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Winter 2011

Hey, Hey, It's a Monkey!

MonkeyIt’s so outlandish that it almost sounds made up. But the story about how a monkey nearly ruined doctoral candidate Anjali Adukia’s chance at finishing her dissertation is absolutely true.

It started in the summer of 2007 when Adukia, Ed.M.’03, was trying to get data about Indian schools from a local government agency located about 300 miles from where her parents grew up in Mumbai. For nearly a year, through e-mails and phone calls, the agency promised the data but never sent it. Finally, Adukia decided to show up in person. Armed with biscuits, tea, and her own chair, she camped out for an entire week. On the last day, they gave her the much-needed data on a DVD.

“I thought, great, my dissertation is done,” she says.

But a couple of days later, after leaving a meeting with a local NGO to discuss sanitation issues connected to her research, her luck changed.

“I was walking out of the meeting, DVD in one hand, a banana in the other, when I felt something. Then I saw a flash of a monkey racing by,” she says. “The monkey had snatched the DVD out of my hand and was running! I hadn’t made a copy of the data yet, so I ran after it and started yelling.

Then I threw the banana and bonked it in the back.”

Adukia felt bad. “We were near the Gandhi ashram and Gandhi did not condone violence,” she says. But she also knew she wasn’t going to give up her hard-earned data that easily. Luckily, the unharmed monkey stopped, dropped the DVD, grabbed the banana, and walked away. She picked up the DVD and thought, humorously, “I just defended my dissertation,” at least for the first time.

Back in Cambridge, Adukia is finishing her research on the impact of health on education in India and other places, including how the lack of adequate sanitation affects learning. In retelling her monkey story, she jokingly credits Harvard’s office softball league for her Jonathan Papelbon–like skills.

“I’ve always thought that the only reason I hit the monkey,” she says, “is because I was on the school’s Ed Sox team.”