The novelist Mohsin Hamid once explained what it feels like for him to come to India, a country where largely everything feels familiar because Hindi is perfectly intelligible to him. “It’s only when you look at the road signs that you realize that you’re in a different country,” he said. “You’re functionally illiterate.”
Perhaps this is how the monkey now known as Bobby feels in his new surroundings, the Bahawalpur Zoo, unless he happens to be one of those fortunate Indians who does read the Urdu script. Bobby was captured across the desert sands of Cholistan, where, according to Pakistani newspaper Express Tribune, “locals tried to capture it but failed as the monkey dodged past them.” Wildlife officials have now placed Bobby in the zoo.
Men rest in a park as a group of monkeys pass by in New Delhi. File photo
It moves us to ask how his captors knew of his Indianness. Presumably there is a reasonable explanation related to his genus or markings, but in the absence of reporting we are forced to speculate. Did he cheer for India over the cricket commentary? (It may relieve the BCCI to know that at least someone is paying attention to the West Indies series.) We are reliably informed by public campaigns that Bollywood is a great uniter of the nations, so that trail runs cold. Perhaps the creature was on his way to meddle in Afghanistan.
If that is the case, perhaps it is a good thing that Bobby was captured by kindly wildlife officials and not the military. The situation isn’t what it was a couple of years ago, after all, when, instead of shooting down a pigeon which had flown over from enemy airspace, Indian Army officials were canny enough to capture and pat it down for evidence of secret messages and other tools of espionage.
Things don’t always end so well.
Bobby’s lack of Urdu may mean he is unfamiliar with Saadat Hasan Manto’s afsana The Dog of Titwal. In this story, a dog called Jhun Jhun, claimed by the Indian soldiers on one side of the border, is called Shun Shun by the Pakistani jawans waiting on the other side. The dog can do no more than wag his tail when questioned successively by each group about his national identity, which causes great confusion to both the Indians and the Pakistanis. Annoying both sides with his non co-operation, he ends up shot in the head. Better an ape’s life, Bobby, than a dog’s death.