Hanuman and the monkey

by Fr. Nascimento Mascarenhas

We knew him simply as Hanuman. Nobody asked him his full name. His house was in the neighbourhood of our Saligao Serenade Editor Val Souza’s ancestral house in Saligao, Goa.

Way before cell phones – or any phones for that matter – were in vogue in the villages of Goa, verbal messages shouted across compounds and walls worked just as well. As if by magic, we all came to know of spontaneous plans to climb up the Pilerne hill to pluck chunn’na, kantam, jamblam, charam, caju, etc – all the juicy fruits of the season from the bounteous trees of Goa.

Hanuman always joined us on these jaunts with his pantló, a small basket, while the rest of us had small coir bags or potiô. Within fifteen minutes of sauntering along merrily, we were up in the Pilerne hill jungle. In no time we filled our bags with fruits more than sufficient for the entire family. Besides charam, chunn’nam and kantam, Hanuman also collected a variety of other fruit from the trees of Goa such as mangoes and cashews, deftly using his catapult and stick that he carried along with him, and chucking the spoils of his foraging skills into the bottom of his pantló.

Returning from one of these jaunts, as it was still early evening, we decided to spend some time at the Akem fountain on the Mollembhatt hill not far from our homes in Saligao. In those days the spring and its surroundings were clean and green, and a few of us jumped into the cool waters for a refreshing dip. The waters of the spring were good for the eyes and skin, everyone said.

Bounty hunters

Trees of Goa: JambulFor every teenage village boy in Goa, climbing trees is but an extension of walking. And youngsters quickly become aware of which trees are safe and which are treacherous to climb. The guava, mango and custard apple fruit trees of Goa are safe; the jambul (jamblam) tree belongs to the latter category. The jambul starts bearing its purple fruit with the advent of the monsoon. This year there had been rains in May. Rains add to the hazard of climbing, as the branches became slippery with moss, and more fragile.

Generally, if we saw a tree still loaded with ripening fruit later in the season, chances were that the fruit was inedible due to a maggot infestation, or undesirable for some other inexplicable reason. Hanuman, and the rest of us as well, knew the quality of every tree around the Akem fountain. Stones and catapults brought down the remotest fruits of the worthwhile ones.

However, one jambul tree a hundred yards away from where we were sitting, was the single exception. The eight-foot tree was on a slope. It was an open invitation to all youngsters. And yet it stood there defiantly, untouched and laden with juicy jamblam that cast coal-black shadows in the rays of the sun.

The people of this ward in Saligao claimed the jamblam tree was haunted. They gave it a wide berth to avoid temptation. When pressed for an explanation, no one was able to say anything definite about the nature of the alleged haunted Goan tree.

Monkey adventure

Jambul treeNow in every group of young boys there is always an overly adventurous one, who thinks the unthinkable and would stop at nothing to attain the seemingly unattainable. Our special fellow was Hanuman. He had set his eyes on the untouched jambul tree for quite a while, and decided that this was the day it would have to submit its bounty to his long-standing craving. Hanuman turned to us for support. We just shrugged our shoulders and warned him of dire consequences if he went ahead with his foolhardy plans.

This only succeeded in toughening Hanuman’s resolve, but he still needed an accomplice. One by one we shook our heads slowly, and sheepishly refused. Hanuman walked along alone towards the “haunted” tree, undaunted. He placed his pantló – still filled with fruits from our Pilerne hill exploits earlier – at the foot of the jamblam tree. He ascended the jambul tree and began gathering jamblam, as we watched apprehensively from afar. All of a sudden, a huge monkey came crashing down onto the jambul tree from out of the blue. Hanuman shrieked in shock and fear, but none of us dared to shoo the fierce-looking simian away. Instead, we ran like mad, tightly clutching our potiô, in the direction of our homes. Somehow, Hanuman too eventually gathered courage, descended from the tree and ran for his life. In the meanwhile, father monkey, mother monkey and baby monkey converged on Hanuman’s basket and feasted on all the fruits he had so painstakingly gathered that day! Of all the trees of Goa in the village of Saligao, this jambul tree never yielded to us its juicy fruit.

When we gathered round Hanuman back home later and consoled him, all he could reply in disgust was: “Some friends you all are; you left me alone for the monkeys to make a monkey of me!”

Indeed, there was never a dull moment in the villages of Goa all those years ago!

Jambul fruit in Goa. Pic by Frederick Noronha

Jambul fruit in Goa. Pic by Frederick Noronha

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