"Enda da korangacha , Chandi ithra thenjada?" ( Hey , Mr Monkey man , why's your bum so red ? ) - Arundhati Roy
in continuation of – Retreat
Years later , as we sat observing a chameleon turn ochre from green , which rather appeared like the garden proselytizing it from Islam to Hinduism , I was reminded of that old rustic bazaar littered with big fat pigs ( I do apologize but that’s the word) on the way to which we were required to cross a bridge.
The March hare , with whom I was doomed to spend the entirety of my childhood and adolescence , had already taught me the skill of picking up hailstones from the verandah during heavy rains. We had returned to the city of Patna.
8 : Monkey Man
The March Hare , who is called so because of his strange incompetence during the month of March , in which the final exams were held yearly , had now acquired the strange habit of biting cuticles ( which is, the part of skin just coming out from under the nails) , much to the chagrin of the mother . The mother , I came to know , was quite apprehensive about trimming nails with a nail-cutter and preferred her skills with the good old blade , as an outcome of which , I was quite apprehensive about having her trim my nails .
The revelation was startling, though , that a nail grown white could be cut out from the body without hurting any more than the burst of a chewing-gum bubble.
The aforementioned bazaar littered with pigs had a name – Anand Bazaar , the bazaar of bliss , which proved to be ironical as the mother gave it a name which meant ‘the bazaar of filth’. It was through the streets of this bazaar that I saw a curious thing , a bird which couldn’t keep flying for long. The mother enlightened me about my discovery by saying that it was a hen. I only realized it later that Mr Hen ( which should be Mrs) was waiting there in the bazaar for someone to buy and butcher him (her) in return of a few pieces of paper bearing the face of a bald and bespectacled man.
On the roads of Anand Bazaar , the March Hare mostly kept mum , except keeping me busy with his silly puzzles concerning the order of occurrence of an egg and a hen , and of orange being a color or a fruit. ( I concluded this conundrum years later). The reason behind his silence was that the cane-wielding tutor my parents had sought out for him ( who was a Moslem) lived somewhere in that bazaar.
On one of my earliest visits to the bazaar , the mother had taken me to a mosque ( though staunch Hindus we were) to get me charmed by the occult powers of the Mawlana’s breath captured inside an amulet.
One ebbing sunlit ochre evening , the March Hare found what he called would be the instrument in our forever and unforeseen turn into riches. We were trying to dig a hole with our bat to push a wicket in , when he sensed something rigid. On scorching the Earth a little further , we came in possession of a shiny silver coin bearing the head of someone who looked like a sailor embossed on one side. He took it to be a dollar and though he didn’t explain it , I knew intuitively, that a dollar was a much valued gem which turned up once in a blue moon to very , very lucky children digging wickets.
We kept our secret with ourselves , and after dinner, when we were sure there was no one within earshot , revealed it to the father who dismissed it with a laugh saying it was a plastic coin painted over. Nevertheless, we kept the coin for several weeks with us until our interests were dissuaded by the new menace that haunted the nights of Patna – ‘Monkey man : the scourge of Patna’.
Streets those days were filled with the talks of Monkey man. Haunts frequented by our circles , which included the big boys who were wiser , became the breeding grounds for rumours and news.
When the power went out , people drove out into the roads and walked along their groups. Ladies with other ladies , children with their gangs. Men preferred sitting on the verandahs or lawns with their company.
One moonlit night , when the power was out , one of the big boys explained to us , the exact method of the crime. In a circle we sat listening and he told us how the Monkey man disfigured the faces of those who fell into his hands , most of the accounts were of people sleeping on their terraces. He led us to our terrace and showed , with gesticulations , how the Monkey man may proceed with our murder.
For months we jettisoned even the mere desires of going to the terrace. Fortunately, no one was harmed but almost everyone claimed having seen the Monkey man in an obscure memory. Even I remember having seen in a newspaper , a hazy picture of someone perched high upon a tree.
Returning from school , we saw the trees had a red patch painted on their trunk , lettered over which , in white paint, was a number allocated to every tree. This was the army’s trick to curb the nuisance of tree cutters who fled with trees every now and then. Every tree had a number now, and they’d know if a tree was cut down.
The mania spread like a pestilence all over the city and it wasn’t long before all trees had a number painted on their bark. One fine afternoon , the father turned into the house with a round roll in his hand and proclaimed – “this thing here , kids , is a tape . It can keep things stuck together” , after which he pulled out a pen , cut out pieces of paper , and embarked on his quest to label each and every conceivable thing that fell into his hands – TV, raisin jars , jars of ginger , pickle , combs , mirrors , guinea pigs , stabilizer, fans , mugs , pens , books, carom board and every other thing in the house had been labelled before evening.
The contagious trick had laid its charm upon the wise baron and it was a very hard time dissuading him from labeling electric poles , buffaloes and perhaps , the moon too.
Years later , I picked up an atlas book and searched the map of Patna feverishly for a place labelled with the name, Anand Bazaar.
Read further – clover and asphalt
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