Sunday, April 23, 2006

Turtle tales

It was a party. Too long ago to remember what for or even care. So long ago that pink cakes and ice creams meant stuffing yourself without budging from the table while dedicatedly ignoring mother's nudges. They'd brought the wrong baby from the hospital, my mother was convinced and many a times at that. Claims from my half blind grandma that I looked exactly like her mother, made them keep me I guess.

When mother's nudges turned insistent and un-ignorable, I reluctantly left the cakes that weren't remaining and wandered off. It was a grown ups party and the only reason why I was around was because Susie aunty who looked after me when my parents when out, wasn't around.

Stiff frock and tight ribbons, mother made sure anything that could be tied on was. The norms of good behavior in the book my mother's authored was read out yet again. Dad always took the easy way out. He promised me something very promising if I behaved. Eight and I was already smart enough not to promise anything out loud. I always gave a look which meant,"I'll consider".

I'd wandered desolately amidst straight trousers and crisp sarees. Occasional distracted pats on the top of my head from the hands above. I touched the ribbon on my head to see if it still was where it should be.

It was then that I saw it. An aquarium. To me then, it was a fish house. Aquariums had always depressed me. Seeing those melancholy fishes cooped up in restricted cube spaces, blowing empty bubbles at fake plants. The lone man in the bowl who kept lifting his hands up and down relentlessly. I was too young to know why, but enough that I didn't like fish houses. It was years later that someone told me goldfishes had 3 second memory spans.

They're still arguing about it. But that answer depressed me further. Imagine swimming about in the same place and not once realizing it was the same that you touched on a few seconds ago and the same that you will, a few seconds later... But then, maybe in it lay their sanity.

Too young then to take this train of thought, I walked up to the blue glass cage. It was empty except for a few plants that moved listlessly. It wasn't as empty, I realized when I saw the small mound at the corner move.

Mottled brown and tiny, was a turtle. Taking a quick peek, it rushed back into darkness on seeing a pair of eyes peering at it intently, my nose pressed on the glass. To me it then became a game of peek-a-boo.

Toasty beds and turtle stories helped in the absence of fear. I wouldn't have done it today.

Putting my hand into the water, I lifted the turtle out. Dripping wet and terrified, it lay unmoving on my insufficient palm.

Stroking its hard shell, I peeped inside. Mother had always forbidden what was eternally tempting- voyeurism into lives.

And it reacted the way it knew best, by shutting me who was already out; out.

Mother came looking for me. The unmoving pink ribbon on my head must have told her my attention was caught by something. And that I definitely was doing something I shouldn't.

We were leaving and in the flurry of goodbyes that were tossed around, she didn't see what came along with us that day from the party house.

Sitting on daddy's bike, sandwiched between my parents I held on to what had already become, my turtle.

Mother thought it was a cake. Daddy never bothered. And the turtle, well, we were friends weren't we?!

"Where do turtles sleep?"

I asked mother when she shook out sheets furiously, a habit she handed over to me.

"What sleep?"

"Turtles", I explained patiently. Mother was always a little slow.

She looked at daddy helplessly.

"In their beds"

It made a lot of sense to me then.

"Can I bring it to bed with me tonight?" and as an afterthought. "We can buy it another one tomorrow!"

Mother thought it was a book I was talking about. Daddy never bothered. And the turtle, well, we were friends weren't we?!

I knew things were being too easy.

When I heard mother scream, I almost relaxed. This was at least familiar!

But it was only her first reaction. Daddy was terrified of the turtle, something he'd never seen but in pictures. Even at the extent of abandoning his only family to terrifying creatures, daddy plain refused to touch what he called, 'the creature'.

Mother always surprised me. Picking up MY turtle carefully, she turned it upside down and tickled its stomach!

Daddy disowned mother.

Carrying it on her palm, she walked over to the fridge. Vegetables and fruits.

Putting me on her lap, we watched it eat. That's when I felt it was almost a kindred spirit. It was messier an eater than I was!

