The Fear of Monkeys - The Best E-Zine on the Web for Politically Conscious WritingThe Brown Capuchin Monkey - Issue Thirteen
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The Tantalus Monkey, photo from Christian ArtusoThe Brown Capuchin Monkey is a New World primate who lives in the northern Amazon rainforest of the Guyanas, Venezuela and Brazil. They are also found in eastern Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, including the upper Andean Magdalena valley in Colombia, and a population was established in the Republic of "Trinidad and Tobago". The capuchin has a head-body length of 32 to 57 centimetres and a weight of 1.9 to 4.8 kilograms and mostly eats fruit, insects, larvae, eggs, young birds, frogs, lizards, and even bats. They are also known to chase cats. They can be found in many different kinds of environment, including moist tropical and subtropical forest, dry forest, and disturbed or secondary forest. They are social, and form groups of 8 to 15 individuals that are led by an alpha male. Important natural enemies of the capuchin are large birds of prey who they are so afraid of that they even become alarmed when a harmless bird flies over. The capuchin rubs urine on its hands and feet in order to attract mates and reduce stress. They also use stones and sticks as tools. One population of this species uses stones as a tool to open hard nuts. The monkey lays the nut on a large, flat rock or fallen tree, hammering the nut with a suitable stone until the nut cracks. The anvil rock is often pock-marked with hollows as a result of repeated use. They have also been observed using containers to hold water, using sticks (to dig nuts, to dip for syrup, and to catch ants), using sponges to absorb juice, using stones as hammer and chisel to penetrate a barrier, and using stones as hammer and anvil to crack nuts. Some of these tasks seem relatively simple by cognitive standards, but others, like cracking nuts with hammer and anvil, are only exceeded in complexity by chimpanzees and some humans.


The Flames of Freedom


Iftekhar Sayeed




I shall always feel affection and respect for the man who wanted to destroy western civilisation. I remember clearly how we met - that was an adventure in itself. We met through Faria, and I met her at Hotel Poshur at Mongla.

I was having a melancholy meal by myself in the octagonal Royal Bengal Restaurant; melancholy because I'd just failed to get campaign money for the General's election: he'd been powerless too long, deposed several years ago by donors and students. It was a sultry evening, and the air-conditioners hummed.

When she entered, the room seemed to become warmer and more humid. She was a tall, brown-complexioned girl in a black, flowered saree. She strode, her high heels striking the floor, to a table close to mine.

I found both my meal and the view more interesting, and hate to admit that I forgot the General completely. She wore a minuscule black blouse that revealed her waist and back quite generously. I slowly ate my tomato soup.

I got a whiff of her perfume again as she brushed past my table, dropping a note. "Room 201. Come on up," read the message.

I knocked on 201. Silence. I knocked several times and then turned the knob. The door opened.

The crickets called outside; inside, the air-conditioner hummed. Heady perfume hung in the air. The lights were off, but in the moonlight I could make out the silver of her naked body in the verandah. The lights of Mongla town gleamed across the river; the moonlight shimmered on the waters; there was silence, except for an occasional engine-boat making its way down- or upstream. I touched the warmth of her shoulder.

"I'm going to make you an offer." Her voice was smooth.

"So I see."

She shook her head, "No, that's not it. I'm going to offer to win the election for the General."

"And how are you going to do that?"

"We have enormous resources." I noted the shift from the first person singular. "We have the financial as well as physical muscle for the task. Just tell me that you accept."

"And what do I have to do in return?"

"Nothing." She raised her mouth. "Nothing at all."

That was the end of our conversation for the night. Faria had booked a cabin for us on the paddle steamer, the P.S. Ostrich. We were to travel as Mr. and Mrs. Shah in cabin number 4.

We had to take a boat from the ghat to the steamer on the other side at dawn. The river in the east was gradually turning gold.

We were the only passengers in the first class so far: there really wouldn't be any before Barisal. So we had the deck all to ourselves. The wind beat against my eardrums.

"So," I resumed, with a mouthful of bhetki fillet on the prongs of my fork, "how are you going to get the General elected? And who are you?"

