Of Monkeys and Men: Have you heard of a man being stopped in his tracks by a giant monkey? What I am about to narrate is no story or figment of imagination. It actually happened to me.
It was in the middle of nowhere that I encountered a strange and seemingly dangerous situation that made me question our pre-conditioned thinking. Why do we respond to situations in a certain set fashion? Is it because we have been told to unquestioningly judge right and wrong based on certain ambiguous parameters? Do our instincts turn to insecurities? Do they create distances between us and others, rather than cocoon us from the unknown? Here’s an incident that triggered these questions.
Of Monkeys and Men
25 kms from Rishikesh, the Vashistha Cave is named after Rishi Vashistha, guru of Lord Rama and manas putra (human progeny) of Lord Brahma. One of the saptarishis (seven great sages) of ancient times, it is believed that Vashistha meditated and lived here till the age of 85 when he attained nirvana.
Having visited the cave, I was walking down the path that connected it with the approach road. The vibrations I had felt there – coupled with the serene environment – had a calming effect on me. Lost in thought, I didn’t realise that a giant monkey had parked itself further ahead, blocking my path, until we were a couple of feet apart. A sense of panic gripped me. I froze, fearing that any movement on my part might antagonise it. An eerie silence enveloped us.
Getting into an impasse
For what seemed a long time, there was no movement on either side. It was a tense situation. I had to get away but running wasn’t an option. Worse, any movement on my part evoked a similar response from the ape. We had reached an impasse.
Several agonising moments later, I started all over again, I took two tentative steps, only to see the monkey match my action. But the dilemma had been broken. The mind and body were in synch again. I took another step and the monkey did the same.
As I kept going, I could see the monkey keep pace with me. Our movements seemed to be synchronised. The mind was racing with several thoughts. What must I do next? How should I shake him off my trail? I started walking towards the main road, he alongside, a bit concerned as this was not his regular beat. I felt slightly relieved that I had managed to make it thus far without aggravating the primate.
An unexpected call
But my problems weren’t over yet. Suddenly the phone in my pocket began to ring. I quickly turned it off as I saw him getting worked up, teeth bared, screeching shrilly, all poised to attack. It was scary. The renewed silence calmed him down and we continued our synchronised walk.
The mind was planning an escape out of this tight situation. We were now in safer territory but there were no people close by. A few in the distance were too far to call out to, without running the risk of agitating my walking partner. I shook my head at my helplessness. He shook his head too, seemingly in mock concern.
Relief at hand
Suddenly, my car arrived. I figured that it must have been the driver who had called a few moments earlier. My friend got a start. I quietly went ahead, opened the rear door and with a wave of my hand, signaled him to join me in the car. I almost broke out into laughter as he did the same. Confrontation had given way to courtesy. Pushing my luck, I extended the invitation one more time. After you, he gestured. Seizing the opportunity, I jumped into the car and slammed the door shut before he could follow me. The driver shot off immediately.
From the safety of the moving vehicle, I turned back to see a puzzled look on the monkey’s face. Strangely, I wanted to go back. Picking up a stem of bananas from a vendor down the road, we returned to the spot where we had left him. He was still there.
Clearing the misunderstanding Of Monkeys and Men
I stepped out of the car and walked towards him. Puzzled at my hasty exit, the monkey followed my every move. Our eyes were now locked in contact. I walked as close to him as my instinct would permit. Placing the bunch of fruit on the edge of the road, I waved my arm, inviting him to partake of the feast. He didn’t budge an inch. His eyes were still locked on mine.
I was no longer afraid. Turning away, I calmly walked back to the car. As we drove away, I turned around to see the monkey approach the pile of bananas. He pulled one off the stem, unpeeled it and bit into it. He looked pleased as he relished the first bite. Perhaps he now realised that I wasn’t a foe after all.
I felt a sense of relief too. Our initial confrontation had turned into an unspoken understanding. Our own insecurities prevent us from understanding others, be it humans or other creatures. I came away feeling that we might be able to understand other people better if we attempt to understand animals first.