Entering my fourth and final month in India, I can say experiencing the subcontinent has been about accepting the presence of animals in my daily life. Not pets, but animals. I have gotten used to stepping around and stepping aside for bovine strollers. It’s strange the things you notice when looking at something that was once peculiar becoming run-of-the-mill. Now, I see them looking back at me or looking at what I have in my hands from 20 paces away, or I see their ears listening to me or something else in a different direction. I notice the pink and gray of their tongue and how long it is when it grasps something. Some have shorter horns than others their same size, while some odd ones will have a horn that is shorter than the other or, one turned up while the other is turned down. I can even tell when the cows are receptive to petting or if they are about to head butt me away. Who knew they were complex. Maybe not the smartest animal on the farm but they help to clean each other by licking, leaving little grooves as if a small comb had been used, they huddle together for warmth and comfort, and will eat almost anything. India, and maybe nowhere else, they seem to like paper (especially if it once had something yummy on it) and on occasion will savor duct tape from a box (my theory is the tape has some kind of sweetness in the sticky part), but they also like chapattis, apples and cabbage . They walk about as much as they sit through the day, and sometimes they recognize you (if you give them food, as we do). Obviously, they are not grazing in a meadow all day so their poop is less than organic as we might know it, but is useful as a fuel source for the sadhus and villagers nearby the towns where tourists roam. They are mostly quiet, but when they do moo or do a version of braying like a donkey, you can’t help but want to run for cover from the sheer might of it. They are considered holy in India by Hindus, but are not necessarily treated like kings. Actually, they are treated more like one of the family, including earning respect, tolerance, scolding and instruction. After all, everyone has to get along, so the cows do their part in maintaining social etiquette. Well, most of the time.
The monkeys, wild and boisterous, represent the fun-loving, playful nature Indians possess. They could have thought monkeys a nuisance or even a pest needing extermination, but au contraire. Monkeys are a part of India akin to incense or stray dogs. They’ve even given a god (Hanuman) the face of a monkey in order to show respect for the familiar beast, sharing space in the communities throughout India. Maybe there are more variations but I’ve come in contact with two types of monkeys. The more common monkey sighting is the feisty, pink-butt group and there’s the other, tamer, black-faced monkey with super long tails. They are almost always seen in family groups, caring for one another or working together to borrow or steal what they need. They are curious like George, loving the festivals and events that attract big groups, hoping for an opportunity to be fed or play with a sweater left behind. At first, the monkeys intimidated me, sometimes showing their teeth in aggression (though not at me, but at the boys throwing rocks), then I realized with more exposure to their presence, they practice live and let live. This philosophy allows them to get by on the kindness of others- tourists who think they’re cute, and the inattention of some- vendors who take their eyes off their wares, and leftovers they scavenge from trash heaps, or the offerings from pilgrims wanting blessings from furry, wandering yogis. In India, they are friend and foe, keeping a sadhu company in his solitary life, or being chased away with a stick by the vendors paying attention or by hotel staff to appease their frightened guests. They are smart, unscrewing the cap off bottles to get the last sweet drops, but they are also stupid, sometimes falling from their perch like a rookie. But up close, when they allow it, it is surprising how much we resemble each other in expression, gesture and social strategies.
It’s crazy how coexisting can happen in areas where there are millions of people Mostly it takes patience and tolerance– and the ability to see God in all creatures; traits the Indians possess in abundance. Om Shanti (Peace).