Wednesday, October 21, 2015


I found myself wandering in search of a zoo. Sometime during the night I must have left the hospital.

I must really know how to take care of these creatures within me. One might overfeed them to indigestion, or under-feed to starvation. Both the old goat and the lost sheep told me that the zoo was the best place.

Someone told me that the zoo was straight ahead. One turn left and two turns right. I landed in the city market with all sorts of stalls about. At one fruit shop a monkey snatched a banana and stuffed it into its mouth and ran for its life with the shopkeeper at my back shouting, 'thief, thief!' He could do no more since he was wedged behind his stores. At another place I restrained the elephant from snatching a bun, lest it cause wind in the tummy. At the municipal cattle-pond, I let the buffalo have a drink of water, though I pulled it back at once fearing it might get typhoons.

At this point I asked a well-dressed young man if he could tell me the way to the zoo. He wanted to know why I escaped from it in the first place.

A small urchin who heard my question tugged at my sleeve. He knew the way. We would have to pay for entry, but he knew how to get in without money. "We must have nuts, if we want to see the monkeys," he said, "it is great fun. You wait, I will get some," and he ran off somewhere and came running back with two fists full of nuts, and with shouts and curses floating down his trail. "Here we are," he said, "all ready." His eyes were shining pools of wonder and laughter. Around his head was a golden halo; inside him was a temple of delight, bells tinkled, iridescent blue smoke swirled around a statue of golden laughter. This was a creature I have not met before, I stared and I came to myself when I saw a monkey reaching out my hand for a nut.

"By the way, friend," I asked, "how do you know how many nuts are to be given to these monkeys. How many nuts per monkey per day?"

"Blimey," he said, "how many nuts! I do not know. I can't count. Well, all these, of course. I eat some too, and you may also. There are enough, you see. I give them enough. You will see when we get there." He thrust the nuts into his pocket.

"You ignorant boy," I said, "you don't know. You see, I remember that you have to give so many ounces per kilogram body weight per monkey. Otherwise dreadful things happen."

"Of course dreadful things happen if you give them all sorts of things - bounces and the other things. They eat nuts, you know, maybe grams like Bengal gram, but not bounces and killingrams. What for you want to bounce and kill them! They eat enough," the boy said.

"No, you poor child, there's no use talking to you if you can't even count. How many fingers on your hand? Do you know?" I asked.

"Why, I have enough of them," he said, "you talk like my teacher from the school I ran  away from, and mummy too. Well, are you coming to the zoo or not? I am on my way."

I did not want to lose the only one who seemed to know the way to the zoo. Moreover, the monkeys wanted to follow him. My steps were light and I kept pace with his dancing progress. Inside me there was no bustle, noise or violent pushings - only quiet chirpings, twitters and squeaks of delight.

He led me to the wall of a huge compound. There I crawled behind him through some bushes and through a huge pipe and emerged in some bushes on the other side of the wall.

"Ah, here we are," he whispered,"come, let us look around."

Large crowds were wandering around. I let myself be led by this young magician who seemed to be playing a flute as he floated along, occasionally pulling at my hand, asking me to look here and there - there, the birds, over there, the monkeys.

I kept up with him. I must silently and attentively get to know the place and see for myself. This little imp does not know the number of fingers on his hand, let alone weighty questions of proper diet for my zoo.

We were at the monkey corner. A large number of different monkeys, of all sorts, sizes and shapes were screeching, jumping and swinging inside the cages. A number of children and grown-ups were throwing nuts at them, some fruits, some others were giving paper balls and a few, even stones.

One child was crying hoarse asking its mother to let it throw some nuts to the monkeys, and she was clutching at the bag in her mother's hand.

"No," the mother was saying,"if you throw all the nuts here, we won't have enough for the birds you see in the next corner."

"No, no," cried the child, "just two nuts for the monkeys here. The monkeys are here; the birds are not here."

"You silly girl," rebuked the mother, "you give away all the nuts and you will have none left for yourself, and you will howl for them later on." A wolf was eating its cubs and a dog was teaching the puppy how to bury a bone.

