This photograph is 18 months in the making. It’s my first, and only capture of the descendants of Hanuman who frequent this patch of paradise. Since it’s not National Geographic quality, and there’s only the one shot, I’ll need to tell you a little about ‘my’ monkeys, and how I managed to steal into this mother’s life for one brief moment.
The group is not resident – they don’t live on my roof, or in the mango trees, or the cinnamon tree on my property, nor in the trees, palms or roofs of my neighbours’ houses – rather, our roofs, trees and fences form part of their terrestrial ‘long paddock‘. My sweet, delicious mangos are a firm favourite, and so too the tiny berries of the cinnamon tree, the lone remnant of the Fonseka plantation that once sprawled across this ridge above the swampy land that is now the Parliament precinct.
In the mornings, the big male swings by, his otherworldly whoop announcing the imminent arrival of the entire troupe. They might tarry a while in the cinnamon, picking with extraordinary dexterity the tiny greeny/mustard berries which decorate candelabra clusters at the end of the old tree’s branches. Depending on the season, our monkeys can choose from a plethora of fruit, flowers and leaves awaiting them in the gardens of my neighbours. There are mangoes, of course, and many varieties of banana, huge hoary jak, and scaly custard apple, sour ambarella (beloved by humans as a tangy curry, or as an appetizer, with lots of chilli and salt), medicinal belli, pretty pink juicy jambu, fragrant guava, and many other delights I have yet to identify.
Grey langurs are shy creatures, and ‘mine’ are wild animals, leery of people, ever watchful for danger. In the time I have been here, I have only twice, now, met the gaze of one of my simian visitors. Camera always at the ready here on the desk, I have crept forward on silent feet to get a shot as someone sits, fleetingly in the mango tree outside my bedroom window, or plucking berries from the cinnamon candelabras above the garage. It’s as though they sense my presence, rather than see me, for I have only occasionally ever seen them clearly. Twice, though, the old male has come down to drink from the lily pot on my bedroom terrace, springing silently from the mango to the wall, and climbing warily onto the chair – placed just there, the better to watch the tiny mosquito catchers darting about under the safety of the lily pads. The first time he came, I’d barely risen from my chair before be sprang up, turned in midair and leapt for the safety of the mango, and thence the roof. The second time, I’d crept as far as the bedroom door before he lifted his head. Water dripping from his ruff, he regarded me closely before turning, and seemingly dematerialized, so fluid was his escape. Until yesterday.
Yesterday I was standing at the little window in my bathroom, admiring the garden below. I could hear a monkey coming my way from the trees next door. Out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed movement as a grey shape landed in the coconut palm beside the fence. I lost sight of it until it reappeared on a frond of the tree, a banana held aloft in its right hand, a baby strapped to her belly, and proceeded to walk on three hands down the dipping frond, and thence along the fence, before leaping up to my neighbour’s roof, and hiding under an overhang. Maybe because she had her back to me, I was able to slip out to the desk, grab and load the camera and return to my position by the window. Slowly, she emerged from the shadows and sat under the custard apple tree, peeling away the crisp, unripe skin from the banana with her lips. I could barely breath as I aimed the camera, missing the instant when she motioned the infant to take the fruit from her hand – but the camera caught it, and the sound of the shutter reminded her of my presence. It seemed a simultaneous movement of baby re-attaching itself, and the mother looking up to regard me. The next moment, she was gone, over the roof and into the trees beyond.
Strange, they haven’t been back today. It’s as though they fear I’ve captured her spirit, as some tribespeople do.
Without further ado, I present to you: young Hanuman, now on solids.
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