The monkey man of Lal Bagh

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On a February afternoon stroll through Lal Bagh, I was in for a pleasant surprise. On reaching the Bamboo Grove near Lal Bagh Lake, I saw a group of noisy monkeys running hither and thither. In spite of the risks involved in taking pictures of monkeys (they could run away with your camera or hurt you), I somehow cannot resist the temptation of aiming my camera at a group of hyper-energetic and naughty simians. Even as some monkeys were busy with various games, there were some others munching food.

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A few minutes later, a man emerged from the opposite direction with a white sack on his back a la Santa Claus. No sooner had he approached the grove, all the monkeys crowded around him. A couple of them perched on his head and a few of them started tugging his shirt and some his pants. The man seemed unperturbed and it looked like he was speaking to the monkeys. From where I was standing he seemed to be telling them, “Hey guys, relax”.

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He was carrying food for the monkeys and he also had a water bottle with him. He started feeding them and how! He would just pull out a handful of grains from his bag and stretch out his palm; the monkeys would lick all the grains from off his palm.

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Just as I watched in bewilderment, the man beckoned to me, “Madam come, these monkeys are tame and harmless.” He sounded very convincing. I must say I got carried away and went very close to the monkeys and started taking pictures. I was really excited. I had never been so close to monkeys. To my amusement, one of them gave me a hug, another one sat on my head. Some of them were babies.

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I asked the man who introduced himself as Shivshankar how he managed to befriend these monkeys. He said that he has been coming to the grove for over a year and feeds the monkeys in the morning and in the evening. “You can find me here anytime between 6am and 10am and then between 4pm and 6pm”, he said with a quizzical expression.

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Boss, the monkey with an injury on his arm.

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Madam with her little one.

Shivshankar also has names for all the monkeys. A big fat chap is Boss, a plump female monkey carrying a little one, is Madam. I noticed that Boss has a deep cut in his arm. When I pointed that out to Shivshankar, he said, “Yeah, the monkeys sometimes fight among themselves.” He then added that the little one that Madam is carrying was delivered early in the morning. “The baby is not even a day old,” he said with a smile.

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Shivshankar is a resident of Mavalli, near Lal Bagh, and ekes out a living working as a plumber, electrician and also  various other small jobs.

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The water bottle he was carrying was also for the monkeys. Each of them took a turn sipping water from the bottle. They even knew how to open the bottle.
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I was really touched seeing this friendship between a man and monkeys and that too a man from such a humble background. I would call Shivashankar the Santa of these monkeys. May his tribe increase.
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