Once upon a time, in the dense forests of Western Ghats, there lived a grey langur, Giria.
Giria lived with his troop. He had just been weaned off from his Ma. And was still learning to use his tail to balance himself.
One summer evening, as he tore the tender green leaves from the jamun tree and chewed them with his eyes closed, and dreamt of a paradise where he could sit on a tree throne and be offered the succulent leaves on a platter, he was jolted by screechy alarms from his family. He too joined them and made a feeble sound. But wasn’t quick enough to run with them. Instead, he kept gawking at the herd of deer grazing below. Tyrell-the-tiger sprang from the nearby cardamom bush and charged towards the herd. Giria, shocked by Tyrell’s ferocity, lost his balance and fell on Daria-the-deer. He gripped her neck as she galloped away, through the meadow, across the stream, and deep into the forest. The herd stopped only when it was sure it had lost Tyrell. Giria got down and scampered to the nearest tree.
“Some langur you are, falling off a tree like a fruit!” Daria scoffed at him.
“That’s a funny way of saying thanks, Welcome!” Giria glowered back at her.
Mama Deer intervened.
“We are thankful for your warning, young one,” she said and nudged Daria.
Daria snorted and turned her back.
“Like the young langur, you still have many things to learn!” Mama Deer chided her as they moved away.
Giria heard the gurgle of the river. He remembered Ma saying there was a waterfall deep inside the jungle. And it was dangerous for their tribe to go there. He was sure to get a good rap for straying away from his troop. But since he was already there, he decided to make the most of his freedom.
He swung across the low branches. Fell down a few times. Plucked, tasted, and spat out the ripe red fruits on the trunks of cluster fig trees. The cool mist caressed his cheeks as the roar of the waterfall grew closer. He closed his eyes and dreamt of a big fountain outside his palace in paradise.
A python slithered up. An Eagle circled down.
A gliding frog grazed past Giria’s tail, tingling him out of his reverie. Just in the nick of time. The python looked poised to strike him. Giria hopped onto the next tree as the python hissed and uncoiled after him jutting out its pinkish-striped head.
Ma had warned him. ‘A daydreaming monkey didn’t live to see his children’- she had stated plainly. What could he do? The daydreaming spells hit him at random. They offered relief from his boring home life. But he began to appreciate her words after the day’s troubles.
The setting sun took the chirping of the birds with it. The night fell and Giria was no closer to getting home. The stars twinkled in the black velvet sky. He moped around, thinking about his troop. Would his Ma be missing him? Would he be able to find his way back?
After fidgeting for some time, he snuggled close to the branch of a huge banyan tree. It was unfamiliar and uncomfortable. He missed the warmth of his Ma’s belly and stayed up for a long time. The orchestra of the cicadas reverberated across the blue hills, playing one piece after another, from different corners. At last, he fell asleep, listening to their rhythmic tunes.
Something sharp poked his head. He cracked open his eyelids and saw two wide brown-black fans shielding him from the bright sun. An eagle! Was it a dream? Another sharp peck on his arm confirmed it was not a dream.
“Oh! Are you the great one?” he squealed.
The bird gave him a dismissive look and prepared for its flight.
“Wait! Please, are you the one who appears in my dreams and takes me to the Monkey Paradise?”
The bird squawked,
“Listen, little monkey! I don’t know what you are talking about. But if you know what’s good for you, you will scoot back to your family before you become a meal,” and flew away.
Giria was heartbroken but didn’t get to dwell too much on it as his stomach growled. He had to forage and eat if he wanted to gain energy to go looking for his troop. He jumped to the next tree and examined its leaves. They smelled familiar, but he was not sure. He wished he had paid more attention to the little things around him. With his mother around, he had thought about getting to paradise all the time. Now, all he could think was to get back to his troop.
By noon he had swung with gossamer-winged butterflies, ran away from a bear, and gone in circles looking for his troop—twice. He was no closer to getting home but had figured out what to eat. And had not gagged on it, yet.
A week went by. Giria had noted the patterns: the hornbills and kingfishers feasting on the worms by the sunrise, the herds of deer and elephants visiting the waterhole at noon, and the crickets and cicadas singing at moonrise. He kept himself alive as well.
He fervently hoped Daria’s herd would pass by the banyan tree he had lodged himself in. Maybe her mother knew the way to his troop? Meanwhile, he was careful to sense the signals carried by the rustling leaves on the forest floor, the fluttering wings in the blue sky, and the warning calls in the wind.
Another week went by. He roiled at the thought of his troop abandoning him. But kept exploring the forest a little further every day, excited to find clues to unlock its secrets. With each passing day, he belonged a little more to the forest. A violet vanda, a black scorpion, or a prowling leopard kept his days and nights interesting.
Rory-the-rat, in particular, definitely made his days interesting. They met when Giria crashed on the crispy brown leaves of the forest floor. Rory peeped out and laughed at him.
“Some langur you are, not owning your swing,” she squeaked.
He walked away in a huff. But ruminated on her words later. And went back to her to ask,
“Will you help me?”
A few more weeks went by. He came across a few troops. They were not his and didn’t want him in theirs. Whenever he felt hopeless, he remembered Ma’s words – ‘As long as you have your grip, you will always find your troop’.
His grip had ‘improved a lot’ in Rory’s words. He believed her. For she has chosen to believe in him.
The monsoons rumbled in. The mosses came alive, plastering the trunks of massive trees florescent green. Pink, yellow, and white flowers carpeted the meadows on the slopes. On most days, rain poured for hours on end and then stopped, making the forest air heavy and pungent.
Giria found a tree hole for himself. He climbed up the mossy trunks without slipping and rarely fell down while swinging. He swung up and down, far and wide, and felt powerful when Rory and her friends picked food peacefully with him around.
He still dreamt, but with his eyes open.
On one such damp dreamy night, as the sky blanketed the forest, tiny stars rose from the undergrowth. They swirled up in a slow dance and circled a plum tree. Their heads bobbed up and down to a tune Giria couldn’t hear. Then, at one magical moment, they all landed on the tree, turning it into a sparkling emerald!
What was in front of him was beyond anything Giria had dreamed about.
Ma had been right. The forest was neither good nor bad; it was… fantastic! All it demanded of him was to own his swing. If he did it with all his heart, it would take him to places where he could witness its miracles. Maybe even create his own, someday!
Like the fireflies lighting up a plum tree.