Monday, January 03, 2011

Wild and Wonderful

35 years ago, when I first came to stay, in what could possibly be, even today, the most wooded residential area in Mumbai, there weren't too many conveniences and public transport things operating. Within the area , that is.

Returning from the city after work, after being ejected involuntarily from a sneezing overloaded bus, and walking home across the last kilometre , on dark winter evenings, it was not unknown for a person enjoying the wafting cool breeze to suddenly encounter a herd of cattle, sitting smack in the middle of the road, enjoying the same. The road lighting resembled candle light, and you kind of stepped carefully around, making your way, trying to ignore some senior cows chewing away at something. Occasionally, someone in a four wheeler would come by, honk a lot, some of the aforementioned senior cows would lethargically get up, look at the car with heavily lidded eyes, point their horns towards it, shake their head, and allow the car to kind of scrape past.

By and by, things "improved". Roads became wider. Cows and buffaloes became choosy. Some of them enjoyed wandering in the academic area during the day, cat walking through the "infinite corridors", even hanging around in style at department entrances. Two wheelers on campus increased, and the cattle felt threatened....

For some reason, the sound of changing gears threatened the cows. I would take my son by two-wheeler to his primary school, and several times, the sound of a gear, changing from 3rd to second at a crowded turning, would agitate some cows. There would be a sudden gallop, head down, horns pointing ahead, and folks at the school gate would be treated to a thrilling spectacle of a lady speeding on a two wheeler, a child sitting back to back (as was the fashion then) , terrorised and followed by an angry cow or bull. I later on found out, that this kind of thing happened mostly, when there were calves around, and the mother cows felt endangered by the gear change sound and took offensive action. Of course , to a cow that was defensive action.

Crocodiles , then , abounded in the lake on whose banks we lived. On a spring day, when there was still some water in the lake, you could often see a crocodile sunning itself a la South-of-France on a jutting rock in the middle of the lake. It was not unknown , for kindergaarten kids, walking in twos, holding hands, on their first school walking trip to the Devi temple, to dissolve into a chaotic crowd, pointing to the rock, with big eyes, intense talk, a few frightened souls, and many who then went home and described imaginary things with great bravado.

Snakes , of course, were the original inhabitants of the place. Not small ones that sometimes resembled old electric wires, but properly big, striated, and metallic colored ones, kind of undulating across the ground, impervious to the various Bajaj Chetaks, Fiats and Ambassadors around. Anytime you saw a crowd , on its lunch break, congregated at a culvert, you could be sure that there was high drama happening between a snake and a frog, on the banks of a babbling brook below, and some even attempted a running commentary, till the event had a decisive result. So many grounds were full of little mounds with big snake holes. Walking back in the dark, badly lit roads, we got used to banging our foot while walking, which was supposed to drive away snakes. Very often pipes which were meant as an outlet for water in balconies and verandahs were utilised by smart snakes to enter inside, and lie down, sometimes coiled. Smaller snakes often entered through the uneven floor tiles of the older flats, and I remember trying to pick up a dark wire once, and being totally dumbstruck when it wiggled and moved.

Of course, mongooses and rats abounded. The mongoose, the stupider of the two, would make all kinds of screeching noises moving around, where as the rat was literally fast evolving. We employed rat traps, rat pills, and even hounded them out of the house, chasing them with hockey sticks, badminton rackets, handy poles and stuff, but they always remembered the address and returned. Someone, who eventually succeeded admirably in a career inversely proportional to work done, actually advised us to immerse the rattrap with rat in a bucket of water, drowning the rat, but none of us had the heart to do that.

But the experience and expertise helped. Many years later, at work, when rats had a free run of the subterranean pipes through which our lab computer network cables went, we were able to catch culprits overnight by keeping , at key places, rat traps with potato vadas inside; The room smelt of spice and ginger garlic the next morning, but there was a rat inside each trap the next morning......

I guess I have come up in the world. Living on the sixth floor above a canopy of trees that predate this campus, it's more about the birds today.

But we've advanced to monkeys and leopards now. The Sanjay Gandhi National Park borders us. This area was considered the back of the boondocks once. ( Maybe even now .)
Increasing encroachment there, vanishing green cover, and avaricious builders have forced the animals there to move east (to us) in search of water and food.

The leopards probably cover these miles in a few minutes, looking for food and water. Our lake is a big attraction. Sometimes the wild dogs and cattle on campus have shown sign of attacks and struggle. The campus straddles an area between a crowded arterial road and a wooded hilly area, and the leopard mostly appears in the latter. In keeping with the intellectual atmosphere supposed to pervade this place, the rear side of the library is favoured by wandering leopards. Every now and then Security issues notices asking families to ensure safety of small children and pets after sundown, and urges those who sense a leopard in the vicinity to make loud noise and burst fire crackers to keep the animal at a distance.

Students with a disabled sense of time, walking back from departments in the pre dawn darkness, have reported coming within shouting distance of a shining pair of sharp eyes, glowing at them. And at one time, the engineering students constructed a cage type contraption, where the leopard was lured in and it automatically banged shut. This enabled it to remained unmolested, and the residents safe, till it was handed over to the Forest department for taking it back , safely, with best wishes, to its maika, so to speak. Thousands of campus folks, children etc came daily to watch and take photographs.

But the monkeys have had a freer reign. They kind of emigrate to our campus late summers when there's a water shortage at their natural abode. They follow the immortal principle of safety in numbers. Besides having a lake with some water, thousands of trees to eat off and swing from, they have the pick of folks who they can fool and bother.

