Monkey See, Monkey Do

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REVIEW

Monkey See, Monkey Do

By : Ranjit Lal  /  2017
Tags : 
Contemporary,
Fiction,
Overall Rating : 
8
Story/Content : 
3
Illustration : 
4
Language : 
4
Design : 
4

Venita Coelho is an ardent animal lover and in Monkey See Monkey Do, makes her three heroes (Agent 11.5 aka Rana, Agent 013 aka Kela and Agent 002 aka Bagha who we met in Tiger by the Tail and Dead as a Dodo) tackle the vexing issue of the use of animals in medical experimentation and in trials for products used in cosmetics. Information is received that two hundred monkeys have been slated for euthanasia in France and need to be saved. This time however the animals too are conspiring to strike back by using a deadly virus (developed by human beings) to eradicate mankind once and for all. They are led by the mysterious Alpha who really no one knows very much about.

The mission takes the three heroes on a rollicking journey and adventure to England (beneath Buckingham Palace no less) and France and back to England again. Rana’s Animal Intelligence Agency (AIA) meets up with an alternative force called the Animal Injustice Avengers (also AIA), which also protects animals but has no compunction about using violence against mankind – which, by the way, is anathema to Rana and his AIA. Other characters who get embroiled on the way include a Miss World, a smooth French nobleman – and owner of a vast cosmetics empire conducting hideous tests on animals – and a great gentle gorilla called Adam.

There is no doubt that a lot of the ‘experiments’ done on animals are plain sadistic and the product of very sick minds. Experimentation for the cosmetic industry flat out needs to be abolished worldwide. But to state that experimentation on animals for medical purposes has been completely useless, as is claimed in the book, is treading on thin ice. In an ideal world, it would not be necessary and hopefully that is what scientists are attempting to steer us towards. On behalf of his grandfather, Rana states that “my grandfather would rather die than take something that came out of the misery of others.” Easy to say, not easy to do in real life – and this is what needs to be pointed out to children. And 9.99 times out of ten, if you are at the receiving – and literal – end, you will take that something (a wonder drug, say) if you knew it could save your life, no matter how dark its developmental history. In the current scenario, there is probably not a single drug in the world that has not been tested on animals before being declared fit for human consumption, so we are all already complicit.

The other big issue in the book is the almost paranoid insistence Rana has on non-violence. Perhaps, in these days of extreme, senseless violence, it’s good to have an equally extreme opposing viewpoint, but again, the argument loses out against reality. All of nature is inherently violent. That’s basically how every living creature lives: by killing and eating other living creatures and that means violence. Sure, a mosquito’s life is as precious to it as yours is to you, but if that mosquito is humming towards you loaded with malaria or dengue or zika, you are going to swat it! (And malaria is one of the greatest killers of human beings.) Turning the other cheek and quoting that “an eye for an eye and the whole world will go blind” may be noble, but they just don’t work. No one is propagating violence, but you have to fight back tooth and nail if you’re at the receiving end – or you will very likely end up dead.

Rana, Kela and Bagha’s adventure races along at a hectic pace through catacombs in France and vast underground cellars under Buckingham Palace, but again there are hiccups in the plot: The deadly virus that the animals want to use against mankind was developed in a lab where animals were being tested: presumably it was found fatal for animals too (or were the animals immune, and only human beings killed, and if so, how was that discovered – all of this is not clarified). So, the great plan to let it loose in the world’s water supply would backfire: animals need to drink too! Towards the end, the gorilla standing on top of Tower Bridge, holding the vial of what he thinks is the deadly virus (it’s a harmless version, but he doesn’t know it) changes his mind about exterminating mankind and recaps the vial instead of pouring the contents into the Thames. Then he jumps into the water – with or without the vial we are not told. (Any glass vial would shatter on impact and the damage would be done!) He could have carefully, deliberately placed it on the bridge and then jumped – that would have added poignancy but there’s no indication he did this.

In Rana and Kela, Coelho has two characters who are perfect foils to each other – with the regal Bagha forming the ballast. Rana may be bit of a goody-two-shoes but Kela is just the perfect monkey: irritating, annoying, mischievous, vainglorious, courageous and loyal – the works!

Children must learn to love and respect animals, but they must equally learn to deal with real world issues and situations, which often are so far removed from unattainable and unsustainable ideals. With tighter editing this book could have flown. The cover, by Priya Kuriyan, is outstanding.

Ranjit Lal writes for children between the ages of 10-100+ and has had over 30 books published so far.

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