Animal Kingdom

Arriving at the Chennai airport, Leela scanned far and wide, searching for her sister, Veena, amid the crowd outside the airport. Veena said she would pick up Leela from the airport. Leela picked up her bags from the baggage carousel with help from a fellow passenger.

Leela waited patiently near the exit gate, glancing at her watch, which showed time nearing midnight. The plane landed at the Chennai airport, two hours past the scheduled arrival time of 10 p.m. The mechanical problem at Sydney airport at departure, coupled with the stormy weather conditions, caused the delay. Leela looked around and noticed that almost everyone had left the airport. A middle-aged woman who travelled from Sydney stopped at the gate with a friendly gesture. Leela smiled at the stranger who offered her a lift to her hotel. The middle-aged woman also came from Sydney after a short stay with her son in Australia. Leela declined her offer politely, indicating that her sister Veena would pick her up.

Leela started to walk to the taxi stand. It was a hot day, and the temperature reached around 40 degrees. Smoke, fumes, and dust from the old taxis made Leela sick. Few porters who followed her to the taxi stand were hassling her to hand over her luggage for them to carry. Leela sent a message to  Veena that she would hire a taxi to the hotel as she didn’t want to stand alone at the airport. She hailed an old cab and gave the hotel address to the driver.

While she was in the taxi, she reflected on her last visit to India. A few years ago, Leela visited a temple in Madras, India, as part of a travel itinerary.  While walking along the winding footpath, she noticed a group of little monkeys roaming around the temple. In a split second, these monkeys jumped on the temple boundary wall and hung upside down on tree-tops. They were not at all bothered by the people walking to the temple. At times stealing looks at passers-by and occasionally snatching food and other items from them.

The driver and tour guide related a story to her. During one of his guided tours, the tour guide had taken few visitors to another temple on a hilltop.

It was mid-day, the visitors to the temple had finished their lunch and had thrown the food on the side road. A large group of monkeys from a nearby hill came over to complete the leftovers and tidbits. The monkeys descended the hill one by one, taking the food, and climbed hastily to the hilltop to enjoy the feast.  One monkey left behind limped to reach the road for the food. With great difficulty, he picked up the food and crossed the road. Alas! Within a few seconds, a motor car with high speed ran over the limping monkey.

Other monkeys saw the fate of their friend.  They threw the food on the ground and immediately ran in unison to help the monkey lying in a blood pool. They formed a circle around the dead monkey, lifted it gently, and slowly ascended the mountain. None of the monkeys went over to the food they had taken—the food left for stray dogs and birds.

The driver said he saw the grief-stricken faces of the monkeys, the genuine sadness and disbelief on their faces as they slowly took away their dead friend.  He told Leela that he could never forget this scene – we, as human beings with so much wisdom and knowledge, are nowhere near the unity, harmony, and friendship these monkeys displayed. 

If only we had the compassion and unity these animals exhibited, we as human beings could combat war and terror that is destroying the human race.

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