She chewed thoughtfully, surveying the scene. Several covered boats floated in a circle around a green net held up by floating drums.

"You haven't accepted yet."

I swallowed. "All right. I accept. Now it's your turn."

"I'll be in touch with you. There's no need for you to call me. Let's talk about other things!"

"You're right. The view is just too beautiful!"

She sat back. "The river's too big for me, Zafar. I like something smaller. I love the Naf!"

The river meanders between Mongla and Morelgonj. On a map, the river is an inverted U - but a very crooked U. Now you're travelling up, now down. The sun, therefore, appeared now on our right, now on our left. The water sparkled all the way to the deck. The boats were like black parentheses. The swish of the waves and the hum of the engine were steady sounds. We grew quiet, as travellers in the midst of such scenery are bound to. We passed a village of thatched roofs on the green bank. A plume of smoke signaled cooking. The odour of burnt leaves came across. The sun grew hotter.



Mr. and Mrs. Shah emerged from the paddle steamer twenty-four hours later at Sadarghat. Sadarghat hadn't woken up yet: in an hour the gangways would be crowded with passengers and coolies.

We stood outside our cabin, in the saloon, saying goodbye.

"Don't follow me, Zafar. It'll be useless. I'll be in touch. I give you my word."

"That's good enough for me."

Her saree-clad figure walked away.

We had talked about many things on board, except who she was, where she was, and what she did. Of course, the view from the deck made such conversation unnecessary: all that remained was a longing to see her again.

The moment I got back to my apartment in Lalmatia, I called the General. I let him have the bad news.

"So it was useless going down to Khulna for the money, Zafar?" His booming voice sounded subdued.

"There was something else, sir." I hesitated to tell him about Faria: all I had was her word.

"And you believe her, Zafar?"

"I'm not sure. Let's see what happens."

Nothing happened. Days went by and I didn't hear a word from Faria. Every time the phone rang, I thought it might be she. Every time the doorbell rang, I ran to answer. Meanwhile, the cash for the campaign came in excruciatingly slowly.

It was on a pensive, rainy afternoon that I lay back on my cane sofa. Snatches of our conversation came back to me.

"I love the Naf! "

She'd said that several times. And the way she said it made the Naf very special. Her black eyes glistened at the thought of the Naf. The River Naf is in the southeast, between Bangladesh and Burma. A concatenation of thoughts followed each other. Burma, heroine, smuggling, money, loads of money, muscle, loads of muscle....But no single person or organisation controlled the heroine trade. And yet everything indicated the Naf region. I debated whether to go down and check. On the basis of what? A one-night stand? Twenty-four hours on a steamer? Could I have been so wrong about Faria? I decided to trust my instinct.

I took a bus to Cox's Bazaar, travelling the whole night. I put up at Hotel Labonee and rented a chauffeur-driven microbus. It was a three-hour drive from Cox's Bazaar to Teknaf town. Long before we came to the River Naf, the Burmese hills appeared on the east. The highway ran, its zenith and nadir in harmony with the ascent and descent of the land, between shegun and sal forests.

"I love the Naf! "

I was beginning to love the Naf myself. The river sprang into view on my left as the hills rose on my right. Was she looking at the same river? Across the waters Burma began and the Burmese hills rose majestically further off, misty and green. I went straight down to Teknaf.

Teknaf is a dirty little town, its narrow lanes covered with litter and spit. The microbus stopped at the Bus Stand. The air was thick with fumes and the odour of diesel. Shops lined the major road, and threw their collective rubbish on to the pavements. A smell of rotting vegetable lingered. Vehicles of every description - from trishaws to buses - contributed to the cacophony.

To reach the ghat, one had to turn left into a lane that led to Uporer Bazaar. Here there was a bridge over the section of the river that had cut into the city. One crossed the bridge - with the windows rolled up for the pong below - and turned left. A few yards away stood the immigration checkpoint. Outside, in the yard of the one-storey building, reposed the black carcasses of discarded boats - the place looked more like a fishing firm than a branch of the government. The boats lay belly-up, belly-down, sideways.

