When my grandfather used to leave little morsels of grain for the crows (who represent forefathers according to the Hindu culture) every morning, along with the crows there would always be a cautious furry squirrel or two partaking in the free food. This three-striped palm squirrel, favourably called anil in Tamil, had me bewitched from the first time I saw it, with its shifty eyes, always ready to scurry away at the slightest suspicion of danger. I would gawk at it until all the grain was gone, and eagerly wait for the next morning. With my grandfather's passing, no one else practised this ritual and with time, I guess I forgot about it too. I like to believe that it was this experience as a child that somehow subconsciously stayed with me and resurfaced almost 17 years later when I was running out of time to figure out a masters' thesis project at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
I saw the Indian desert jird for the first time in Kachchh, Gujarat, during a short holiday that quickly turned into a reconnaissance for the project. These were social rodents that lived in an underground burrow system that I'm sure requires in-depth (at least up to a metre!) understanding of soil architecture. Their popping in and out of different burrow holes every few minutes reminded me of the arcade game Whac-A-Mole I'd seen in movies, of course without the violent excitement of wanting to hit the creature on the head! I tried to see how close I could go before they would run down the burrows, and they were surprisingly tame, especially if I was so slow as to appear unmoving. It was love at first sight, for me at least; I'm not sure they felt the same way. I wanted to study animal behaviour and the jirds looked very promising.