Tipu looked out from the enclosure he occupied with Bertha and cried out in anger. The girls had emerged for their morning duties looking after needs of their zoo before catching the bus for a day at school.
Tipu didn’t mind their first round of activities checking on water and food for their chickens. The chicks were being raised to sell. It was part of the children’s earnings toward fun times at their annual leave up in the hills where horse riding, skating and boating would exhaust their profits from the venture but preserve capital for the next batch to grow when they returned from hill leave.
The chickens didn’t get in Tipu’s face like the hated ducks which would be released to have the run of the yard for the day. There in front of Tipu’s enclosure they’d quack delight as they splashed around in their pond and in his imagination, they were doing it all to persecute him into a jealous rage. And it worked!
So, when children came to the enclosure next to his cage, unlocked the gate, and ducks ran quacking their pleasure toward the pond Tipu released his angry cry. Bertha who was older watched him from her favourite perch on a tree branch in the corner of the enclosure. It was no big deal for her. She’d discovered a new pastime having found in kitchen leftovers deposited daily as a treat by servants something of wonder which she’d watched children do in front of the enclosure while they played games in the back yard.
She’d watched as they blew their gum into huge bubbles and wondered at this interesting pastime. When the children learned she’d discovered gum hidden under their leftovers they stood in front of the enclosure showing Bertha how to manipulate their gum, so bubbles could be formed. You know the saying, monkey see, monkey do! Bertha calmly blew a bubble while Tipu raged around the enclosure from one branch to another pausing to send his abuse in monkey language to the ducks.
Bertha was a hand me down from folk who’d finished a term of contract and returned to their home country. Bertha had been a spoiled pet found abandoned as a baby and sold in the Bombay markets to a couple initially only interested in purchasing provisions for their home. But the urgency of the tout irritatingly following on poking them had eventually led them in resignation to an isolated corner of the market where a pathetic little frightened creature shrank back from their approach. How could they leave her in that situation? They took her home and called her Bertha.
Bertha had been a spoiled child in the family so when she was deposited at her new home she missed the closeness of being taken around by her pet humans wherever they went. For a while it was debated whether she should be released in the hope a local troop would adopt her into their tribe. But that was discarded when it was discovered monkeys are territorial and part of families which do not take well to a stranger trying to fit in. So, Bertha stayed.
She loved it when John got into the enclosure to clean up and mend broken trees. Bertha had a fascination with clothing and the wonder of what may lie beneath those clothes. So along with checking out hair for lice and trying to extract freckles she’d be into peeping into forbidden places much to the irritation of John trying to complete his work and get out without Bertha trying to hitch a ride.
It was because of the sad moan of Bertha when left by herself neighbours hatched a plot to rectify the situation. One-day John returned home in the evening to find two of his friends sitting with gleeful looks contemplating a wicker covered basked on the floor in front of them. They greeted him with enthusiasm and pointed to the basket informing him it was a gift and invited him to lift the cover and look. Naturally enough John was suspicious. After all his friends had a reputation for enjoying a joke. What was it? A defanged cobra? One needed to be cautious around these friends. He approached cautiously and heard a low moan. Good, it was not a cobra, what next, a mongoose?
But curiosity always wins out and John lifted the lid carefully. There in front of him was another tiny bonnet monkey. The ideal present? The bazaar people had told them the monkey’s name was Tipu so that name stuck. Tipu was transferred to the enclosure, Bertha received a child to nurture and Tipu got a mother. But as Tipu grew and matured the relationship changed and instead of the mother and child relationship Tipu asserted his male authority and ruled the enclosure. They remained good buddies though, grooming each other and searching vainly for fleas and lice for much of the day.
Tipu watched the ducks at play moaning occasionally in anger, then his gaze transferred to the old brown hen. Henny Penny was the undisputed ruler of the yard, the goat had been dismissed long ago for ring barking the guava tree children enjoyed climbing, but now that stark reminder of a once flourishing fruit tree was dead and only favoured as Henny Penny’s night retreat. Tipu shook the steel wire enclosure in anger again. Perhaps his prime object of fury was Henny Penny. She was free to roam without restrictions day or night, though retreat into the guava tree at night was a prudent insurance against a terminal visit of the dreaded mongoose.
But it was a day to bring Henny Penny’s pride of ownership to a reality check. For that afternoon after school was out visiting kids paid a visit to the zoo and decided to tease the monkeys. Bertha had seen it all before and sat watching the foolish actions with disinterest. So, the visiting kids turned their attention to Tipu whose reactions were most rewarding. Tipu had been worked to a frenzy until John returned home to retrieve sticks being used to beat the enclosure and threaten to use those sticks on their backsides. The visitors vanished instantly.
It was only later when John’s children returned from school it was realized what damage had been caused by those sticks. It seems the steel wire protecting the enclosure had been slightly separated from supports by beating sticks and Tipu had discovered this and began working the wire until with pulling back and forth a wide enough way of retreat had been created. Tipu was free. Now we would see who’d rule the yard!
The first quick run had him in duck pond territory and a loud commotion ensued bringing the family quickly from their evening meal. The ducks grouped and flew at their enemy with wings flapping and beaks finding their mark. Tipu withdrew in surprise his male ego bruised, then he saw Henny Penny casually grazing. It was not her battle.
But fate dictated otherwise. The youngest screamed, “Tipu’s riding my hen!”
The family mobilized running after the squawking hen down their driveway with the monkey straddling the large bird and pulling feathers as they sped down the driveway attached. Eventually Tipu spied the family chasing him and jumped off heading down the street as fast as he could go with college students taking up the chase. It was several days before a battered Tipu opted for the shelter of his enclosure and came home. Probably after being attacked by the local troop of monkeys who did not want to adopt a stranger. He was home and he was safe again. But Henny Penny didn’t emerge from her hiding place for weeks and it was learned later she’d made a hedge her home. Not safe from the mongoose or an itinerating snake, but the memory of that ride overpowered an inbuilt urge for a safe environment. Eventually she came home battered and bruised ever after to keep a wary eye out for a return of Hanuman’s kindred.
It was not the last time Tipu found ways to beat the secure screen protecting the enclosure. Monkeys are very observant and intelligent. However, on his last escape he happened to bite a child of someone who was in possession of a gun. Rabi shots to the belly are not a nice thing for a child to endure and the parent was wroth indeed. So escaped Tipu looking down with satisfaction on the commotion caused beneath his temporary tree perch saw the father emerge with a long stick which he pointed to the tree and take aim.
Tipu felt the searing pain simultaneous to hearing the crack of that rifle and with a moan fell from his safe tree perch and died. He was hastily disposed by the river where his distant relatives jumped down from their trees to come and sniff before returning to their trees to chatter this turn of events.
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