The wonderful rodent
N J Ravi Chander
I did spend countless hours marvelling at the agile, graceful Indian Palm Squirrel. These adorable creatures were regular visitors to our tree-filled home in Bengaluru, and we watched in awe as they raced through the tree canopy or feasted on fruits.
Masters in navigating through the treetops or gliding along the walls, squirrels have developed the knack of picking out ripened fruits and leaving them half-eaten. But we often found these gnawed fruits sweeter than the rest. Feasting on fruit provides them with tons of energy to keep scrambling around and foraging for more goodies.
Decades ago, we bumped into a cute baby squirrel in our backyard. It was not in great shape but seemed to trust us. My youngest sibling, Chandran, who loved pets, gave it a helping hand. He nursed the injured pup with extraordinary care, and in a few days, it was up and running. He made it sip milk from an ink filler, and it always clung onto him or curled up inside his pant pocket. A cardboard box lined with a soft cloth served as its crib, and it seldom stirred in the night. Our new acquaintance provided many memorable moments, and we spent hours cuddling it.
Unfortunately, after a few days, our squirrel-raising adventure came to grief when a cricket ball flew in from the roadside and knocked the pup cold. The blow proved fatal, and the baby squirrel perished instantly. It was heart-wrenching to see him go this way, and the garden where he frolicked during the day became his last resting place. That was the only time we raised a pet squirrel!
The Indian Palm squirrel was once a permanent fixture in many Bengaluru towns. But dwindling tree cover has seen their numbers drop. I seldom see a squirrel in Fraser Town, where I lived earlier but found an army of them in tree-filled Kalyannagar, where I live now.
It is fun feeding them bits of bread out of our hands or watching them spar with ravens for a piece of the pie. Initially, the rodents were hesitant to come near us but have now picked up the courage to eat out of our hands. Some months ago, a pregnant female squirrelled away bits of a piece of cloth we left on the balcony. It made umpteen trips, tore the fabric into tiny bits before conveying them to its nest.
There are over a dozen squirrel species in India. Many are small to medium-size, but few are hefty rodents like the Malabar and Malayan giant squirrel. The giant squirrels are arboreal species and live mostly on forest trees but now have adapted to human environments. Recently, when my son J R Sachin Kumar and his friends holidayed in Dandeli, they came across a Malabar giant squirrel in all its glory. They quickly grabbed their lens and shot some stunning pictures of the cute rodent.
A charming mythological anecdote narrates how the Indian Palm Squirrel earned the triple stripes on its back. The story goes that it worked tirelessly, gathering pebbles and small stones to assist the monkey army in constructing the bridge to Lanka during Sita’s rescue mission. Finally, Lord Ram, impressed with the unstinted dedication and hard work put in by his little friend, caressed its back and conferred it with three stripes.
(The author is a former banker who has taken to writing as a past time. He is a regular contributor to ‘Kashmir Vision’ and other regional and national publications)