Friday, March 24

Monkey and man roam deserted streets in search of work

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A man and a monkey keep roaming the deserted lanes of Ballygunge and Southern Avenue almost every evening.

Mohammad Farooq and his simian friend Sundari start their journey from a slum in Park Circus around 3.30pm every day. They don’t return before 7pm.

The two have not been able to stage a single performance for two months now. But they still step out every day, hoping to get some money from known faces and strangers because Farooq, in his late 40s, has many mouths to feed. He has been getting some help on most days. But that is far from enough.

Farooq and his wife live with four sons and a daughter. The daughter is the eldest at 17 and the youngest is under five. “There is a lockdown for the rich and there is a lockdown for the poor. Then, there is a lockdown for us, the poorest of the poor,” Farooq, who has been a madari (those who stage performances with monkeys) for close to three decades now, said. “Aur toe kuchh nahin aata (don’t know anything else to earn a living).”

The social distancing norms and curbs on public gathering mean no performance for Sundari.

“I remember the last time she performed was inside an apartment near the lake (Rabindra Sarovar). It was the Sunday before Holi,” Farooq told Metro.

Farooq did not step out of home for the first few days after the lockdown had been announced. “But hunger threatened to kill us before the virus,” he said.

That is his stock answer whenever a cop stops him.

Every day, Sundari in tow, he passes by housing complexes and standalone apartments in Ballygunge, Gariahat, Southern Avenue and adjoining areas.

They are not allowed to enter the compounds.

But the residents, some known and some strangers and many of them children, often spot the two from their windows and balconies. Some send money through the security guard. Some wrap the money inside a polythene packet and throw it from their windows or balconies. Some use a rope to lower a bag with money inside.

Farooq said he used to earn around Rs 7,000 a month before the lockdown. “Now, if I get Rs 100, I consider it a decent day. We received our quota of free ration in April. My wife got some groceries for free from an NGO. But that did not last very long. My wife and daughter have slept hungry on many days. But the children need food at least twice a day.”

His companion for 15 years, Sundari, has sensed “something amiss (kuchh garbar)”, Farooq said.

“She has been the actual breadwinner of the family, not me. I treat her like my daughter and make sure she gets milk and rice every day. She loves fruits but I have not bought her any for a month now. But she is not complaining… she comes and sits beside me whenever I am dejected,” he said.

The family is not isolated. A cluster of madaris living in slums behind the Mallickbazar-Park Circus crossing has been suffering the same plight.


Source: The Telegraph

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