I made this discovery running the Chennai marathon in 2012, which had much of its route meandering through this gorgeous campus. Since then, it’s become my favourite go-to place, especially for the weekly long runs during the marathon season. The canopies of the wild and exotic trees having luxuriant growth lining and shading the roads are a sight to behold. The wildest and widest banyans here seem to plump out like whole forests, with a hundred separate trunks battling for a share of the sun. Then there are the majestic baronial pipal trees rising like a tower as if trying to touch the skies, while the grandiose flame of the forest with its burst of orange flowers in full bloom seems every bit like a flare of a blaze. They and the myriad other tree species, which are ever present along the campus roads, delight me and cheer me every time I run. The benign shade these exquisite trees provide also attracts the graceful spotted deer and blackbucks in droves to browse nonchalantly on the leaves and twigs by the roadside. While the most egregious and eccentric monkeys hover over them, jumping from one branch to another, not only causing annoyance but also occasionally forcing the peace-loving mongooses and wild cats to scamper across the road. Adding further feast for the eyes are the plethora of polychromatic butterflies fluttering over the fresh dew-soaked morning bloom and the sight of squirrels gnawing at the fallen jamuns and nibbling at the wood-apples strewn carelessly around the running path. Occasionally, during runs, one might get lucky to glimpse toddy cats, jackals, wild cats, different reptiles and a plethora of insects as they suddenly stir out their clandestine crevices and chasms in the thickets as if to greet you. Apart from it, the campus also hosts large groups of migratory birds every year, several species of native birds, and a profusion of exotic insects.
Recently, during one of my long runs in the campus, while I was running around a bend, I encountered a throng of monkeys swinging and swaying on the low branches of a banyan tree. I had forgotten somehow that I had kept tucked a banana in the insides of my shorts’ pockets, wanting to use it as an energy booster during the run. Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of a monkey dropping from the branches onto the road in front of me. Instinctively, I stalled and quickly realised that my heart was galloping away as the monkey proceeded to saunter towards me swiftly. I decelerated and halted on the path, pivoted to face him squarely. “Go awaaaay!” I yelled, whacking my feet on the ground. My attempt to intimidate and scare the approaching monkey appeared as though I had failed ostensibly. I pounded my feet once more and growled with all the force I could muster -- this tactic had worked in the past when I had tried to chase away intimidating stray dogs. However, this monkey transpired to be a hardened and an ossified one. He probably got tempered from a lifetime of encounters far funkier than this. Snarling and baring his teeth, he hissed and charged at me, reaching top speed in just a few seconds. Suddenly, he lunged towards my pocket where the banana was straddling with unbelievable agility. In a flash, with a single swipe of his arm, he yanked through my pocket, grabbed the banana and jerked it out. And in a jiffy, he was back on the branch of the tree, chowing down on the banana disparagingly staring at me.
Monkeys are cute and funny but are also brash, brazen and erratic. It’s very important to know how to stay safe around monkeys. Most encounters with monkeys are entertaining, possibly even fun and mirthful, but one should know what to do if things turn ugly. Every year several people get attacked by monkeys and end up requiring medical treatment. Any scratch or a bite from a monkey requires medical attention, often an expensive series of rabies shots.
When a monkey comes at anyone and starts pulling at their belongings, such as a strap of one’s bag or a camera, it’s better to drop it or let it go. If it does not involve food, there’s a good chance that a monkey will just drop whatever it took from one, anyway. Playing a tug of war with a determined monkey could cause a scratch or bite necessitating medical attention.
Feeding monkeys is risky, as one could get attacked if the tidbits get handed out too slowly. Besides, the rest of the troop could overwhelm one for additional morsels, even if one has nothing left. When the monkeys are baring their teeth, we must construe it as an act of aggression. Returning the same with a friendly smile or striving to take pictures with one’s mobile might get misconstrued as a threat in the eccentric mind of an angry or a disgruntled monkey. When a friendly monkey event goes wrong, one must hold one’s ground and not panic because monkeys respect hierarchy and may chase one down if they detect fear. When one sustains an injury due to a monkey encounter, a medical doctor should assess every scratch or a bite. Even minor scratches could become quickly infected as monkeys handle their faeces. Besides, we should remember rabies reveals no symptoms initially but has a zero survival rate if not treated.
On a final note, the encounter I had with a monkey at the IIT-M campus is entrenched in my mind as an unforgettable experience. These days, when I go to IIT-M campus for my long runs, the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which I have devised says — “No bananas on me” during jogs in the campus. Which often leaves me wondering if I were “Going bananas over bananas”?
— The author is director, Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC)