Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Green life.....

I live , in what might possibly be the most wooded, residential area in Mumbai, meant for the hoi polloi; by that I mean, that we don't have prominent citizens residing here in huge houses, with elaborate security, and a ratio of house-to-yard , of the order of 1:50. But we are all hard working folks with jobs , and have worries like every other family in Mumbai, like the rising prices of gas, foodstuffs and education.

Cows are almost permanent residents of our area, since time immemorial, and know the campus like the back of their hoof. New students often wonder, as they emerge from a class and see a cow sitting outside the door, chewing the cud, and enjoying a relaxed morning, watching the "smart" bipeds rush around.

Since the entire area is not landscaped as such, we still have , what one may call pieces of virgin forest, and a lake which has crocodiles.

So it isn't surprising, that throughout the last several decades of my stay here, I have had occasion to hold my breath, at seeing a leopard flash by through the foliage, deal with 6 monkeys who entered my dining room on the 6th floor, and stare at a six foot cobra who lay across my path as I traversed the road to office, one sunny morning.

The leopard movement began when human encroachment happened in areas to the north, which were actually inhabited by these animals.

Our lake was a big attraction for drinking water. About 20 years ago, one night we were awakened by some fast motorcycles being revved and driven , on what was normally, a sylvan, quiet road on campus, on the banks of the lake, where we lived then. We rushed to the balcony , and were rewarded with the leopard flashing through the thick shrubbery, towards the lake , gold slicing through the dark, eyes momentarily glinting. Some students had heard about its whereabouts, the fellows were chasing around to see it, actually agitating the animal.

For a minute the motorcycles stopped outside. They pointed to the jutting promontory, and were talking of following the animal there on foot. I heard someone urge another to go, and the latter replied ," I don't think, I should, I am my parents only child !" :-) .

This conversation , heard in the quiet of the early dawn, was very illuminating.

By and by, the leopards explored various workshops and library areas on campus, and the students even designed cages in which they could be trapped and taken back to be released in the forest. The cows and stray dogs on campus breathed a sigh of relief. There was also the case of a guard in a building , nodding off, at night, near the elevator, at a lake side high rise, and opening his eyes just in time to see a leopard staring at him, forcing him into a silent scream and an immediate jump into the elevator, which he didn't leave till morning.

Monkeys of course move around, like us, in groups. They are fairly quick to urbanize, and have a keen eye on people who walk around with grocery bags. For some reason they love to spend their breeding season in our area, and it is not unusual to see older monkeys moving around in great style, with assorted junior family members, with a baby hanging upside down at the stomach , clutching on for dear life. When it is required, the baby will slide back to the monkeys back, and travel that way for a while.

I once had two different varieties of mangoes in a fruit rack on the dining table. One was the sweet , very expensive , Alphonso mango variety, and the other was a slightly cheaper, but tasty variety , called Pairi, which was the juicier one, but a bit less sweet.

A quiet Friday afternoon, and engrossed as I was, in reading something , I heard some thing , like someone fiddling around with jars in the kitchen. At first, I attributed it to the kids, but then the continuing noise alarmed me. I came out to the living-dining area, to see a floor full of peeled, half eaten Alphonso mangoes on the ground, a monkey dedicatedly, with single minded attention, trying to finish off one more, at the entrance to the kitchen, and one big and one small monkey fiddling around with the jar of peanuts in the kitchen.

I was dumbstruck, and was trying to rush to my son's room to call him , when I saw another monkey, sitting on the keyboard of the desktop in the adjoining room. Just outside , at the window , were two more monkeys , trying to get in, trying to cash in on the general bonanza.

While a general wave of dismissal, elicited a teeth baring defiant hiss from the leader of the pack, we soon found out that if you banged some rod to make noise, it worked. In the next 5 minutes, my children and I made enough of a racket with steel plates, and glasses and rods , and successfully got rid of the marauders, who squeezed shamelessly back through the window grill.

What was interesting , was that the monkeys had made a complete hash of the Alphonso mangoes (the expensive ones), but left the Pairi ones untouched. Smart. And the computer had booted. I can just see the monkey resting on Ctrl-Alt, and looking down disdainfully to its right, and generally giving Del a bang, out of sheer disgust.

While the current apartment on the six floor has not allowed snakes to visit, our earlier lake front place was very popular with them. It was an old apartment, and some of the tiles at the edge of the living room had risen above the others, creating a gap. I recall trying to pick up what I thought was a blackish wire, at the corner of the room, only to have it slither and move as I got closer.

Then there were the cobras. They would slither across the road from the lake into what passed for a garden outside. They had an uncanny ability to blend in with the foliage as they lay still. We would often find the skin shed by the snake in the garden, and sometimes even in our balcony.

And I have once stood in the walkway to the outside road, staring at an almost 6 foot cobra blocking the 6 foot width of the path, as my household help lady stood on the other side, waiting to come in. The lady, the cobra , and I just looked at each other, waiting for someone to blink. Actually we blinked, and in that instant the cobra had slithered into the next garden.

