Roadside Romeos: Stories of great macaque romances

Macaques are agents of free love, but you wouldn’t like to cross their paths in such high testosterone times.

Written by Ranjit Lal | New Delhi | Updated: November 22, 2015 12:34:55 am
Of course, there have been stories of great macaque romances and often, when these macho dudes finally mature, they can, and do form deep abiding friendships with the ladies. (Source: Ranjit Lal) Of course, there have been stories of great macaque romances and often, when these macho dudes finally mature, they can, and do form deep abiding friendships with the ladies. (Source: Ranjit Lal)

These are high testosterone times on the Delhi Ridge. It’s that time of the year when lady macaques are at their most attractive and will bat their eyelashes at any number of macho dudes that catch their fancy. Oh yes, the ladies have taken care: young studs from their own families who have begun to swagger a bit too familiarly in front of girl cousins have been unceremoniously turfed out of the family group. It’s these guys you need to look out for: they stride around with the confidence of mafia dons, tautly muscled, eyes glittering, and with shiny, shampooed fur that suggests they’ve just been through a four-hour makeover. They’re looking for girls and nothing will come in their way. Usually, they’re accompanied by a (or a pair of) breathless chamchas who follow them excitedly, stars in their eyes, obviously interning as wingmen, with great ambitions in their hearts, but as yet, very short attention spans. One day, in a year or two… Until then, perhaps they’re the ones responsible for the makeover and shampoo.

I meet three or four of these dadas on my walks every evening these days, each one keeping to (and patrolling) the area it has deemed its own. By and large, they contemptuously ignore you and if your paths cross directly, will casually move aside or divert into the undergrowth. You are not worth having a confrontation with because the outcome of that confrontation is obvious: you’ll end up hollering blue murder and scuttling away as fast as you can, minus a chunk from your thigh, or worse. And, of course, if a dude has things on his mind and does not wish to alter the course of his path, then you naturally defer and say, “No problem sir.” But from the vicious, high-pitched hysterical shrieks that startle you every so often, usually accompanied by the sound of pounding feet and thrashing foliage, these Rambos obviously do have problems with others of their kind as they try to woo the ladies.

Macaque society believes in free love: both ladies and gents will, at this halcyon time, go with as many partners as they can manage. Some guys are, of course, more macho than others, so they will win more fair hearts and fiercely protect them from jealous interlopers. The ladies will, however, try and slip in a quickie by the side if they can. And really, some of the things those tweeny baba and baby macaques get up to with each other — with their big mamas benignly looking on — are too wonderful to mention here, though if you are of a certain prissy dispensation it might be advisable to avert your eyes! God help these little bandars and bandarias if the moral police — or the busybody guards at the Ridge — confronted them: what kind of message are they sending out to all those young couples that come here from the Delhi University hand in hand for a bit of quiet study? I do suspect though that the monkey moms would not take such “do-gooder” interference in the right spirit and a bristling bouncing canine-baring mamma macaque is not something you’d like to be standing in front of and lecturing to about morals. “Ah”, those university kids must wistfully think: “if only all mammas and papas were like that!”

Of course, there have been stories of great macaque romances and often, when these macho dudes finally mature, they can, and do form deep abiding friendships with the ladies. So much so, that they will good-humouredly even play with the babies (which may not be their own) rather in the manner, I guess (but with more honest intentions), of politicians kissing human babies, who must, thereafter, immediately be bathed in Dettol and properly inoculated. It is hugely amusing and quite touching to watch a giant sumo-wrestler of a macaque allow rowdy juveniles to clamber all over him, pulling his tail, screaming with delight. In macaque society, it’s the ladies who have the power to accept or reject the gents and the latter know this only too well. So, the happier you can keep the ladies and the babies in the group (without them becoming jealous of each other), the better your chances of becoming head honcho. Is there something in that for us?

Even though most of the time the monkeys do mind their manners, walking the Ridge at this time of the year can be a little dicey. Sometimes, the prowling macho dudes emerge from the bushes right in front of you, and it’s not wise to startle or be startled in such high testosterone times. What you do have to watch out for, right through the year, are the juveniles who gang together and get their kicks by grabbing at the cuffs of your jeans and making threatening noises because you haven’t brought them chips. Like our own species, they prefer to go after women and children more. Raise a hullabaloo and they’ll scream as if they’re being slaughtered and their family will come pounding up, bristling with aggro. What you need to do, of course, is to swagger down the paths just like those dada dudes, your eyes blinking contemptuously at one and all. Then who knows, you might even collect a small retinue of admiring chamcha monkeys with stars in their eyes and ambition in their hearts as they tumble down the path behind you.

*Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and birdwatcher

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