Baazighar and Monkeys

As a college student in Kashmir, in the early 1980s, while commuting (after college hours) through Lal Chowk, the heart of the capital city of Srinagar, from one bus stand to another across the historic Amira Kadal bridge, I would stop on several occasions to enjoy a free roadside show by non-Kashmiri vendors, who would usually disguise themselves as ‘Baazigars’. [The English language equivalent of the term ‘Baazigar’, in loose translation, means a trickster or a bluffer. These individuals actually sold (dodgy) herbs (such as shilajeet) and some herbal oils (for God knows what) but also carried a defanged cobra and a mongoose (in two separate wicker baskets), and a few other toys for their gimmicks to attract vulnerable customers. Sometimes, they also carried a monkey and a bear, with chains around their neck, for luring the passer-by.

The Baazigars appeared to have a great gift of gab, they spoke incessantly. Although the content of their speech seemed gibberish to me at that time, I would wait patiently for a few minutes each time, only to watch the impending fight between the two reptiles – a snake and a mongoose. On several occasions, I lost patience and walked off towards the bridge when they delayed the reptile encounter and kept chattering about this and that, and everything nonsensical under the sky, while looking for vulnerable customers with their piercing eyes.

With their mesmerizing eyes and interesting body movements, Baazigars would keep their audience captivated.  Their growing audience would encircle them and, in turn, get enthralled with their gimmicks.

In later days and months and years, many of these Baazigars changed their tactics. Some became corporate businessmen and some politicians.

But what happened to the monkeys? Read on …

India’s population has more than doubled since the 70s. If one has to believe the Reincarnation and the Karma theories, where from did these additional 700 million souls arrive? A wild guess would be ‘from the jungles’, as humans have aggressively been encroaching on the natural habitat of the wild animals, leading to the alarming loss of biodiversity and, of course, the Climate Change, both of which have increasingly been making the life on Earth difficult to sustain. But who cares, as long as we humans, driven by our insatiable greed, enjoy the fruits of capitalism and keep consuming?

It must be emphasized that the ‘wild guess’ about the Reincarnation and Karma theories can’t be proven, not just yet, by the current scientific knowledge. Perhaps, Charles Darwin may have a theory or two to throw some light on validating or dispelling them. Coming back to the post-1970s humans, don’t we wonder at times about our monkey-like behaviours, which may also be called ‘copycat’ behaviours? The following story illustrates it further.

A cap-seller, commuting on foot between villages to earn his livelihood, decided to take a breather under a shady tree. It was summer. In no time, he fell asleep. When he woke up after a few minutes, he found his bag was in a mess and many caps had disappeared. He looked up and saw a monkey, perched on a high branch of the tree, wearing his cap. When he looked around, there were many monkeys who also wore his caps. The cap-seller was a clever fellow, he knew about the monkey behaviour. He threw away his own cap and all the monkeys followed and did the same. Quickly, he gathered all his caps, put them back in his bag and walked away gleefully.

This story from my primary school time is so apt for the current human behaviour. Without thinking much, we copy others. Darwin would not be surprised with this story. One may, however, argue that not all humans behave like monkeys, some may replicate the faithfulness like dogs. But monkeys or dogs or humans, we all need love and care, food alone is not sufficient. The following true story explains it well, it has a message about how important love and care, with compassion and empathy, are vital not only for humans but also for other animals.

Our pet, Sakha, a hound of Siberian husky breed, resolutely demands our attention and care, and refuses to eat when he feels ignored. As a routine, he expects that we walk and talk with him on a daily basis, food alone is not important for him.

Last Saturday kept us unusually very busy with work and usual weekend household chores. As such, we could not take him out for his daily morning walk. Reluctantly, that morning, he ate his breakfast. Later in the afternoon, after we promised him that we’ll be walking him at 5 pm, which we did not, his behaviour intrigued us when we tried to compensate for our failure by giving him a fresh bone with lots of meat. [Yes, he knows how to read the time, he has learnt it from his observations since he was born, just like our great grandmothers.]

He ignored the bone for a long time. Later, on our persuasion, he picked it and kept it in his mouth for more than an hour, without eating it, whilst sitting with his back towards us. His stern but quiet face reflected a mix of sadness, anger and dejection. [Yes, he has distinct facial expressions.] We had to sit with him for an hour or so and keep talking to him before he would start eating the bone.

Sakha needs proper attention. He needs to be walked and talked every day. His food and our slogans are not adequate. Sakha does NOT overeat. From time to time, he skips a meal or two despite our persuasion.

Can we humans learn from Sakha and read the message he delivered to us recently?

© Bill K Koul [15 August 2023, Perth, Western Australia]

Copyright © Bill K Koul

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