A few days ago, while I was working in the afternoon, there was a movement at the window I was facing. I saw nothing when I looked up. Now, anyone with a ladder can reach my house from the basement level. A few fleeting thoughts about thieves and criminals (and I suspect, even terrorists) crossed my mind. In that fraction of a second I took to rise from my seat, I am sure my heart had reached its maximum pounding rate. I peeked through the window, saw nothing, so I decided to be bold for the sake of appearances, and opened the door. Imagine my surprise when I saw a monkey perching on the rails, looking back at me as though I were the intruder in his (her?) house.

What passed through my mind wasn’t exactly relief, but a close relative of it. It was not a human – that was a consolation, for I had no experience in handling thieves; but it was an animal – that was a worry, for what was it doing on my balcony and how do I get rid of it?

I tried to shoo it away – I was standing at a safe distance, and my foot was in the door so that I could escape at short notice (if the wild animal decided to turn wild). But my shooing clearly conveyed to it that I was one frightened being. It bared its teeth in offense and it was all I could do not to dart inside and slam the door. Then it decided that fun was over, and hopped to the neighbour’s balcony.

Later that evening, I heard of its many adventures from different parts of the apartment. The animal was spotted wandering, idling, searching, and in one place, it had managed to reach the kitchen, from where it was devouring freshly prepared beans fry when the owner of the fry surprised it.

There was an estate nearby, full of trees, and not long ago, we used to have frequent visits from monkeys on our balcony and surrounding areas. They used to soil the clothes on our cloth-line, and leave waste behind. Snakes were also occasionally seen, and many birds and butterflies frequented our neighbourhood. Then more buildings began to appear, and the trees in the estate were cut down – we heard that a posh apartment or a mall was coming up. We groaned, but we were partly thankful when the ‘animal menace’ seemed to reduce. So it was a surprise when a monkey was sighted again, and not just in the vicinity, but right on our doorstep, like in the good old times.

The next morning I found water dripping from my neighbour’s balcony and went to investigate. (The owners were away.) It was obvious that the monkey had left the tap open after taking a swig, the previous evening. It occurred to me for the first time that the animal was here for a purpose. Summer had begun overnight. Just a few days before, we were still in the throes of a severe winter and one fine morning we realised that summer, as dry and hot as you please, was here. No transition, no delay, no pause; no time to catch our breath.

When the maid came into clean my house that day, I told her about the visit, and reminded her to keep our door closed, so that monkeys don’t come in and sneak off our precious meal. She agreed with me that the afternoons are hot and that there is no water to be found for these beings. She lives in a one-room house with her family, at a nearby school. She informed me that they keep a little water outside during the day, for the animals. They see birds and small animals coming to drink, she said. I thought that was good, and I even considered for a moment keeping some water out for the birds. But of course, if the monkeys come to my balcony, I would not be happy – they sure do know how to leave a mess. My dilemma was resolved in a couple of days when the summer showers hit the city. I hoped that wherever they were, the animals and birds got some reprieve from the heat.

Where do these animals, stuck in the urban world, normally find their food and water? Do we even care? We’re just relieved that they aren’t encroaching our space, harming our children and stealing our food. We cannot ‘co-exist’ in the true sense of the word. When nature marches into our lives, we take desperate measures to keep her out. To live a civilised life as humans, we need to keep nature trimmed and well-behaved and on our terms. That isn’t co-existence. If you keep your distance, we may keep ours. If you are hungry, we don’t care. When it comes to us versus animals, we vote for us. Naturally.

The deadlock between man and nature continues.