The day began beautifully, with clear skies and a sunny warmth that had been missing for months. On the ramp down to the main road, I noticed a rhododendron tree that appeared to have blossomed just overnight. I walked slowly and watched, out of the corner of my eyes, as monkeys chomped at the leafy goodness. Reaching the main road with no difficulty, I picked up my pace until I reached a briskness that matched the fecundity of my outer surroundings and the optimism of my inner soul. Nothing could go wrong.
Now, what happened next needs to be recorded for the good of the Woodstock community, as history repeats itself unless it is dutifully recorded, distributed, and analyzed. At the same time, we all know that perspective is truly what poises pen over paper... or hands over keys, as the case may be. So let me be clear: this is my perspective of 3/19. I share my perspective to convey my personal truth. I share my perspective to restore my personal dignity. I share my perspective to combat simplified stories that could dirty and destroy my personal honor.
After all, Woodstock is a small community where gossip has the tendency to flourish. It is the nature of the beast. Similarly, Mussoorie is a small city where monkeys have the tendency to attack. It is the nature of the beast. And when these two beasts combine, there is no beauty… only terror, shame, and soiled underpants. And I intend to clean this mess up.
Until 3/19, I had (as far as I know) successfully avoided that first beast—being the subject of Woodstock gossip. Some could say I’m boring, sharing my bed with only a book or a cat (or even both, if I’m feeling particularly risqué), but I’d like to reframe my gentle lifestyle under the umbrella term of responsible. Until 3/19, I had also successfully avoided that second beast—being the victim of Woodstock monkeys. Some could say I’m manly, since monkeys are more frightened by males than females, but I’d like to reframe that fragile peace as proof of monkeys’ respect for humanity.
|A vision of respectability.|
But enough—I have sidestepped the heart of the matter, which is the sheer heartlessness of the monkeys. They do not show respect. They do not show mercy. They hoot and huff and blow houses down, metaphorically, and then they literally chase people down roads on beautiful spring mornings for cheap thrills. But I discovered this only as my neighbor hurtled down the road, desperately shouting my name, with a monkey galloping behind her.
And did I show mercy?
This is where perspectives veer and controversial tales are shaped. This is where the beasts intertwine and my mythical archetype—monster or hero?—rises from the dust of despair kicked up by my neighbor’s feet. According to Friday morning’s teatime talk, popular opinion places me squarely in the ‘monster’ category via an embarrassingly abridged version of that doomed morning goes something like this:
I saw the monkey and ran away.
As a wise sage once sang, "this shit is bananas." Now, I do not deny that I saw the monkey and I do not deny that I ran, but I do wish to elaborate on the circumstances surrounding this gutless gut-instinct. Within a matter of moments, I cycled through myriad feelings, decisions, and assumptions. The following three false assumptions are of particular importance. I pair them with the first few steps in the hero’s journey, but I don’t want to be a hero; I just want to justify the nature of my actions… and inaction... and show that I merely followed the patterns set in place by destiny.
1) I thought the monkey was a dog: “Call to Adventure”
I may have been thrown off by the fact that I’d never seen a monkey run before. I’d seen scampering monkeys, sure, and perhaps loping ones—but running? It was kind of like seeing Santa Claus run, in that it was unexpected, but it was also not at all like seeing Santa Claus run, in that one is chubby and imaginary while the other is sinewy and horrifically real.
So, why is this false assumption of particular importance? Because I believe it is representative of the unexpected nature of the broader event. When I walk to school, usually I’m thinking about the number of apples that will be shyly placed on my desk while I’m out to lunch… or the cheers that will be raised when I assign a particularly challenging essay… or the feeling that I will have changed lives in a concrete and measurable way by the end of the day. Mortal danger is not usually on my mental checklist. But I will be checking that list twice from now on.
2) I thought I was being warned about the chase: “Refusal of the Call”
After hearing my name, seeing the figures drawing nearer, and standing stupidly for a few seconds, I made the selfish—yet subconscious—determination that (lightbulb!) the cry was not a cry for help, but a cry of warning! But of course! She wants me to run, too! With every step, though, I realized I was running further away from the reality of the situation. THUD- this, THUD- is, THUD- stupid, THUD- turn, THUD- around!
That’s it. It took no more than five running steps to realize the error of my ways. Five steps in order for humane reasoning to overcome animal instinct. Can I not use the hallowed 5-Second Rule in my defense? Am I not more easily forgiven than food? Let us separate the wheat from the chaff! Let the cream rise to the top!
When I turned around to face my fate, the moment of truth had already passed. My neighbor, who had previously been running like the wind, crumpled at my feet because her own foot was injured. The monkey, satiated by fear and pain, loped/scampered away.
3) I thought her ankle was destroyed: “Supernatural Aid”
At the time, amputation seemed like a legitimate option. Luckily, I knew just what to do to obtain help: look confused, hopeless, and scared. No one else could have done it better. That trademark expression, paired with a quick flick of the wrist, almost immediately summoned a car from the swirling black oblivion of despair. The nameless good Samaritan dropped us at the front gate of the school, where I proceeded to summon professional expertise from the health center. Then I discarded the confused/hopeless/scared face, put on my teacher face, and taught The Merchant of Venice like a boss. The following lines gave me pause, for what is the degree of separation between humans and our evolutionary counterparts?
If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
If they chase us, do we not run? If we chase them back, are we not avenged?
The school devised a systematic way to 'chase' the monkeys back, called the Monkey Relocation Programme (spelled the British way, so you know they mean business… monkey business). The main tenet of the Monkey Relocation Programme was fairly basic: remove the monkeys. Fifty of the bloodthirsty creatures were removed from Mussoorie this past winter, but their reign of terror has clearly not abated. Has our vigilante justice begun a blood feud that will last for generations untold? I fear for myself, I fear for my neighbors, and I also fear for posterity.
The lasting message here is clear. Humans need to band together in order to combat the harmful stereotypes about monkeys—which, ironically are positive stereotypes—perpetrated by Western media. Monkeys are not curious, they are conniving. That’s right, I’m monkey shaming. Because as I struggle to cope with reintegration into American society this summer, I’ll probably also have a PTSD flare-up as I walk through the kiddie aisles of my local Wal-Mart. And how can I explain to my niece that I can’t hug her because she’s wearing the sign of the devil?
My neighbor will survive. But again, the question remains: will we, as a species, tear each other apart during times of monkey-induced trauma or will we view fearful retreat as a collective cross to bear? Answering that question might be aided by the understanding that there is a fine line between running, momentarily, and running away, leaving a victim to be torn to shreds. I may be a coward, but I’m not as heartless as a monkey.
|My niece, wearing the truth on her face.|
(Also, I realize that this is an ape of sorts, not a monkey.
If you even think about correcting me, we aren't friends.)