Mother's clear and happy laugh rang that night.

But I knew, something was coming. I always knew things like these.

Turtles bring bad luck to homes.

On that summer night, I told goodbye to a friend who turned friendlier to my mother.

A thousand apprehensions filled my mind when I saw the turtle sitting in the sand and not budging. We waited on the rocks, mother and I. Daddy was a faint glow of cigarette.

Finally, it crawled in slow paces.

"How many turtles do you think are there in the sea?"




"Hundreds, hundreds?"


Mother held me against her, the summer wind blowing us nowhere.

"I hope he can recognize his mother…"

Her arms gripped me harder. "She'll be able to recognize him."


Blogger flyaway mind said...

was that a story or a real one?? anyway, enjoyed it...right thru' the innocent eyes of a child..

"daddy disowned mother" funny... hope the little turtle did find it's mother:-))

1:55 AM  
Blogger Dhanush said...

"Aquariums had always depressed me. Seeing those melancholy fishes cooped up in restricted cube spaces, blowing empty bubbles at fake plants. The lone man in the bowl who kept lifting his hands up and down relentlessly"- Touching and Beautiful. An area nobody ever thought of. People or rather animals living in confined spaces. I should show this post to my mom who is the proud owner of 3 aquariums :).

2:39 AM  
Blogger Poornima said...

Flyaway Mind: I hope so too!

Dhanush: Aiyyo! Don't rob her happiness!!!

6:44 AM  
Anonymous one among the crowd said...

hi poornima,

eight years ...what do i say... Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern.

I read this truth more than a decade ago - "only reason can convince us of those three fundamental truths without a recognition of which there can be no effective liberty: that what we believe is not necessarily true; that what we like is not necessarily good; and that all questions are open."

10:14 AM  
Anonymous SilentWaters said...

Have you ever wondered why they say that "Turtles bring bad luck?", I had a chance to bring a turtle home, but before I did, I asked my mom and she went completely ballistic on me!!! Her only defence..."Turtles bring bad luck!!!"

11:44 AM  
Blogger Lost in trance... said...

5 seconds? boy! wat a sad thing!

1:18 PM  
Blogger Poornima said...

OAC: And that open ended questions are the bane of a research analyst's life!

Silent Waters: Anything fun is always bad. Or something you can't agrue with- bad luck!

Lost in trance: I don't quite believe that 3/5 second thingy! How'd you have liked it end?

9:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved it as I've loved all others...
My fav passtime is to try and have imaginary conversations with moi own 'Finding Nemo' in moi mind!!
I reallly realllly like ur posts that depict childhood :D

11:57 PM  
Blogger Xoff said...

nice one!

1:05 AM  
Blogger SnM said...

Really touching piece of writing.

1:31 AM  
Blogger Dhanya said...


3:36 AM  
Blogger Poornima said...

Sharat: Second childhood!

Xoff: Thank you!

Snm: How've you been?

Dhanya: Finally I please her!!!

9:54 PM  
Blogger Lost in trance... said...

i guess all xcuses r made for a reason!

5:12 PM  
Blogger The Regular Joe said...

Another quality composition

5:03 AM  
Blogger Sujit said...

Once more.. confused.. between story and real life.. but the fact is good that you people left the turtle to where it belongs.. otherwise itmight have been caged in the water forever.

And its true that goldfish have very short term memomy and hence can live lonly and all alone in a aquarium..

4:50 PM  
Blogger Poornima said...

Lost in trance: And I thought due to the lack of!

Regular Joe: :D

Sujit: And THAT happens to be my forte!

9:17 PM  
Blogger Lost in trance... said...

hahaha...its the same thing...dontyu think? :)

1:55 PM  
Blogger Poornima said...

Lost in trance: Maybe! :)

9:38 PM  
Blogger Aditya Bidikar said...

Wow! This is a lovely story. Very well-written (with that wide-eyed look) and quite precise. Have been reading your blog for a while, but had to comment on this one.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Poornima said...

Aditya: Thank you!

9:05 PM  

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