"Salam walaikum."

"Walaikum as Salam."

The officer sat behind a table covered with a pane of glass. The glass pressed down on pictures of colourful characters arranged in an intimidating series. It was a 'Most Wanted' list. Behind him, on the whitewashed wall, fluttered a calendar with the pictures of the Prime Minister and her dead husband.

The gentleman smiled genially through his white beard. He was chewing betel leaf and his mouth was red. His small eyes smiled as well: his head was almost hairless.

"I want to go to Mong Daw." Mong Daw was the Burmese counterpart of Teknaf.

"You'll need a border pass."

"I have one." I produced the pass. "But it hasn't been renewed."

"It'll take seven days," he said, carefully studying the pass to see how much he could ask me for bribes. A new pass commands a pretty price, but, theoretically, there was no price on renewals.

I produced a five hundred-Taka note.

"I need one tomorrow."

He arched his mouth, inspected the bill and nodded.

"Come tomorrow evening."

"Tomorrow morning."

"May not be ready."

I produced another note.

"Tomorrow morning," he said, jauntily, all smiles now. "Some tea for the sahib!" he shouted and from a door an orderly issued.

"I wouldn't mind a cup." The orderly disappeared. "Tell me," I began confidentially, "Who controls Teknaf?"

He arched his mouth again. "The ghat is controlled by a fellow - are you from the press?"

"No. And I don't want to know about the ghat. Who controls the whole area? The whole of Teknaf."

He smiled. "Nobody. There's nobody that big." He sounded thoroughly sincere. "Where's the tea?"

I had my too-sweet tea and left.

I was back at 10:00 the next day. The clear blue sky let us feel the sun at 37 degrees Celsius. My shirt was wet with perspiration. I chartered a boat, and waited in it for the boatman at the ghat.

There must have been around seventy fishing boats, each fifty feet long; they were all black and mostly uncovered, except a few that were huge, with a cabin, and bright with many colours. On either banks of the river were bamboo shacks. In one shack men in lungis and vests were crushing ice. Another group was conveying the ice in large, red tin containers suspended from a bamboo pole slung over their naked shoulders to the back of an open truck. The truck was covered with an enormous piece of bamboo matting that also served as a floor.

A fishing boat was docked at the bank. There were broad, wooden planks projecting into the water from the bank - crude jetties. Men were moving up and down the jetty unloading fish and carrying them to the truck - from Burma to Chittagong, these fish would have made quite a journey.

All the activity was accompanied by commensurate levels of shouts, instructions and expletives. A few Bangladesh Rifles Men - border patrol - stood with rifles on their shoulders.

It was high tide. Naked children jumped off the prows of the boats, screaming with delight. One of them sat, legs spread, half in, half out of the cool water - with an erection! His young friend was clinging to the plank, torso in the water, buttocks displayed.

The sides of the boat were hot against my backside. I sat on one side of the tiller, which initially needed tending but, when we were out into the broad river, settled into a straight line. The engine was below, where a man stood waist-high, as he bailed out water. A constant exhaust of diesel fume, albeit diluted by the fresh air, penetrated my nostrils. I held an umbrella over my head. We went phut-phut-phut across the Naf.

The Naf is an endearing shade of green - jade green. Colorful boats bore the flags of both countries, and crossed each other. The Burmese women wear a thami - a skirt-like lower garment - and a blouse. They also paint their faces with a sort of cosmeceutical concoction. The hills of Burma rose majestic and verdant; buildings appeared; one structure was a pagoda, golden with a yellow base. We traveled for forty-five minutes when we turned left for Mong Daw. But I stopped the boat there, for I had seen her.

Aye-Aye stood on the deck of the houseboat. She seemed to be alone. We cut the engine and I clambered on to the houseboat. There was the familiar smell of fish on board. She glared, arms akimbo. She wore a bright thami and a voile blouse; I could see her bra beneath. Most of the Burmese girls here dressed in transparent blouses. Aye-Aye was brown, with an unusually straight nose for a Burmese girl; she had white paint on her face; her hair was combed back in a bun.

