There was a time, though I cannot seem to either remember or imagine it anymore, when I was actually excited to see monkeys. I was a child and monkeys lived in the forests back then. Now it feels like they have been here forever, all around us, in ever more populous groups, leaving behind gardens and gardeners in various states of disarray and despair.
I do remember the early days of their arrival when it was downright odd and hilarious to see adults chasing off monkeys; galloping, stomping, and shouting in strange voices, experimenting to see what would work best.
One would often come across neighbors in the middle of a dense exchange regarding the monkey business going about in their front-yards and the strategies that had failed. People could be seen collecting pebbles when out on walks, grinning stupidly and nodding meaningfully when they noticed being observed.
Then one of the neighbors, a sanctimonious middle aged man, who being in the merchant navy would be away half a year and unanchored in the vicinity the rest of the year, came up with something that seemed like a solution. Quite often he would be spotted surveying the movements of monkeys and trying out different things to obstruct their movement, strategies to scare them off. ‘We must arm ourselves’, I heard him instructing my dad one lazy Sunday afternoon. He actually meant those words, I found to my surprise, when those in the proximity were supplied with air guns and firecrackers at discounted rates. Soon, at the sight of the guns and the sound of the firecrackers the monkeys were seen scuttling and scattering in great confusion.
Meanwhile, the kids in the neighborhood could be sighted shooting at empty bottles in competition, or practicing in their own backyards armed with the monkey guns and utter seriousness. From the backyard tournaments one of the more levelheaded boys went to a shooting school and went on to become an Olympic athlete. In one of his interviews he thanked the monkeys who were frolicking in the neighborhood again by then, bolder than ever. Most of the boys had worn out or broken the air guns from overuse and no one bothered to get new ones. Monkeys would bolt at the mere sight of those infernal weapons anyway. They had, however, learnt to hide and wait for people to get tired, bored, or busy.
Within a few years it was impossible to imagine our lives without them. If they don’t show up for some reason, people miss chasing them off. Everyone has a characteristic shout which they employ against the monkeys. One can tell the direction from which the troop of mischief is approaching, from the nature of the shout, the size of the troop from the intensity of the shout, and the level of rascality of the troop from the rate of repetition of the shout. Everyone follows this tacit code of conduct.
I have seen my mother actually weep the loss of some prized flower, and I have cursed the monkeys for bullying the birds, but I have also grown very fond of them. Without them, it will be a very boring place to live. The insolent scoundrels continue to bring the community together.