“Right here, Junior,” Mrs Monkey said, climbing over a ledge.
Monkey Junior hung his head down and followed her. He saw his mother sitting outside an open window, looking intently at a basket full of apples.
“This way,” she whispered.
He sighed and obeyed her. Mrs Monkey carefully jumped down to the floor and made her way over to a teak table that lay by the door across the room. The table wobbled as she climbed atop it, but she was confident. She picked up a red juicy apple, and took a bite. Delicious! No wonder Adam and Eve couldn’t resist.
“Come over here,” she said to her son. “Grab one”.
“No, thanks, Mama. I’m good.”
“Don’t be silly. You haven’t eaten since last night. Come here.”
With shaking legs, he made his way to his mother. His mother saw that he was reluctant, so she shoved an apple in his hands. He looked at it, with wide eyes, and murmured. “I can’t mother. This doesn’t belong to us. This is stealing.”
“You’re being silly. Just eat.”
The cool winter morning was just starting and sunlight was beginning to smother the room. Monkey Junior took a bite. He was shivering and he knew it wasn’t because of the cold weather, nor wasn’t it the fear of getting caught, for he was aware that the human that lived in the house would be out at the time. Still, he was shivering.
“Done?” his mother asked, after a while.
“Yes,” he replied, staring at his half-eaten apple. He had no appetite.
“Look at all this mess,” she said, still chewing her last bite. “I don’t understand these humans. They make a home, and then they spend hours out of it, travelling around. Someone told me that they all have jobs. Slavery, if you ask me.”
“What exactly is a job, mother?” Monkey Junior enquired, looking around the room. He was fascinated with the luxuries. Warm quilts, delicious food, and all the water to drink in a room nearby, lying in a small ditch in a large white bowl – the room had everything.
“Even I don’t know exactly,” she shrugged. “I guess it is when you do a task the whole day in return for some food. You know that dog, the one that lives by the brook? The humans that live in that thatched house give him rotis for protecting their house from us.” She snorted. “Protection from us? Can you believe it? I am not a least bit afraid of him. Stupid dog. Can’t even climb a tree. Anyway, everyday he does what he’s told, and at the end of it all, the humans give him food. Scraps, if you ask me. What good is a stale roti? That is what a job is.”
“So, he doesn’t need to steal his food?”
“How many times do I have to tell you that we don’t steal food? We take what is rightfully ours. Nature has food for everyone. Stay away from these ‘domesticated’ cows and dogs that live with the humans. They’re the ones infecting you with this materialism.”
“But, mother, won’t it be fulfilling to earn your bread, rather than taking it away from someone?”
Mrs Monkey didn’t answer. For many a days now Monkey Junior had been asking questions that she thought were stupid. She simply told him to follow her back to their territory.
“How would he ever lead a troop?” she thought, looking at her son. “Would I have to feed him for the rest of my life? No, no. He’s just a child. He’ll figure everything out when he grows up.”
But, Monkey Junior had other concerns. He wanted a disciplined life. A life in which he earns what he eats. He knew his mother would never approve of what he wanted. Anyway, even if she did, what could he do for a living? He can’t protect a human’s house. He can’t wake up early in the morning to warn everyone of the impending arrival of the huge ball that lit up the sky every day. He knew only one thing – to climb atop buildings. What good is that to anyone?
The other monkeys in the troop were furious when they heard of Monkey Junior’s conversation with his mother.
“Tch, tch, what a waste of talent,” said Guru. He was nearing his thirties and he was the oldest monkey if not in the whole world then at least in the neighbourhood Mrs Monkey and her troop knew. He was not the strongest or the wisest of the troop. In his case, age didn’t bring much apart from near-sightedness; but, the troop respected him.
He came to this part of the forest, between Solan and Shimla, about twenty-five years ago, a young monkey brimming with confidence. That however did not last. He was chased away by every troop he tried to join. The fact that he was attaining maturity did not lower his anxiety. He never wanted kids, but his baser instincts were taking over. In his desperation he had formed an alliance with another monkey, Amli. His ally died three weeks later, but not before Guru had found a place in the troop. Guru had not thought about him since, but talking about Monkey Junior brought back his memories. He knew what it took to establish oneself out in the real world. He knew he must prepare Monkey Junior for it, so that the youngling would not have to cry himself to sleep for several nights.
Guru continued pontificating to Mrs Monkey, “Back in my days, a child like that would be shunned out of the troop. He needs to learn our ways. Don’t entertain him anymore. Train him to go out and establish himself in the jungle.”
Monkey Junior was staring at the brook, looking for anything to distract himself. The brook had never been named. It had always been there, long before Guru was born, and even before an ancestor of his had refused to join Rama on his quest to Lanka, for he resented the idea of waging a war for a domestic matter. “Solve it mutually,” Guru’s ancestor had said to an envoy of Rama. “War is never an option.”
