Away from the sober confines of government offices and the bustling traffic of Lutyen’s Delhi, Mahinder Nag wages a seemingly one-sided battle. The troop of monkeys that has colonised Sunehri Bagh eyes him warily. But in this daily battle, there are no winners. For Mahinder, it’s just a job — one that he’s good at.
Mahinder is one of the 40 people employed by the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) to scare away monkeys. Union Urban Development minister M Venkaiah Naidu was referring to them when he talked about men disguising “themselves as langurs” to tackle Delhi’s monkey menace.
There is no disguise, at least not yet. Mahinder has not painted his face black or put on a furry garment or worn a tail. Dressed in a T-shirt and trousers, Mahinder, however, knows how to ape a langur and chase the monkeys away. As he walks through the area assigned to him — housing five heritage bungalows — he emits high-pitched cries scarily reminiscent of the langur, the monkey’s natural foe. The monkeys recognise Mahinder, and keep a close watch on him. As he comes closer, they beat a hasty retreat into the relative safety of trees. The few stubborn young monkeys who attempt to challenge the 26-year-old’s authority give up once Mahinder takes out his gulail (slingshot).
Mahinder often speaks of Chamru — the langur that accompanied him on these patrols until February 2013, when the Supreme Court banned the use of captive langurs. “We are from the Madaari caste, we have traditionally worked with monkeys and langurs for hundreds of years. I learnt a lot about monkeys from Chamru and her behaviour,” he says.
He speaks fondly of the time madaaris would be welcome in small towns and villages, and of children queueing up to watch “bandar aur madaari ke kartab”. “But in Delhi, they think we’re being cruel to our animals. The time of the madaari is gone and, after I released my langur into the forest, for some time I didn’t think I would be able to stay on in Delhi. But within a few days, NDMC asked me if I could be the langur,” he says, breaking into a grin.
Mahinder came to Delhi four years ago from Agra, where he worked at a jewellery shop. He brought his langur along and would perform tricks near India Gate. Then, an acquaintance told him about NDMC’s plight with monkeys and helped him get in touch with the corporation.
He earns Rs 6,000 every month, with which he supports his wife and two children. “For the time being, it’s a good job. But I hope they don’t introduce the langur costume. I continued…