Thursday, January 16, 2014

Monkey Memories


Our locality of Chamarajapuram was regularly visited by a school of monkeys. Just pass a thought why they were not seen for the last two days, ..... blink ten times and you heard them jumping on the branches - if it was a daytime thought!  If it was after dusk, expect them the next day!

Our premises on Devaparthiva Road had trees and yard space around the house, a perfect setting for them to stop by in their perpetual quest for food and mischief.  They got coconut water, jackfruit, rose apples, mangoes, guavas, pomegranates, custard apples and sometimes food items kept for sun drying outside.  They jumped from house to tree and from branch to branch, ran all over, preventing any kitchen plant we attempted to grow. Their rampage was a headache and a perpetual nuisance to the extent of forcing a prayer to Lord Hanuman whose avatar they are to stop the menace.
All said and done, monkeys have always fascinated me no end.

Picture above taken in 2012 when the house was being demolished by the new owner after it was vacated by our family in 2008.  See the surrounding greenery.  Jackfruit tree is obscured on the left by the roadside tree.  Mango tree is seen at the back. 

Sometimes their arrival was silent but usually we would hear the rustle of the branch when they jumped. That signaled my entry into the scene to drive them away.  My catapult was kept ever ready and handy lest they damaged anything in the garden. I also kept some small stones and rose apple seeds for shooting with the catapult, which was the only weapon they were afraid of the most. Throwing stones or using a toy gun were ineffective. They would easily evade stones hand-hurled at them with amazing reflexes. Read this short post on slingshot
 I made.  They feared this weapon to such an extent that even pretending to shoot was enough to rattle them, but I also shot at times. They knew their reflexes are too slow when an object is fired from a catapult, what with my stance and body language during the chase. I aimed at areas around the monkeys and never directly at them lest I hurt or injured any.  They only needed to be scared out of the premise.

I claim myself to be their only nemesis in the chase act and some of them recognized me even when they were in other streets when I did that catapult action!!  And I could identify at least 4 of them, 2 veterans. Sometimes, firing small crackers which we saved after Deepavali [Diwali - festival of lights] also scared them. When some neighbour burst a cracker at an odd time of the day, we knew they were around!

Especially in summer months, sun drying of certain food stuff was a common thing.  Someone had to keep watch often to prevent monkeys [or crows or squirrels] looting it.  When some veteran attempted to loot and we tried to chase away, it used to 'grrrr' back with their menacing stance in retaliation and succeeded in picking a handful before scampering away.

A portion of the big jackfruit tree and rose apple tree. 

They were more stubborn when a jackfruit was ripe.  They are so fond of it. No amount of threatening would make them leave the place, esp. if the fruit was higher up on the branch and the leader monkey would be having its lion's share without allowing others to come near it till it had its fill both in the stomach and cheek pouches. If their arrival was silent and we were completely unaware of it, we would hear the sound of the big seeds of the jackfruit being dropped by them on the dry leaves beneath. It was an emergency to save the fruit for us.  I would run out with my catapult to chase them away.  They knew which fruit was ripe and we could smell it only when the monkeys scratched it open!  

Front yard. Left was gate, right was main entrance door.

If I was successful in chasing a few monkeys out of the premises I knew others would follow suit. They always moved together.  Sometimes for kicks, I would 'trap' one or two who were slow, and block their jumping route from house to branch to follow the route others went.  I chased them around the house as it ran on cornices or rooftop to the other side of the big house. If it failed to escape and got desperate, there was its SOS call, in a very unusual sound.  It was then the other veterans came back to rescue - they knew something was wrong!! It was fun running around and fooling the poor monkey.  Not sadistic pleasure though, just young age fun.

 We had six tall coconut trees. They love to stay overnight on coconut trees as they are safe.  But our trees were very old, tall and swayed too much which was probably unsafe factors for their overnight halts here.  They preferred shorter trees in nearby streets where they are a real nuisance, even now.  They have made certain trees as their permanent residential address!

To deter monkeys from climbing the tall coconut trees, tying a bunch of thorny plants about 20 feet up and around the trunk helped until the thorns wore off.  But it was a tough job bringing and tying on the trunk which the coconut pluckers used to do on extra payment.  We tried it to good effect and it lasted one year.  Some people nailed a 3-ft long[high] zinc sheet around the trunk to make it slippery for the monkeys, but long enough for the tree-climber to climb over easily.

