Saturday, March 18, 2017

I am Trapped – in a “Monkey Trap”

Most of my college classmates and navy coursematespeers are enjoying their retirement  like me. 

But a few are still slogging away trying to make money. 

“So  when are you going to retire...?” I asked one of them.

After I heard his answer – I remembered this story I had written almost 25 years ago – in the 1990s.

This story is for him – and others like him...

MY MONKEY TRAP
A Story
By
VIKRAM KARVE

“Come, Vijay...” Captain Naik said, leading me into his study, “I’ll show you something interesting.”

He opened a cupboard.

From the cupboard – he pulled out a strange-looking contraption  and he laid it on the table.

I looked at the odd device, confused but curious.

The peculiar apparatus consisted of a whole hollowed-out spherical coconut shell attached to a solid iron chain  about 2 feet long – with a large metal stake at the other end.

“You know what this is...?” Captain Naik asked me.

“No...” I answered.

“I got this in Penang when I was cadet  almost 30 years ago...” Captain Naik said – picking up the coconut in his left hand – holding the chain in his right.

He looked at me and explained: “This is a monkey trap. The hollowed-out coconut is filled with some cooked rice through this small hole  chained to the stake which is driven firmly into the ground.”

Captain Naik pointed to the small hole at the top of the coconut and he said to me: 

“Look at this hole at the top of the coconut. 

It is just big enough so that the monkey’s hand to go in  but too small for his fist filled with rice to come out. 

The greedy monkey reaches in  grabs the rice – and the monkey is suddenly trapped – because he cannot take his fist full of rice out of the small hole. 

Because his greed won’t allow him to let go of the rice and extricate his hand – the monkey remains trapped  a victim of his greed  until he is captured...”

I listened, curious.

“The monkey cannot see that  freedom without the rice is more valuable than capture with it...” Captain Naik said, and then, he concluded with these words addressed to me: “That’s what happens to most of us. Probably  it’s the story of your life too. Think about it.”

I thought about it – and I said to him: “Suppose I quit the Merchant Navy. What will I do...?”

“Why don’t you join me...?” Captain Naik suggested, “It’s a comfortable job. It’s professionally satisfying  and you will have plenty of time for your family too. Besides  I need people like you. Of course  you won’t get your thousands of dollars  but the pay here is quite good by Indian standards.”

Captain Naik was the Director of a Maritime Training Institute in Goa  running various courses for Merchant Navy Officers. 

It was a lovely self-contained campus on the shores of the Arabian Sea.

At first  I wondered whether he had a vested interest  but I knew that this was not true. 

Captain Naik had been my mentor and well-wisher – it was he who had groomed me when I was a Cadet on his ship many years ago  and he always showered me with his patronage later too  when I was a junior officer. 

That’s why I had made it a point to visit him  the moment my ship touched Mormugao port.

For the next 6 months  as I sailed on the high seas  I could not forget the ‘Monkey Trap’ – in fact  the story of the Monkey Trap haunted me.

I pondered over the matter. 

I let the story of the Money Trap perambulate in my mind for some time. 

And suddenly  one day  I knew what my decision would be.

But first  I would have to discuss it with my wife.

Truly speaking  that was not really necessary.

My wife would be the happiest person on earth when she would hear of my decision.

I could clearly recall every word of that vicious argument we had just before I left my home to sail out to sea on my long 8 month contract as the Master of this Ship about 7 months ago.

It was our 10th wedding anniversary  and we had thrown a small party.

As I walked towards the kitchen door  I noticed my wife  Anjali  engrossed in a conversation with her childhood friend Meena, their backs turned toward me.

“Tell me, Anjali,” Meena was saying, “If you could live your life again  what is the one thing you would like to change...?”

“My marriage…!” Anjali answered. 

“What...? If you could live your life again  you would like to change your marriage…?” Meena  said, surprised.

