Monkey Man Attack!

5 minute read

Someoneor somethingis stalking the rooftops of New Delhi, and from all descriptions, the best response is to be afraidvery afraid. It strikes when residents are seeking relief from the brutal summer heat by bedding down on their roofs between midnight and 4 a.m. It scratches its victims and bounds out of sight into the darkness. Some say it’s a monster with a black monkey face and human legs, possibly with coil springs on its feet. Or a robot invader with steel claws. Just possibly, the marauder is a half-human spy in an iron mask from neighboring Pakistan sent to destabilize the Indian capital.

The Monkey Man, as he’s been crowned by an excited local press, is unlikely to be from Pakistan, but he’s sure done a good job at destabilization. Fear and loathing has gripped an entire section of New Delhi. Three unfortunates died fleeing their homes when screams from neighbors announced that the monster was nearby. One, a woman five-months pregnant, tripped in the dark and fell down the stairs from her rooftop terrace. Two men leapt off buildings. All died in the hospital from their injuries. Several others have been injured in panicked stampedes and more than 100 people say they have been attacked, claiming to have sustained minor bruises and scratches.

In India, where religion dominates lives and where many of the country’s 330 million gods take the shape of animals, birds and demons, the supernatural is often fused with reality, and reason often gets plowed under by superstition. In frightened northern and eastern New Delhi, home to some 4 million people, no neighborhood is dark after sunset anymore. Power outages have been stopped as a result of the panic, and city politicians guarantee electricity will remain on around-the-clock until the monster is caught (or forgotten). Wandering bands of vigilantes guard neighborhoods with wooden cudgels, daggers, field-hockey sticks, ceremonial swords and pikes made from butchers’ cleavers. They carry whistles around their necks to warn other neighborhoods of impending attack. In the early hours, police fire flares over cultivated ground to see if the Monkey Man is hiding in the darkness. The area’s 500-strong police force has been tripled. Some legislators are demanding the central government send in Elite commandos to deal with what they call “the crisis.” A bounty of $1,100 has been put on his head.

The man charged with playing Agent Mulder to track down the Monkey Man in northeast Delhi is Vivek Gogia, deputy commissioner of police. At 2.30 a.m. the radio in his curtained automobile crackles, setting him racing to Old Seemapuri, a warren of closely packed, illegally built two- and three-story dwellings crisscrossed with alleys. Every light in every building is on. Women and old men peer from balconies and roofs. The vigilantesmen and boyshuddle around, babbling excitedly. Singling out a tall man at the back of the crowd, Gogia asks what happened. “There was this shadow, sir,” he replies. “Really, nothing more than a shadow. He has a red light in his stomach and his eyes are red, too.” Did you see him? “No.” Did anyone? asks Gogia. A young factory worker called Navesh Kumar is pushed forward and Gogia follows him to the rooftop where he was sleeping. “When I woke up,” Navesh relates, “there was this black, shadowy thing. He saw me looking at him and jumped there.” He points to a roof three houses away. Did he jump or run? asks the police chief. Navesh falters and summons his sister-in-law, who says she got a better glimpse. “It looked like someone in a black burka (the head-to-toe garment worn by some Muslim women). It flew across to the other roof.” Gogia frowns. Other residents of the house push forward with their description. “I looked up and saw this black thing with shining red eyes on the roof. When it saw me it jumped down and disappeared,” says Subhash. The stories are not adding up for Gogia. Was there a thumping sound as other witnesses reported? “Not a thumping sound,” says another resident, Balwinder Singh, “but it makes a shrill whistle as it leaps.” After half an hour Gogia and his police squad depart. “All kinds of fibbing and confabulations are going on,” he says wearily.

“When wild fears are at a pathological level, critical faculties disappear and gullibility gains control,” says Sanal Edamaruku, secretary-general of the India Rationalist Association, which currently seems to be India’s least populated school of belief. Edamaruku says it’s no coincidence that a series on the exploits of the monkey god Hanuman, showing the popular Hindu deity bounding great distances and carrying out extraordinary physical feats, is currently being screened on TV. “People in India often find it difficult to distinguish between fantasy and reality,” he says. And the citizens of New Delhi might wonder how the secretary-general finds the calm for such measured thinkingwith a howling, screeching, hairy, drooling, scratching Monkey Man on the loose.

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