They might be giants

In 2013, I saw a large squirrel hiding in-between the branches of a plum tree in Kodaikanal. Bashing its bushy tail against the leaves, the creature stared at me with its beady eyes. Its reddish-black coat  shone in the sun. I had never seen anything like it before. The only squirrel I knew then was the three-striped palm sub-species.

When it leaped onto another tree, a taxi driver – standing nearby – pointed at it and said, “There it goes”. He looked at me and asked, “Ever seen a Giant Flying Squirrel before?”  I shook my head sideways and mumbled. Words escaped me. I was shaken. I felt like I was on the precipice of something strange and important. It was the only time I ever wanted to write a novel.

But the squirrel had other plans for me.

A few weeks after the encounter, I excitedly started on a full-length novel. A story about an amateur trekker who gives up his corporate career to spot a leopard in the wild. It was loosely based on my own experience. And the squirrel was one of the recurring characters. My spirit animal that shows up during the likeliest of circumstances.

I wrote about six thousand words in a short while. Because I enjoyed the process. It was hypnotic. I was so immersed in it that I made a fundamental error. I hadn’t spent any time on research.

And I had mistakenly referred to the Malabar Giant Squirrel as the Indian Giant Flying Squirrel.

I hadn’t bothered to double-check with anyone, not even a search engine. I was more interested in completing the novel. Giving my protagonist some closure. Soon, I began to despise him, and anything he had stood for. I wanted him gone from my life. Out of my mind.

Furthermore, when I read the finished chapters, I hated their contents too. What once had seemed clever or poignant came across as pretentious and hare-brained. And I just couldn’t go through with it. Three years later, I haven’t added a word to the novel.

But whenever I see a Malabar Giant Squirrel, I feel overjoyed. I giggle to myself. The mistakes I have made. The love I have received. Everything feels alright.

Malabar Giant Squirrels, Kerala

In 2014, the Indian Giant Flying Squirrel finally glided into my life during a hot summer night in Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary. It just came out of nowhere.

A friend and I had spotted it. I wanted to use the flash option in my camera and shoot a photograph of it. But I couldn’t bring myself to. In the process, I found dignity in waiting for the right moment without being a jerk about it. So, I am sure that I will photograph it some day.

As for the giant that I am more familiar with – well, once smitten, twice shy; even the grayest of clouds shan’t cast a shadow over the sunshine of my love.

(Photographs: Kodaikanal, Thekkady, Valparai, Mudumalai)

(Video: Periyar National Park)

47 thoughts on “They might be giants

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      1. I’ve heard this man tell his kid at the vandalur zoo that a dhole (wild dog) was in fact a strange creature called the tree wolf, which apparently eats fruits.

        sigh nevermind.

        all the best squirrel-spotting!


  1. Beautiful.
    Having spent the first 21 years of my life in a city where the squirrels are the size of my palm, I was shocked beyond words, when, in the US, a humongous squirrel ran about my student housing. I was terrified of it. Then I got used to it. And when I returned, I thought our squirrels were extra tiny. And extra cute.
    My father once rescued a baby squirrel, tended to it for a couple of weeks before letting it out. I was terrified of the wee thing, but I was surprised at my father’s sensitive side.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awwww extra cute! Any idea which type of squirrel it was? I hope it was the eastern grey, I have always wanted to see that one!

      I had a similar experience with my dad trying to nurse a sparrow after it had flown and hit the ceiling fan. He even sang “ey kuruvi, chittu kuruvi” to it. I was pretty darn surprised too!


      1. Must be!

        For me, names do matter, LG. For one, I get to also learn about the little things that make them awesome along the way. And it assuages the guilt I feel about not spending more time with them.


  2. The first time I ever spotted it was in Thekkady. A real beauty! 🙂 We call it ‘Malayannaan’ in Malayalam, which roughly translates to Mountain Squirrel. I love its colours. Have clicked it a few times but no close up shots managed. Will be sharing some soon.

    Liked by 1 person

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