Once upon a time, there was a forest. In it, tall trees fanning the sky, brooks with music dearly hidden in their hearts, waterfalls eternally calling out to an unknown lover, birds drawing pictures with their colourful wings, flowers eavesdropping on the murmurings of the wind, and a variety of animals wandering fearlessly.
In that forest, on a rainy day .…
A lightning split the sky and illuminated the entire forest. Clouds thundered with a deafening noise. Rain drops launched an attack like an invading army—they fell on dry leaves and splintered. The wind cried hoarsely. And the entire forest shivered in rain and thunder. In such a terrifying atmosphere, under a tree …
A monkey was in labour. Drenched in rain and tears, it moaned piteously. It struggled to bring out the little one which it had sheltered in her womb all these days. It gathered all her energy into the heart, gored the tree trunk in mad pain and let out a loud cry. The baby finally touched the earth. The relieved mother closed its eyes with a strange pleasure, and a familiar pain.
The rain while receding gradually, threw a lightning on the earth. In that light, the mother looked at the little lump of life that had come out of herself. She hugged the baby tightly, licked the blood, and fastened him to her stomach. The baby, even without opening his eyes, clung to the mother and sucked milk till his tummy was full. Then, both the mother and the baby slept a deep, sound sleep.
The mother opened her eyes to the bird’s chirping and realised that it was dawn. The little one too opened its eyes and saw his mother for the first time. Their eyes met in a loving embrace.
Baby Monkey asked his mother, “Mother, who am I, and where did I come from?” Mother was a little surprised. But she was also happy to hear her child’s first words.
“We are all monkeys, my dear, and I am your mother.” She started to climb the tree with the baby holding on to her.
“Why does this world look slanted, Mother”, asked the baby again.
Mother looked at the child suspiciously, wondering whether he was affected by some evil spirit. Immediately, she took him to a saint, Saint Monkey Baba.
He was sitting on the tallest branch of a tree contemplating the ups and downs of the world. He welcomed them and caressed the little one affectionately.
Mother briefed Baba about her child’s queries.
He took the baby into his hands and kissed him fondly and said, “If he has asked such questions at this tender age, then there is every danger of him becoming a great man.”
“Is it wrong to ask questions?” asked Baby Monkey.
“Nothing is more profitable in this world than keeping your mouth shut. That’s the only reason why everyone respects me. This world has always remained the same. It looked slanted to you, but to me it often appeared to be upside down. But did I ask anybody why is it so? ‘How?’ and ‘Why?’ are foolish questions. Logic only makes the tongue sharp; it doesn’t add anything to your knowledge. The forest is full of juicy, tasty fruits. Go, savour them. You will realise that there is no greater pleasure than eating.” Monkey Baba slipped back into his contemplation.
The mother and child took leave of him.
As the little monkey grew up, he had more and more questions about the world.
He never played with friends. Never went to school. He preferred to
be a loner. Everything looked novel to him—trees, leaves, fruits, rain, heat and snow. To discover at least one Truth became his quest in life.
One day, a newspaper came flying into the forest and the kid monkey got hold of it. Holding it under his arm, he took it to Monkey Baba. “Baba, I have a doubt.”
“Be brief”, said Baba.
“It is said in this paper that man has evolved from monkey. Is it true?”
“Everybody writes according to what they know. We don’t have to believe everything.”
“But I want to find out the truth myself.”
“What do you intent to do?”
“I want to go to the human beings.”
“It is foolish to think of learning everything by one’s own experience. You don’t know, men are really wicked.” Baba advised the monkey.
“Bless my venture, I’m going.”
“Alright. Can a seeker’s path be blocked with a tail?” Baba looked at him with pity.
Baby Monkey set out on his journey. Mother bid him farewell with tear-filled eyes. “Don’t forget that I will be eagerly awaiting your return,” said the mother, hugging him affectionately.
As soon as the baby monkey stepped into the human arena, a noose fell around his neck. A man appeared from nowhere and said, “I am your master. Do a cartwheel like a cat.” He also hit him with a stick.
Baby Monkey was baffled. “Sir, I’m a monkey, how can I perform like a cat?”
“Then show some monkey tricks.” This time he hit it only twice. To escape those blows, the monkey jumped up and down.
The dragged the monkey through the streets, and exhibiting the monkey’s tricks, he made some quick money. After reaching home, he gave it some food, had his own dinner and went to sleep. The monkey tried to escape but in vain. Next morning, he again paraded the monkey in the streets, coaxed it to perform its tricks, and also taught it some new ones. He used to give the monkey just enough food for him to survive, but regularly gave him four blows with the stick.
“Why do you hit me? Am I not a living being like you? Isn’t pain the same to everyone?” asked the monkey.
“This world understands only one language—the language of the stick. I have learnt this by experience. But listening to you, I think you do deserve some mercy.” He gave the monkey only two blows.
After a few days, the monkey’s tricks stopped fetching the master any money. When men themselves have taken to monkey tricks to survive, who will care for the real monkey? The master felt dejected. He reduced the quantity of food for the monkey and increased the quota of blows.
One day, the master could not earn a single paisa, even after parading the money in several streets. He pondered over the situation. “It’s no use, humour is no longer working with the people. It’s time to invoke their pity,” he told the monkey.
The monkey looked at him with suspicion.
“Dear friend, this is a sin-filled world. We have to look at it because we have eyes. I am bearing the burden because I have eyes. But is it necessary for you too?”
The monkey looked at him uncomprehendingly.
“Try to understand. It is much better to live with blindness than to die of starvation. People are kind-hearted. They will dole out charity generously when they see a blind monkey. Don’t worry, I will take out your eyes painlessly,” the master announced stoically.
The monkey looked at him with disgust.
“Are you really human?” asked the monkey.
