Sunil and I wander down to his boat and sit on the undulating water, watching the day unfurl. A man descends the ghat steps, a small monkey grins at us from his shoulder. Sunil notices where my interest is going. The man sets the monkey down and attaches his small chain to a mooring rope, then slips into the water and begins his daily ablutions.
“That monkey was starving and now he takes care of it. None of the other monkeys would accept it. Can you see? It is handicapped.”
I look more closely. The monkey’s hands and feet are missing most of their digits. When it tries to stand, it wobbles and rolls over but it’s still lithe and agile.
It winds itself around the rope while it plays, until the free part of the chain is only a few inches long. It tries to free itself but only manages to get even more bound in the twists of chain and rope and begins to squeak and chatter in distress. Sunil shouts to the man in Hindu, who climbs out of the river and unravels the monkey like he’s done this a thousand times. Sunil tells me that the man is a Dom, a community of untouchables, low caste people who work at the cremation ghats. Because of their close association with corpses, Sunil tells me, they are spurned even by other low caste communities.
The man lifts the monkey back onto his shoulder and makes his way back up the steps. One untouchable held by another.