One evening, a veteran monkey had climbed the tallest tree having its fronds and fruits right above Iyengar's house which had tiled roof, across the back gully.  Normally they dropped the nuts after drinking the water from the nut after neatly drilling it.  But one evening, that fellow left the empty nut precariously in the groove of a horizontal frond and climbed down!!  I was watching it.  It created tension because if the nut rolled out of the groove and fell, it would surely be on the tiled roof and there was the risk of someone being really hurt.  We prayed for our coconut plucker Murali or someone to arrive, but none came. One day, two days. The nut fortunately stayed put.  We could not get sleep properly due to the perched nut!  Finally on the third day, Murali came, like godsend, climbed and dropped it to safety.  I cannot count the number of times we looked up in the 2 days to confirm it was still there!! 

When there was nothing to protect in the yard, jackfruit, mangoes or anything, I did not chase out the monkeys, but chose to entertain myself by watching them play esp. on the Rose Apple tree which was next to the kitchen window.   The younger lot played just like little kids - teasing one another, running, chasing and jumping.  It was a joy to watch them play.   Sometimes, it would climb the window sill of our kitchen and sit. I used to feed groundnut or something through the mesh and watch closely how its fingers were.  Watching closely was fun esp. when a mirror was kept on the inside of the window.  The little fellows sitting there would look at themselves with awe and surprise, make sounds and enjoy their reflections!

When the door was left ajar, stealthily some monkey would enter the house in search of food.  When someone noticed the monkey inside, there would be a loud scream!! The monkey would panic and run helter skelter which made us panic!! Finally it would find its way out.  Our tenant's house upstairs had tiled roof.  Some monkeys knew how to enter a house, removing a roof tile.  The occupants were surprised by the extra skylight and panicked!! The monkey would keep the tile aside and go away.  Climbing there for us was not possible but needed a paid help to replace the tile!

It was a pathetic sight when a young one died clinging to its mother. The mother was dragging the decomposed corpse for two days in mourning, with unusual shreiks every now and then.  It was so upset.  It had happened more than once.

The tap in the wash area under the mango tree.

There was a water tap in the backyard.  24x7 water supply had become 8x7.  The monkeys knew its water source and they knew how to open a tap.   They would open the tap and go away.  So in the wee hours of the night when water was let to the locality, water would keep gushing all night.  If someone heard the water noise, the tap would be closed.  We hear present day monkeys are more concerned about conserving water than its two legged version.  They have learnt how to close back the taps after using it while humans fail to be careful in this regard! See video here: [Click]

They can be human and we can be monkey!!  The latter is not funny to others.  Humans can be inhuman, but monkeys cannot be 'inmonkey', do you agree?

There was one Narasimha - a few years senior to me, a street mate.  He had started calling me as 'Kothi' [ಕೋತಿ] means 'Monkey'.  I was in 7th class. Read this short blogpost what happened later [Click here].  Now I can call myself as monkey but not when I was 12-13 years old!


The earliest memory of a monkey is when I was about 4.  It was in front of the Sanctum sanctorum of Tirupati in 1961 or 62.  The scene was different then.  No queues or rush.  I can recall vividly that I was standing alone [my relatives were close by] with small biscuits in hand.  There was a pandal above.  I could clearly see the face of Lord Srinivasa's statue between the heads of a small number of worshiping people at the door of the Sanctum sanctorum. There were monkeys, some were perching on the poles that held the pandal, a few were on the ground looking for food and there were a handful of people here and there.  That is the scene.  All of a sudden one monkey rushed towards me and jumped up to my chest....... Eeeeeeeeeeee.  It snatched the biscuit from my hand and ran away, scaring the living daylights out of me.  That is why this memory is permanently imprinted!! 

We have seen monkeys being pet-slaved to do tricks and earn money, but it is rare to hear somebody keeping one as pet at home.  I used to wonder with gaping mouth when my father used to mention that his friend, one N.S.Krishna in whose house there was a pet monkey that lived for many years till the 1950s. 

I left the Chamarajapuram house in 1998 and moved to Lakshmipuram.  Here also monkeys were not much of a menace to begin with.  I was worried if I could make a garden now. But probably with growing traffic and our location, they stopped coming after a few years.  My garden arrived.

See the neighbour's greenery on the left and our tiled house.

The last I noticed monkeys crossing our house was in 2009.  See picture.  They continue to live in Chamarajapuram and also in our vast locality, but somewhere else they feel safe from traffic etc. much to my relief. 

Monkeys always fascinated me.  See this short post on the toy monkey I made: [Click]. When I visited the zoo, I would stand watching the Chimpanzee and Gorilla or in the row of monkey cages side by side having different varieties. Time would stand still.  When the camera came, I find an unavoidable urge to shoot them.
Here are some I have shot on my several tours. 