Many-a-times some monkey in the jungle would come with an ingenious name for the brook, but never could the whole jungle unanimously accept any. The unnamed brook was quite far away from the territory of Monkey Jr’s troop, and although he was afraid of wandering alone to such large distances, he forced himself to walk to it often for solitude.
Noon was setting in and with every passing moment he was feeling that the words of his mother were being entrenched in his mind. Dreams are meant to be crushed, he thought.
Winter was always a depressing time in the forest. The food was scarce and wars were common. Monkey Jr was disillusioned with the concept of ownership among his kind. They would fight for food, for territory, and for the ladies. “Why can’t we live like the humans do?” he often asked himself. He was sure that if monkeys, like humans, clearly demarcated their possessions, there would be lesser conflicts. He often observed the humans who lived in the thatched house by the brook. They would invite their friends from far away places to eat, and at the end, the guests would leave. No fights, no show of teeth. “That’s the way to live”, Monkey Jr had said aloud on these occasion.
Mrs Monkey was searching frantically for Monkey Jr. She hadn’t seen him since they returned back to their troop in the morning. In fact, no one had seen him after he retired to his tree to take rest.
Only one monkey knew where he would be. Keshu hurried to the brook and saw Monkey Jr sleeping on a tree branch.
“Get up, your mother’s looking for you,” he said.
Monkey Jr got up, rubbed his eyes, and murmured, “I am going to leave for the big town. Tomorrow or the day after that.”
“Let’s go back to our home,” droned Keshu.
“No, don’t ignore me. I have to know what it is like to live like the humans. To have a job. To earn my food.”
Keshu nodded. This was not the first time Monkey Jr had shared his plans to escape with him. He knew the best thing to do was to agree with his friend and wait for him to tire himself. He sat listening to Monkey Jr’s whining for a while and then they began their journey back to the troop.
Monkey Jr was thinking aloud, “I would go and find work. Then I will save some money to buy a home. When I have enough, I will call all you guys to come and live with me.”
Keshu had had enough. Most days when Monkey Jr had nothing to do, he will ramble on about his future plans and Keshu would listen to him patiently. He had always been a good friend, but this morning his mother had lectured him about keeping his distance from Monkey Jr.
Keshu’s mother hated the fact that her son would fritter away his day in the company of a monkey with such revolutionary ideas. She believed that anything other than the “common monkey way of life” was a heresy. She had never read the Holy Book of Monkey Conduct, written by Shri Vaanar Ji Maharaj, a monkey who lived thousands of years ago; but she was sure that she understood it completely, and that her judgement was perfect. How could she not be right? Her views were based on a book dictated by God himself to a monkey of such infallible character that there existed no other document of his existence.
Not that she agreed with everything that was in the book, for it advocated rape of female monkeys, shunning of babies born with limps, and killing of baby Langurs in fights; but then it did support her in some of her arguments. Especially when her son would ask her why he must do something that he felt was unethical or plain wrong. “Because so it says in our holy book, Keshu.”
She would often find herself wondering how could some part of the Holy Book be true and wise, while the other full of hate and violence, and she could never bring herself agree with the latter. But wasn’t God supposed to be the embodiment of perfection and omniscience? Shouldn’t she follow every rule he set without thinking? “But killing baby langurs just because they’re different isn’t right,” she would think. “Older langurs could be killed. Maybe. But what did the babies do?” Whenever these thoughts arose in her mind, she accused the langurs and their literature of polluting her mind. She never stopped and questioned the veracity of her beliefs or the actual sources of Holy Book of Monkey Conduct, for that would have been devastating. There is nothing that provides more comfort and security than blind belief.
After a lengthy argument in which his mother criticised Monkey Jr and sang praises of Shri Vaanar Ji Maharaj, Keshu had stormed off, leaving his mother rambling to herself. He spent the day alone, wandering about the jungle, of someday being the alpha male of his own troop, taunting the animals he met, when finally, in the evening, he ran into Mrs Monkey. It was then that he had told her to calm down and reluctantly started out to look for Monkey Jr.
“You know what?” he snapped at Monkey Jr. “You always tell me these things – that you would go to the big town, get a job, buy a house, and live happily ever after. Tell me, do you even know what a job is or know to get to the big town? You say these things without thinking. Honestly, I am tired of it. Listening to you, then listening to my mother complain about talking to you. Do you even know the name of the town?”
“Solan, I think they call it,” said Monkey Jr, taken aback at the sudden outburst of his friend.
They did not speak till they could almost hear their troop frolicking in the distance.
“What a weird name, Solan,” said Keshu, feeling slightly guilty of being rude to his only friend. “Why not call it the place behind the clearing, or that patch over by the hill – like we call things? These humans are strange.”
