Monkey business

One of the monkeys at the Nupura Gangai temple at Madurai

One of the monkeys at the Nupura Gangai temple at Madurai

I found out a few years back how Singapore did not tolerate crows, but that they have a general zoophobic attitude dawned on me now, from the events that have enshrouded my neighborhood in the past week- all after a pesky little monkey decided to stray into our condominium looking for food.

Monkeys aren’t a common sighting in this affluent country. Unless you live in the vicinity of a national park, you probably will never get to see one swinging from the trees. In India, any Hindu temple on a mound or a hill would be swarming with these primates so much so that parents convince children to go to the temples with promises of monkey sightings more than seek blessings from the divinity. We even venerate them as Hanuman, the monkey God.

A few days back, someone in the condo spotted a lone monkey hopping on to the balconies of some flats looking for food. The sighting triggered off a string of email exchanges within a span of an hour. My inbox was quickly filling up with emails titled ‘The monkey is back’. Rewind to a few months back, the same monkey (or one of his kind) had been spotted visiting the premises and a similar knee jerk reaction and a few email exchanges later, the excitement had died down.

Our condominium is in the close proximity of a National Park, which is part of Singapore’s heritage and pride and it is located on a hill- no less.  Add to that a Hindu temple in close proximity that has religious dos every week, with a lot of food being distributed for charity. There you have it – Two potent ingredients that a monkey finds too hard to resist while finding a piece of real estate suitable for dwelling. Unfortunately (for the monkey), the condominium has very few people to empathize with him. I may be the only support he has in all of the 187 units. I am far outweighed by the others who seem to be ganging up with their devious plans to evict him from the premises.

Even though I have lived in the same condominium for two years, I have had little opportunity to interact with my neighbours to find out their interests or what they do for a living. However, all these email exchanges about the monkey seems to throw some light on what they could potentially be qualified to do for a living and here are some of the conclusions (using my imagination) that I have drawn. ( Disclaimer:  This post was written in  light vein and not with the intention of hurting anyone)

Another shot of a monkey that posed for me at a temple in madurai

Another shot of a monkey that posed for me at a temple in Madurai

There is definitely an armchair primatologist  on a higher floor, who observes that the monkey  ‘is a fully grown adult but not an alpha male’ (Google much?) and he suspects that he has been ‘ousted from his troop and foraging for easy food’ (Eloquence!).

Then we have a wannabe behavioral scientist who from her sixth floor vantage point alerts the rest of us of ‘ frantic maids locking themselves up’ and of people ‘grabbing golf clubs and umbrellas’ to scare the primate away.

We have forecasters and psychics who by virtue of being stuck to the window watching every move of the intruder say, ‘the monkey will return at about the same time and leave when it gets dark”. ( Maybe you couldn’t see much when it was dark and you assumed that he went away while in reality he was having the last laugh sitting on your window sill?)

We have budding detectives who have spotted amateur photographers clicking pictures of the annoying pesky thief (The poor lost soul, has  earned his titles by wandering into our condo). There are Yes men who show their solidarity and support.  There are a few pithecophobics who ask you to be on guard against the ‘dangerous, aggressive critter’, because they ‘suspect that there is going to be an ugly incident if we don’t act fast’ and then there are animal right activists who want to remove the monkey as humanely as possible and relocate it back to its habitat.

So many proposals have been made by the group, ranging from hiring a ‘monkey catcher’, taking the help of the specialist pest controllers, the AVAACRES and involving the minister of the constituency.  What gets my goat is  when they bring a religious angle to it, blaming the temple for being its refuge. They have requested the officers from the AVA to counsel the temple management about the nuisance that they seem to be supporting inadvertently!

It has all culminated to a monkey trap being laid on the roof top of a building from where the perpetrator has been seen to let himself in. Informative flyers and circulars have been printed and distributed to the residents of the condo and notices have been pinned to the notice boards. We have been warned to keep our balcony doors closed to discourage the monkey from visiting.

More monkeys at a temple in Madurai

More monkeys at a temple in Madurai

The latest grainy video doing its rounds in the group email shows the smart monkey sauntering into an apartment, emerging with a banana and peeling it as he reflectively looks at the rain. The behavioral scientist has spotted the monkey carefully manoeuvering the trap that lay in wait for him as he approached the premise through another clearing.  He must have sensed something awry. You can never outsmart a monkey. It is not for nothing that you them clever.

