Monkey Stories and Chinese Catapults in Ceylon
I decided to pen this down having seen imported Chinese catapults selling street hawkers in the City of Kandy.
They are meant to harm and injure monkeys who venture into human habitat.
1. 50 years ago
Even though monkey population has dwindled over the past 50 years the remaining population is treated as unwelcome guests in this Buddhist city of Kandy.
What made me to write this was a baby monkey’s plight and the mother monkeys resolve to retrieve it from disaster.
But let me list few of the encounters I had with them.
Unlike 50 years ago, monkeys have become aggressive and fierce.
If a foreign visitor sees a monkey in anywhere in this country do not try to befriend them.
It is a very risky and they will bite you and you may have to get the anti-rabies vaccination.
This was not so when we were kids.
If I (we) wanted a mango,what I used to do was to throw a piece of wood at the tall mango tree avoiding the monkeys.
If monkeys did ignore my act, on the first instance, I would throw another just close enough (not directing at them) to the young monkeys (The King Monkey would be guarding the retinue from an advantage point).
It yielded the intended result.
Young but stupid monkey would pick one ripe mango and throw at us holding firmly the other ripe mango in its left hand.
Young monkeys love to imitate our actions by default.
So I pick up the mango and eat it on my way to school.
Kandy city had enough trees, especially mango trees (the best small variety I loved was Mee Amba- I hate fleshy Kartha Kolumbo) of different varieties which the Reverend Mahinda Thera discovered with his encounter with the King Devanampiya Tissa (which is very well documented in our history).
It was then the level of intelligence that was the subject matter.
In my piece here, it is the level of stupidity and disregard for mother nature that is intended to depict.
Buddhism is a deep philosophy and a high level of intelligence is needed to grasp the subject.
It was only after testing his level of intelligence that the Thera preached to him the Dhamma. The dialogue between the king and Arhat Mahinda which is known as the Intelligence test is as follows.
Mighty King, What is this tree? (pointing at the Mango tree which was near by)
It is a mango tree
Are there any other mango trees other than this tree?
Yes, there are several
Are there any trees other than this mango tree and other mango trees?
Yes, But those trees are not mango trees.
Are there any trees other than those mango trees and the trees which are not mango?
Yes, It is this mango tree
Do you have relatives?
Are there any one who is not related to you?
Are there anyone else other than those who are your relatives and non relatives?
Yes, It is me.
Satisfied with his level of intelligence, Arhat Mahinda preached to him Chulla Haththipadopama Sutta. The king soon became a follower of the Buddha. Then Arhat Mahinda ordained Banduka and preached Samachiththa Pariyaya Sutta to the gathering.
2. Encounter with a Photo Frame
30 years ago, we still had monkey visitors to our neighborhood but without any discordance.
They pick a few mangoes from our garden and then move forward.
I had just returned from UK and I gave my father in law a tiny but beautiful photo frame (I forget what the inscription was) as souvenir.
He had a tiny cubicle separate from the main house for his meditation activities.
He kept the door and window opened and was chatting with us.
Then, I noticed a monkey descending from a tall Kotta (Cotton) tree towards the roof. I just wanted to watch (hiding) what the monkey was up to.
He entered through the window and I knew that he was up to pick something that attracted it.
Mind you it was the picture frame (souvenir) it grabbed.
In a flash, he was up the cotton tree and I tried my primitive skill of throwing something at him and expecting him to return the favour.
But this monkey was not stupid enough like the yesteryear monkeys, took to his swing and in a moment was away from our garden.
I distinctly remember it regarding its own picture as a shadow as it was ascending the tree.
I had gone wild for moment but had not trained sufficiently enough then to reflect meditatively of my monkey predicament.
3. Recent Encounter in Kandy
I can be bit reflective of the recent incident.
I visit the city briefly and return no sooner my jobs are attended, mainly in the evening.
This day, I visited the city in the morning and finished my work and was coming towards the bus halt.
There was bit of a pandemonium going on and as usual a crowd of people gathered there watching the unfolding scenario.
I generally avoid these encounters but was inquisitive enough to casually asses the situation.
At a distance I saw something like a splashed banana skin (triangular in shape), if I did not see it, I would have involuntarily trod on it.
It was a tiny monkey face down (face not visible but covered by the trunk).
It looked dead but second thought knew that it had fallen down from the tall pipal tree and concussed.
My immediate response was to act as a traffic warden.
I hid behind a make shift shed (right in the middle of the road) avoiding eye contact with the mother monkey.
I stood across the road so that I prevented the three wheeler (from behind) drivers won’t run across the pour soul.
People coming from front, I diverted towards the crowd that had gathered and was enlarging.
In about five minutes it lifted its head but still hanging down and the mother on the ground at a distance was watching the progress.
The rest of the monkeys of the pack were on the pipal tree.
The rest of the monkeys of the pack were on the pipal tree.
Then a stupid guy threw some water from a bottle and I said don’t in a high voice and thankfully the water did not reach the baby monkey.
It is a height of stupidity and water does not have a place when somebody is concussed (injured) it might choke and kill instead.
This was the crescendo event and the mother monkey fiercely charged at the offender crossing the road and passing the baby in its move.
Then the baby lifted its head for a moment and then the mother approached it but it slumped back to stupor and the mother retreated back.
Then in about a few minutes it regained it composure and clung to the belly of the mother.
I was expecting the mother to pick the baby up and to my enlightenment it is not the monkey way of baby care.
It had to cling to the mother while she does the jumping and it failed in its repertoire and fell from her (tree) belly in the first instance.
The mother trained it for the second time, cling hard and firm.
In a flash the mother was up on the tree and another young monkey came across the road and charged at the crowd, especially the guy who threw water and retreated having displayed its fierce gesture.
I failed to realize that there was a monkey sitting on the roof of the shed, right above my head ready to attack.
A women seated in a bus, a slight distance away from this scene, alerted me and I quietly walked back "saying to the monkey" now that you got the baby back why not pull back to the trees.
I believe, if you talk gently to these monkeys they seem to understand and become adaptable to the human presence.
With that friendly command they retreated without much a do.
These monkeys are very aggressive, not docile like the old monkeys.
Then I related this story to the bus driver and he told me in a near by village a bus had run over a monkey on the road and for a day the monkey pack had stopped buses plying on that road till night fall.
Long time ago (15 years ago) I saw a baby monkey had fallen off from a electric post and dead on the pavement with the brain exposed.
I did not have the patience to watch what the pack’s response was then.
4. Grieving Monkey
A bus driver in Ampara had befriended a lonely monkey.
This guy unfortunately had died recently.
I saw this monkey landing on the front of the bus and looking at the driver and not finding the diseased driver and moving onto another bus.
I was told this went on for weeks and I have not seen it again.
It used to ply on the top of the bus from Ampara to Kandy looking for his human friend.
This is getting lengthy and I will close up with few lines.
As kids I used to partake mangoes as a gift from monkeys.
Now we do not have monkeys nor mango trees in the city of Kandy.
As Parents I used to guard against monkeys stealing food from my daughter’s mid day pack.
These monkeys did not fear the dogs.
In actual fact, dogs feared them.
I had the habit of feeding monkeys with ice cream packed in plastic balls.
The Wall’s Ice cream made these ice cream balls.
I leave few of these plastic balls on the tree trunks.
They come down and grab them and get a freezing shock but in a few trial and error encounters open the lid on top and enjoy the ice cream just like our kids do.
I have heard a family who moved (probably to enter the kids to a school in Kandy) into a residence in Kandy had poisoning monkeys.
Our closest evolutionary link is treated as Unwanted Guests in this Buddhist City.
That is the evolution of the modern business man.