Monkey Jr nodded. He liked the name; he liked everything thing he knew about humans. He replied, “About what you said earlier, I have a plan. I will find Sabu the langur there. Remember him? He was caught by some humans and taken away two years ago. I hear he has a nice job in the city. I’ll go to him and I am sure he’ll help me.”
Keshu was astonished. “You can’t be serious! He’s a langur. You can’t expect to go after him. There is no way he’ll help you. Besides, even if he did, you CANNOT do what he does. That’s so unacceptable.”
“Why? I know langurs and monkeys don’t get along here, but I don’t think that we should adhere to age old traditions.”
Keshu sighed. There was no way to talk sense into his friend. He gave up and after they bid other good-bye, he said to Monkey Jr, as the latter headed toward his tree, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Keshu tossed and turned in his bed all night. He was worried about his friend and about his own future.
The night ended and a new day arrived. Sun rose out of the hills, undaunted, ready to observe everything that went on the face of a queer little dirt ball that revolved around it. It wanted to have some gossip for the meeting that it had with the other stars in the Milky Way, much later in the millennium. Normally, he would have nothing to talk about. Earth, and its inhabitants were boring. The trees never moved. The animals were quite predictable – they only fought and ate. The humans, on the other hand, were slightly more interesting because they faced much deeper issues but since it had been hundreds of thousands of years since the Sun had started observing them, he had not had anything fresh for a while. The evolutionary process had been fun to watch, and who could not enjoy deaths of thousands of people in name of an imaginary being, but since the last two hundred or so years, he would watch billions of humans and had theorised that they could be grouped into two categories – the sheep and the idiots. The first were the people who would follow the same routine everyday, without thinking about their purpose. The second were the ones that would question the meaning of their lives, and on finding no answers, die, purposeless. The sun wanted to tell the latter group, that life had no meaning, but then thought that he would ruin any chance he might have to witness an interesting development.
Thankfully, today was Sun’s lucky day. The forest in a remote valley of the Himalayas was abuzz with speculation. Many monkeys were visiting Mrs Monkey’s troop. When texts would later be written on this event, they would all agree that it was the biggest thing to happen to monkey kind, in the recorded history.
No one knew where Monkey Jr was since the morning, but they knew where he would have eloped to. Some had seen him walk toward the brook, holding the Holy Book of Monkey Conduct, while some swore of him being a figment of Mrs Monkey’s imagination. Every one was contended with what they knew, except Mrs Monkey. She was searching the forest for her son.
She was and had always been an optimist, and when she woke up in the morning and found no trace of Monkey Jr, she was sure that he would have gone loitering with Keshu. She went out to get, or rather steal, their breakfast and returned with a handful of oranges and peaches. She waited, and then she waited some more, but when Monkey Jr did not return, she raised an alarm.
Following every lead she got, she went to the brook, and then to the waterfall. Monkey Jr had disappeared without a trace, without a reliable witness.
“What’s the next thing on the agenda?” asked Mr Figoo, speaker of the Monkey Senate. “Oh, right…Mr Guru would like to say something, unless he has changed his mind.”
“No, I haven’t, Mr Speaker,” Guru said, with a husky voice. “Thank you kindly members for your time. What I want to say today, concerns us all. It has been a week since Monkey Jr disappeared. I think it is about time we discuss what we need to do to prevent more young men to follow his example. It has been a banished topic for too long. We can’t just expect people to forget about it. We must take concrete steps to make sure that no more of our younglings are led down this path of self destruction in the name of being a moral monkey. We must clearly define what it means to be a good monkey. We have ample literature to guide us. The Holy Book of Monkey Conduct will help shape our new constitution. A code in which bad monkeys are punished, without any mercy. We must ban all literature, excuse me, I meant, filth that has been written by Langurs. This right here is a conspiracy, gentle folks. An elaborate conspiracy. If we don’t do anything right now, we will lose our future. And what is more important than our progeny? Nothing! Nothing, I say. I have written this draft of the law we should pass. I ask you, gentle members, to go through it thoroughly. Take as much time as you need. A year, a decade, whatever. We need to get this right!”
His assistant distributed copies of the draft of the new constitution among the members of the senate.
“If I may, Mr Guru,” began Mr Peeku, what is this that article 7 says? ‘No monkey shall question the constitution. Any disrespect will be treated with a death penalty.’ Don’t you think this is a little harsh? I mean, we cannot stop people from critical thinking.”
“We can, and we will,” thundered Guru. “What if they ask what authority does the Holy Book of Monkey Conduct has? Would we allow it? Never! What do the kids know? They must learn our ways, respect our traditions, and must, whole heartedly, follow the Holy Book of Monkey Conduct.”
