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The Squirrel and the Crow

May 18, 2014


The Chinese fan palm stands in one corner of the garden rubbing shoulders with the champa (frangipani) tree. Its large fan leaves arch strongly along the extended stalk and appear folded in the middle. Each leaf has long narrow segments curling at the edges like a drooping fringe. To its left is the mighty vilaiti keekar, which has stood here for perhaps fifty years or so. I didn’t remove it when the house was built. Who would want to remove this grand old tree that over the years has nurtured life as the seasons changed? The month of August brings late rain to Delhi, and the little garden comes alive, making it fresh, wet and fragrant. Sitting out in the veranda is one of my favourite activities. The wet rain, little tailor birds dipping about, a pair of mama and papa chirping bulbuls and sunbirds drinking from the open hibiscus are a balm that soothes my senses and gladdens my heart. DSC_0854 Sitting on the chair with my cold coffee doing the soduku for the day – my eyes are riveted to the action drama being enacted beneath the palm. A big black crow and an average-sized squirrel are having it out in full view. As the crow approaches, the squirrel swings into action. It runs up and down the palm stalk, jumps to the grass below, holds its bushy tail and ram-wham-ram goes at the crow. The crow ducks once, then twice, jumps to its left and then again a little higher to its right, hitting the green grass with a squawk! The squirrel continues relentlessly, backing a bit, darting up the palm stalk again, scurrying down and going after the crow with a vengeance not funny at all. The crow jumps two feet into the air and wherever it lands – the little squirrel is ready to re-launch its attack. This enthralling drama goes on for a while, leaving me wondering as to its genesis. The crow I know is one of a pair that has recently taken up residence high on one of the branches of the keekar. Constant comings and goings from their nest herald the arrival of two or perhaps three additions to the crow family. A repeat performance takes place again on Sunday as I sit watching with Amit, my photographer friend, who after witnessing the entire show, remarks that both crow and squirrel are perhaps vying for the grain that is regularly placed in the garden. As they go their ways, I come indoors – but the scene is not forgotten. Is the little squirrel running up the keekar and annoying the baby crows in their nursery? But, no, I think, what on earth will she gain from this interference?DSC_0958 Wednesday morning sees the Mali swing into action with a pair of pruning scissors and a sharp saw. He decides to snip the tall straggly leaves of the palm into shape. Before I can say “Arey wait karo!” he has snapped four or five of the drooping fan leaves from their base. Along with the heavy stalks falls a loose brown bundle of thatch. Lo and behold! In it lie three tiny baby squirrels, not yet fully developed but their diminutive beauty leaves Mali, Kuldip, the houseboy, and me gasping! The little ones lie atop each other, their infinitely small tails holding the promise of developing their characteristic bushiness and their distinctive stripes already visible on their backs! DSC_0953 Their former thatch-home now rests in Mali’s palms and the palm leaf on which it had once nestled lies broken on the ground. So, this is what the matinee and evening shows for the last few days had been all about -a fierce and loving protection of territory and offspring. Now begins the rescue and rehabilitation campaign.  The Mali whose name is Bhagawan is told to be just that! He races to get an empty hanging wicker basket from the garden shed. In its base are laid the palm leaves and the sides are lined with moss. The thatch-nest is then placed carefully in the centre. Hanging handles attached, the basket is ready to be reintroduced back into its natural habitat. The adjacent champa offers one of its branches as a possible new location and is chosen. Next begins the laborious task of camouflaging. The new home of the baby squirrels is in direct aerial view of their unfriendly neighbour, the crow that nests directly above in the overhanging keekar. The cut fan leaves with their stalks are carefully and strategically placed around the basket-holding champa branch, while some are inserted into the ground – forming an artificial screen around the new home. Mr Crow knows something is up and descends to investigate whether he is getting fresh food for his little chicks! He is promptly shooed away! My heart in my mouth, I now wait for Mama Squirrel to make her appearance. A half hour later she comes running with food in her mouth and dashes straight up the palm tree towards her nest. But it is no longer there. Bewildered and alarmed, she makes two agonising trips this way and that, frantically searching for her little ones. I watch from inside, hoping and praying that she will scurry up the adjacent champa and find the location of her new home. The champa smiles and beckons her in the right direction. Kuldip keeps vigil and a few minutes later, very relieved, informs me that the family has been united and is snuggling together! I do not wonder how we will feel or what we will do under similar circumstances of loss of home, hearth or loved ones. All I know that we will quite effectively bring down all the houses in the neighbourhood!! Glory to the little brown squirrel (and to the big black crow) who are the real brave hearts – stoic, courageous and strong – in this wonderful world that we share together. P.S. A week later we discover that Mama Squirrel has relocated her family into the safe and warm environs of the enclosed light over the wrought iron gate. DSC_0807 August 17th 2011

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