“Yes. If there is one thing I could change if I could live my life again  I would change my lonely marriage....” Anjali repeated.

I was so stunned – that I stopped in my tracks  dumbstruck. 

I recovered my wits  I turned away from the kitchen door  and returned to the party.

After the party was over  I confronted Anjali: 

“What were you doing in the kitchen all the time with that horrible Meena friend of yours...? You should have circulated amongst the important guests...”

“I feel out of place in your shippie crowd...” Anjali answered.

“My shippie crowd…!” I thundered. “And you regret marrying me, do you?”

I paused for a moment, and then said firmly to my wife: 

“Listen Anjali  you better stop associating with riffraff like Meena. Please get rid of your middle-class mentality. Think of our status...”

“Riffraff…!” Anjali said – staring incredulously at me. 

Then Anjali said to me: 

“Before marrying you  I too was riffraff

And – I was quite happy too with my so-called middle-class mentality”...

What’s the use of all these material comforts and all this money and so-called status...? 

None of it can compensate for the companionship and security of a husband. 

It is painful for me to stay alone for most of my life when you are away at sea. 

The terrible loneliness  it is corrosive – and it is eating into me. 

Sometimes  I feel you just wanted a caretaker to look after your parents, your house  and of course–  now  to bring up your children  a sentry to hold the fort – while you gallivant around the world for months at a time. 

And that’s why you married a simple middle-class girl like me  or rather  you bought me...! 

That’s what you think, isn’t it…?”


I winced when she said the word bought” implying that I had used my money to marry her.

But in a certain way  I knew it was true. 

That is why I lost my temper and shouted at Anjali: 

“I don’t gallivant around the world – I am in command of a ship and have to sail it on the high seas. 

It is hard earned money for which I have to slog and undergo hardship...!!! 

I do it for all of you. 

And – yes indeed...! 

I Bought You

Yes I may have bought you – but that is because  you were willing to sell yourself

Remember one thing. 

No one can buy anything unless someone is willing to sell it...

I instantly regretted my words  realizing that they would only worsen the gaps in our relationship – gaps I had failed to bridge in all these 10 years of marriage  despite all the expensive gifts I had given her  the money, the plush lifestyle and luxurious material comforts. 

And these gaps kept becoming bigger and bigger with time.

That is what I was always doing – trying to use money to fill gaps in our relationship.

And now  I was flying home after handing over command of a ship – for the last time.

This was my last ship.

I had made my decision.

It was probably the meeting with Captain Naik – and the monkey trap that clinched the issue  but my decision was final.

I had even written to Captain Naik that I would be joining him at his Maritime Training Institute in a month or so.

But  I did not write or tell Anjali about my decision to quit sailing. 

For her  I wanted it to be a surprise – the happiest moment of her life...!!!

And – for me too.

I did not hire a luxury air-conditioned taxi from Mumbai Airport to take me directly to my house in Pune  like I always did. 

I knew that I would have to get used to a bit of thrift and frugality and have a less lavish lifestyle in the future.

So  from Mumbai Airport – I took a bus to Dadar Railway Station – and I caught the Deccan Express at 7 AM in the morning.

I was travelling light – no expensive gifts this time  and it being off-season  I was lucky to get a seat in an unreserved second-class compartment.

When I reached my home in Pune at about lunch time  I was shocked to find my wife Anjali missing.

My old parents were having lunch by themselves – and  my children were at school.

When Anjali arrived at 2 PM in the afternoon  I was stunned by the metamorphosis in her appearance – designer dress, fashionable jewellery, hair done up, fancy make-up – painted like a doll  in short – the “works”.

“What a surprise...!!!” she exclaimed on seeing me, “Why didn’t you call up and tell us you were coming…?”

“Anjali  I want to talk to you. It is something important...” I said to me.

“Not now...” Anjali said, almost ignoring me, “I am already late. I just came for a quick change of clothes. Something suitable for the races…”

“Races…?” I asked flabbergasted – as I could not believe my ears.

