India-Letters #6: "Monkeys & More"

October 5, 1999

Dear friends,

Thanks for all the caring messages about my typhoid
adventure. We met an American here in Bangalore a few weeks
back who had had typhoid fever some years ago while living
in Cambodia. It made me feel quite lucky. My case was a walk
in the park compared to hers.

There's been quite a delay since my last letter, and in the
short time I have left here (we depart Bangalore on October
31st), I'm going to try switching tactics. From now on, each
e-mail will just contain a single story rather than a small
collection of them, as I had been sending. I think the
collection-format is superior edutainment, but I think you
all would rather receive something rather than never receive
something else that might be superior.

I'm not sure what it is about being here, but daily life
seems so much more full of surprises than it did back home.
Come to think of it, it also seems so much more full of...
monkeys. Read on... --

THE MONKEY-TACO STORY PART 1 (by guest columnist Meeta

So, I'm out running errands (this a few months ago) and it's
around lunchtime. I think it was a Sunday actually. Luke was
just starting to feel sick and I was getting over a bad cold
so we had been eating brown rice consistently for days.

I had gone out to the local coffee shop to spend some time
alone, writing in my journal. On the way home, I stopped by
Food World, the local supermarket, to pick up some groceries
(some more brown rice, I think!). It so happened that it was
the last day of a Mexican Food Festival that had been going
for a week, so I decided to have a taco.

The festival was being run by our new friend Ragunath who
used to live in New York and worked in a pizza place in Penn
Station! He started making Mexican food in Bangalore after
he and his family moved back to India. His daughter demanded
that he either make Mexican food for her or take her back to
New York!

Anyway, I chatted with Ragunath, ate my taco (minus the sour
cream, of course) and got one to go for Luke, who, poor
thing, was home blowing his nose.  (I know he shouldn't have
been eating a taco, but you know, when it's the last taco
you might be having for three and a half months, you eat the
taco even though it may not be the healthiest thing in the

Here's the crazy part (as if Mexican food made in India
isn't nuts enough!). I walk home, enter our apartment
complex, bypass the elevator, and start up the five flights
of stairs to our flat. I round the landing of the third
floor, and there's a monkey staring right at me!

Well, he (or she, I'm not sure) started coming towards me.
To be more specific, he was heading directly towards the
safely-guarded taco for Luke in my left hand. I said,
"No!"... and then repeated myself in Hindi... just in case.

Well, the monkey was pretty persistent, so I backed up and
pushed the elevator button, hoping to make my escape.
Unfortunately, someone had left the elevator door open on
another floor, so no elevator was coming to my rescue. I
looked down into the shopping bag in my right hand and
contemplated throwing a tomato at it but decided that I
needed the tomato for dinner that night.

The monkey was still coming towards my left hand so I called
down the stairwell for Devu (our elevator/mail/delivery/just
a cool guy) and he came, and right behind him were two more
monkeys! In my stammering Hindi, I told him I was scared and
he kind of shooed the monkeys away (they were almost as big
as Luke's  eight-year-old sister Monica!) and I ran up the
stairs and rang our doorbell as fast as I could. Luke opened
the door, and I rushed inside. Then, mumbling about monkeys,
I handed him his (by now slightly soggy) taco and breathed a
huge sigh of relief.



A sign appeared on the notice board of our apartment block.
It read:

        A, B, & C BLOCKS

          N O T I C E

 Families in 'B' Block are making
 it a regular practice of feeding
 monkeys every day.

 This is encouraging the monkeys
 who after the feed ransak [sic]
 various apartments daily in A, B
 & C Blocks.

 We need to have a collective
 approach towards such
 problems. We request those
 families not to encourage in
 feeding the monkeys.
       By order
       Committee A,B & C Blocks

Meeta saw the problem herself walking downstairs one day
recently. There's an apartment on the third floor that has a
bamboo mat over its doorway and the inhabitants keep their
door open most of the time. As Meeta came down the flight of
stairs she heard footsteps running through the apartment. A
man emerged yelling and following a monkey which was holding
a bunch of yellow bananas. The monkey leapt past Meeta onto
the landing halfway up the stairs and began eating a banana.
The man stood outside his apartment looking at the monkey,
shaking his head with a smile.


THE MONKEY-TACO STORY PART 3 (by guest columnist Brad Paton)

"I almost forgot to mention the most exciting bit of news
since arriving in Bangalore. On returning from our day in
the city yesterday (including two rounds of bowling, at
which I at least broke 100!!), we discovered that monkeys
had broken into Luke and Meeta's apartment and managed to
steal a bag of snacks, which they left half-eaten on the
outside sill, and knock over the top of a pot of chick peas.
So I fixed their window so it would at least close, and in
the process broke one of the claws off their hammer (cheap
steel!). Entertaining at least."



On the label of a hand-woven shirt Meeta got for me: "Top
quality, Coulourfast, Gentle to skin, No sensitive, Won't
cause cancer"

In a newspaper advertisement: "Now! First time in Bangalore.
 Bread with Expiry Date."

In an ad for a scooter: "Family-sized!"

On a big billboard in the heart of town. "Diet Pepsi. 1
calorie / great tast." I kid you not. I even took a picture
of it:

Pepsi. Great tast.


That's it for now. More soon...

All my best, Luke