I told the boatman to come back in two hours.

"Hello, Aye-Aye. How are you?"

She turned away. "After a year you decide to come and see me."

"Has it been a year?"

Yes, it had been a year. I shall never forget how I had first laid my ravished eyes on her. I was returning from Mong Daw in a boat with forty other passengers. A frisson of excitement ran through the mawlanas at my elbow when they spotted a young woman swimming in the creek we passed through: a boat lay close by. The green water might, for all I could tell, have been her only garment. It was the perfect, hot day for a swim. The next day, at about the same time, I hired a boat to take me out there, and that's when I first met Aye-Aye. After much giggling, she confessed she had had no clothes on the previous day, for she had thought the last boat from Mong Daw had already left. We made love in the houseboat.

Now, I put my arms around her, and kissed her neck. My hands seized her breasts. Her breath came fast.

"Not here," she finally said, "someone might see. Let's go inside."

Inside, there was room only to swing my hips, but that's all the space we needed. Afterwards, we lay in each other's arms.



"Who's the big man in Teknaf?"

"Big man?"

"You know, who controls all the smuggling."

"I haven't heard of anyone, Zafar. And why do you want to talk about that? Did you come here for information? You did, didn't you? Didn't you?"

She struck my face several times.

"That hurts, Aye-Aye."

"I want you to hurt. You hurt me for a year."

"It's important, Aye-Aye. A lot depends on this man."

"Honestly, Zafar. I don't know of any big man." She giggled. "But if you come back in a week, I might know something."

"Don't make me wait. I know I haven't been fair with you, but please don't make me wait. If you know who he is, tell me now."

"Truly Zafar, I do not know. But I will ask."

I went away, not very hopeful. If Aye-Aye didn't know anything living in these parts, then there probably was nothing to know. I spent the next one week swimming at Cox's Bazaar, and lounging about in the luxurious Sagorika Restaurant, eating crab bhoona when it was available.

"Aye-Aye, do you have anything?" I was back.

"Yes." She looked serious. "There's a man called Hossain Shordar. Nobody knows his real name, or even if he exists. Some people say he's just a story, some people say he lives at Cox's Bazaar, some people say he lives in Chittagong, nobody knows...."

I must have looked helpless.

"But don't worry, Zafar. There's a man called Lalu Mia who knows everything. Tomorrow night, around ten, drugs are coming into Teknaf and Lalu Mia will be bringing the drugs."


"At Jalil's Island. You have to talk to him. He is never to be seen by daylight. He's a dangerous man. You can only talk to him on Jalil's Island. You know where it is?"

Jalil's Island was five kilometres north of Teknaf town, on the Naf river. I nodded.

She held me in an embrace. "Be careful, Zafar. Otherwise, I shall never see you again." She was weeping.

"I'll be all right."



The crickets shrilled.

Fortunately, it was a moonless night - or was that unfortunate? I instructed the driver to wait for me at Ramu and come for me at around midnight. Meanwhile, I bought a dinghy from a village boy nearby, and paddled my way to Jalil's Island before dark. It isn't easy paddling in one of these boats. One had to sit bolt upright, or the dinghy would tilt and jettison its passenger.

The Island lies between Burma and Bangladesh, more towards the latter. It was used by smugglers, and was otherwise uninhabited. I made myself as comfortable as possible behind a tree, and waited.

The sky was clear, and the night was hot despite the breeze. On the Bangladeshi hills to the west, I could see fireflies - entire hills covered by fireflies! There were as many stars as there were fireflies. A car or truck on the highway would slice through the enigmatic night with its common sense headlights, a sword illuminating trees, the highway, the dogs...and then darkness would be restored. Mosquitoes found me, and buzzed overhead. The grass was soft beneath me. There was a taste of fear in my mouth.

I felt something on my ankle. I turned my head ever so slowly, flashed on the torch, and saw a snake slithering over my socks. I held my breath: it passed away. Then I heard the boats.

They were motorised fishing boats. I could only see the lights of torches. Voices spoke.

I cupped my mouth with my hands. "Lalu Mia!" My shout sounded hollow between the hills.