This is at Paschimavahini where River Cauvery flows.  15 kms from Mysore. 

There are many near our Chamundi Hill.  This is scratching its head with its leg!

Rishikesh, on Ram Jhoola. 2008.

A senior citizen there, I mean the one in fur coat.

One more on Ram Jhoola.

Ok, never mind, it is just two-legged.

Grooming monkeys at Sahastradhara, Dehra Dun, Uttarakhand, 2013

A seasoned veteran, near Gangtok, by River Teesta, 2010.

A youngster on pine tree branch at Pahalgam, Kashmir 2011.  

My favourite.  A youngster I found on Suttur Road, Mysore.  Familiar?  
Then you have either seen me or my avatar on facebook. 
Fear, surprise, curiosity, innocence. 

My present desktop background, a collage of 4 lovely expressions, gathered from the web.

 Monkey God.  Anjaneya/Hanuman.
[At Ramadri, beside the Bay of Bengal, Visakhapatnam, pictured during my visit in 2008]

Jai Hanuman! 

Keyboard monkey

Friday, January 10, 2014

Mylar Rao's Kashi Yatra a century ago

Benares or Varanasi or Kashi, [Wiki link] is about 2000 kms. from Mysore.   According to legend, it was founded by Lord Shiva himself and hence considered as the holiest city for esp. Hindus.  History records evidence of this place being inhabited from as early as 12th century B.C.  It is among the oldest, continuously inhabited cities of the world, on the banks of the Holy River Ganges [Ganga].  In 1897, Mark Twain, the renowned Indophile, said of Varanasi, "Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together."  It remains a unique city for myriad reasons.

One Anuradha Sankar  has a well presented blog [found on the web] which she aptly titled as 'Kashi Yatra' [Tour of Kashi]  [read her profile there! And do not forget to return to my blog!]  Brief information and photos of the author's trip of the places of importance in that region is useful.  This avoids my repeating them here.

Let me begin now.  A pilgrimage tour to Benares/Kashi/Varanasi [names of same place] was undertaken by my great grandfather Mylar Rao 'long ago'. This, I had overheard my grandmother mentioning when I was very young in the 1970s and this place appeared very far away when I saw in the school atlas map.

I have preserved many diaries of Mylar Rao which are more than a century old. Recently, one among them of 1912 had me thrilled.  I saw some account entries instead of his daily jottings which he habitually recorded. Instantly, I correlated it with my grandmother's mention 40 years ago - the trip to Kashi, because I could find familiar place names, which to my great delight were actually of that very Benares trip, precisely in 1911-12.  It was also in 1911 that he had started to construct the house from where this post comes from, a hundred years later. Around the turn of the 19th century itself, many cities in our vast country had railway connectivity and reaching Kashi had become a thinkable proposition, unlike older times when people had to walk all the way.

 This is the diary, which Mylar Rao, the ever meticulous took on that tour.  Click on images [to enlargify] and read the entries - some are curious. 

Today, we do advance bookings sitting at home and many long distance trains are available to take people to all parts of the vast country! Long distance pilgrimage tours were really adventures in the bygone era for many reasons.

It appears that tickets were bought just before they boarded Mysore and did the same at every place on the route.  Mysore-Arsikere-Miraj-Pune-Nasik-Itarsi-Allahabad-Varanasi-Gaya-Calcutta-Berhampore-Madras. 'Hopping' was the only option in the absence of long distance trains. They would have waited at each halt many hours to board their onward train

He had collected some addresses of contact persons in some places before the party left, probably for any help for accommodation in a choultry.

First let me list in brief, the dates and places from the account diary.

His account and journey starts on 23.12.1911, with a purchase of 14 tickets.  
Fourteen people in the pilgrimage party!  There are some names mentioned in the diary. Mrs. Rangiengar, Venkapathiah, B.N., Swamy,Somayaji, Rangappa, 

24th they were in Harihara [near Davangere].
25th - Harihara to Belgaum.
26th - Belgaum to Poona [Pune]
27th - Sight seeing in Poona.
28th - Journey to Nasik.
An entry "Pilgrim tax" Four annas each = Four rupees was paid!  There are many interesting entries! 
29th-30th - Nasik is another place on the banks of River Godavari, where rituals are performed for the propitiation of souls of forefathers. 
31.12.1911 they are in Itarsi, go to Narbada river by 5 tongas.
2.1.1912 - Rituals at Prayag [Allahabad is its new name].
There is an address - Jagannath Sastri at Allahabad... did they stay there?
5.1.12 - Still in Allahabad.  15 tickets to Benares. Who came in extra?
They are in Banares for a few days.
9.1.1912 - Boat to Vyasa Kasi [Vishwanatha Temple?].
Solder-sealing of the holy water in little copper vessels [Gange Thali] from Ganga River was done - may be one such thali is still in our worship room. "Holy Ganga water" does not spoil when kept sealed and the seal is opened to put a small quantity of it into the mouth of someone in the family who is very close to take the last breath. That way, it is believed that the person will attain moksha [salvation].

