As a family of animal lovers, our choice of pets has been wide and varied. Before I was born, my folks had had a rabbit named Fluffy and an assortment of birds including budgerigars and mynahs. After I arrived into this world, I was a stubborn enough animal to handle so my parents kept their like for the animal world restricted to religiously watching wildlife documentaries on television. It was only when I had reached class 6 or 7 that another family member (non-human though it may be) was added to our house.
And this was a gray-brown mud turtle washed into the house of our domestic help by flood waters and duly delivered to us. To call it anything but ugly would be stretching the truth, but it was a such a entertaining creature by nature that no one cared for its looks. It was hard to tell its gender but I decided that it was a guy and named it Michaelangelo after one of the lead characters on my favourite cartoon show at the time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And the name seemed to have taken possession of him. He would clamber up the walls of the red basket where he was supposed to be confined to with as much ease as the Ninja Turtles scaled the skyscrapers of downtown Manhattan. He was no slouch, this turtle pal of mine and would wobble his way around the walls of our flat chasing geckos who dared to come too close to the ground. The geckos were of course terrified of this exotic creature who prowled the grounds beneath them and would stay as high up on the walls as possible. I'd drop him in a bucket of water for short periods of time so that he could keep this swimming muscles in shape. He'd really difficult to extract out of the water then with his slippery body and scaly arms that he used liberally to scratch anyone who tried to disturb his swim.
As I'd stay awake at night watching TV, Michaelangelo would incessantly tramp around the room pausing only a few seconds to gaze at the screen before rapidly setting out again on his 'parikramas' of the drawing room looking for unwary bugs and intruding geckos. He had a strange call too, a croak that sounded like the air gaps in the water pipe and night-time was the best time for him to exercise his feeble vocal chords and actually hear his own voice. He was a inspirational figure fighting on to be active even with the load of the shell strapped on to his back by Nature. The confidence with which he marched forward waddling on his four flippers was a sight to see.
Michaelangelo was the centre of attraction for all visitors to our flat. Turtles were not so common a pet back then and this was no ordinary lazy-bones turtle. Mike had grown quite large in the 6 months that he was with us and the bucket for his daily swim was gradually becoming a travesty for his new size. The obvious need to let him go back from where he came from was evident. So one gray evening, my brother and me walked along to the banks of the Narmada, a 15 minute walk from the flats where we stayed. We placed Mike at the edge of the water and watched a wave from the Narmada submerge him. But when the wave receded, Mike was still hanging around to give us a last glimpse of his slow-poke body. With the next wave, he was gone back into the element he was created for, effortlessly paddling his way through the murkiness of the Narmada waters.