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In Hindi, he would be called Madari. English will loosely translate him as a ‘Monkey man’, but like all things touched by English, the translation can make one overlook it as a profession and assume it to be a characteristic. Marathi has it rather straightforward – Maakadwala (Person with monkey/s).
Maakadwaalas don’t exist anymore.
A very rigorous and welcome activism from powers that be as well as a sensitised public has put an end to the likes of him and their ‘monkey acts’.
But maakadwala was a regular feature in a Pune I grew up in; the late ’70s and early ’80s.
His patrons knew maakadwala only by his trade — maakadwala. Ironically, his pair of monkeys had better defined names — Raju and Sita, Dharmendra and Hema or any such to which not only the monkeys but even the public responded. But maakadwala was spared the common courtesy of a name.
Maakadwala would come in the early evenings or late afternoons on a cycle at times, with the monkeys riding on the crossbar. Sometimes he would be walking with the monkey pair on a leash.
He carried a dirty bag on his shoulder and played his damru with the free hand. ‘Taka-taka-taka-taka’, his damru would announce his arrival, and of course, be reciprocated with an incessant barking of our pet dogs.
He would settle down in our compound and wait for children from the neighboring houses and building to gather. Once a sufficiently ‘large’ crowd of enthusiasts had gathered, he would dramatically disgorge the contents (mirror, stick, tumbler and such) in his bag and goad his star actors to perform.
The histrionics performed by the monkey pair included acts like the male monkey going to war and being shot at and the female monkey breaking down in grief. The female monkey beating up the male monkey when he came home drunk and the female monkey admiring herself in a handheld mirror.
The acts were routine and one could easily predict what was to follow next. The monkey act lasted for half an hour or so after which Maakadwala got some money and if he was lucky enough, leftovers from a couple of homes, which he almost always shared in equal proportion with the monkeys. If that was a case of genuine love or merely splitting spoils, it’s hard to say, but for a fact it showed a total lack of discrimination.
Like Makadwala, cinemawala too had no distinct name. He was merely addressed by his profession, like that was his sole ‘raison-d-etre’. He would cart his bioscope stand over a shoulder and walk through our lane announcing himself.
The moment one heard bioscope, one ran to catch a glimpse of the magical world that lay hidden inside that old, beat up box with a clapping monkey on its top.
Two people could watch a ‘film’ at a time.
You had to stick your face into a wide funnel that was connected to the ‘magical’ screen inside the box.
Cinemawala stood besides you and rolled his film manually with a shank as the magic played itself out on the dark innards of the tin bioscope. It was a very abrupt and short clipping of unrelated images, without a head or tail to it — literally. But one had a sense of having watched a rare preview, the joys of which can scarcely be bought in pushback luxurious seats at swanky multiplexes.
Like maakadwala, cinemawala too had no fixed rates and collected anything that was given to him as a show of ‘decency’. And like maakadwala, he too has walked into the mists of time, carrying his cymbals clanging monkey atop the bioscope, never to return.
This is the concluding ‘story’ of a series which I enjoyed writing immensely. I do hope it brought back a bit of your own pasts too, dear reader.