Monkeys at Sunset

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Picture this:

A suspension bridge, hanging high above the flowing Ganges river. Masses of people crossing the bridge, barefoot women in saris, saddhus with matted beards dressed all in orange, Indian tourists, long-haired hippies, cows, donkeys, children.

The sun is setting, and where the river bends west, the water is on fire. Bells clang from the ashrams that line the sandy river banks, and on the sloping arches of the bridge, monkeys crawl, sit, and preen themselves.

I am taking pictures, fascinated by the fact that cows can lay in the middle of a bridge where motorbikes zip by and holy men sing songs. It all melds together so perfectly, so colorfully, that it invokes wonder in me. What is this place, so different from home? If there is anywhere in the world that is still earth, but is like another planet, I think it is here, in India.

I squat down, trying to capture a monkey, a cow, and a holy man all in one shot. Impossible. I squint at the frame, trying again. I have my back to the fence that separates me from a long, long tumble into the river, when I feel something clench my Achilles tendon- I swivel my head around quickly and see a small monkey, reaching through the fence. He is pinching my ankle! I jump up quickly, laughing and a bit out of breath. He chatters angrily, like I have upset him, and then disappears underneath the bridge.

Later, still trying to capture the perfect shot, I am tapped on the shoulder by an Israeli girl. She wonders if I will take a picture of her and her friends. I comply, and take the camera from her hand. I move over to the side to let the foot traffic flow past as I adjust the lens. I take one shot, but it is too dark. I start to take another, and hear a hiss about six inches from my ear. I jump to the side, and see a large monkey leaning forward menacingly. I seem to be on his turf. I back away, laughing nervously, and check a few times to make sure he’s not going to jump at me before I take the picture.

I try again, and this time, as I am studying the shot, I hear another hiss, smaller this time. I look back to the same spot, only now a baby monkey is sitting there, squatting on his haunches, his lips pulled back over his teeth. He is staring straight into my eyes. I think if I took one step closer to him, he’d jump. He looks that serious. And yet his baby face is so adorable that I can’t help laughing. The Israelis laugh with me, and we watch this curious little creature, this baby monkey, as he hisses and hunches down, threatening us with his stance.

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