Murmuring ensued among the members. Guru looked around impatiently. This was not the reaction he had expected, but he was nothing if not persistent.
“Look, Mr Guru, I know your intentions are good, but we can’t possibly think that anyone who questions the decision of this senate is not fit to live among us,” said Mr Peeku, serenely. “After all, what is this constitution expect a collections of some laws, that might, or if I may, will eventually become irrelevant in the future. We mustn’t stop our kids from questioning us. No, not acceptable. You want them not to read any literature expect Holy Book of Monkey Conduct. How can they decide what morality is unless they see both sides?”
“What if a son of ours reads the literature published by those God awful langurs and finds that much more appealing? What then, I ask you?”
“Then we must accept his choice, Mr Guru. Is it that impossible to believe that we could be the ones who are wrong? Maybe the monkey way of living is not the absolute way.”
“You sound treasonous, Sir. Death is the penalty for treason in the new constitution.”
“Is this how it is going to be? People being hanged for petty comments.”
“What you said was not petty,” shot Guru. “Sir, how dare you question our way of life, and our holy scripture? Your comments are lamentable. I am happy that no younglings are present to hear you.”
“This is madness,” sighed Mr Peeku.
“No, Sir. This is necessary,” contributed Mr Figoo. “Sedition must be charged with death. Nothing else. I agree completely with Mr Guru. We can’t allow anyone to question our laws! This senate is composed of people with high moral standards. How can our decisions be wrong? Are you questioning our intentions? You better watch what you say, good Sir. Maybe we should charge you with crimes against the nation. Maybe you should be hanged.”
“Well, if you want to hang me hang me for something substantial. I say, Holy Book of Monkey Conduct is purely fictional. It has been edited over a thousand times, by monkeys like you and me – monkeys who thought THEY could tell right from wrong. Delusional monkeys, who heard voices. I implore you to see reason, my good Sirs.”
Gasps were heard all around.
“You’re lucky that this constitution has not yet been ratified by this senate. Else your head would adorn the entrance of the forest, Sir. You heard this crazy monkey, respected members. Vote! Vote now!”
“I shall abstain,” groaned Mr Peeku.
The vote was passed unanimously.
After a year had passed since Monkey Jr’s disappearance, Mrs Monkey had come to accept that she would never see her son again. Her life had come back to what can be termed ‘normal’, to a certain extent. Every morning, she would go steal food, eat it all alone, and the cycle would repeat for every meal. Even the people closest to her could not tell what she felt, because she never shared her pain with anyone. She would politely nod at anyone who would care to acknowledge her, but that wouldn’t happen often. Not that there had been an official announcement to shun Mrs Monkey, yet somehow, most monkeys in the forest would steer away from her path. Maybe they were afraid that she would corrupt their minds with filthy ideas.
What became of Monkey Jr, no one knew. No one cared. Everyone felt a little safer because of the new constitution. They knew that it would prevent others to follow the heretic path that was taken by Monkey Jr.
Even though the constitution had not been officially implemented, thirteen monkeys had been put in jail for trivial issues – but the common masses were ready to pay that price for security.
Guru had been feeling like the smartest being alive, and had been for a while, even considered himself omniscient. He had quite vocal about how he was right to warn Mrs Monkey about Monkey Jr. Even though he was basking in in own glory, he never felt the need to console Mrs Monkey.
After playing a pivotal role in drafting the constitution, he had earned back his respect in the troop, although no female monkey would agree to have a baby with him; but he was confident that he would get that one day, as well.
As he stood addressing his fellow monkeys in the senate, he read the preamble of the final accepted version of the constitution, aloud:
“O my brother in arms, open your heart,
to what I say, it concerns your best,
Follow these words, and be not afraid,
they will put your soul to eternal rest.
Bow your head, for our flag unfurls,
beneath this sky, it shows its might
under its shadow, you shall dwell,
and look to it to tell wrong from right.
Praise thy ancestors, who came together,
to script these laws in a time of need,
indisputable and perfect, as they are,
to your death must you follow them, indeed.”
So says I, Yours truly,
A good citizen
The preamble was carved on a plaque and displayed near the Sacred Tree of Laws, which was the new name for the location of the Monkey Senate. Many a monkeys visit it everyday to pay homage to great beings who were a part of drafting a code that was morally unquestionable.
It wasn’t long before treason and sedition became words that were commonly thrown around in conversations. Quite a few people had fallen prey to the new constitution, and Mr Figoo was the first to be hanged.
One morning, as the members of the senate climbed down the Sacred Tree of Laws, after a productive session, they saw that someone had added a few lines to the preamble.
“Patience, O brother, I pray to you,
harken to me for one last time,
Stop breathing you must, that too at once,
for our Gods may consider that a crime…”
The investigation to find the perpetrator is underway…