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A Monkey in the Kitchen

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By Savitri Narayanan

It was dinner time.

“Guess what!” said Gopal as he helped himself to another helping of ‘khichri’. “Next week this time we will be back home in Kerala, having dinner with appoopppan!”

A Class V student, Gopal’s annual exams were going on. He was fully engrossed in his studies and also excited that only two more papers remained. Saturday was the last paper, Social Studies, and then it would be summer vacation.

His parents had made Mumbai their home many years ago. They lived in a tiny one room kitchen place in a small street in Kurla. Gopal went to the nearby school with other children from the neighbourhood.

Every summer vacation they would go back to their home in Kerala. Usually, they would board the train from Kurla and go home together. Gopal’s father would return after a week or so to be back on duty but he stayed behind with his mother and spent time with the grandparents. They returned to Mumbai just before the school reopened.

Papa, can’t Kunal too come with us to Kerala?” asked Gopal, “It will be so much fun! Appooppan will be delighted!”

Kunal was their next-door neighbour, Gopal’s best friend and classmate too.

“Well, it’s not up to us to decide, Gopal!” said his father. “We’ll be happy to take him along, he can spend two months there, too, but the choice is up to him and his family!”

To the delight of the children, Kunal’s family too welcomed the idea. Things moved fast and, the following weekend, Kunal too reached Gopal’s home in Kerala.

Gopal’s family owned land and an ancestral home in a small village where Gopal’s grandparents, uncle, aunty and cousins lived. They were delighted to have Kunal around.

“Before you go back to Mumbai, we’ll learn Marathi from you and you’ll learn Malayalam here!” said the cousins.

“What fun!” laughed Gopal. “Imagine Kunal back home talking in Malayalam to uncle and aunty!”

Mostly, Gopal and Kunal spent their time outdoors with cousins Deepika and Rajesh. There was so much to explore, so much to eat and so many trees to climb that they came indoors only to eat and sleep!

“Let’s play hide and seek,” suggested Deepika one morning. “Only outdoors – hiding indoors not allowed!” added Rajesh.

Roaming around the large area hiding behind the trees was quite exhausting.

“Let’s take a break,” said Gopal after a while, “I am thirsty, need to drink some water!”

He headed for the kitchen.

“Me too,” followed Kunal.

They were in for a surprise. As they opened the door and entered the kitchen, they were shocked to see a monkey!

There it was on the floor with the fruit tray and fruits like apples, grapes and bananas scattered around!

Mamma, aunty, ammoomma, come fast! There’s a monkey in the kitchen!” screamed Appu and Kunal. They rushed in panic to the backyard.

But aunty, who was taking down the dry linen from the clothesline was not so bothered.

“What a nuisance!” she said more to herself.

She went into the kitchen, shooed  away the monkey who came out and rushed up the mango tree. It sat on a branch and continued eating the banana.

The children had lost interest in their game. They helped themselves to glasses of buttermilk and fruits and sat under the jackfruit tree near their grandfather who was relaxing in his favourite chair.

“Four monkeys eating bananas!” laughed Chami.

Appu was not amused.

“Chami, what’s there to laugh about?” he asked. “There’re monkeys in our kitchen and you’re laughing!”

Chami continued trimming the hedges and laughed aloud, “They’re our pets!” said Chami. “You Mumbai monkeys come only for summer vacation, isn’t it?”

“Chami, stop joking,” Appu pursued, “At times I’ve seen a monkey or two in the village, but never inside the house!”

Chami continued trimming the bushes as he said, “They’re hungry, looking for food!”

“It’s our own fault, Appu,” said his grandfather. “When we cut down the trees, the monkeys and other animals come out of the forest looking for food!”

“But we’re NOT cutting down any trees, appooppaa!” Appu stood his ground, “This jackfruit tree, that mango tree, the guava tree and the drumstick tree – they’ve all been there for so many years!”

“There are all kinds of people, Appu,” said Chami. “Trees are cut for construction, to make buildings.”

“We too have cut down trees!” said his grandfather. “Those rubber plantations beyond the hill….”

“So what, apooppaa, ‘rubber is a cash crop’, says my Geography book,” Appu stood his ground. “We’re rich because of the rubber plantations, isn’t it?”

“You’re right Appu, many of us have rubber plantations and plenty of money,” agreed his grandfather. “These rubber plants give latex with which we make rubber and become rich. At the same time, they produce no food for the animals and birds who, in turn, go hungry and die! This is wrong!”

The children squatted on the grass, eating the guavas, deep in thought. ‘We need money but not at the cost of animals and birds, what to do?’ was their thought.

“Don’t look so sad, children!” appooppan roared with laughter. “Think of a way out, find a solution!”

“What to do?” they asked together. “What’s the way out?”

“It’s simple,” said their grandfather. “Plant more trees, that’s all! The monkeys and other wild animals will be ensured their food!”

The boys sprang up and said, “Let’s go and plant a tree!”

There was a spring in their steps and glow in their eyes as they walked away.

“It’s not only about planting; the trees have to be nurtured and looked after too!” the grandfather called out after them and exchanged smiles with Chami.