“I hit upon such ideas only because I am human. You are an animal, did you ever think on those lines?”
Suddenly, there was a big blast. People ran helter-skelter. Cries of anguish were heard everywhere.
The master panicked and told the monkey, “Friend, I’m giving you an opportunity to see the world. Good bye.” He ran away leaving the monkey to his fate.
Monkey didn’t know which way to run.
People were running in every possible direction. Children who could not flee were getting crushed in the stampede. The stench of petrol, of burnt human flesh filled the air. Mothers wailing, hugging children to their bosoms, running, tripping and getting torched. Mad cries everywhere.
A few people surrounded the monkey.
“Who are you? Hindu or Muslim?”
Monkey wondered at the question. “I’m a monkey” he replied tremblingly.
“That does not matter,” several sticks went up in air.
To escape the blows on the head, he did his practiced cartwheel. A strong blow fell on one of his legs and broke the bone.
The monkey thought of his mother in the forest briefly, and then went blank.
* * *
Baby Monkey opened his eyes, amongst smells of medicines and wounds.
Infants and children wailed with pain. A two year old kid was crying for her mother with a bandage on her forehead.
Monkey’s head was heavy. One of his leg was bandaged. The entire body was aching.
A nurse appeared on the scene and said, “You are lucky to survive, but …”
Monkey looked at her without any emotions.
“You cannot walk on your two feet.”
Looking at his broken leg, money burst into tears.
After a few days, Monkey got a support stick to walk and they told him to leave the place.
“To where?” he asked.
“You are free to live any way you like.”
A sad smile flashed on Monkey’s face.
In the meantime, a man appeared from nowhere, and said, “I’m an owner of a circus company. Come, I will take you with me,” and he took the limping monkey with him.
“Sir, what is my role in your circus?” monkey asked him.
“Entertaining the public.”
“Can I weep if I am in pain?”
“You are free to cry, but silently.”
Monkey was caged in the circus along with other animals. He asked the animals from where they have come.
“From where ?! We are born and brought up here,” they said.
“Do you feel good to be here?”
“Why not? We daily get a few pieces of meat everyday! Where are you from?”
“Oh, it’s a wonderful world! Trees, birds, brooks, sunrise …. You people can’t even imagine!” Monkey recollected his broken dream.
“But who will give you meat?” they asked.
Monkey’s feat on one foot attracted a big crowd initially. But after a few days, people stopped clapping. The Master too stopped feeding the monkey twice. He went to bed on an empty stomach.
One day, the Master let the monkey out of the cage and told his assistant, “Nobody is enamoured about monkey tricks. Teach him to play the flute.”
Monkey got a flute and he did not know what to do with it. He was whipped mercilessly and the doleful music flew through the holes in the flute. Nobody realized this except the monkey that the song was nothing but his tears.
This poignant music from the monkey’s flute was a new attraction to the circus. As the life became unbearable, the flute acquired new tunes as mother’s lullaby, wind chimes of forest, sad song of the water falls.
Monkey started searching for his broken life in his songs.
There was no rest, no working hours in the circus. They used to wake him up from deep sleep and drag him on to the stage.
Time moved on and monkey was taken to many places. Circus company moved from place to place and once they happened to camp in a forest.
The forest breeze evoked many memories in him. This was his mother land ! The smell of the earth touched his basic instincts. He wanted to cry loudly and shout at the top of his voice. He tugged at the rope which bound him to the cage with all his might and ran into the heart of the forest. He ran dragging his feet, puffing and panting, ignoring the wounds on the body. He was sweating, bleeding and weeping but continued to run towards the forest.
It was his forest, his own ! The smell of earth caressed him affectionately. He kissed the earth again and again. It was his own native land, no man’s land.
All monkeys looked at this monkey who walked dragging his feet in bewilderment. But his mother identified him first, even from a distance. Looking at the state of her child, she felt gloomy. Her eyes, covered with a film of tears, could not see clearly. She came running and hugged her son, whom she had given up as lost. She sobbed in fits touching his lame feet. Caressing all over, she licked his wounds.
Mother’s heart melted into a sad river and the monkey had a soulful dip in it.
It was difficult for the monkey to put the tragedy into words. He wiped his mother’s tears with the tip of his finger. He walked straight to the Saint Baba and shouted loudly..
Baba jumped from the tree and embraced the monkey and looked at his crooked, broken leg.
“There is no better teacher than experience,” he mumbled.
“Baba, I have found a truth” said the monkey.
“Yes, I can see at what cost,” he said affectionately caressing Monkey’s leg.
Monkey composed his thoughts and spoke in a profound tone. “Baba, if evolution is to grow from low level to heights, it is wrong to assume that mean men have evolved from noble monkeys. It is a fact that monkeys are born from men. Every person who has a quest for truth should pay a price for it, including myself.” A big tear fell on his hairy leg and disappeared.
Monkey dragged his feet and went into the forest silently, After a while, the entire forest was filled with music from the flute.
That music sounded as if he is questioning all men on the earth, about evolution.
I was impressed for its novel theme with a humane monkey as a protogonist and his encounter with men who act, ironically, worse than beasts. His quest for truth to find who is better evolved monkey or man, his trials and tribulations, man’s prejudices toward caste and religion are highlighted remarkably in this deceptively simple story. The original in Telugu is filled with Telugu idioms and poetic expressions sumptuously and gave me a tough time while translating. The smell of forest, the primordial consciousness of the monkey, the way people attack him and the question whether he is a Hindu or a Muslim and lastly the tearful flow of music thro the flute are the highlights of the narration. –Bhargavi Rao.)
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(The Telugu original, “Puraganam” was published in Andhra Jyoti Sunday Supplement, 22 December 2002. Translated by Dr. Bhargavi Rao and published on thulika.net, June 2003.)