Kanpur, and my pet orangutan..

There is a 28-year old orangutan at the Allen Forest Zoo in Kanpur. He was a friend..

When we used to live there, Kanpur was a lesser polluted city perhaps. And the part of town we used to stay in, was a niche in its own.. The area in our backyard was a sprawling forest covering a significant area, and deep within it was a meandering canal named Thandi pulia.. Thandi, for the place was at least 5 degrees cooler than the city itself!

And beyond it, on the other end of the woods, were ruins of a hospital for the lepers. I have never been there, but I have heard about it from my mom.. The forest was a measure of quarantine in earlier times of the hospital. Now it stands desolate..

For reasons such as proximity, I was made familiar with considerably-wild animals (if not tigers!) from a very young age.. I would have almost learnt the timely calls of peacocks and other birds and what they meant had I lived there any longer; I was however, familiar with the timely visits made by the monkeys, langurs, raccoon, foxes and others, such as these.. There was always a raccoon in our bins, searching for food.. Peacocks in our garden! Once my mum caught me tapping on the glass panes of the window from inside, while eating a banana and a langur was staring at me, tapping on the window from the other side.. His black face and red eyes apparently made no scary impressions on me..

Thank God, I still hadn’t read Michael Crichton's Congo back then!

...

See? Reminiscing about Kanpur and my wild beginnings (LOL!) made me forget what I started writing about.. I was talking about my Orangutan friend! Firstly, NO, he didn’t belong to the forests behind my house.. He was, perhaps always, an esteemed resident of the Kanpur zoo..

The first time I was taken to the zoo, was with my dad and mom, and I had a banana in my hand.. I love bananas, yes, for some sustained, obscure evolutionary reasons of my primal origin maybe.. but I like bananas a lot! So, here too, I had a banana in my hand.. No wonder the monkey-cages were in absolute chaos!!

We saw this animal, we saw that animal, and then we came across this ground that holds within, two Orangutans – red in color, super hairy and too much of loose skin hanging around! The grounds had trees providing plenty of shades and a wide moat around it.. One of the orangutans were basking under the sun, while the other one was.. staring!

Staring directly at me! Or as I confirmed later, the banana.. Then it started walking towards me slowly, eyes sharp, expression unhinged, and movement unperturbed.. I made sure the moat was wide enough and glanced sideways to make sure my mum and dad were there.. The Orangutan stopped just at the other side of the moat and raised its arm towards me and opened its palm. A gesture, asking me for the banana!!

Suddenly I was the central attention among the public..

Everybody wanted to snatch off the banana from me, the 6 year old and give it off to the beast on the other side of the muddy water.. My dad asked me if I wanted to give, and that was when I almost felt obliged to give it up to the ape! I threw the banana as a missile, over to the other side and the monkey caught it in one hand, without much ado.. Show off!


Then it started jumping, making screeching sounds, showing teeth (a LOT of the sparkling white teeth!), and swaying its elongated arms wildly.. Man, it was happy! Even the lazy-ass-of-a-mate Orangutan lifted it’s head to see about the commotion. It went back to its slumber as this one refused to share the banana..

The trainer then came to us and said ‘Mangal is very happy! He says thank you..’ Mangal was the Orangutan that took my banana.. and it wasn’t so bad after all!

We started making repeated trips to the zoo after that, started looking after Mangal indirectly, feed it and well, just to make sure that it is there.. Give it some company, some more bananas.. We started knowing each other very well ever since, until the day we left Kanpur..

Mangal, meaning auspicious or prosperity is also the Devanagari name for the planet Mars..

...

10 years later, I and dad visited Kanpur again and surely made a trip to the zoo.. It’ll bring tears to the eyes if you see the condition of the zoo now, it’s a widely discussed and debated topic so I won’t comment much on that except only to say that we’re not disappointing anyone, this is always expected of us, anthropocentric narcissus that we are..

We went straight to the Orangutan enclosure and noticed lesser trees and more number of animals – about four now.. We didn’t know whether the beast I had made friends with was there anymore; the trainer was a different one anyways.. We hung around for sometime, the crowd around me was transient, a popcorn crowd – no bananas in sight!!

Dad broke the silence, shouted ‘MANGAL!’ called his name out loud.. twice, with halved expectations the other time..

The crowd turned, the animals turned, everyone taken aback.. but there was only one old, weak and fragile ape staggering its way towards us – Mangal! Me and dad had debated the mortality of apes, before coming to the zoo.. but the old son-of-a-beast didn’t die on us!! It took ages to come, with teeth all bared out again.. some broken, some blackened.. but the smile was no smaller than any I’ve ever seen in my life!

We took out the bunch of bananas that we had brought along and hurled it towards Mangal. He couldn’t catch it, but the enthusiasm was the same old, familiar one.. Only this time, it went back to the rest of his family to share it.. Minutes later, it walked back flanked by a female orangutan, possibly his wife.. and around them were little red balls of impish restlessness – grandchildren!

The scene was akin to the scene from Forrest Gump where Lieutenant Dan visits Forrest on his wedding day.. you just cannot describe it.. tears may roll down your eyes, but you don’t know how to describe the emotion in words..

The trainer came to us, a huge smile on his face, as we had given his audience quite a show.. ‘Aap Mangal ko jaante hain, sahib?’ Sir, how do you know Mangal?

‘Yes, He is an old friend of ours..’

...

A very old one indeed.. Sometimes, I’m sorry I grew up, I’m sorry I moved, I’m sorry time doesn’t stop, I’m sorry things don’t stay the same, I’m just sorry I pull away, I’m sorry I have to leave friends, I’m sorry that I have to miss them..

11 comments:

  1. A moving piece! the wordplay,the artistic splash of words, what elegance! This piece kindles something in our hearts; stirs up emotions of a bygone era! Absolutely marvelous!
    on another note: hows Virology going? :D

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    1. HEYY!! I was reminded of you a few days back.. Virology is going stronger, day by day, this semester! I'll text you on fb a few queries of mine.. :) and thanks for the comment!

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  2. Deep you have taken my heart, my tears rolling down. You are really a very good human being. May God bestow all its grace upon you. Ma is also besides me and extending her blessings to. You have taken us back to very old days. I must appreciate your memory - you still remember Mangal? Do you remember squirrel monkeys which had to die of tuberculosis after catching infections from the nearby TB Hospital there. Doesn't it remind of gas chambers?
    You have used fabulous vocabulary and given beautiful form to the whole story. You are maturing day by day. Congratulation!! Now need a bigger platform.

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    1. Thank you baba.. i don't remember the squirrel monkeys though.. i hardly remember things from kanpur except in the general abstract.. but Mangal is an important milestone that can not be forgotten.. and thanks, i really am easing into the writing now.. things come more smooth and swiftly..

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  3. very well written article, also the way you have presented it is really appealing to the reader.....

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  4. This is beautiful..

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    1. Why thank you!! I'm feeling all kinds of love here.. LOL! Thanks..

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  5. Loved it Deeptiman...toucing..simple..poignant.guess ur baba was most touched by this post..

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