Our Guava tree is in its fifth year. For the past two years it has been bearing fruits now and then but not more than two at a time. Once we notice them we keep watching them grow and with a lot of anticipation wait for the right time to pluck them but the fauna that visit our garden, which are better judges of the fruit quality, beat us to them. One morning we find a half eaten fruit hanging on the branch and we hastily pluck the remaining one. We cut it into small pieces (with ceremony) and everyone in the family gets a bit. None of us have got more than one third of a fruit till date. So we were very happy and excited to see our tree bearing lot of fruits this season making the branches sag with their weight. Some of them are almost ripe and are going to be ready for consumption within a week.
It is nearly three months since the last visit of the group of marauding monkeys and they are due any moment now. I think that they plan their visits wisely giving enough time for the plants that they had attacked to grow back and be ready for destruction again. They also fix their route for everyplace on their map and when they decide to visit us they always descend into our compound from our neighbour’s house, which is at a slightly higher level. The leader monkey comes down first, sits on the step on my neighbour’s compound wall which seems to have been built there just for its convenience (I do not find any other reason for that step to be there) and takes a leisurely look around choosing the plants for attack. It also needs some time for stuffing and storing whatever it has found in my neighbour’s garden into its pouch and free its hands for the next attack.
We usually notice them when they are halfway through the destruction but even if we see them early all that we can do is shout helplessly from our balcony and wave a stick at them in a false display of bravery. The leader monkey, having met hundreds like us during its rounds and hence being well versed with human nature knows very well that we can’t reach them from the balcony and that we do not have enough guts to go down and confront them on the ground. So it calmly sits there either ignoring us or grinning / growling at us depending upon its mood and directs its troop in destruction.
This time, as you can see, the fruits will be hanging right in front of its face when it assumes its post and I dread to think what would happen if the monkeys arrive now.
We will lose the fruits. That I can bear. What would be difficult to bear will be the effect of betrayal of my wife’s expectations by her husband. She is very fond of guava fruits and can’t bear to lose the ones which almost seem to have reached her hands. Slip between the cup and the lip or between the tree and the teeth in this case. Naturally, she will expect me to be a man, go fight the monkeys and save her fruits but her man is never man enough for that.
As a result, she will grind her teeth (she has worn out most of her grinders grinding them at me and as her personal dentist, I have the task of restoring them back to shape so that she can continue grinding them at me - look at my fate!)and give me looks which could convert me into a heap of ashes if she had the powers of the sage who figures in the ‘Dharmavyadha’ story. (ref: ‘Dharmavyadha’ 5th or 6th standard kannada text. I hope the story continues to be a part of the syllabus) So I am reciting ‘Hanuman Chaaleesa’ every morning hoping that lord Hanuman will keep his troops away from Ponda for another week and I have also bribed him with an extra flower and a semi ripe guava offering this morning.
This monkey business reminds me of a story that I had read somewhere a few years back. (If you are tired of monkeys by now, you are allowed to skip this story, click on ‘like’ button and shut down your computer.) Somewhere in north India there existed a collector or some such high ranking British officer (British raj story, written by the officer himself and he has claimed it to be true) who was very fond and proud of his large garden. It appears a troop of monkeys regularly descended up on this garden and destroyed it completely once every few months. He tried to trap them, shoot them and even poison them but to no avail. The collector’s wife who had similar sentiments as my wife towards the fruits grown in her garden not only kept giving him looks and grinding her teeth at him (though I am sure they were nowhere close to the looks and grindings of my wife) but also chided him saying that he is not fit to call himself the protector of the district if he cannot protect his garden from a troop of stray monkeys.
It seems the collector was a good collector and so, the village wise man (old of course)who heard about his predicament advised him to seek the help of a sage who lived in the nearby mountains who was known to have been able to exercise some power over the monkeys. The collector humbly walked all the way to the hill, climbed up and found the sage in the precincts of an old temple there. He bowed in front of the sage, offered the fruits that he had carried with him, explained his plight and begged for help. The sage had also heard that the collector was a good collector and decided to help him out.
Then, (the collector has written) that the sage made some peculiar clucking noise and within a minute three monkeys appeared in front of them. Two of them sat on a short wall and the third one below on the ground. The sage introduced the ones on the wall as the king and queen monkeys and the third one as the commander of the troop. He then asked the collector to offer them some fruits and request them to spare his garden. Later the sage spoke to the monkeys in some strange language which they seemed to understand and told the collector that he would not have any trouble from the monkeys in future. The collector says that he could not believe himself when the troop of monkeys visited him the next time and just walked away to some farther place along the fence of his garden without stepping in.
I had not believed it too till I started noticing our monkey troop’s time table, adherence to the route and the leadership of the leader monkey. I have half a mind to roam around the hillocks near Ponda ( at the cost of my knees) and see if I can locate the monkey’s abode and by chance find a sage or some such person who may have some control over them.
PS: Between the time I began this story and reached here, some fruits seemed to be getting yellowish and the tension was mounting. Will we get them or won’t we? So I plucked a few in different stages of ripening hoping that the offering (to my wife, not to lord hanuman) may help soften the disappointment if monkeys get the rest and provide me with some relief in the form of a less piercing look and a subdued grinding of teeth.