I wouldn't call my family a very "pet friendly" one. But we have had a lot of pets, ranging from cats, dogs, love birds, rabbits, a guinea hen, a turtle and so on. But one pet that has always remained close to my heart is my squirrel.
This again, is an old story. Happened about 17 years ago, way back in 1992. I was in the third grade. We were in India then. It was almost a year since the Gulf war. Mom and dad had returned to Kuwait. We kids stayed back at one of dad's cousin's houses, waiting for Kuwait to get safer for families to return.
Dad's cousin sister stayed in Palkad, Kerala. It was a village with lots of trees, a river, hills, tiled and thatched houses and of course a bunch of uneducated but innocent people. The facade of her house opened to lush green paddy fields stretched as far as one's eyes could see. Beyond the fields, stood the hills and the waterfalls - such a beautiful sight.
One fine morning, we were getting ready for school. That was when war would erupt at home. Queues at the bathroom door. Fights at the breakfast table. Homeworks half done and our auto-rickshaw driver who would always come early when we were late.
That day was no different. I was angry I had to plait my long hair on my own. I had pretty long hair then (an ample supply of lice too). I insisted the maid plait them and adorn them with a rose each day. But she was busy washing plates by the well.
Suddenly, we heard her scream. She had stooped to draw water from the well, when she felt something cold and fleshy, fall on her back. We rushed, to see a small hairless meat ball - alive, squeaking and trying to move on her. I cupped my palms and took it in slowly. It was pink in colour and its eyes were closed.
The tail seemed short. It was cut and was bleeding. A crow had mistakenly dropped its meal. But we couldn't figure out what the creature was. Whatever species it belonged to, it was a lucky meatball, to be alive.
I took it inside and placed it in the warmth of coconut husks (abundant in Kerala!) and fed it milk with an eye dropper. Someone said it was a rat. Someone else suggested it was a squirrel. What difference did it make? As far as I was concerned, I hoped it would live.
Days passed by, and our love for the pink hairless meatball only grew. It started sprouting fur. Thats when someone figured out it was actually a squirrel. To us it was immaterial by then. We had started loving it, immaterial of its genesis. (First lesson learnt - Love Doesnt Distinguish Race)
One day, as I fed 'him' (I figured out that much by then!), he opened his eyes! That was an awesome feeling. To be the first person, to be seen, by an infant! I figured out how heroic yet humbled gynecologists felt, when a new born right out of the mother's womb, looked straight at them. (Second lesson learnt - Some Lessons In Life Are Taught By People Younger To You)
I felt more responsible for him. I felt I need to help him. Feed him. Grow him. Teach him. Lead him. I was hardly a ten year old. But I already knew what motherhood pangs meant! (Third lesson learnt - You Need To Be A Mother To Know How She Feels)
He grew into a handsome squirrel. His golden brown coat, the three white lines which extended from his head towards his long bushy tail ... oops! did I say "long"? Well, that was the only thing he lacked. He had a short stubbed tail, but that dint keep him from exploring the world. He was a proud prankster. (Fourth lesson learnt - A Lost Limb Doesn't Necessarily Mean A Life Lost)
He used to climb up my hands, to the back of my neck and cuddle within my hair, often falling asleep in the warmth. He used to bite everyone except me. He took a liking to drinking Tang. He loved bananas and mangoes, to the extend, once he almost choked to death when a large chunk of mango blocked his trachea. He almost passed out.
I thought we lost him. I realized why people cried at funerals. I understood what it meant to lose someone. How it hurt to know that they would never return. I started crying. But, thanks to my aunt's prompt thinking, she managed to pull out the fruit with the help of a steel fork. He gasped. Coughed. Blinked. And was back on feet and running around soon.
But little did I know I would lose him soon. Not to fate. But to his personal choice.
He had a cage, which was always left open. He was free to roam and was used to climbing up the trees and exploring his small world. But he always came back before dark. (Some good manners!)
But one day, I kept waiting. And he never came. The night passed with no sign of him. Two days passed and still no squirrel. My tears saw no limits. How could he abandon me? What had I not done for him? Has he no gratitude? No memories? No love or regard? After all what was he without me? An orphaned, tailless hairless blind pink meat ball.
I equated my helplessness with that of parents, when children left them in search of happiness, to build their dreams, to live their lives. (Fifth lesson learnt - You Cant Expect People To Reciprocate Exactly The Way You Want Them To)
Eventually my tears dried. I accepted that he would never come back. But I still loved him. Cherished memories of him. Prayed for him to be happy. Wished him good luck. Bid him farewell.
I was growing up.
I was thinking like a woman.
I was learning to forgive and forget.
Though I dint realize then, I had just learnt the greatest lesson of life.