“Don’t you know...? Today is Derby Day – I am going to see the Pune Derby at the Turf Club in the afternoon. Mrs. Shah is coming to pick me up. You know her, don’t you..? She is the one whose husband is working in the Gulf. And – you better buy me a new car...”

“New car…? You want a new car...?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“The old one looks cheap. I hate to be seen in it. It doesn’t befit our status at all. We must have a good car – something more top-end. I know we can afford it...” my daring wife Anjali said.

The next few days passed in a haze of confusion  punctuated by one surprise after another from Anjali. 

She wanted a deluxe flat in one of those exclusive townships. 

She wanted to send our children to an elite boarding school in Mussoorie. 

She wanted membership to time-share holiday resorts. 

She had her eyes set on a farmhouse near Lonavala. 

And – so on and so forth  on and on and on – her demands were endless.

And then – my wife Anjali said to me: 

“Vijay  I hope you are happy that I am trying to change myself. 

I am getting rid of my stupid middle class mentality

It’s all for your sake. 

You were right. 

It is money and status that matter. 

Without a standard of living  there can be no quality of life…!!!”


I did not know whether to laugh or cry.

That she was once a simple domesticated middle-class girl whose concept of utopia was a happy family life – was now – but a distant memory for her.

Anjali was no longer the simple girl I once knew  she has metamorphosed into a high-society wife.

To “belong was now the driving force of her life.

I wish I could give this story a happy ending.

But  I will tell you what actually happened.

First – I rang up my shipping agent in Mumbai – and – I told him to get me the most lucrative contract to go to sea as soon as possible.

Then – I wrote a long letter to Captain Naik – regretting my inability to join him as faculty in his Training Institute in the near future.

But – I also wrote in that letter – asking Captain Naik to keep his offer of the teaching job open – just in case there was a reverse transformation in Anjali – back to her earlier self.

I am an optimist – and  I think it will happen someday.

And  I hope the day comes fast – when both of us  Anjali and Me  we can free ourselves from the Self-Created Monkey Traps of our own making.


MORAL OF THE STORY

Dear Reader  close your eyes and ponder a bit.

Have you entangled yourself in monkey traps of your own making...?

Think about it.

Reflect.

And  in your mind’s eye – visualize all your very own self-created Monkey Traps in which you have entangled yourself.

What are you waiting for...?

The solution is in your hands.

Just let go  and free yourself.

But  is it that easy...?

Ask yourself:

What is more important: 

FREEDOM...? 

O GOLDEN MANACLES…?

What do you value more: 

STANDARD OF LIVING...? 

O QUALITY OF LIFE…?

I wonder if I shall ever be able to free myself from the manacles of the Monkey Trap” of my own making...? 

And – can my high society wife ever become the simple middle-class girl I once knew…?

I sometimes wonder:

Are standard of living and quality of life inextricably intertwined...?

Or  are they mutually exclusive...? 

I agree that you certainly require some standard of living to enjoy a quality of life.

But  if you keep slogging beyond a threshold limit – I think it impinges on your quality of life – because – for the sacrifices and efforts you have to make to achieve a high standard of living  sometimes – all this may result in a situation where you do not have enough time, energy or mental peace to be able to enjoy day-to-day quality of life

Ask yourself: 

In order to enhance your standard of living  are you willing to sacrifice your quality of life”...?

That is why I believe – that you must know exactly the type of life you want to live – and  when you get there  you must say to yourself: enough is enough 

Do you agree...? 

I am sure you don’t agree  because these are antiquated views of an obsolescent old-fogey (me).

So  Dear Friend  do let us know your modern views...

VIKRAM KARVE
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Disclaimer:
This story is a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the story are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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Copyright © Vikram Karve (all rights reserved)

This article is a revised version of my story written 22 years ago in 1995 and earlier posted online in my creative writing blogs at urls: 
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