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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Monkey Business

Pinky was jumping around the room almost like a baby monkey without a tail. Whoop, whoop, Whoop and thud, thud, thud, jumping from the divan on the floor and again up on the chair. Bhulo was sitting on the floor , watching her move with watchful and keen eyes, wagging his tail and was about to follow suit when “Oh stop it, Pinky; you are getting on my nerves. This is not a jungle but my study and you are disturbing my concentration”- grumbled Mama. “Don’t be such a spoilsport Mama!” Pinky complained with a pout; “you know I am the great monkey in our school’s drama in the Annual prize distribution programme.” “Don’t make me laugh, why in the drama, you are the little monkey in home also, you need not practice so much, you need no rehearsal. And now get lost, don’t make me angry.” “And you are the wicked devil,” muttered Pinky under her breath but she had no option but to run outside on the courtyard with Bhulo on her toe and start rehearsing, this time on real grass and on real trees. December has gone past. This is early January, a beautiful and cool Sunday morning The morning sun was blazing high and Pinky felt like being embraced by a warm and soft blanket. This year Pinky has managed to get a small role in their school’s drama. She is doing the ‘little pet monkey of the poor queen’ . In the beginning though Pinky objected – “give me the little princess’s role instead. I want to wear beautiful dresses”. “Look here Pinky anybody can do the role of a King, or queen or a princess as we are all humans. But just imagine imitating a monkey! It really needs strong acting prowess. We know only you can do justice to this role”. So Pinky had to oblige. She could not very well let them down. Pinky..eee…eee, some one was calling. Bhulo pricked his ears and ran towards the gate. Pinky looked over her shoulder, but could not find anyone. Pinky tiptoed towards the gate. There she was, waiting with a finger on her lips. “What is it Tukai ?” Pinky enquired in a studied whisper. “Come along, a circus party has come; they have camped near the railway overbridge.” “Look at those girls Pinky. They will walk on ropes wearing shiny dresses. I have seen their pictures on the posters” – Tukai was all excited. “Where are the cages for the monkeys, I must see how they behave, like how they laugh, how they cry, how even they eat bananas.” “Oh no Pinky not again. Stop being a monkey for a while, will you?” “I see, you are not my best friend! You should help me to be a perfect monkey” – a glum Pinky complained. Suddenly Bhulo emitted a mild bark as if to warn the girls . “Hey you girls, what are you doing there?”- A very fat and ominous looking fellow came out of one of the tents. He had a green and white checkered pajama and a crimson t-shirt on him. “Come inside I will show you my cages full of animals.” Pinky , Tukai and Bhulo were half way across the meadow before he could even finish his sentence. “We are very lucky to have escaped unharmed you know Tukai, Mama said these people kidnap kids and put them in their cages. That is why they are called ‘kidnappers’. They capture the kids and then put them to sleep and mesmerize them into animals and let them perform the shows. Didn’t you hear he said ‘come I will throw you in my cage’ ?” “But I thought he said I will show you the cages”- Tukai intervened doubtfully. “You don’t know anything. They will call you on false pretext and then …ok… if you don’t believe you can go back on your own.” Pinky was visibly hurt that Tukai questioned her knowledge on kidnappers. None of the girls narrated the incident to their respective elders though. On the big day Pinky was up and about in the wee hours and ready before dawn. The school gates though were opened only after 10 in the morning and the dress rehearsal started at about 12 noon. Everything was going smooth as ice cream. All the dresses, like that of the Queen and King, their Kings men were very good but the mask and the costume for the good little monkey was superb. Everybody was highly impressed. “Pinky, really, you look like a monkey out of the jungle book, such a beautiful tail” and Pinky was as happy as could be. They were served a lovely lunch full of fried potatoes and sweets and Pinky was so hungry she cleaned her plate like new. Purnima madam, their games teacher saw her empty plate and put two extra sweets on it- “I am giving you sweets in advance for looking so much like a monkey only and after the play is over, if you do your part well, I will give you a chocolate,” she patted pinky on her head. The show started at 5.30 and progressed without much hitch. Pinky had six scenes to her credit. In the first scene, the monkey was seen sitting beside a animal-trader and having a banana and the king bought it from the trader. Pinky was so natural in her hunched position and the way she ate the banana that the audience, mainly her classmates and family clapped hugely. Next she was seen sitting beside the sleeping queen, who was banished from the palace and lived alone in a mud hut. Pinky was supposed to sit for a while and quietly go out of the room in search of the palace and the king but Pinky thought that she would act a little more natural and started to pick lice from the sleeping queens hair as she had seen monkeys do. Leena a student of class VII, who was the sad queen in the play was not expecting any such move and jumped up in a most un-queenly manner with a hand on her head and exclaimed “what mischief are you at?” But the audience could not guess that it was an extra and the things passed of with only a stern look from their teacher. In her next few appearances Pinky was very cautious and acted as she was told. In the last scene, the monkey was to come on stage and the king (played by Rumpa, a Class X student ) would present him with a pearl