A red faced monkey watching the child stopped begging for nuts, and began turning somersaults; the child clapped its hands and roared with laughter, forgetting all about the nuts and arguments. A  benign old man, with his eyes and mouth wreathed in smiling wrinkles peeped out of this monkey's face. As the child walked away with its mother, the old man watched the retreating figure with a puzzled look and grinned.

My little friend was in no hurry to part with his nuts. He walked slowly around, leading me and introducing me to the monkeys. He knew the names of all of them.  He stopped at one point: "you see that is Hanuman - that with the long tail, Hanumanji, Namaste! This is my friend. He came to see you."

And Hanumanji held on to the bars of the cage, and looked at me, slowly moving his head from side to side. My friend crept near and Hanuman put his hand out and began scratching the boy's head searching for lice. I saw that he picked out one or two. Then the boy whispered something, took out one nut and gave it to Hanuman, and he himself munched one while he gave me one. Hanuman appeared more interested in chirping and giggling - for he held the nut this way and that watching the boy eat.

Then there was Vali, Sugriva and Ramu and Ravan. Ravan has ten heads, explained my guide, while he took out quite a few nuts and gave them to Ravan who growled and grabbed the whole lot in one snatch. "He can be very angry and is very cunning," my guide said," but he is great fun and really does not hurt unless they fool him with stones or pull his tail or call him bad names. He is quite greedy, though."  Here Ravan gathered all the nuts into his mouth till his pouches bulged fit to burst.

I found myself laughing and talking to the monkeys.

"We go, now," said the boy. "Minnu won't come out today. I think she is shy to see a stranger. But we may go and see Bhalu, and Jambavan."

We decided to rest for a while before we explored further. The boy sprawled himself under a large banyan tree and I sat beside him.

"Look," I said, "you have given only one nut to some, and lots to another, and none to others. Is that right?" I asked.

"All is right now, you see," he laughed, "for nothing is left," he emptied his pockets to show me.

You are clever, but you didn't tell me why you gave one to some of the monkeys, and a good few to some others and none at all to some," I persisted. "The big fat monkey got only one, and I saw you give five or six to a thin scraggy creature; but I saw you do the other way, too. What is your method? There must be. You see, at the hospital I learnt that you had to give some special measured amounts. They were talking of men and the doctor said something about animals' food, too. But I must know practically. You seem to know a lot about it. Why not tell me?"

"Did you see that Valli was angry and refused a nut. Someone must have given him a stone," he said, musing. "I say, but you do have some funny questions. Do you have friends or go measuring them if they are fat or thin before you give them some food. I do not know all this. I ran away from school. All I know is that I give them all enough nuts."

"What do you mean, enough!" I asked. What a mean thing to do; so I corrected myself. "Say something more about this enough business, my friend," I requested.

This is enough nuts," he said, again turning out his pockets. Bells tinkled in his laughter.

The sun was sinking in the west, over the treetops and the wall of the zoo. Bells tinkle - must be cattle returning home.

"Monkeys don't go to school, do they," he pondered. "I think that they must be always eating enough for them, fat or thin. I know it is enough when I cannot eat anymore or when I don't have any left to eat. Only they put them in a cage, here. Can't see why?"

"What do you do when you have no nuts to give them? Do you come to the zoo?" I asked.

"Why do you ask - do you see friends only when you have nuts. I told you I have enough for everybody, enough of everything. I see that my friends also have enough. Hanuman never asks me if I have nuts or not when he picks lice from my head. My father used to say that everything everywhere is always enough for Hanuman and his like.

Then my guide got up and took me along to see a few more of his friends.

We saw lions, tigers, birds and bears. At all these enclosures the boy was addressing many of them as if he knew them personally. I was aware of a curious thing. While I saw all sorts of creatures with ever changing shapes in a human being, I saw that the animals retained their forms fairly steadily. Only once or twice I saw that a human face appeared on an animal, especially when this boy was telling them something. The bears waddled to the bars of the cage and gravely listened while the boy told them about happenings in the market or some things the monkeys or lions did in the other cages. The bears were a couple of elderly presents wrapped in heavy black blankets.

"One of them helped Rama," the boy said to me, "Jambavan, I saw him in the cinema. Have you seen Jambavan, friend of Hanuman, really powerful, he is!"

Already the night was on and the lights were on. Strangely enough the zoo inside me appeared to be very quiet.

