounced. He grumbled to himself saying, "Mummy thinks that all baby monkeys are like her."
Meantime, the mother came out with some new techniques and fresh set of instructions. The little fellow shook his head. "Nothing doing, mummy. I can't. I am scared to death…"
"Scared?" the mother tched tched heavily reflecting, "I can't be very proud of you, can I? At your age….."
The sonny boy felt hurt again. "Mummy is looking down upon me," he complained. "Your generation and my generation has a long gap, you know mummy? Things have changed…." And he had the audacity to involve his Dad in the dispute. Dad was a no nonsense type fellow. He never credited the current generation with any aplomb at all. "Listen to your mummy, sonny. Do you want me to jump for you or what?" And Dad washed off his hands.
Sonny boy now came close and glued himself to mummy's tummy. Nothing would detach him from the mother's fold. "You carry me like before. All right, mummy? And he elongated his small body and kissed his mother who felt moved instantly and
postponed the training class to the following week.