necklace. Pinky was supposed to wait on back sage but she thought, there being two more scenes to be enacted before her scene was due, she could safely go out and have one or two toffees that she spotted in the teachers common room, which by then was thankfully left vacant, the teachers being busy watching the drama either as audience or managing the girls on stage. After a successful mission, Pinky was coming up on the stage, a very happy and content soul hopping two steps at a time, when her tail got tangled in a hook in the bottom stair. She frantically tried to free herself. All this while, unnoticed by everybody, a lone monkey escaping from the circus party was sitting on the top of the false ceiling made over the king’s throne and watching the proceeding down below with a keen animal interest. He had a very strong impulse to jump on to the stage and snatch the bananas but held himself back as he was suspicious of Pinky in the guise of a monkey. Years of training told him that he should beware of this creature but as Pinky was no where to be seen and the king howled “Oh monkey come and take your reward” for a couple of times, obviously to cover up the time gap, the monkey jumped down on to the stage and stood up before the king. Every body was a little puzzled. “Hey have you changed your costume?” Kabita a student of class V, standing beside the king and waiving a huge hand fan, muttered under her breath. The monkey made a face and said ‘cheeek, keeech, , cheek, keech’. “Don’t overact “(this was in a whisper and then in a loud voice) , “come here and take your reward”- the king extended his hand but the monkey was not interested in the necklace . He was hungry and he eyed the plate full of sweets and fruits placed before the king and showed him his teeth. “Oh naughty monkey, “ Rumpa invented a new dialogue line “take your reward or else..” Making a violent face, only to scare off the humans on the stage the monkey made a dash for the fruits. Realization dawned on people on the stage a little late and Pandemonium broke loose. The girls in their colourful, costumes screamed and scurried for cover. “It is a real monkey, it will bite us” “where is Pinky- has she turned into a monkey” and some one thoughtfully pulled the curtains down. In the audience Tukai almost fainted. Pinky was right ! The fat man has turned Pinky into a real monkey. And she jumped out of her seat and ran to the headmistress. Mrs Banani Haldar, a small, plump and fair woman having a very amicable disposition have just started taking a late Tiffin when Tukai rushed into her room panting and flushed ‘Big Aunty, Big Aunty , come, come Pinky has turned into a real monkey. It is not my fault. It is the fat man at the Circus”. Mrs Haldar looked on at Tukai uncomprehendingly, her eyes round and mouth wide open , full of sweets, which she forgot to swallow. The news that Pinky had turned into a real monkey, was puzzling enough to be digested, to be added with the vehement denial that Tukai was in no way responsible for the transformation, which she obviously could not be even if the transformation was real, which in itself was a matter of great disbelief and a further incoherent allusion to some strange fat man in a circus made her brain stop functioning for a while. Mrs Haldar was a very level headed woman, quite capable of dealing with the incongruities of little souls, but Tukai’s submission was too complicated and too sudden even for her consumption. Bahadur, the school caretaker, in the meantime, came and led the monkey away from the stage after tempting him with the bananas. Pinky was still toiling hard to free herself from the tangle. She did not want to spoil her costume. But when bits of conversation on stage and the screams reached Pinky’s ears she tugged at her tail mercilessly which came midway off into her hand. At last Pinky entered the stage. Oblivious of the commotion around, she stretched out her hand and said “Oh Rumpadi, I am a here, my tail got shucked, now you can give me my reward” In the excitement she forgot her lines somewhat. “Now you can give me my reward” - Rumpa mimicked “where were you . can’t you see the curtains are down?” All the girls pounced on Pinky. ““See what you have done, you have spoiled the whole show, it was going so smoothly, every body was clapping and only for you…” “But what can I do, my tail got stuck naa.?” Pinky whimpered in a nasal voice! “So what! You could have come without a tail or for that matter without costume also. Your antics are so much like a monkey nobody would have missed the tail. And any way, why were you not on backstage? You were supposed to wait outside for your scene? You stupid girl!” “We should have known better than to take you in our play and that too as a monkey. See what happened. Your friend came in search of you and spoiled everything. Next time you come a begging for a role in the play, we know you will, and then we will see.” Struck with the disaster, the girls, as girls of their age would be, unconsciously linked Pinky’s absence with the misadventure of the monkey and were being unreasonably harsh and critical of Pinky. Their games teacher came to Pinky’s rescue, ‘ girls, you should not blame poor little Pinky, you know. It is not her fault that a monkey should escape from the circus party and target your play. And it is only an accident that her tail got stuck.” And the teacher even actually gave the tearful (which the senior girls were sure was faked) and naughty Pinky a pat on the back and a chocolate as a consolation. The seniors looked on helpless and angry. They knew their teacher was right but still they had a feeling that Pinky was some how responsible for the mishap. Pinky, her hand held firmly by the teacher, looked back at the girls and gave them a perfect one sided grin which had a very uncanny similarity to that of the monkey in the jungle book.

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