As for me, I am waiting to see if the story fizzles out like the last time. And when I spot him, I will chant the hanuman chalisa under my breath and earn my brownie points. Will keep you posted on how it all turned out….. for the monkey!





Here is an update of the status as of the evening of 30th Sept.

The chap turned up at our house this evening when I was away walking my dog, helped himself to some mandarin oranges, walked into the puja, moved some flowers about and perched comfortably on the balcony railing and enjoyed the fruits of his labour.

The hero of the story

The hero of the story


Four short of a century – A tribute to my grandpa

My 96 year old maternal grandfather passed away this weekend.  He had a fall last week and was advised surgery. He survived the surgery and was strong enough to get upset with his sons about not being around him when he was recovering. The fact that he was in the ICU, was of no significance to him. My grand dad was the last surviving sibling of a family of five. He was the oldest and lived the longest.  One of his younger sisters passed away a week before his time came.

I was fortunate to have met him a few months back when I went for my annual visit home. I always made it a point to see him on the same day I arrived or within the next couple of days. Even If I could not, I would fudge the details of my arrival to make it look like I had arrived only then. Somehow it felt to me that he minded a bit if I told him that I had arrived earlier but had made time to come over to say hello only then.

As always, I spent some time with him, repeating details of my life that he was already aware of. He has been hard of hearing from the time I remember interacting with him. In my mind’s eye, I see him quickly pacing into his room, after acknowledging my arrival with a surprised toothless smile and a ‘wait ’ hand  sign, while he fixed his hearing aid and adjusted the volume on the little box that he later slid into his pocket. He would beckon to a chair next to him and then we would start the conversation.

He did not expect anything from me. Lately I had been carrying only bananas for him since that was the only fruit he enjoyed. He was keen to spend time with me, asking me mundane details of my life. He was genuinely interested in what I did, how I traveled, who cooked for me, where I stayed, how my in laws were.

It was typical of him to repeatedly ask the same questions that he had asked you in your last visit. Things don’t change that quickly in everyone’s lives to make mundane details sound interesting. But if you knew him well, you’d patiently wait for him to complete his list of questions.

So where do you live now? Singapore. Singapore! It is so far away! How did you come?  Flight. Airplane! Who came with you?  I came on my own. By yourself?! Not bad!

How is your child? (He could never recall her name). How old is she now? What grade? Wow!

How are your inlaws? How is your brother in law and his family? His kids? They must all be grown up now. Do they still live in Jayanagar?

How is your mom? Is she going back to Singapore with you? How long will she stay? 4 months! That is a long time!

Another thing he possessed about is for me to eat a meal before I left; if I couldn’t stay on for a meal on that day, then I had to promise coming back for a meal on another day. Invariably, I would eat every time I visited him. If I had to step out to meet someone else in the neighborhood, he would panic about where I was off to. Even after verbal assurances , he would wonder if I was going away without telling him. I would leave my hand bag behind and that assured him I was coming back.

And God forbid if I told him that I would be away for 15 minutes and I got delayed. He’d be at the gate watching the road till he spotted me.  You said you were going for 15 and you stayed away for so long! I was worried because the traffic is bad and I don’t trust any of these vehicles. When I left, he gave me a lot of instructions to drive safe and to call as soon as I reached home. And then he would sit right next to the phone until it rang and I spoke to my aunt to let him know I had reached.

As was customary, I always sought his blessings when I left his house. As soon as I readied myself to take his blessings with a namaskaram at his feet, he would stop me, quickly go into the puja, bring the turmeric smeared rice (akshathai)  in his hand to bless me with it and then would give me the go ahead.

Lately I had begun to give him a parting hug. I could wrap my one arm around him easily and I was careful not to crush his frail frame. He would feel very uncomfortable and protect himself by raising his arms to his chest. He liked shaking hands as a better parting wish. He shook hands with everyone. With me, with my husband, daughter. He’d be very English about it. A smart firm handshake accompanied by eye contact and a genuine smile that reached his eyes.

He walked with me till the gate, kept advising me to be safe and waved to me till I turned the corner of the street he lived in. As always I told him to take care and that I would see him when I came back next time.

I will miss him the next time at Mavalli. Rest in peace, thatha.

R Shamanna 1917-2013

R Shamanna 1917-2013
Leaves behind 6 children, 10 grand kids and 9 great grand kids