Saturday, November 15, 2008


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. 

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Niagara

The spray was like thick smoke obscuring the skyline of Toronto across the border. The sound of the waters was not loud at the height from which I watched them but it was strangely assertive over all the others that were much nearer and louder. The eyes could see the towers of water making the waterfall and the mind couldn't possibly pay attention to anything but this raw display of power. I was at the Niagara Falls and needless to say overawed.

Is it any wonder that the Native Americans worshipped these falls as a God? The spectacle was breath-taking, despite being conscious of the fact that a dam had been built over this river and if required could slow this behemoth down to a trickle. We had full control over this thing of extraordinary beauty but I found myself asking whether we were worthy of it. The thousands of birds drifting in the air at the foot of the falls were distant specks from where I saw them, ghost shapes flitting through the mist. The raging Niagara river plummeted to the base of the falls running along on it's unruly way again unmindful of the nearly a couple of hundred feet in between, blue as it was before it turned into white froth for a brief period. 

Our tour bus took us to Goat Island, down a deep elevator shaft to "The Cave of the Winds" where we were at the base of the Bridal Veil falls. It really was windy and wet down there but such was the allure of the scene with the mist from the American Falls and the Canadian Falls on either side and the Bridal Veil right in front, that all these discomforts were quite minor. 

The day passed within no time in the bubble like peace of the waters and their sound. There were hundreds of people watching the same view at the same time yet it resonated at a deeply personal level for each of them. No one was talking to each other as they stood at the handrails gazing down at the ethereal scene. They waited silently to catch a glimpse of the fleeting rainbows that played hide-and-seek in the clouds of mist. Legend has it that these rainbows are manifestations of the Falls' protective spirit that has saved many a life which accidentally or on purpose took a tumble down the Falls. Although I am mildly sceptical of the existence of a supernatural world, this place was surely a worthy abode of the prettiest guardian angel.