"Let us rest a while behind those bushes," he said, "they won't find us; we can go out even if the gates are closed."

We quietly went towards the ditch where we first entered. Here we lay sprawled on the bank under overhanging trees, watching the few twinkling stars that peeped through.

After while we crawled back through the pipe. When we were inside it, loud hissings filled my stomach and chest and I nearly choked with fear by the time we came out on the other side. I asked him if he was not afraid of snakes. 

"Why," he asked me, "did you see any?" 

"No," I said, "but crawling through those bushes I hissing inside me and I trembled and wondered why you were without fear." 

"Maybe if I see one I run or do something - but I didn't see or hear any. Anyway, my father told me that all things are our friends; if we go our way, they go their way. He said that if you think of them kindly and friendly, and if we mean no harm they don't trouble us. Or just call on Hanuman. If you meet something, and it does not want to be friendly, just wish it well and go your way. Best is to call Hanuman. I call on Hanuman and wish them well." 

"Suppose you meet a tiger," I asked. 

"I have not met a tiger, only the one in the zoo," he replied, "sometimes it does not want to be friends and I go away. I wish it well and tell Hanuman about it." 

"You mean the Hanuman in the zoo," I asked. 

"No and yes," he said, "he could be. Father said that Hanuman is everywhere and in everything, and he helps all." 

"Suppose a tiger eats you," I persisted.

"He hasn't eaten me. But if he eats me, why, I become the tiger. Father said that I will always be there, inside or outside of things. That's right, if a tiger eats me I become a tiger myself."  

We fell silent. The boy led me, in the light of the street lamps, back to a corner of the market square. I was feeling light and happy  - something similar to what I used to feel with Thimmy. 

It was quite late in the night when. Vendors were closing their shops. Glittering lights and lamps were still on. Shadows flitted about shouting and haggling over last minute shoppings. 

Many of the vendors seemed to know this boy quite well. An old woman was struggling to lift up a heavy basket onto her head; the boy ran to her and helped her to lift the basket. "Bless you, child," she said, handing him a sweet potato as she shuffled away into the shadows. 

I leant against a tea vendor's stall and watched him. Now, he produced a broomstick from somewhere and swept the veranda, and the street in front. A sweeper came along and patted the boy on the back. "Shabash, Balu," he said,"come and have some tea." The tea vendor grinned. "Balu, you rascal." he teased, "where have you been the whole afternoon? You look starved. Have some tea and some bread. Balu finished sprinkling some water in front of the stall and came for the tea.

"And who is this man with you," asked the vendor. 

"He's my friend, we went to see the zoo," said Balu. 

"Everybody is your friend. He too looks starved. You also have something to eat," he looked at me offering tea and bread, "you are Balu's friend. Need not pay for today's tea."

The vendor was busy serving some other customers. 

Balu broke his sweet potato and gave me one piece. We munched it with our bread and drank our tea. One ragged urchin appeared from nowhere, snatched away a piece of bread from Balu's hands and ran away. Balu roared with laughter. "See, how clever and quick he is," he said. 

The market became quieter; the lights fewer. Quite a few of the vendors and their helpers slept in the open in front of their stalls, on benches or gunny bags. 

Balu took me to a verandah and  threw me an old gunny bag to sleep upon. There were some dogs and cats too, and some cows. Balu had somethings to say to them and they wagged their tails or rubbed his head with their noses as he talked to them. One large, fat ginger cat settled himself in the crook of his arm when he at last lay down to sleep. 

I saw his body bathed in glows of blue and gold. As I stared I saw whole hosts of creatures, monkeys, tigers, snakes, men, vendors and urchins, in resting in peaceful slumber beneath a star-studded canopy of limitless blue; each creature, radiant and happy, and waterfalls and breezes murmured melodies; the fragrance of a million gardens filled the air; a golden Hanuman with folded hands closed eyes stood in silent ecstasy. I saw Thimmy, and Master, too and my in statuesque repose leaning against some exotic trees. 

Sometime during the night Thimmy was beside me. He gave me a wide grin and wanted to know how I fared with my menagerie. "Taking sufficient care of them, I suppose," he remarked. 

"Yes," I said, "enough care", and I turned my pockets inside out. 

He turned a somersault and vanished, saying," You have come a long way, haven't you". 

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