Their right of the way

Diwali, the festival of lights, has come and gone. One of the most memorable moments of this Diwali has been our encounter with the Hanuman langurs, who are an integral part of Sevagram. We had just  finished making our rangoli after ingesting a heavy lunch. Back-breaking work which lasted for over two hours. We then set out to make some more rangolis to decorate the house: one at the front gate, another in the verandah, smaller ones near the stairs. We had almost finished.

Twilight was setting in. And it was time to start preparing for Laxmi pujan. But wait. Suddenly we heard the familiar squeals of the langurs. And as we looked beyond our front gate, we saw a troop of almost forty langurs line up in front of the house. There were a number of mothers and babies, sub-adults, and of course a single aggressive male.

Creases lined our forehead. If they all crossed the gate and through our driveway, all our efforts at making these rangolis would be gone to waste in a second. But then it wasn’t their fault. Each evening, they would cross this same path to return to the trees behind our house. Today, being Diwali, people had been scaring them with firecrackers. They had been forced to hide between the shrubs in the empty ground before the house. Now that it was evening, they all had to return to the trees they called their homes. And this is the only route they knew.

How could we communicate to them that they should choose another path? We didn’t know. But the four of us stood together in front of the driveway, trying not to look aggressive to them. It took a few minutes, before they took the first step.

First, the aggressive male crossed the wall to the left of our gate and climbed on to a tall rubber plant exactly adjacent to us, as if to keep guard. Then one by one, the adults crossed the driveway, slightly to the left of their daily path. We kept standing, careful not to make eye contact with them, or scare them. Over the next twenty minutes, each mother crossed the path with her baby, careful not to spoil the rangoli. Sometimes a frisky youngster was attracted by the colours, only to be dragged back by a patient mother. Only when the last langur had crossed, did the leader of the troop move from its perch and join the others. It was amazing to see their coordination, and their tacit understanding of what was expected of them.

I couldn’t help think how we had destroyed their habitat by building our houses, and yet they were gentle enough to live with us, understanding the need for symbiosis. And then my thoughts return to Avni, the tigress who was brutally massacred in Yavatmal. First we infiltrate into their living spaces, and then we complain of the animals being aggressive. Now we have given industrialists a right to tear down our green forests. Later we can give speeches on pollution and global warming. We will never learn.


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