As it turned out, the Fish Food Treaty of 2014 was to be forged under the tutelage of my sister. Not surprisingly in the five months after the last incident preceding her arrival, absolutely nothing was accomplished in moving towards peace. Well, not nothing exactly. I spoke about it briefly once at the breakfast table and I did smile (somewhat crookedly) at a monkey in downtown Delhi….from the back of a Tuk Tuk…a fast moving Tuk Tuk…I’m positive he saw me…and waved back. Nonetheless, my sister was here and as expected, wanted to crusade deeply into monkey held territory. So we did; and with very pleasing result.
Monkeys 5 – Hippy 3 (actual)
Monkeys 3 – Hippy 1 (current)
The Fish Food Treaty
The Lakshman Jhula Bridge is the older of two bridges that span The Ganges River in Rishikesh, completed in 1929 and built on the very spot it is said that Lakshmana crossed Ganges on jute ropes. Rishikesh is a holy city, on the banks of a holy river; so by default, this makes Lakshman Jhula a holy bridge. Consequently, on most days, you will find it swollen and swaying with Hindu devotees praying and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.
Part of the activities also include the blessing of, and subsequent tossing of fish food into the river as offerings. This activity prompts the ever industrious Indian salesmen to permanently camp at either end of the bridge, selling small packets of fish food at very reasonable prices. To Indians of course, and then there are the outrageously inflated costs for tourists. Fortunately, I speaka da lingo… these transactions however, along with the perpetual tossing of free food into the river also draw the attention of something far more sinister…the simian scourge.
The monkeys hang about the entrance to the bridge, running and playing, jumping and swaying, basically being exceedingly charming and decidedly not attempting to eat any humans. In this way they coax the unsuspecting owners of newly purchased fish food that they, the snuggly cute monkey populous, are much more worthy recipients than the unseen (and un-performing) fish of the tasty treats!! Devious. Evil. Typically Monkeylike.
My sister was of course immediately drawn to this Charade d’adorable as she is a sweet, caring and nurturing woman. Before I could utter but a single denial, the deed was done. She had fed a monkey. He wasn’t large, but big enough; my guess was infantry…possibly airborne, but no more than a Lieutenant in rank. A small consolation. Shuddering, I started to accept the defeat and then to my horror, she insisted I feed him as well! In order to “get a couple of nice pictures”! What was I to do? She was so insistent and so thrilled with the idea. Reluctantly, I agreed.
I won’t detail the content of the somewhat complex conversation that followed. It’s best not reviled to the civilian population. I can tell you it started as a heated argument, then mellowed to a discussion, and eventually closed as a conversation, all in very hushed tones as not to arouse the suspicion of those around us. We said what needed to be said, we agreed upon what needed to be agreed upon, and then went our separate ways. Me, with a slightly saucy and victorious smile and him, cheeks bulging with fish food.
My sister was perplexed as to why it took me three bags of food to get a simple photograph; why it had taken so much to accomplish what she had done with one or two pieces. Again, I chose the route of non disclosure, to protect the innocent. But it was done. I was shocked, relieved and very, very proud of myself. Almost three years after it had begun, I had negotiated, albeit a fragile one, a ceasefire between Man and Monkey. I simply could not wait to return to Delhi and share the news with my princess bride, who, though ever supportive, never really did understand the politics of it all.
A few days later at the Haridwar Rail Station while waiting for our return train to Delhi, my sister and I were scouted. Reconned, scrutinized, observed, intel’d, sleuthed, shadowed and eyeballed….man, they checked us out. I did nothing, I made no move, I began no assault. I displayed no aggressive behavior at all. They sat, quietly, apparently as fuzzy normal as can be. As I watched, the dispatch monkey left for headquarters to report of my peaceful departure and I was suddenly hopeful…..this cease fire just may hold.
The months that followed were lovely. Unrestricted travel, laughter and sunlight, free trade and art ensued. While it is true I kept a watchful eye, the enemy seemed abated. That is of course until the shattering of the peace. The dismantling of the cease fire was accomplished with a single, reckless incident of stairwell thuggery, now known only as The Stairwell Thuggery Incident. Once again the Monkeys drew first blood; and this time, it was unprovoked and from the innocent!
My wife is a Government Official and as such, she follows no time clock. She works when required, often late nights at the office alone or with skeleton staff. It was at the conclusion of one of these late nights while leaving the building (via the stairwell as the elevators shut down after hours) it happened. Two (most probably) common foot soldiers had taken up position on the landing between the second and third floor. She came down the stairs, surprising them, and then was assaulted with a salvo of unnerving looks, followed by a volley of grunts and chirpy noises. She retreated with haste to the safety of her office until a maintenance man could be summoned to clear them out. I trembled with rage upon hearing the news………unprovoked….uncalled for…..my wife! It was on…so very, very on!
