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Thursday, September 18th, 2003

Govardhan, Uttar Pradesh, India

Mischievous Monkeys

Street-smart simians

There are many monkeys here in the village of Vrindavan. All day long they climb up and down the drainpipes, scamper across the rooftops, and bound from building to building, screeching and chattering noisily all the while.

Some of the little monkeys can be quite cute, begging for food with a disarming grin; the bigger ones, I'm told, can be quite vicious, and have been known to inflict scratches and even bites in attacks unwary pilgrims, usually in an attempt to snatch whatever it is that the pilgrim is carrying.

Many of these simian scavengers are also accomplished thieves. The street vendors, especially the fruit wallahs, are particularly vulnerable to the monkeys' lightening-quick raids. Most of the vendors street-carts or street-stands have a big stick in plain view, and every now and then they wave the stick menacingly at the monkeys: they know that the slightest distraction can cost them a sizable slice of their meager profits.

The monkeys are crafty, calculating, and cowardly: they frequent the main places of parikrama or pilgrimage; they seldom attack if you are carrying a stick or an umbrella; they attack women more than men.

Impudent and street-smart, the monkeys are the bane of pilgrims to the holy dham. Nothing is safe. Spectacles, it seems, are their favorite targets. It is rumored that some fruit sellers, especially in the Seva Kunja area, actually train some of the monkeys to snatch unwary pilgrims' glasses, and return them for fruit — purchased from the same fruit seller, of course!

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