The voices stopped. One of the boats was a few feet away from me.

"Lalu Mia!"

"Who wants me?" a nasal voice spoke. There was no fear in that voice, only curiosity.

Then the speedboats were upon them. A megaphone blared: "Don't move. This is the Bangladesh Rifles. You're covered on all sides." The darkness was dissipated by a flash of searchlight.


Several splashes ensued, followed by machinegun fire.

"Don't shoot! Don't shoot! We give up!" That was not Lalu Mia.

Somebody switched off the light.

"Come in out of the water, slowly, slowly...."

Yards away from me I could hear somebody breathing.

"How many of you were there?"

"Just the two of us - in the two boats."

The boats in tow, the speedboats zoomed away into the night.

"I can't swim!" pleaded Lalu Mia.

"Don't worry, Lalu Mia. I'm coming to get you."

Taking off my shoes, I waded out. I grabbed him by the hair.

"Who's Hossain Shordar?" I figured a marine interrogation would be most effective.

"I don't know!" I dunked him. The Naf is saline, and a few gulps would restore a man to a sense of his predicament.

He wheezed, coming up, coughing. "All right! His real name is Sheikh Navid Khan."

"Where can I find him?"

"You know the bend in the highway before you reach the Roads and Highways guesthouse?"

"What about it? There's nothing there."

"It's camouflaged. His bungalow's inside. On the right. Behind the bushes."

I dragged him back to the Island. He lay on the bank, panting.

"Did you set us up?"

"How would I know?"

"Who are you?"

"Never mind."

I pushed the dinghy off with the paddle.

"How am I going to get off this island?"

"Wait till daybreak. I saved your life. That's enough favours for one night."

I flashed the torch to avoid the trees, then paddled furiously. I somehow wanted to get away from the spot. Besides, the Naf tasted awful in my mouth.

The first thing I needed when I got back to the hotel was a shower. The second was food - but I couldn't get any at that hour. So I made a call to the General and got some sleep.

The General arrived the following evening. I didn't think it would be wise to visit Sheikh Navid Khan in the dark, so we waited till the following morning.

The General drove this time, and we took the three-hour ride to Teknaf. We went up the slope as Lalu Mia had indicated, then stopped and parked. From up here, one commanded a view of Burma, Bangladesh and the River Naf. What a panorama! The day was hot as usual - and muggy. We were both perspiring as we walked upwards. A cuckoo called: crossword puzzle, crossword puzzle. There was no other sound. The cuckoo heightened the silence. An irregular breeze was pleasant.

"Look, Zafar!" The General boomed. "Tire marks disappearing into the bushes. Incredible!"

"Looks like Lalu Mia wasn't lying under duress."

We went up to the bushes. There seemed to be nothing but tall shegun trees beyond. I pushed. Bushes would have bent, but these didn't: they were backed up by metal. There was a click, and one of the bushes 'opened'. We looked at each other, then I followed the General inside.

"Welcome, General Haroon, welcome Mr. Zafar Shah."

A hundred feet from us stood a bungalow. The plate glass drawing-room door was open, and a short, dark, fat man in a brown shirt and black trousers stood beckoning.

"We've been expecting you for some time."

The drawing-room was air-conditioned. On a corner sofa sat Faria in a pink shalwar and kameez.

"Hello, Faria. Is this how you keep your word?"

"Please do not be angry with Faria, Zafar sahib. She could hardly have given you my address and phone number. I lead a very secluded life and it has to be kept that way. We relied on your innate curiosity, and we were not wrong. We thought you would find us. If you didn't, Faria would have come."

"Some mango juice for the General?" offered Faria. The General took the cool glass off the tray with a smile.


I took the glass as a peace offering.

"By the way, Zafar sahib, thank you for saving the life of one of my most trusted men. Our boats picked him up this morning."

"Too bad you lost your heroin shipment."

"It happens from time to time. Rather, you see," he explained with an outstretched chubby palm, "one has to allow these things to happen. For the UN. It is unseemly not to have heroin seizures from time to time. Otherwise the UN would think there was something fishy going on. You understand?"

