When I was 19 I went on a 4 month internship to India. I spent the first 3 weeks with a group of 18 students and our professor and his family. Then we were parceled out to several villages and some to a city in Goa. I spent my semester in a little village in the southern tip of the country. But on the way down, our professor, Dave, took us to see a lot of important historical and religious sites.
One stop was the town of Mathura, which we lovingly nicknamed “Manura” because the whole town smelled like manure and was swarming with small flies. Every time you stopped moving, these little flies would land on you. You could wiggle and they would fly off, but as soon as you were still again, you were covered. There wasn’t much to do or see in this town. It was a dump. But it happened to be the closest town to a beautiful temple marking the birthplace of the god Krishna.
We arrived in mid January, the off-season. The town has times of year where it swarms with tourists as well as flies, but this was not one of them. Our teacher had selected a hotel for us head of time. And when we arrived we were delighted to find out that it would cost us only 6 Rupies a night, about $0.18. Indians are fanatical about their paperwork, something they picked up from the British during their occupation of India. Everything must be filled out, by hand, in triplicate: Your name, your passport number, your home address, your address in India, what you intend to do while you’re here, how long you’re staying, your pants inseam and eyeglass prescription, and so on. So there was quite a back log at the front desk when 18 students plus a family of 5 arrived. The friends I intended to share a room with—Keri, Rachelle, Nicole, Angie, Candace, and I—decided to go set our stuff in our room first and then come back to fill out the paperwork once things had died down.
We left the mob of people at the front desk, which was just a few feet inside the front door, and took the hallway to the left (an identical hallway went off to the right). The hallway was marble-floored, as everything in India is. Open windows let in a nice warm breeze. Our room was down about 5 doors. When we opened it, we were disappointed. It was pretty bare bones. Six wooden-framed cots lined up in the center of the room. They were dusty and covered with rat droppings. A small table and chairs in one corner was the only other furniture. Two doors led off the sleeping area; one to the bathroom and another, locked, to the back ally.
The bathroom was pretty typical of India. A porcelain squat pot took up the space in the center of the 4x3 room. A water tap about 10 inches off the ground was on the side wall with a small plastic pitcher underneath. Indians—those of all classes but the very rich—don’t use toilet paper. It’s too expensive. Instead most bathrooms have a water tap and a pitcher next to the squat pot to wash off with after one has squatted, and if necessary one can use the left hand to help things along. (Indians never touch food or each other with the left hand. Only the right hand is used for dining and shaking hands and everything else. You know, just in case.)
After we all shook out our mattresses and sheets and laid our own sheets from home on top, we headed back to the front desk to fill out our paperwork. It took us about 10 minutes and then we decided to go back to our room and relax. But when we got there, we discovered a huge log of poo sitting on the porcelain edge of the squat pot. It was big. Baby Ruth sized. But why would a human have pooped on the side of the squat pot instead of in it? And what human would have been in our room after we left? It didn’t make sense. Maybe it could have been a dog—it was the right size. But surely we would have noticed a dog trotting up and down the corridors between the front desk and our room. No, a dog was not likely. But what else could it have been? A monkey? We didn’t even know if they had monkeys in this part of India, but it seemed even less likely that a monkey could have gotten into our hotel, into our room, and decided to relieve himself in our bathroom. It was a mystery, for sure.
Finally I was nominated to go back to the front desk and tell the owner about the mysterious poo. He didn’t seem phased and said he’d send someone to clean it up. “But what is it FROM?” I asked him. He shrugged. “Did someone go in our room?” I continued. “No, Madam,” was his response, “No one went into your room. For sure.” “Then what was it from? Is there a dog here?” “No, Madam. No dog.” “Well, do you have monkeys here?” I inquired. Surely a monkey was the only option left. But now the owner was getting defensive. “Madam. We do not have monkeys. There are no monkeys here. NO MONKEYS!! “ I decided to let it go since he obviously had no clue was getting pretty riled up by my line of questioning . I went back to my room, and a few minutes later a tiny shriveled woman showed up with a broom, swept the mysterious poo down the squat pot, and flushed it away with some water from the tap.
Later that evening, the whole group decided to go out for some dinner. We found a shabby little restaurant that served the traditional Indian thali meal. It was just average. And very spicy. But it was food, and we were hungry.
Afterward, we all went shopping at a fantastic local market. It was full of wonderful handmade trinkets and crafts from the surrounding villages, as well as stickers and posters and statues of Krishna and Rama and the other forms of Vishnu, and some of the other favorite Hindu gods. And everything was so cheap we filled up bags full of souvenirs.
As we walked back in the cool evening air to our hotel, I suddenly stopped and stared. There, sitting on the tile roof of our hotel, was a humongous monkey. He was easily the size of a child, light brown and gangly. “I thought there were no monkeys here!” I complained to the rest of the group. “He said ‘NO MONKEYS.’” We all just stood and stared. How did the monkey get into the hotel AND into our room? And how did he get out so fast without being seen? We didn’t know. We would never know. But I swear to you as we stood and eyed that monkey on the roof, he looked down, and he laughed at us.