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Monkey business

By Nickunj Malik - Jun 16,2016 - Last updated at Jun 16,2016

Two monkey stories marked my childhood. One was called “Copycat Monkey” and the other was “Monkey and the Cats”. Those were not the exact titles of the fables but if I had written them, I would have called them that. These were didactic tales that used simple situations to underline a moral message, and most of the children in my home country India, had heard them. Or read them. Or watched them being performed on stage. But I doubt if anyone in the entire world could relate them better than my hundred-year-old grandmother. 

Now the thing is that my grandmother was not actually a century old, but she looked that, especially when she took off her dentures. The fact was that even she did not know her actual age because she was not given a birth certificate in the small village where she was born. They did not have any concept of it because she belonged to an era where births and deaths were calculated according to the natural calamities that occurred at the time. The year that she was delivered, there was a flood in the river that flowed near her house, but deluges were such a regular catastrophe in that area that by this statistic she could even be 200. Or more! Who could tell? 

But she was a magical storyteller especially when she recounted the monkey stories in different voices. Her cat voice was rasping and kittenish and quite different from her monkey voice which was chirpy and coquettish. In the first yarn, a queen lost her pearl necklace. After some investigation it was discovered that a monkey had stolen it. A wise minister in the king’s Cabinet got several glass-beaded ornaments made and distributed them to a bunch of monkeys who wore it around their necks. The one who had the pearl necklace wanted to show off by copying the rest and came out of hiding to boast that hers was better than the fake ones, and was caught. The moral of the story was that “truth was always revealed only after proper examination”.

In the second one, which was my favourite by far, there were two cats that came upon a loaf of bread. Now according to my grandmother’s mood, this would change into a piece of cake or a chunk of cheese or even a slab of cookie. The cats divided it into two portions, but one wedge was slightly bigger than the other. They went to a monkey to ask for his help. He took a bite from the bigger slice but this made the first one larger. So he took a bite from that one too. This carried on till both the pieces disappeared inside the stomach of the monkey who ran away saying that it was his fee for sorting out the problem. The moral to this tale was that “if you quarrelled, someone else gained”. 

I knew these parables by heart and waited for the part where my grandmother wriggled her bushy white eyebrows and asked us to repeat the cryptic moralising conclusion. 

“What did this story teach us?” she would test my brother. 

“I know the answer,” I would interrupt. 

“Such a show-off,” my sibling would smirk. 

“I am asking you,” my granny glared at him pointedly. 

“No quarrelling,” he muttered. 

“In other words?” she would raise her voice. 

“Be nice to your sister,” he answered. 

 

“Correct!” my grandma and I would chorus together.

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Comments

Wonderful read, Nickunj M! I find this title so appropriate ‘Monkey business’. You can fool some people all the time and all the people some of the time, but you can make monkey out of the voters every five years, in our country.

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