Trip: London. May-July 2010.
It was never going to be an ordinary day… a day when we discovered an otherwise invisible bond between humans, birds, and animals! It is difficult to forget a date when you’ve met the friendliest of giant squirrels in the world. So quite expectedly, I too remember the 18th of June 2010 and the incredible moments after we strolled into the lovely Kensington Palace gardens.
The brochure in our hands told us that ‘London’s Kensington Palace has been a royal home for over 300 years, and parts of the palace still remain a private residence for members of the Royal Family today.’ We were in two minds about actually going to visit the palace when my wife just pressed my hand and seemed to be looking at something in the garden.
I turned and it was my turn to stand mesmerized. Just across to where we were standing was a family with two daughters and they were surrounded by squirrels… well, they were more than three times the size that I had ever come across in Delhi, so I wasn’t wrong as I whispered: ‘Giant squirrels!’
‘And friendly too,’ said my wife.
We just stood there watching the drama unfold. The girls had a packet of almonds with them and they were slowly taking out one almond after another and offering them to the squirrels. The squirrels too were in no unholy hurry and seemed quite unafraid too as they simply took firm steps towards the extended hand, and when millimetres from the object, sat on their hind legs and gently accepted the dry fruit.
We too sat on the bench opposite and a few of the squirrels came to our side too… carefully at first, and with eyes that were obviously trying to find out if we had anything interesting to offer. But we didn’t and they preferred to go to the girls sitting on the bench across.
The family suddenly got up and one of the girls came to us and said, ‘Would you like to have the remaining almonds? The squirrels love them and will come to you too then.’
We instinctively accepted their offer and thanked them. So now we were on a bench in the Kensington Palace gardens and we had a packet with a few almonds in it… and the squirrels were waiting somewhere.
I got up, readied my camera and said, ‘No need to be nervous.’
‘Hope they don’t bite,’ she was only slightly worried but the excitement to see those giant squirrels at close quarters just over-ruled her anxiety.
As she dipped her hands into the packet and chose a nice fat almond to begin the lure, a pigeon suddenly landed on the space beside her on the bench. We didn’t want the pigeons there but one followed another and my wife was literally surrounded by them… a few managed to even perch on her head. There were pigeons on her feet too as if imploring to forget the squirrels and offer all the almonds to them.
My wife gave me a look of helplessness and I too had no other solution but to take a couple of resolute steps towards her and say ‘Shoo! Shoo!’ I did that after I had clicked a few memorable shots, of course.
A few pigeons reluctantly flew some distance away and a few simply hopped to a safer distance, sensing our attitude towards them. They weren’t sullen, of course, because later they came and perched on my extended arm too, even though they knew I had nothing to offer!
And then came the squirrels… the cute, bold squirrels of Kensington Palace! They quickly pranced up the bench and came perilously close to my wife who was probably more afraid than they were. An extended squirrel paw… and the offered almond was firmly accepted.
This squirrel sat just behind her on the top of the bench and calmly nibbled away. Others too came, one by one, and some took their share straight into the bushes behind while others sat in the middle of the path. The pigeons looked at them silently.
Cameras clicked… yes, there were other tourists too who found the scene fascinating! For us these incredible moments will live forever!!
An ordinary day of June 2010 had been transformed into a lot of happy memories for us!!
20 April 2012