This picture [probably framed later] is said to have been bought at Benares during that trip.  It was in the worship room.

11.1.12 - Benares to Gaya. Gaya also rituals done.
11.1.12 - Gaya to Calcutta.  14 tickets for Rupees Forty six! [Where did they stay? There is an address B.V.Ramaiah at Chander Lane, some Mysorean in Calcutta?].
12.1.12 - Reached Calcutta, roamed in Tramcar, buys Badam Halwa.  May have visited Kali Temple also.  Mahatma Gandhi visited it in 1901 after he returned from South Africa. 
13.1.12 - Left Calcutta for Samalkot. Fruits were bought [3 rupees] and a toy for child [6 annas].  Two rupees was paid to the Ticket Collector to reserve the Compartment for the group!  That goes to show how busy Calcutta was even in those days.

14.1.12 - Provisions were bought at Berhampore.  
No hotels in those days. Telegrams were sent to home from the places they had gone. There are frequent entries 'Telegram" so that kept the people back home informed of their safety. 
Carts and carriages were hired to transport the luggage and people to and from railway stations. 
15.1.12 - Berhampore to Madras [Chennai].
16.1.12 - Reached and stayed at Madras.  Bought provisions again.
17.1.12 - Madras to Bangalore.
They would have relaxed and returned to their homes in Mysore at convenient days.

In his main Account Book at home, he records the total.  See.  Less than thousand rupees [for 14 people!].


Using Google Maps I tried to chart their round journey from Point A [Mysore] to Point H [Bangalore].  It was roughly 5000 kilometres. The tour stretched 24 days.

Points A to H - Mysore-Nasik-Itarsi-Allahabad-Varanasi-Gaya-Calcutta-Bangalore.

Railways had only coal-fired steam engines in those days.  Travelers had to carry their own beds and food.  There were no hotels or vendors.  They carried water in brass vessels collecting it at every station the train stopped.  They bought provisions wherever they halted for the day and cooked food [what about firewood]. So they would have carried suitable vessels, leaves [instead of plates] to eat.  Holdall bags were necessary.  I am sure steel trunks were also carried to take clothes etc.  So imagine the luggage bulk and weight belonging to 14 people for a long tour!  No wonder there are frequent entries for coolie, carriage, carts, luggage removing, provisions, telegrams, etc.


Let me show some pictures, also of the time when the party toured.  Picture postcard collecting was a hobby with one of my great grand uncles [1900-1915].  I found some scenes showing Benares.

This is how it was when they went to Nasik.  The postcard is from the same period.

I found three pictures of Benares in "Glimpses of India", published in 1895, by J.H.Fairneux, one of my favourite books.

 My father and grandfather were not able to visit in their lifetimes. I was able to visit it twice, so far. First visit was in November1993.  Picture taken at Mysore Ghat, built [in the late 1920s] by and during the reign of Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, the ruler of Mysore who also had visited there on his way to Kailas-Manasarovar in 1931.

Picture below taken at Mysore Ghat on my second visit with our cricket team, October 2000.  They recently renamed it as Karnataka Ghat - see this image - web link: [Click]  Instead of Gange Thalis, I brought the river water in plastic bottles.

Just in case we would not be able to make the trip to Benares in our lifetimes, we are symbolically 'sent' in the form of a ritual 'Kashi Yatra' in Hindu weddings.  For a higher spiritual purpose the groom is given a 'final opportunity to leave before the bride enters'. He is asked if he would like to abandon worldly life and lead the life of an ascetic. The father of the bride requests the groom not to leave, but to stay and marry his daughter. This is taken from Devasthanam.

Both my grandfather and father could not make it in real life. This is a picture of my father "doing the Kashi Yatra" on his wedding day, 1956. 

Decades later, it was my turn a few years before opportunity to tour presented itself.