The mango juice - and Faria's presence - had cooled me down.

"What is going on, exactly?" asked the General, looking around.

Our host grew serious. "From here, General Haroon, I pursue my objective of destroying western civilisation." He smiled benignly at me. "I have been inspired by your writing, Zafar sahib. I have read everything you have written, all your articles and your books." His heavy arm indicated a shelf of books. "All your works are in my study."

I put the glass down. "I don't recall advocating the destruction of western civilisation."

"Yes, you never said it in so many words, but the conclusion has to be drawn, Zafar sahib. "'The only civilisation based on slavery', you wrote. 'Athens, Rome and modern Europe were all founded on slavery.' You have argued that the west has an inherent tendency to dominate. You have said the west must be resisted - from resistance to destruction is a short step. Take the case of the General. He was military dictator for nearly ten years. Then the Berlin Wall collapsed and the donors withdrew their support for him. In article after article, you predicted that there would be anarchy with the introduction of multi-party democracy. And that is exactly what has happened. For 1,400 years, we in the Muslim world have lived with military rule, you said; that was part of our culture, you said. And did the west listen? No! They wanted us to be like them. Anyone who is different is a barbarian and barbarians must be enslaved and civilised." The colour of Navid's face had turned copper with rage. "And today our country is lawless, ungoverned and ungovernable."

"You appear to have benefited mightily from the anarchy," I observed, smiling.

He paused. He resumed in a deeper, quieter voice. "Without anarchy, I could not have flourished. This tells us how bad democracy is. But I have a higher aim, Zafar sahib, and that aim requires me to be what I am."

"And I assume you had no intention of getting the General elected."

He paused again, and looked down. "I'm ashamed to admit I used subterfuge. If I hadn't, would you have come? I know how you think, Zafar sahib. You want the General to be elected in order to undermine the democratic process: say, by extending his tenure for several terms. You are not a democratic man. But do you realise what would happen to me if that happened? In an authoritarian country, my operations would cease. You always said that there can't be alternative centres of power and authority in a dictatorship!"

"But you knew the General wasn't going to win. Why did you want him here?"

"I didn't want General Haroon here. Of course, I am honoured that he is my guest. I wanted you, Zafar sahib. You are my teacher, you are my mentor. In my struggle against the west, I turn to you for intellectual guidance. Leave the actual fighting to me; I seek your vision. September 11th has shown us what a few determined people can achieve; it has also shown us that our vision is limited. What will killing a couple of thousand Americans do? The killing must be done by the millions."

Silence descended on the room. The cuckoo had resumed its call outside: crossword puzzle, crossword puzzle....

"Are we your prisoners?" inquired the General finally, his double chin prominent as he looked down.

Navid and Faria were galvanised. "No, no, no, no," they sang out in unison.

"You are our honoured guests, Zafar sahib and General Haroon," insisted Navid. "Everything I have is yours. Come, I will show you around your new home." He rose, took the General by his sleeve and left.

I rose and took Faria in my arms.

"I've never looked for a woman so hard."

"Not even the Burmese girl?"

I smiled.

"Who is she?"

"A casual acquaintance."

"As casual as me, or more casual?"

"More casual."

I kissed her.

"Not now, Zafar. The guards will be watching. Tonight."

She led me out of the drawing-room.

I reflected on Sheikh Navid Khan and his little speech. I admired him for taking my premises to their logical conclusion. He seemed sincere. But there had been something missing in his peroration. What would motivate a man to do these things? Abstract principles, of course, go a long way, but not long enough, in this case, I felt, to explain his motives entirely. Run-o'-the-mill gangsters are in it for the power. Navid was not one of them. When I found out his raison-d'etre, I wished I hadn't.

Iftekhar Sayeed teaches English and economics. He was born and lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He has contributed to The Danforth Review, Axis of Logic, Enter Text, Postcolonial Text, Southern Cross Review,, Left Curve, Mobius, Erbacce, Down In The Dirt and other publications. He is also a freelance journalist. He and his wife love to tour Bangladesh. You may find him at
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