MYSURU: At 6am every day, there is a wild squealing and chirping in Curzon Park in Mysuru city. A colony of squirrels leaps towards a couple of men scattering food and fancy snacks on benches and logs. It’s their treat of the day.
Helping Hands Jain Youth Organisation of Mysuru has been feeding hundreds of squirrels every day for the past year, ever since the Covid-19 pandemic slowed down daily routines. While it is common to see people feeding stray dogs, cows, cats and horses, the squirrel is a rare choice.
With life coming to almost a standstill last summer, and time hanging heavy, citizens ventured out to take a fresh look at the world, with an untinted perspective.
Suresh Bohra, a businessman and member of Helping Hands Jain Youth Organisation, said they had been feeding thousands of pigeons in front of Mysuru Palace for the past 6-7 years, under its ‘Kabutar Daan’ project. During the 2020 lockdown, Suresh, having fed pigeons, one day ventured into Curzon Park to see if there were any more pigeons.
“I spotted a few squirrels on trees and stone benches, and offered them some bread and corn which I had. I stood back and waited to see what they would do, but none picked up the pieces. However, after some 15 minutes, they slowly came forward to smell the food. I did this for the next four or five days, but was disappointed as the squirrels remained hesitant. But soon, they felt secure about eating the food, and the number of squirrels grew,” said Suresh, who leads the feeding drive with support from several other Helping Hand members, including president Mahaveer Khabiya, treasurer Rajan Baghmar and Pavan Sancheti.
Come rain or shine, Suresh keeps his date with the squirrels. Even as he and his team members enter the park, at least 80 to 100 squirrels, waiting in serpentine queues, flock to their usual feeding spot - the lawn or a stone bench. They place some bread, groundnuts and corn, which the squirrels hold with much love in their tiny paws and nibble away.
“The food we offer is a source of protein for them, and we are feeding them as per their dietary needs. Over the last year, I have not missed feeding them even a single day. Even when my father died, I sent my team member to feed them,” says Suresh. “It gives a sense of satisfaction and we feel rewarded when we feed them and watch them grow.”
The team spends over 90 minutes feeding them. Suresh has also fastened some cups atop tree branches, and fills them up with water to quench the squirrels’ thirst. Frequent visitors to the park have observed an increase in the number of squirrels, suggesting that they are coming to Curzon Park from surrounding areas.
Rajan Baghmar said Suresh is the main patron, and they are only supporting him. “His determination and discipline need to be appreciated,” he said. With human interference and other developmental activities in the cities forcing squirrels almost to extinction, the group says there needs to be a conservation plan for these furry rodents too.
Meanwhile, Helping Hands continues with its pigeon feeding ‘Kabutar Daan’ in front of Mysuru Palace, which has completed six years. Over 400 kg of jower, and other foodgrains are offered to them, and the scene is similar to the one in front of Trafalgar Square, which attracts people from all walks of life every morning.