It is impossible to predict what might happen next in India. A seemingly normal day can quickly turn into a rush around town to correct an issue at the FRRO (foreigners registration office), a day on the mobile trying to get the internet working, or a mad dash to chase monkeys off your roof, as was the case this month in our community.
Although unofficial estimates in 2015 put the monkey population in Hyderabad at 1,000 to 2,000, we did not see a single monkey in the city the first seven months after our arrival. Our driver, Rawoof, assured us that there are monkeys, primarily in the older part of the city. Perhaps the monkey population is smaller where we live outside the city, in what one Indian villa owner in our community described as “the country.” We’ve definitely seen monkeys other places, like Delhi, but not in Hyderabad and certainly not on our neighbor’s roof.
Today’s monkey, a male—a very large detail easily discernible from my safe vantage point on our rooftop balcony thirty feet away—was walking along the third floor rooftop balcony of our neighbor’s house directly across the street. He didn’t seem to be bothered by the height or the laundry drying on the clothes rack; however, he wanted to continue his journey, which he did with an amazing fifteen foot jump from one roof to the next.
Monkeys can be mean.
The rhesus macaque is the most common monkey species in Telangana, the state in which Hyderabad sits almost dead center. Despite their often being depicted in children’s stories and Disney movies as fun and friendly, monkeys can be quite mean. Google had over 600,000 hits for “monkey attack India.” One story described India’s rhesus monkeys as derelicts, regularly stealing “food, alcohol, glasses, medical equipment, and clothes…even breaking into cars.” Another story in the Deccan Chronicle described how a group of monkeys walked into the Hyderabad home of an 80 year old man, pouncing on him and throwing things around—it sounded like a scene from Jumanji (1995). We’ve personally seen monkeys snarl at a friend trying to use the ATM machine, and another steal someone’s water bottle at a temple in Nepal. Monkeys in the neighborhood are a serious concern, not just because they can be aggressive, but because estimates show 90 percent of them carry tuberculosis.
There are friendly monkeys and they are sometimes used to drive less-friendly monkeys away. The Global Post wrote about a monkey named Madi, a langur monkey with big, three-inch canine teeth used to scare away rhesus monkeys. Madi’s owner earned a living by carting Madi to parks, offices and elsewhere rhesus monkeys terrorize people in Delhi. Unfortunately, since the langurs are a protected species in India, the government discontinued the practice, leading to a rhesus-run city and Delhi’s subsequent annexation into the monkey kingdom.
Is this normal?
As I’m unfamiliar with Indian monkey etiquette, I quickly texted our maintenance manager. “Hi Santosh. I’m not sure how normal this is, but I just saw a monkey jump from the roof of Villa 42 to 41 to 40 and he is heading in that direction.”
Santosh replied, “It’s never happened before. Will check it immediately.”
His words inspired neither confidence nor comfort, so I decided to do some checking.
The expat WhatsApp grapevine is an amazing tool; they quickly texted about a monkey sighting atop another villa in the community about a year earlier. As it is India, it’s possible the words “happened last year” were inaccurately translated as “never happened before.” Rather than quibble over word choice, I decided to optimistically assume their previous monkey experience provided our community staff with a foundation for today’s event.
In case we might lose sight of him, I decided to remain on our rooftop balcony and watch Abu—my name for our visitor taken from Aladdin’s kleptomaniac monkey in the Disney movie Aladdin. He eventually ran out of houses on which to jump and decided to make his way back toward where he was first spotted, Villa 42.
Coincidentally, villa 42 is a south-facing house. We were recently informed that in India, a south-facing house is considered, “inauspicious.” While the party relaying this information did not elaborate, the term inauspicious is rarely used to describe something positive. To date, we are aware of south facing Villa 42 having a roach infestation, a snake, and now a monkey. Perhaps there is something to this inauspicious south-facing house business.
Back to Abu
Abu leapt again from house to house, perching himself atop the rooftop balcony of Villa 43 as a small group of kids walked toward the villa. As monkey’s can be dangerous, I determined a warning was in order. But there was a problem.
Our new neighbors in Villa 43 are not the friendliest of folks. Vic, as he introduced himself to me when I dropped off a box of “welcome to the neighborhood” cookies, didn’t seem too pleased to meet me—I tend to have that affect on people, plus I routinely walk around our house shirtless, including the rooftop and second floor balcony, which likely created some consternation for Vic as he is part of India’s sexually repressed and modest culture. ‘To heck with poor first impressions,’ I thought. Although Vic genuinely seemed bothered by my sixty-second cookie delivery intrusion, we now had a monkey on his roof to address and a forthcoming warning.
As it seemed unwise to let Abu out of my sight, I called down to the kids standing on Vic’s porch, “Hey, kid!”—I don’t mince words when it comes to monkeys. The oldest boy looked up at me standing shirtless on our rooftop balcony. “Can you tell Vic there is a monkey on his roof,” I yelled.
The kid didn’t seem to understand. Rather than tell Vic about the potentially vicious monkey getting ready to make off with the family towels drying on the rack, he came off of the porch into the middle of the street and started looking for Abu. ‘Is it possible he doesn’t understand English,’ I wondered?
Yelling even louder—the universal means of overcoming a language barrier—I said, “Hey, kid! Don’t just stare at the monkey, tell them it is on their roof!” The young Indian simply stared back at me, perhaps having never seen a shirtless man yell about a monkey from his third floor rooftop balcony. Luckily, comprehension became a non issue as Abu reached the same conclusion I did a few days earlier—Vic’s house is not as welcoming as advertised in the Monkey Times. Abu climbed down to Vic’s second floor balcony, then dropped to ground level and headed off behind Villa 43.
It’s good to be the monkey king.
As an American, it just doesn’t seem it should be that difficult to get rid of monkeys if someone really wants to. Therein lies the rub. Many people in India see the monkey as sacred. To Hindus, which is most of the Indian population, monkeys are seen as the living representative of the monkey-faced god Hanuman, the monkey commander of an army of monkeys—which actually sounds like the CEO of a company where I used to work. Hanuman was pretty tough, helping Rama destroy Ravana, the ten-headed demon king. People appreciate when you kill a demon king, so the monkey’s get to take advantage of the people’s respect for Hanuman.
Since the monkeys are revered, people feed them on Tuesday and Saturday—days associated with Hanuman. Unfortunately, monkeys need to eat more than twice a week and they are smart enough to remember from whence the last meal came. They know just where to steal what they want to eat. Sometimes this can be quite tragic, as in 2007, when New Delhi’s deputy mayor perished after being attacked by monkeys at his home.
May the smarter species win.
Abu finally met another monkey at a neighbor’s house. He and his new partner climbed to the neighbor’s rooftop to enjoy a bit of bounce on her trampoline. (Who puts a trampoline on the roof? She was asking for a monkey visit.) She texted that ten men had gathered outside her door requesting permission to come in and scare the monkey away. She described how when they—the monkey catchers, not the monkeys—entered the house, the monkeys decided to split up, “One went left, another went right…the hunt continues.”
Unfortunately, we never received confirmation of Abu and friend’s demise. When I asked the maintenance manager, he replied, “They are gone.” We presume both monkeys were ushered from the premises after a prolonged battle with the community security and maintenance folks. But in India, sometimes it’s better not to know. We’d like to believe that the smarter species won and left the community as a monkey couple.
Much like the band of the same name, the monkeys haven’t been seen since.
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Unless otherwise noted, all photos and drawings are those of the author. Copyright can be found here.