Recently, during a Delhi – Amritsar train journey, I picked up one of India’s less popular regional dailies, and was shocked, surprised, and greatly amused by one of the articles I came across. It was a four paragraph long article written in Gurmukhi that gave a detailed account of mass hysteria and tension created in a small French town by a mysterious “Serial Kisser” (no, not Emran Hashmi).This so called “city-menace” would appear sporadically, wearing a long cape and high heeled boots and proceed to grab women (and the occasional metro-sexual man), and trap them in a lip-lock. Initially, this mysterious figure garnered a great deal of curiosity and was the subject of many a light hearted debate. Gradually, mild amusement was replaced by crippling fear – and a mass hysteria and pandemonium followed. Scientists came up with startling reports that this creature was likely to be an alien. Strict curfew was imposed and the police was given shoot at sight orders. One might wonder why such a hue and cry was created over something that was so obviously an overly hormonal man, (I do believe that aliens would want to spend their time on Earth doing something more productive than engaging in tonsil-hockey with random French women, however beautiful they may be.) The nature of eye-witness reports soon changed from the initial cape and boots picture to a maniacal creature with red eyes and a forked tongue. But right before I could throw the newspaper away and dismiss the residents of the French town as “crazy”, I remembered Delhi’s own menace, The Monkey-Man!!
Any long – term resident of Delhi will surely remember the Monkey- Man menace of 2001. Adults were glued to the television keenly watching the surreal drama unfold. I was an eight-grader at the time and was thoroughly overexcited by the thought of a red eyed, half-man, half-monkey gamboling around on the streets of the city that I had come to know and love. This weird creature would jump at people, scare them and scratch them, and then return to where it came from. After a span of time, “reliable” police reports began to claim that the Monkey-Man had now added minor theft to its list of credentials. The panic in Delhi was so palpable, that it could easily be mistaken for a physical presence. The streets (as I remember them) would relatively empty by nightfall. News channels further added to the furore with it’s their habitual over-sensationalizing of facts. However, within the span of a few months, the ‘monkey business’ seemed to have come to an end. And Delhi-ites heaved a collective sigh of relief. Citizens began coming up with bizarre theories, memorable ones being that the Monkey- Man was the Indian version of the mythical Bigfoot, or that it was an alien, or perhaps a cyborg. Monkey-Man was last sighted allegedly boarding an Aeroflot flight to Moscow (or so Wikipedia claims)
Throughout history, such strange creatures have captured the interest and imagination of millions. Be it the Monkey Man, the Spring Heeled Jack of London, the Loveland Lizard of Ohio USA, or the Serial Kisser from Space. And while we fret and ponder over and question these incidents, I believe that somewhere, someone is chuckling whilst staring at his/her monkey suit and regaling his children with stories of his wild frolics which captured the rapt attention of an entire city, and even featured him in various online encyclopedias.
The reactions of the larger public to such instances clearly fall under the rubric of mass hysteria. Lemming-ism to the highest degree. Lack of faith in authorities such as the police, complimentary regional conditions, and channels of (often unreliable) communication such as news channels all play and important role when it comes to the creation and the strengthening of these urban legends. And scientists, who should ideally be working in an empirical manner, only add to the ensuing pandemonium by validating the paranormal aspect of these occurrences.
It is certainly odd, that even today, in the age of enlightenment, superstition equivalent to that of the medieval times is still rampant. And those who scoff at the notion of the tooth fairy and Santa Clause cower at the thought of the Loveland Lizard (half-man, half-frog) that once roamed the streets of Ohio.