Monkeys 4 – Hippy 1
It was time to change the battleground. I had no advantage in Rishikesh or Delhi; they knew the terrain. I decided to spin the tables.
The Thailand monkeys seem docile enough, but I had fallen for that once before, in Nepal. Not here, not now, not on Phi Phi Island. The sun, surf and overwhelming beauty of the island did nothing to dilute my vigilance. As we crammed on to the bow of a speed boat after lunch and cruised around the island, the other tourists were relaxed, chatting and snapping pictures. Not I. I was on alert. I knew Phi Phi island was home to Monkey Beach and I knew that’s where we were headed. As our cruiser pulled closer to the shore just slightly away from the crowded beach, the monkeys started clambering down the trees to get close.
Much to the delight of the unknowing tourists from Australia, the UK and America, I stayed back as the crew of the boat distributed bits of crackers to feed them with. “I can feed monkeys at home” I barked when offered the fodder, “there is nothing special about them at all!” I sat firmly on the bow bench as the crewman shrugged and the others scowled at me. Then, as I watched the others toss food to the outstretched greedy paws of the increasing primate horde, a dastardly plan hatched. “Good sir..?” I called, “perhaps I have been a wee bit hasty. I will have a smatter of the monkey bait…errrrr, food I mean.”
With a fistful of crackers, I elbowed my way mercilessly to the tip of the bow. I joined the women and children there tossing bits of food and squealing with mirth. A sadistic grin cracked my stony scowl as I picked out the ugliest, most vile monkey in the squad and began to toss him cracker bits. He gobbled them like a pig of course! I am yet to meet a soldier in any army who is not perpetually hungry. My battle plan hinged on that undeniable fact. The arc trajectory of my food delivery slowly began to tighten and as expected, the greedy little primate leaned a bit further out to catch it. Each shortened throw caused him to lean a tad more, eventually he would have to choose between food and….just a smige further…one more…that’s it…come on you filthy…. SPLASH!!!
Monkeys 4 – Hippy 2
We may stumble and fall, but shall rise again; it should be enough if we did not run away from the battle. -Mahatma Gandhi
That, it was to be.The retaliation came swiftly. Once again in the enemy held territory of Rishikesh, I was feeling confident after the dealing out last decisive and humiliating blow to thine enemy. I was strolling around one of my favorite places on earth without any fear. Surely I had won. Undoubtedly, news had traveled up the chain of command and it was over; supreme victory attained. Surely they would concede the war under the threat of being drowned!
In celebration, we engaged in one of our most cherished Rishikesh activities….the feeding of the sacred cows. It was during this peaceful observance they launched the counter offensive. Shortly after we started distributing the foodstuffs, I was barbarously relieved of my apple supply by a blitzkrieg guerrilla strike. A well planned and coordinated attack. It was over in a heartbeat. Still feeling sticky monkey digits sullying my hands, I was left stunned in the realization they had now stooped to stealing food from the virtuous. An appalling and atrocious act! This was no longer war, it was a massacre.
Monkeys 5 Hippy 2
Several weeks later, I was holed up in a small hotel room just outside of Garhmukhteshwar, strategically substandard and almost indefensible, my nerves frazzled, all my logic and strategies gone. The horrible monsoon rains of the last few days had washed away what was left of my hope….it was all but dead. I was trying to reconcile the fact that this war was futile. I was engaging an enemy that held every advantage. The war was all but lost.They had the numbers, they had the intel and they had absolutely no regard for who got hurt. It had been the better part of four years, this ongoing and merciless fight. Could I do it? Could I possibly soldier on in the face of such a villainous adversary? Or was this the final stand?
I looked across the room at my princess bride, she was munching on peanut chiki and watching TV, seemingly unaffected. I began to wonder how this horrible conflict had seemed to her. Was it honorable and just? Was I fighting a crusade for purity and righteousness? Or did she find it gratuitous…, iniquitous. Suddenly she pointed at the window, “Aww, so cute” she said; I followed her gaze. Our perimeter was being probed and she referred to it as cute. Cute. CUTE!!
The tears welled in my eyes and mentally, I conceded. All was lost; the war was over and unwinnable. I stood slowly and charged the flash from my Nikon. Sobs overtook me as I walked towards the window. Looking at the grey world outside, then back at my wife, tears streaming down my face now as I mouthed the words “I love you“ to her and pressed the flash to the glass. The scout pressed his nose to it on the other side of the window, curious to the end. Exhaling slowly, I willed my tears to stop and pulled the trigger. The bright flash filled the room; I heard his wail of shock and anguish as he lurched back in surprise… off the window and fell….This, I vowed in silence, this is where it shall end.