Monkeys in my Life

First Published in Different Truths

When I tell you stories of animals, never for a minute think I like them. But they mostly like me. They sit near me, follow me, chase me and one even tried to share my cardigan.

I remember, we were visiting my maternal uncle, an artist in Simla. In those days, back in 1970s, Simla was a quieter proposition. You walked to places. It was not so crowded. Therefore, one found many animals that grazed, birds that fluttered living amicably with humans. We all shared the same place, even plants. There were hills around the house one could explore. That, to a curious youngster who was from a town with orderly gardens in homes, in itself was an adventure.

The day we reached, I stepped out into the wilderness that fringed the garden with its fecundity. My aunt and uncle lived in an old colonial bungalow with huge lawns. Simla, after all, had been the summer capital of the Raj from 18641. The house might have been younger than that. I am not sure. It was partitioned into different units. One of the units on the ground floor belonged to my uncle and aunt. I do not remember meeting the other mysterious residents, but I do recall the house had a tennis court, a small clearing surrounded by the most interesting looking plants by the side of the lush garden with bird baths.

The garden gave way to uneven wilderness. Within a few hours of my arrival, to stretch my horizons, I had stepped out to explore this fascinating jumble of greenery. One of the plants had such beautiful leaves with spikes on them, that I had to touch them, feel them, caress them. I was, like any town-bred of that time, curious. In Delhi, my friends and I would make regular forays into parks and vacant lots to play and look for natural adventures. A heap of rubble could become our next Mt Everest. As I touched the leaves growing in wild abandon on hills, my hand burst into painful red sores. I ran back home, learning never to touch all plants, great or small, without knowing their properties. It made for an amusing anecdote for the family!

Against this backdrop of wonder, I found myself trekking up to the Jakhu Hill Temple2 one day with my mother and aunt — we called it Jacko3 after the colonials. The highest peak at that time housed only a temple of the Hindu Monkey God, Hanuman. This was almost three to four decades before the Bachchans of Bollywood invested in Jacko with a 33metre statue of the simian divine (2010), which is said to have beaten the Brazilian Christ the Redeemer’s statue in height, though I do not understand why such a comparison has to be made. Perhaps, comparisons and confusions contribute to human lores. In China, I found people from outside Asia confuse Hanuman with the Monkey King of Chinese descent. This was no stranger than Indiana Jones (acted by Harrison Ford in the 1984 movie) eating monkey brains in the Temple of Doom4 where Indian actors who acted in the film, Roshan Seth and Amrish Puri, went with this strange portrayal of local cuisines!

I, of course, told the expats in China that Hanuman, the progeny of the wind God, originated in the Ramayana (written somewhere around 100 to 500BCE5) and was the giant monkey who followed Rama and set the whole of Lanka aflame with his bandaged tail. The Monkey King6 was born in the sixteenth century Chinese story called Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. Sun Wukong or the Monkey King was born of a stone, became powerful practising Taoism and was imprisoned under a mountain by Buddha. Eventually, he was freed five hundred years later to travel with a monk to get Buddhist scriptures from the West — probably India. New Zealand and Australia recently made a serial on the same Monkey King in Netflix7 — that is how interesting it was. The story had travelled from China to a popular Japanese serial8

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Thy Filmdom Come…

First published in Different Truths. Click here to read…

Photo courtesy: Different Truths by Anumita

I was watching a movie — a Bollywood take on the grand Mughal emperor, Akbar1. A romantic one I guess as it was a movie about how he found acceptance in the heart of his Rajput bride, Jodha. I am not going to go into the historicity or the non-historicity of the movie or the quality of acting or music or recommend or unrecommend it to my readers, but I am going to raise another issue. An issue that is unique and practical and would hold perhaps for all stars of Bollywood, Hollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood and basically, all-wood named filmdom.

As the actor playing Akbar bent over the actress enacting Jodha to express an intense moment of meeting of hearts, as his face lowered on hers, inch by millimetre, a thought came to my mind, and I could not help but laugh out loud. If he had bad breath or body odour, what would the actress do? Would she continue for the sake of earning her daily bread or walk off the scene? Or it could be vice versa… what would the actor do if the actress had BO etc…?

You see I have this problem. When movies or serials become too long or emotional, I find my mind wander into other dimensions. As others discuss technical skills, acting and cinematography, I wander into the area of either somnolence or the ludicrous. My family gets upset for my conscious self leaves them watching the TV show or film. They grumble when after a refreshing nap on the sofa in front of the screen, while expressing my opinions in loud snores (a legacy inherited from my father), I wake up to ask them to fill me in. Or I am filled with a craving to re-watch the show. Sometimes, I have huge memory lapses and forget I have watched a film.

I am told — that is because I slept through most of it! What people do not understand is —my eyes close of their own volition! In any case…

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Flash Fiction: Raindrops and Summer Wine

Published in Modern Literature


As the raindrops fell — one two three… infinity — the woman looked out of the window and she drifted back to the past, a past that had been filled with the magic of childhood.

How the little girls in their white soft muslin chemises would prance in the rain on the roof and laugh for sheer joy! They would be drenched. She really enjoyed it. The water would pelt her face and run down in small rivulets from her shock of curly hair… the smell of the wet Earth… a lingering fantasy for a lost world.

The lost world that would never disappear from between the pages of the thick hardbound Complete Works of Shakespeare she had bought with her first salary and carried everywhere with her. It rested on top of her book shelf wherever she went … with all those flowers she had picked from her parent’s garden — roses and tiny jasmines like pressed stars, tucked securely within the pages of the book. They caressed her fingertips with the brittleness and delicacy of an age spent away from the nurturing plant. Her hands lingered between the pages. The flowers and the leaves were now of an indeterminate age where freshness, to live or to die did not really matter. Her hands picked up the delicately veined skeleton leaf of an old Peepul tree she had sat under with the boy who faded out of her life like a memory…

They had sat and talked about a life they could have had as the Delhi winters wove sunshine into her hair. She remembered the feeling of thrill as his voice drifted to her ears, but the words muted themselves… silenced by thirty years of hectic over-paced life where she moved like a whirlwind from role to role till Bollywood was her only reality.

What had he said that she felt he loved her?

Rain always made her misty-eyed. She needed one more drink. How the cigarette and the alcohol lulled her, calmed her senses.

She turned on the stereo. Her favourite Bach started to play…

As she slowly sipped a Cinzano, she moved to her balcony and listened to the rhythm of the rain against the backdrop of Bach. It was a strange mix, but she liked it. It heightened the silence of the night, the madness of the storm as the lightning streaked across the sky, searing it, tearing it into two.

She felt the waves beckon her.

She walked out of her balcony towards her private beach. Her thin white muslin dress was drenched within minutes by the pelting rain. It clung to her shapely figure. Her thick curly hair that fell between her waist and shoulder gathered the rain and stuck to her forehead creating small rivulets that ran into her face, just as it had when she danced in the rain in her chemise as a child.

Her drink was spoilt by the rain. She threw the glass away. And then walked with unsteady feet towards the sea.

She wanted to be a part of the elements, maybe a mermaid on a distant rock… and she would sing, sing like the heroine in La La Land— how she loved those songs— and the boy, the boy from the past — not the others who had flitted in and out of the glamorous part of her life. Not the men with bowties who had escorted her to premieres and brought her back drunk with success and of habit and put her to sleep… they bored her with their adulation, ardour, or, was it lust, and slimy lips…

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