Bandar, Bandariya and Baby Bandar were ready for their show. Come Sunday morning and their tamasha would begin in a congested and busy Bombay suburb witnessed by an excited group of children.
Raju, the Bandarwala, would announce his arrival with the familiar drumbeat and sound of ghungroos. Sometimes he even brought along a sleepy black bear.
Each week it was the same routine. Dressed in dotted pyjamas with a shiny red sleeveless jacket and a Wee Willy Winkey cap edged with tiny bells, Bandar cartwheeled and somersaulted backwards and forwards.
Bandariya looked like a little gypsy in her ghagra-choli, ankles covered with ghungroos. She swayed her hips like a true dancer. She was everyone’s favourite.
But today, Baby Bandar was in no mood to sit high up on the narrow ladder and swing like an old grandfather clock from rung to rung. The rope around his little neck hurt. And so did his pride, for only a few days ago he had learned the truth about himself.
Squatting behind Raju, Baby Bandar rubbed his eyes again and again. So cross and sad was he that only when his eyes burned with the constant rubbing did he stop. And then he scratched furiously, first under one arm and then the other. He was only a monkey after all. No, this time he was not going to do silly tricks.
It all happened last Sunday after the Bandar family had finished their day’s programme. Raju had stopped for a bidi and a cosy chat at his brother’s shop outside the zoo. After a feast of juicy bananas, the bandar family collapsed into deep sleep under the gulmohar tree. That is, all except baby Bandar whose neck still hurt when the nasty rope rubbed against his wound.
Suddenly his eyes fell upon a cage right next to the zoo’s entrance where he saw someone just like himself swing and balance like a trapeze artiste. He remembered that Bandariya had told him about his many monkey cousins, and he recognised Chimp, the chimpanzee.
Mother Chimpanzee found it difficult to stop Chimp from bobbing about like a Jack-in-the box: “Ssh ssh, Chimp! Calm down! There’s a good boy!”
When Chimp was not swinging, he was leaping crazily from one end of the cage to the other, chattering and making strange sounds.
“But Mama,” squeaked Chimp in a painful little voice, Why must I be locked up in this cage for ever and ever? Yesterday I heard a visitor say to his child, ‘They are not people, but they are actually highly evolved animals. ‘Whatever did he mean?” Mother Chimpanzee explained to Chimp, bit by bit, that he and his many cousins in all parts of the world all belonged to the monkey kingdom called homo satyrus. “And Chimp,” said Mama, “We are very much like humans who are called homo sapiens. And that means that all our visitors are homo sapiens, including the kind cage keeper who lovingly feeds us every day and who speaks to us like a friend.”
Baby Bandar’s eyes became rounder and rounder as he heard Mama Chimpanzee tell Chimp so many wonderful secrets he had never imagined in the two years of his eventful life. “And,” continued Mama, “Out of our 1,065 monkey qualities, 312 are found exclusively in humans.” Baby Bandar’s eyes were now like saucers, and he looked as though a fairy had cast a spell on him. “We even have the same blood groups as humans, and often we think and act like them as well,” finished Mama, being careful not to excite Chimp too quickly. Besides, he had not eaten his dinner, and too many important matters being told to him all at once one afternoon was not a very wise way to end the day.
“Can we talk human talk?” asked Chimp who was determined to hear the whole truth about himself and all the members of his large family, including langurs, gorillas, apes and orangutans. “No, we can’t,” said Mama, “But Lissy at the Munich Animal Park understands human talk. When her keeper says ‘Bring me the mug,’ she gives him her empty milk mug. So you see how well we are looked after in the zoo. Outside, “explained Mama, “Man is our greatest enemy. He traps us for export, he poaches in protected areas and he even shoots us for sport, for he has entered our territory. That has made us an endangered species,” finished Mama Chimpanzee.
But Chimp wanted to learn some more, and Mama had no choice but to continue. “Some time ago in London, Mr. Morris, a zoo expert, had found that chimpanzees and orangutans can even paint and draw. Congo, his chimpanzee not only scribbled, but all his lines met together on one spot on the paper. In fact, when he was still little he made 384 drawings. So you see Chimp…” Mama had to stop for this was too much knowledge for baby Chimp who had entered dreamland. His eyes were closed and he was still like a statue.
That evening, after a long day, Raju set course for home. Brain ticking with mind boggling details, Baby Bandar decided he must have an honest talk with Raju before nightfall. “I must tell Raju that his kingdom and ours can happily live side by side if we show consideration for each other, " thought Baby Bandar to himself. “Someone has to make the first move, so why not me?”
So one thing at a time, like fitting the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together, Baby Bandar related tale after tale of Mother Chimpanzee’s family truths. And finally mustering up enough courage, Baby Bandar came out with his most important message. “Raju! Do you know that you have come from me?” The look on Raju’s face did not make him a subject fit for a portrait, but with no option around him, he had to consider all this seriously. “Why indeed, if langurs are held sacred, and used to perform ceremonial dances, and to their cousin, the crab eating macaque in Bali, is owed the development of the polio vaccine, then why am I ill treating my bandar family” thought Raju almost aloud. He continued this time actually speaking to himself, “Poor Baby Bandar’s neck is in bad shape and I have abused them all by hitting them repeatedly to train them for silly shows. Besides, I must help my audience to become wiser too.”
The following Sunday when Baby Bandar had professionally registered his protest in front of many viewers, Raju took his four-footed friends to the local forest where they were happily positioned with other monkey brothers and sisters. He realised that all living things are important for the balance of nature. If man disappeared it would make little difference to the rest of nature, for nature existed long before man was born. But if plants and animals vanished, then man, whose existence depended on them, would certainly be affected.
Courtesy World Wildlife Fund for Nature – India. First published in WWF India, Apr-Jun -95