Snakes slithering down roads as cars drove by was not an unknown thing. We have a lot of pedestrians, always on roads , and every time you saw a bunch gathered , pointing at something, you could be sure it was a snake slithering after a frog, or just doing its thing , showing off as it slithered behind a gnarled tree trunk. Some of the snakes even had favourite areas. And were observed frequently in these areas, by people , who pretended this was all very normal..

No one ever tried to kill any of these animals. Occasionally, a leopard who had climbed two floors on to a landing in a building had to be tranquilised. But it was then taken back to the jungle and released.

There is something about living in harmony, tolerance , and occasional irritation with these quadrupeds, and snakes.

But maybe these animals are now evolving. I am not sure in which direction, and whether it is positive or negative.

They are probably bored of academic institutions. There is just so much you can learn anyway.

Like so many other folks, they probably view politics as a more rewarding career .

Which is probably why, it seems that a snake was recently found at the Orissa Legislative Assembly, while the assembly was actually in session. (Orissa is one of the States on India's eastern seaboard; Mumbai is on the western coast.)

The snake, reported to be of the poisonous variety, was found at 8 am, Where ? By the press reporters table.

The speaker thought it fit to adjourn the house.

How boring.

From a life where folks gathered around to watch your every move, to a situation where they evacuate the hall as soon as you arrive .

I guess politics is a slippery choice, but probably not for slithering types.


  1. "forcing him into a silent scream and an immediate jump into the elevator" ~ I imagine he didn't nap again on the job after that!

    OMG - the monkey booted the computer. A distant kinship - some will say and smile at that remark!

    Ah, the snake and politician ~ two variations of the same, that was poetic.

    I like how you wrote ~ it is a harmony in living together. This wouldn't be the case in our parts and fascinating to read it.

  2. Living near National Park in Borivili, we have our fair share of monkeys and snakes (though cows are banned from the campus, and we have just heard about leopards entering the campus once upon a time). The closely-spaced grills in our flat windows prevent close encounters with monkeys of the kind you have so fascinatingly described.

    Enjoyed hugely!

  3. Hilarious ! Hilarious. Oh man ! This was just too good. The orissa finish was top class !

    So was the monkey and the delete button. So was the cow. And the campus. The leopard and the lake. The elevator, the 6 floor and the Pari !

    All the same, the campus is now very alluring. And may i propose a bloggers meeting there...! :)

  4. Yes, hilarious!~ How do you account for the snake travelling from Mumbai all the way to Orissa?

    Mumbai's green patches are a joy, though. Many years ago my uncle used to live in Aarey Milk Colony at Goregaon. Holidays spent there meant that we got to see snakes and foxes not to mention-of course- cows!

  5. I am laughing so hard at your great and humorous descriptions, Ugich. You are so superior at finding the humor in things and so excellent at telling them. You must write that book!

    Thanks for a visual treat of living with the animals and reptiles. (But you can keep your Crocodiles, thank you.)

  6. Wow i always heard of incidents involving leopards invading residential areas in Mumbai but never imagined living in one such place could be so much thrill. But what about small kids playing around in the campus? Do parents let kids play alone in your area? In other residential parts of Mumbai we can always see kids playing without supervision of elders as long as they are within the campus limits.

  7. Aleta Thank you. And honestly, the significance of the monkey booting the PC didnt strike me till you mentioned it ! And yes, there are a few more leopard stories I might post another time....

    Sucharita You probably get to see the relatives of our leopards and monkeys. Ours are supposed to migrate from the same Park, that you border....

    Kavi Isnt it amazing how legislative assemblies conspire to inspire you to blog by their behaviour vis-a-vis snakes...

    But thank you very much for the nice words. And yes, the campus is certainly beautiful right now.

    A bloggers lunch during the monsoon is certainly a wonderful idea, and will get to work on it after I get back from an upcoming trip for a fortnight out of Mumbai. Will email.

    Manju "How do you account for the snake travelling from Mumbai all the way to Orissa?"

    Actually, it is easy. In keeping with the current political pattern of appointing relatives to posts, the Mumbai snake simply deputed a Bhubaneshwar relative to attend the Orissa legislature....

    And yes, Aarey Colony still continues to delight when it is not studded with hotels...

    Darlene Thank you for the very nice words of appreciation. And actually, the crocodiles arent so bad. They have changed in their old age...

    Enchanted Actually monkeys and stuff dont bother kids (unless they walk around waving eats at the monkeys). And cows are fairly urbanized and do their own thing, unless you appear to threaten their offspring, by changing vehicle gears close by . Dont ask why, but it is true. I have been chased ..:-)

    But these leopards actually come under cover of the dark, and so kids in our campus play unsupervised just like any other kids in town. Except they play a lot more variety of games, because of the wide open green spaces and playgrounds that we have.

    Students of our campus returning post midnight from the library etc have spotted several leopards.

    Incidentally will give you a call around Aug 5 ....

  8. Ugich, I have sent two answers to you about why I am not driving anymore. I know you didn't get them because you always answer. Please send an e-mail address and I will try once more.