Ladies lugging back groceries suddenly see the loaf of bread , or juicy mangoes disappearing. The home delivery person coming on a bicycle with a full bag, suddenly starts coming in a three wheeler contraption with closable windows. And a young fellow , dreamily clutching a chikki and walking to his class, kicking a pebble here, splashing a puddle there, suddenly sees something snatch away his goodies.

Leave a window open, regardless of which floor you live on, and they are there, with complete family, sending scrawny baby monkeys in through narrow grills, who then ransack the place , and pass out goodies to those outside. I have even seen a monkey move a curtain aside, and peer out. Thanks to building fixtures that reach inoperative states and obsolescence extremely fast, folks going out of town , leaving a slight gap in a window, have come back to see entire kitchens in shambles, half eaten fruit rotting, and signs of wild living .

We learn . And we now have more innovative grills.

We've learnt to ignore the cow's superior heavy lidded cud chewing brush-off, and contrary to traffic rules outside, we give snakes the right of way.

I no longer have rat problems (touch wood), because unlike the politicians and the builder lobby they don't appear to be obsessed with high-rises.

Folks in an old multistoryed building near the lake, talk about a face to face encounter between a leopard and a watchman next to a lift, and a middle aged security officer has actually fought with an attacking leopard and proudly displays the stitches from the gashes.

Monkeys are a bit innovative, and they often manage to frighten people with a full teethed hissing grin after stealing and messing with food stuff and groceries. They also carry their young ones around, kind of introducing them to "Marauding and Fun for beginners".

But as in politics, the monkeys have powerful brethren. Monkeys that have been enjoying a season of marauding in the New Delhi premises occupied by our esteemed Members of Parliament, are now being subject to deterrence from one of their own tribe. Maybe the monkeys in Delhi are highly political.

MPs who normally glare at each other, and throw things , in Parliament, have come together, and contributed funds (no doubt reimbursable), to hire fellows who walk around with Langurs, who are like a mafia version of monkeys.

One look from a strolling Langur, and the monkeys scurry for cover . The Langurs are picking up Delhi stuff very very fast. So do the monkeys. When the Langur threatens, they retreat towards the Election Commission premises. Intelligent creatures.

The Langurs were even employed in the Common wealth Games. For the safety of the athletes. And they often rode pillion .

Just wondering.

Maybe I missed something, but was there a Langur Scam ?


  1. Ha Ha Ha Langur Scam! :)
    Btw, amazing description of the campus. I have heard these stories in bits n pieces over and again. :)
    'My sasuraal is so beautiful, I love going there' is a line that mildly shocked my colleagues. And I never bothered to explain why. Maybe I should send them this link :)

  2. Who knows ! Perhaps there is a scam lurking in the trees and swinging about !

    It must have been a glorious place back then...

  3. As usual enjoyed reading this post with background music of chafa bolena :)..felt like I am living in the same era. You got good sense of humor which shows while reading your posts .

    Indeed nice and complete post.

  4. I love reading what you share. A world that is so foreign to me.
    Now I can picture you - riding that 3 wheeler with a little holding on to you :)

  5. What an interesting place to stay in! I did my graduation and post graduation from Jawahar Lal Nehru University - a very wooded area and often when we looked out of our class rooms during monsoons we saw peacocks dancing outside. Neelgai and deer were abundant too !

  6. There are at least half a dozen langurs tied to the trees - in the campus of my workplace. They are hired I believe and their owners are paid for their services. I am not sure why though!

  7. A very delightful read indeed. Although I have coexisted with snakes, cows and mongoose ,the idea of sharing my neighbourhood with frightening leopards and menacing monkeys is scary to me.
    Hahaha , the langurs employed to shoo away the monkeys........just wondering if the idea can be extended to moneys of parliaments?

  8. 'Maybe I missed something, but was there a Langur Scam ?'
    Was there one such scam? ha, ha! wouldn't be surprised if it were so.

    BTW have you blocked me out? I was not able to post my comment to your previous post. I like to think that my brother's comp was not taking orders from me.Lemme see if this comment is published keeping my finger's crossed.

  9. Thank you !What an interesting and enjoyable post ! Made me realise what a dull life we lead .Our fauna is very tame with just farm animals, domestic cats, dogs,the odd pet rabbit,guinea pig,gerbil or hamster and the occasional visiting squirrel..Although a glimpse of frog or a toad might gives rise to excitement.with panic stations for a mouse and extreme trauma for a rat

  10. Have not seen this side of mumbai, seems to be interesting .. but i guess the COW Funda happens in all the cities we got that a lot in chandigarh too..
    but thankfully none in uk :)

    interesting to read about the leaopards and Langur scam I bet you r right i am sure hua hoga, the officers putting a different bill and giving the poor langur or the owner a bare minimal


  11. I love animals and would be fascinated to see a cow in the middle of the street. But spare me the other animals, including the monkeys. I'll take a cat and dog any time of the day :) They aren't as mischievous. Delightful description of the life there and great pictures!

  12. Wow and I thought I was living dangerously with a wayward clothesline in hot pursuit of me. That post was fascinating. I wouldnt mind the cows at all but the rest? No. I wish someone had taken a photo of you and your son with a cow in pursuit. You write so well that I imagined I was there experiencing all of this. Now the leopards would give me nightmares indeed and the rats come to think of it.