Never tease a monkey with a peanut

Unlike the playful Disney animation, in Rudyard Kipling’s novel The Jungle Book, Baloo the bear gravely warns the young Mowgli about monkeys and their status in the jungle:

“Listen, man-cub,” said the Bear, and his voice rumbled like thunder on a hot night. “I have taught thee all the Law of the Jungle for all the peoples of the jungle–except the Monkey-Folk who live in the trees. They have no law. They are outcasts. They have no speech of their own, but use the stolen words which they overhear when they listen, and peep, and wait up above in the branches. Their way is not our way. They are without leaders. They have no remembrance. They boast and chatter and pretend that they are a great people about to do great affairs in the jungle, but the falling of a nut turns their minds to laughter and all is forgotten. We of the jungle have no dealings with them. We do not drink where the monkeys drink; we do not go where the monkeys go; we do not hunt where they hunt; we do not die where they die.”

The Monkey Temple, Galtaji

A one-armed Indian Langur monkey sits guarding the site

Our tuk tuk driver promised that he would wait for us and trundled off to enjoy a pack of cigarettes with the other idle men. We arrived at the top of the green mountain in awe – the tuk tuk with an engine as powerful as a lawnmower was able to carry us from Jaipur, through the imposing carved red city gate, navigating through seven lanes of organically moving vehicles, past immovable masses of cows, and up a steep broken road to where we stood now.

The road to Galtaji was once a path that many pilgrims undertook to visit the Hindu temple, known as the Temple of the Sun God. Golden sandstone merges into the mountainside as if it were lovingly carved by a giant, and seven pools of emerald spring water entice religious bathers to enter. As we stood at the rough iron gate with a toothless woman offering us brown paper bags of peanuts, we saw that this once splendid place had been colonised by an army of monkeys. It was now, more than ever, the Monkey Temple. Drawn in by the playful cackles of the primates, we did not realise that our driver had not dropped us off at the intended stop, but had instead deposited us at their gritty gang den.

The brown rhesus macaque monkeys of the area shot to fame in 2008 for their rebellious and tribal behaviour in the National Geographic series ‘Monkey Thieves.’ Blood brothers of the original ‘Galta Gang’ strolled the parameter, launching clumps of rocks from high ledges at unwitting tourists and snatching food. Babies clinging to the furry underbellies of their mothers swung precariously whilst sucking at the bright pink teats which protruded out like extra fingers. Other babies gripped the furry haunches of their rides, covering the ground at speed and leaping from the walls. There was a Dorian Gray phenomenon at work here: the young faces appeared grey and sagging whilst the older faces were tight and shot with youthful crimson.

Crumbling stone facades, piles of rubble and a DIY playground

Crumbling stone facades, piles of rubble and a DIY playground

The site’s former splendour had collapsed into a dusty pile of rocks and metal. The carved stonework and latticed window frames were crumbling from the constant climbing, and the surface of the stone began to peel away from its ugliness in disdain. Cream walls were blackened by gradients of grime, and the trails of a million monkeys were written on their skin. A couple of white cows with ribs popping out from their sides mildly walked away from any promises of food. Tall rubble piles allowed the fiercer monkeys to assert their power, and every craggy ledge was filled with large black eyes that tracked our moves.

We learned to stay clear of the missile range of the ledges and wandered the open expanses of concrete. The brown bag, eyed so keenly by dozens of monkeys, was partially hidden to suppress their excitement. But it was too late. The rustle and promise of shelled peanuts drew the monkeys in until they surrounded us. I knelt down and slipped a couple of nuts into my closed palm. Holding out my hand at arms length, I waited for the first monkey. A monkey with a baby ambled my way, and I let the nut go as she swiped for it and turned to make away with her bounty. The second nut remained clenched in my fist. Another monkey began hopping my way on two legs in a jaunty jive, and just as he went in for a diving snatch I recoiled my hand back in surprise. Bared teeth, blood-red gums and a sudden flattened brow. I released the peanut and stumbled backwards to my feet.

This refuge was a place where monkeys stalked and swung with ravaged instinct and no decorum. Lost limbs, clumps of fur, scratched flesh and skulls that lay strewn about the dirt. It is difficult to argue with Kipling’s Baloo. During the process of creating the animated version, the writer Bill Peet wanted to convey the dark animalism that Kipling envisaged in the original stories of Mowgli. Walt Disney rejected this realism and replaced their writer in order to preserve only the playful elements. The character of chimpanzee King Louie, a self-proclaimed ‘King of the Swingers’, was born, but without the gangster tendencies of his real cousins in Jaipur.

P1110036

A monkey skull lays ominously on the ground, a clump of fur still clinging to it.

Notes

Disney's Baloo and King Louie

Disney’s Baloo and King Louie

‘Monkey Thieves: The Temple of the Sun God,’ National Geographic, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eN3ailpo1Uc

‘The Galta Gang: Monkey Thieves’ National Geographic, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ic9fYB_WYg0

‘Reel History: Disney’s The Jungle Book,’ by Little Orphan Annie, http://norlinreelhistory.blogspot.sg/2011/09/jungle-book.html

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3 Responses to Never tease a monkey with a peanut

  1. Ned's Blog says:

    Terrific post. I’ve done some reading about Rhesus monkeys, and how there’s a library in Sri Lanka that they have essentially bullied everyone out of. And they don’t even have peanuts. I’m enjoying your posts. Boat in the Trees was excellent. Keep up the good work!

    • Cheers Ned! The rhesus monkeys were terrifying – I’m living out in Singapore and there’s macaque monkeys in the MacRitchie reserve that will attack for food/sunglasses/an empty plastic bag. I’m taking my newly-arrived sister there this weekend so will update you then (if I make it back).

      Your VW camper story made me a little carsick but I would still love to rattle around in one! Looking forward to your next post 🙂

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