A Monkey Story
If you have ever landed at Jabalpur airport, you would know that the runway lies on a plateau. A landing is possible only if the pilot makes a visual sighting. During the monsoons this becomes even more critical. As it transpired one rainy morning,we heard the aircraft through the cloud cover, only to realise that it was not coming in to land. What this meant was, that I would have to double back to the office, pick up the old Ambassador car and head for Raipur by road. The annual tender for Conveyor Belting at Bhilai Steel plant worth some Rs 3 crore was due the following day. There was no other way to reach Raipur in time. Luckily my colleague Parmesh Puri was headed there too. I would have company on the long drive.
Now in case you are wondering what is the connection between a Steel plant tender and a monkey, let me relate this to you quickly. It did’nt take us long to get the car on the road. We hit Seoni midway between Jabalpur and Nagpur on NH 7 a little past 3 pm and decided to stop for a late lunch at a dhaba on the Highway.
Just as we were about to start digging into the dal and tandoori chicken, along came a man with a baby monkey tied to a rope. It suddenly struck me that the monkey would make a great playmate for my daughters aged 4 and 2 years. Ofcourse after taking necessary precautions like vaccinating the monkey so there would be no danger of rabies and the like to anyone. So I asked the man whether he would like to sell the monkey. After initial refusal, he did a rethink and as we were about to finish our meal, offered to sell the monkey in exchange for an Amitabh Bachchan film song cassette. On my explaining that this condition was physically impossible for me to fulfill, he agreed to give the monkey, which he clarified was a female, for Rs 40/- which translated roughly into the value of the cassette.
Having taken delivery, I nonchalantly tied the rope to the rear door handle, figuring that she would settle down after some initial monkey tricks and enjoy the car ride. But how wrong was I. Not only did the monkey refuse to settle down, she proceeded to rip the car apart, bit by bit. Just went berserk. Jumping around, shrieking, squeaking, chattering, howling (what do little monkeys do anyway?). Tearing the upholstery, hanging precariously out of the window, crapping and pissing (who could imagine a little thing like that could have such prodigious output?). The rear window had to be kept open for monkey’s sake. It was monsoon time so the rain, sometimes heavy, sometimes just steady, poured in to add to our woes.
This went on virtually non-stop all the way from Seoni to Raipur. The distance isn't more than 200 odd km but the monsoon and road contractors conspired as always, to ensure that the drive took 10 hours.
There I was, driving through thick sheets of rain, in totally dark surroundings, passing through forests and unlit villages on an unfamiliar road, with one crazy monkey jumping all over the place, depositing excreta at will. Forming puddles with his piss. With a valiant colleague trying to prevent the monkey from jumping onto me. Total chaos. This may sound funny now, but it really wasn't then.
Anyway, we finally arrived at Raipur. At three in the morning. Bone-weary, dog-tired (monkey-tired?), ears shattered, noses blocked. At the Mayura Hotel, where we were regulars, I tackled the next issue. What to do with the monkey while we were away at Bhilai. Luckily one of the waiters agreed to keep her for the two days we expected to be away. I never found out what befell the waiter, nor did I venture to.
A couple of days later, we were ready to leave for Jabalpur. Leaving the monkey behind at Raipur was an option I did’nt even consider. Hopefully she had got used to riding in a car, I thought, and would behave in a more sedate manner. But again I was grossly wrong. If anything, she was even more hyper (if that was possible at all). Jumping and shrieking and all the aforementioned things. Finally, twelve hours later, we were home.
I opened the door and proudly told my wife “See what I brought for the girls”. Dramatically standing aside for her to get a look at the monkey. Followed by a shriek of horror. “Have you gone mad?” she said. “I won’t allow such a thing inside the house. What if it bites the girls? It is a wild animal you know.” My entreaties fell on deaf ears. No sympathy for the brave effort to bring the monkey to Jabalpur. No award for surviving the life-threatening drive. No nothing. Except to face the next issue – where would the monkey go now? We could’nt just let it free. The neighbourhood dogs would have killed it. After several hours of reasoning, my wife agreed we could keep her tied on the roof of our small duplex. But only till such time someone could be found to look after it.
The girls christened the monkey Basanti, after the popular heroine of Sholay. But unlike Hema Malini, our Basanti didn't end up marrying Dharmendra. She did however find a home and may even have ended up acting in a film. She certainly exhibited the talent for it.