'Kashi Yatre' means an arduous adventure.  Kannada writer Triveni wrote a novel titled 'Kashi Yatre'.  T.P.Kailasam jokes in one of his satirical works "to go in an iron boat to bring river Ganga in a mosquito net".

Visiting Kashi, bathing in River Ganga and performing rituals on its banks, for the propitiation of departed souls in the family esp. the forefathers at least once in the lifetime is a dream and wish of devout Hindus.  There have been many instances in ancient times when people had to walk the entire route to fulfill the wish/vow/dream and never returned home, esp. from the south.  It is also believed that when a person dies in those places, the soul is liberated. Those who returned home safe were held in high esteem. 'That person has returned from Kashi.'!  

Not so in present times, as access to places is much easier.  Even then, only luck plays its part to allow or prevent a person from visiting!!  That is the mystery of the place!  

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A scooter accident - lucky escape

I was on my way back from a short errand to.the market, on my scooter.  My way from the usually busy market traffic was unusually smooth.  A strange hunch was haunting me at the back of the mind ever since I started.  It was just about one O'Clock, our lunchtime and I was just a furlong away from home.

I had entered Vani Vilas [Double] Road after safely overtaking the two slowing buses which were about to stop at the shelter.  The road was free with no traffic ahead.  I was cruising at a steady 30-35 kph at the most and not rushing.

There was absolutely no traffic, both ahead and behind me, except my scooter.  It is a common occurrence here for people to be crossing road dividers.  At some distance a man was crossing the 18-inch high road divider [Vani Vilas Road].  He was on  my side of the road. There was a gap of about 4-5 feet between me and the road divider which was to my right.   The man was crossing slowly and not looking at the traffic at all.  So I timed my speed many feet in advance, in full control so that he would be safely across when I would pass 6-7 feet behind his back. Not so!!

The man who had passed my line of movement suddenly took a 'U' turn, still not looking at the road. He seemed to be in his own thoughts.   He was now almost in my path.  "Thud"!!  I had shouted in panic "Yaaaaaay" which is quicker than using the thumb to honk in an attempt get his attention.  Braking distance became too short and so was reaction time.  There was no time to change my direction in order to avoid the hit. Left handle of my scooter hit him. I was thrown off the scooter on impact.  See diagram.

I fell on the road, luckily not hitting the road divider.  My right palm landed on the road and my scooter had no rider. I saw stars as in comic books as I turned and lay on my back instantly to gather myself from shock.  I could feel I was generally fine, but my palm near the wrist was numb and there was bleeding from two cuts.  I stood up to evaluate the scenario.  Instantly, as if from nowhere, some people had gathered.  Luckily as there was no traffic at all we were not run over.  Someone had lifted and parked my scooter beside the kerb.

A couple of people helped the shocked old man to the side and made him sit.  My purse along with some hooks I had bought were safe in my shoulder bag which I had put across the chest.  My watch, helmet and glasses were in place too!  I cannot recall when I transferred the camera from the shirt pocket to my shoulder bag after I fell and got up.   It was safe too.  The new walking stick I had bought for mother had suffered a dent and some scratches.  Scooter's front mudguard suffered a twist on impact with the road as it fell.

Having confirmed that the old man was safe, with only a scraped knee and having evaluated my own injury as minimal, I tried to escape the scene as some nasty people who seemed to be looking to raise an issue, as is their wont, stopped me. "What about him, you run away?" said one and snatched the ignition key.

It is always the 'fault' of the the bigger vehicle whatever it is.  So a pedestrian is always 'not at fault'!   So the gathered group, some of whom might have seen whose fault it was, started to target me.  From shock, the mouth was dry and I was surrounded by people who wait for creating scenes in scenes!

I convinced the nasty group that I will not take him to hospital but would personally attend to his injury at my home.  The man too agreed.  I did the first aid to him while I put quick doses of  homeo remedies into his mouth.  I too took them. I sent him away after compensating for 'his fault' with two hundred rupees which he asked.  He felt okay and was satisfied with the attention and the 'monetary reward' he won.  He was a poor villager heading for a hospital with a carry bag containing some reports, prescriptions, bills etc.

Now it was time to attend to my own injuries.  A contusion near the left shoulder blade - I do not know how, those two scrapes on the wrist, a scrape on the elbow.  My scooter had slowed down considerably after I braked on reflex, hence it was only a "low thud".  And luckily my head did not hit the road divider. I had landed about 3 feet away from it.  I felt lucky it was only that much, for both. So that was what the hunching was all about.  I realize whatever should happen happens.  How do we answer to the subtle hunch-warning?  Are we capable?