And the Monkey Stole My Glasses in Shimla

A fearless and agressive monkey ready to fight with a humanShimla’s monkeys are agressive and audacious. They don’t seem to miss an opportunity to intimidate, attack and assault humans. A huge Hanuman statue standing atop the Jakhu hill (of whose base the town Shimla is located, sort of) could be the source of their arrogance. That’s my assumption. Hanuman’s statue, way bigger than the Gandhi’s at the base of the hill, must have made them feel that they are superior to humans. Again, assumption. I noticed several ‘be aware of monkeys’ notices in the town.

I have seen monkeys in many places- in the village where I was born and grew up, in many other villages of Nepal that I have visited, and in jungles where my trail passed through. Have seen them in cities as well- many places of Kathmandu and Delhi (Have written an entire column about the unfriendly monkeys of Delhi that sneaked into my apartment to steal things- Humans and monkeys struggle for space in the Indian capital). But I’ll put the monkeys of Shimla at the top of the list of the most agressive monkeys that I have ever seen.

Gokul and I went to the hilltop in a taxi abandoning our initial plan to hike up to the temple to see the Hanuman statue that overlooks Shimla town. At 108 feet tall, this is the world’s tallest- Hanuman- statue constructed fairly recently, according to this TOI report. I got off the taxi and moved a few steps to the edge of the road to have a better view of the town below. At that instance the view of the town got blurred. Then I realized I had lost my spectacles.

A moment later I saw a monkey clutching specs, running towards a tree and climbing over it. All in less than five seconds. I was stunned. I didn’t know how to react. As I quickly thought of me wandering around Shimla with blurred vision (not that bad but certainly not the best without glasses) for the next several hours, I couldn’t help but appreciate the flawless manner in which the monkey had taken the glasses off my nose. I didn’t even notice it. The monkey had jumped from over a tree that was behind me. S/he had taken my glasses off my nose without touching me- not my nose and not my ears. If I felt anything during that process, it was just a brush of air. Or, something similar.

The thief was now sitting at a branch with my eyeglasses on his/her hand. S/he was in no mood to return that to the rightful owner. Somebody suggested to give the monkey something to eat so that s/he would be happy and return my spectacles. A guy was selling packets of gram nearby. He also rented canes (to chase monkeys away).

“Give me gram worth rupees five, please,” I asked.

“Arre bhaiya, what can Rs. 5 buy these days?” he said. “Not even a cup of tea. The smallest packet costs Rs. 10.”

That’s a good way of doing business, I thought and quickly handed him a ten rupees note.

I couldn’t convince the monkey to come down to swap my eyeglasses with a packet of gram. The guy who sold gram to me came after I requested him. He threw the packet aiming at the monkey which was caught. The monkey then threw my glasses down. Thankfully, they didn’t break.

We then walked up to the temple a couple of hundred meters further up.

At the temple close to the Hanuman statue I saw monkeys stealing shoes that were not kept at the shoe house. There too they threw back shoes to owners after they were given packets of edibles. As we were descending back to town I overheard a boy complaining loudly: “The monkey took my glasses away.”  He didn’t have them back.

Suddenly I felt fortunate. (23 March 2013)