Shuddhabrata Sengupta on Tue, 22 May 2001 19:40:27 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Delhi's first Cyborg

Some Thoughts on the Monkey Man: Delhi's first Cyborg?
(this is a slightly modified version of a posting that first appeared on 
the Sarai-Reader-List at

Parts of Delhi are beseiged by a strange fear..
For a couple of weeks now, sightings of a strange creature, have led to a 
climateof anxiety in many parts of East Delhi. The creature, who some say 
is a primate,some describe as humanoid, masked, hemeted or furry, not very 
big, (five feet or so) with flashing red and green eyes,and extraordinary 
powers of movement (the abilitiy to jump between buildings and fly) has 
been menacing eastern Delhi and adjoining industrial areas of  Uttar 
Pradesh state in northern India.

(for more on the 'Monkey Man' see the slightly condescending New York Times 
story at

This figure, called 'Monkey Man' / 'Bandar Manav' (monkey man) or 
'Naqabposh' (the masked one) appears at night and usually attacks people 
sleeping on rooftops. He/It is described as unusually strong and he leaves 
scratches on the skin with sharp metallic claws. In a  renet tv interview 
,a scared resident of east delhi, a young man,  attributed the monkey man's 
powers to a 'computerized system' : flashing bulbs, and an array of buttons 
that he presses to help him fly away. Is the 'monkey man' or the 'masked 
one' Delhi's first cyborg?

As of now three people (including a preganant woman) have died in  night 
stampedes that occurred when someone raised an alarm in their vicinity. A 
mob of vigilantes, patrolling a crossroad, have attacked and seriously 
wounded a person driving a car late at night because he had a helmet in his 
back seat (they thought that he might be the 'helmeted' attacker), several 
people have turned up  with scratch marks and other injuries at clinics and 
hospitals and quite a few people have been arrested on the charges of 
spreading rumours. 3000 armed policemen and 'Rapid Action Force' 
paramilitaries are patrolling large parts of East Delhi. Vigil is being 
maintained, not only in neighbourhoods, but apparently also on public 
telephone booths, where people make calls to police control rooms with news 
(hoaxes or apparently real reports) with news of 'Moneky Man' sightings.

What I find amazing is that in the entire discussion about the Monkey Man 
in the media in India, no one seems to talk about this palpable sense of 
fear that many people feel in our city. The 'Monkey Man' may or may not be 
a real threat, but a strange combination of atavistic primate imagery, high 
tech gadgetry and the darkness that engulfs the city during power cuts, 
have created an image of the other powerful enough to have people 
stampeding to death and want intense police patrolling in their 

The character of violence in our city -  bombs in the cinema, masked and 
mysterious  terrorists in public spaces, sudden and unexplainable attacks 
by policemen - is so impersonal and yet so intimate, so routine and yet so 
endemic, that it seems to have demanded the existence of an embodied locus 
of fear. The twist of 'computerized technology'  signals the deep roots 
that the technological imaginry has taken into the unconsious life of 
Delhi. And as Radhika Chopra, a sociologist has said, "this is one way in 
which the 'invisible parts of the city' " (those dark, power cut and 
mosquito laden swamps east of the river) ..."make themselves heard and known".

Perhaps this is what the 'Monkey Man' is all about. The congealment of 
routine violence and the invisible making itself visible, picking strands 
frorm folklore, mythology, and a science fiction imaginary that percolates 
into the slums through television serials, b grade horror movies, comics 
and other forms of popular culture.That circulates through rumours and 
random anonymous calls made to harass the police from public phone booths. 
This is an urban contemporary form of cultural expression making sense of 
the violence of everyday life. I think it needs to be understood and 
treated with respect.The way in which the mainstream media has been 
treating the phenomenon, first with derision, then with condescension, and 
finally by asking for strict police measures only means that the elite are 
not the terrorised in the city. The 'Monkey Man' will never step into their 
barricaded colonies of South and Central New Delhi. Fear only belongs to 
the outer edge of Delhi.

As I drive from Karkardooma crossing to Patparganj depot, (both in East 
Delhi) I see a forty foot high statue of an armed and vigilant Hanuman, the 
monkey god of hindu mythology.This popular and benign monkey divinity, whom 
one calls upon when confronted by ghosts and unknown terrors of the night, 
seems hardly a match for the diminutive humanoid simian wearing a helmet 
who has been terrorising Mandaoli - an urban village that nestles under the 
shadow of the Karkardooma Hanuman statue.

  I wonder what other terrors the city has in store for us, a ghostly car 
that mows down  the people who sleep on pavements,  androids who gas slums, 
telephone spirits who spread whispers of fear, vampire vigilantes in night 
shelters  and cyborg terrorists battling it out with robo-cops in the old 
city. The nights of Delhi seem strangely portentious.Meanwhile the 
deployment of armed, helmeted and masked paramilitaries - the 'Monkey Men 
of the State' continue, as do the search orders and the raids.

Incidentally, large parts of East Delhi have been spared lengthy power cuts 
in the last few days. This is so that the neighbourhoods are not entirely 
dark at night.

Shuddhabrata Sengupta
SARAI: The New Media Initiative
Centre for the Study of Developing Societies
29, Rajpur Road, Delhi 110 052, India

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