[Written during a spell of occasional fever with headache…diagnosed as possibly Monkey Flu complicated by Acute Media-otic Hysteria]
Delhi is globally renowned for its brazen and aggressive motorists. Delhi is also globally renowned for its brazen and aggressive monkeys. Many visitors to the Capital see no distinction whatsoever between these two invasive species, whose populations are increasing in our beloved Capital by leaps and bounds (so to squeak).
And thereby hangs a tail.
Be that as it may, a recent newspaper report celebrates the fact that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has been catching an ever-increasing number of monkeys and rehabilitating them in the once-lovely wilderness of the Asola Sanctuary, located in the last remnants of the Aravalis between the goonda-and-politician–infested badlands of Delhi and Gurugram.
We managed to obtain some interesting and highly improbable insights into how the MCD has achieved success in its monkey business, thanks to a brief but illuminating interview with Shri Bandarlal Poonchwallah, Senior Advisor to Commissioner, MC&RD (Monkey Capture & Rehabilitation Department), MCD.
Q: Could you tell us a little more about the MCD’s Monkey Catching initiative?
Poonchwallah: As the name indicates, a Monkey Catcher catches monkeys. We currently have six Monkey Catchers on the MC&RD rolls. Besides a monthly retainer, our Monkey Catchers are each paid a small incentive on piece-rate basis— or more accurately, on monkey-rate basis. The incentive ranges from Rs 1200 per monkey caught in East, North or West Delhi, to Rs 2400 for monkeys caught in South Delhi …
Q: But why do you pay Rs 2400 for South Delhi monkeys? That’s almost double the amount of incentive paid for monkeys from other parts of Delhi?
Poonchwallah: Arre bhai, you must understand that South Delhi monkeys are very much like South Delhi humans—they are much higher up in the socio-economic ladder than their cousins from other parts of Delhi. Also, like their human South Delhi colleagues, South Delhi monkeys are better-nourished, better educated, more cunning, and more well-connected with powerful members of local human communities including senior officials of Delhi Government and Union Government. So, they are much more difficult to locate and trap. For all these reasons they must be assigned a much higher monkey-rate value.
Q: Surely you can’t be serious?
Poonchwallah: (patiently) The MC&RD has well-documented evidence to support this thesis. Our Monkey Catchers often report that South Delhi monkeys look healthier and are better groomed than other monkeys; in fact, Lutyens Delhi monkeys often chatter among themselves with distinct British or American accents. Most of them scorn traditional Indian food! So, we have to procure costly international food items like thin-crust pizzas, sushi, and whatnot to entice these high-class South Delhi monkeys…whereas simple desi snacks like peanuts or samosas will do to trap, say, East Delhi monkeys. Here, I will show you… (Scrabbles among papers on desk)
Poonchwallah: (impatiently)… Wait, just yesterday I had a report from our senior-most Monkey Catcher on a young monkey he caught in South Delhi’s Nizamuddin area…ah, here it is. (Reads from note) It seems that he—meaning this South Delhi monkey, not the Monkey Catcher who caught him—eats only organic food cooked in virgin cold-pressed olive oil, is fond of wearing Paco Rabanne perfume, and has become quite notorious for selecting and stealing only Ray Ban glasses and 5G cellphones from strollers in the nearby Sundar Nursery …
Q: What! But…this is incredible!
Poonchwallah: Yes! It is! I am glad you see it! (Bitterly) But no-one else seems to understand the value of the empirical knowledge and experience acquired by us in the course of our Monkey-Catching initiative. Despite MC&RD’s numerous proposals to the Delhi government and Union governments and to academic institutions like Delhi University, JNU and others, nobody seems to be interested in funding this wonderful opportunity for conducting socio-anthropological research into how Delhi’s monkey populations are adapting in diverse ways to the rapidly changing metropolitan environment, the socio-cultural mores and fashion trends…(breaks off, sinks into moody silence)
Q: (shaken to core) Well, sir…to return to the topic …how much does this Monkey-Catching initiative cost us taxpayers?
Poonchwallah: (reading from file) Let’s see…between April and July last year, that is 2021, MCD caught and rehabilitated 350 monkeys. So, at an average incentive of, say, Rs 1800 per monkey, we paid our Monkey Catchers about Rs 6.3 lakhs as incentive during these four months. (looks up proudly) But during the same four-month period this year, 2022, we have caught and rehabilitated over 600 monkeys…for which we have paid our Monkey Catchers Rs 10.8 lakhs in incentives.
Q: That’s impressive! And after you catch and rehabilitate the monkeys in the Asola Sanctuary, how do you make sure the monkeys stay there? Monkeys are great travellers…so how do you make sure they don’t return to the City? Do you monitor them in their new home? Do you periodically count their numbers in Asola?
Poonchwallah: (with explosive snort): Kya bakte ho! Do you seriously think MCD employees can go and sit in the Asola Sanctuary and count monkeys? (Continues in calmer tone) Don’t misunderstand me—I agree that this Monitoring & Evaluation task in Asola is important. And I may add that 99% of all MCD staff, including myself, would jump at the chance of a permanent posting in Asola. But this wretched Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi simply will not give MCD the required funds for this vital component of our Monkey-Catching initiative, despite repeated demands. Arre, these @$*@]%$&! AAP-wallahs haven’t even given us the funds to pay our municipal sweepers their wages since September 2021… (relapses into sullen muttering)
Q: But…but this means there’s a strong likelihood that the monkeys being caught now by MCD were in fact caught earlier too? That the monkeys are travelling back from Asola to Delhi just as fast as the MCD is relocating them from Delhi to Asola?! Isn’t it possible that the MCD is catching the same monkeys over and over again, counting them multiple times, and paying Monkey Catchers for this circular exercise?
Poonchwallah: (slight hunted look) Baah! Tchah! Tut! Only a complete nutcase would want to return to this wretched City after being given a chance to leave it! No, no, I think we can and must trust the monkeys to be sensible enough to stay where they have been rehabilitated, at the beautiful Asola Sanctuary.
Poonchwallah: (unfazed, continues to rave) …If at all some monkeys are detected coming back from Asola to Delhi, that must be because of ecological destruction in the Asola Sanctuary that is being actively encouraged by these same ##$**^&!saala %$ AAP-wallahs…
Poonchwallah: ((warms to the theme) In fact, that explains why, as reported by our Monkey Catchers, most of the monkeys we are trapping nowadays look thin and famished! You see? Not only are these unfortunate monkeys not able to forage for food in Asola because of deforestation and environmental degradation, but they are forced to trek back over 25 kilometers all the way to Delhi! It is a shame. It is a violation of their human rights!
Poonchwallah: [clearly gone completely ape] We shall demand that Delhi’s AAP government provide MCD with a fleet of 10 AC buses so that we can transport the monkeys safely to and from Asola. Electric buses – so that we minimize greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, my MC&RD team will leave no stone unturned in trapping and rehabilitating these poor monkeys on ongoing basis. In our budget estimates for the next financial year, that is 2023–24, we project to catch around 16,800 monkeys, in anticipation of which we propose to hire 10 additional Monkey Catchers and set aside a corpus of 3.5 crores as incentives for our Monkey Catchers…
[interview abruptly terminated at this point, when alpha-male monkey wearing Chaprasi uniform leaped in through open window, snatched away Shri Poonchwallah’s mobile phone, saluted us with a grin and strolled out through office door to seat himself on stool outside.]