I was friends with a very ancient turtle once. I was very young, probably four or five and he lived in our backyard. The turtle talked to me. He told me many stories of times past and people long dead. He was wise, very wise and a four year old kid was no match to his wisdom. But he talked to me because I believe, in a way he loved me. He loved me because I could listen to him for long, my pupils enlarged in astonishment and my brow knitted in curiosity.
It was a summer afternoon when we first met. My mother was fast asleep once I slipped out of her arms. I missed her warm sweet smell but outside, the adventures were waiting for me. Adventures have always waited for me wherever I have gone.
It must have been a small house. But to me, it looked enormous. There were deep rain forests under the rose bushes. Anacondas roamed underneath the bushes. My mother called them earthworms but I knew they were anacondas. There was a desert in one corner of the backyard – my very own Sahara. My mother thought it was construction sand, left behind by the workers. Adults can be so wrong sometimes. It was a desert, complete with dunes and when I planted some saplings, there was an oasis too.
I peeked at the golden sun from under the shadow of my palm. The sun was furious with the clouds but still he smiled at me:
‘Go ahead son. The adventure is waiting.’
‘But it is so hot. You are ferocious today.’ I adjusted my palm.
‘Not for you. You are a dreamer. For you I will always be kind.’ The sun crackled a deep throated laughter.
Reassured, I started looking for adventure. I saw a squirrel hiding in the tree.
‘Come down little one. I want to play with your soft bushy tail.’ I called her down kindly.
‘Always be kind. Kindness goes a long way’, my mother always said.
The squirrel came down. I called her Katto and we had always been on friendly terms. She shared her nuts with me and in return, I brushed her soft tail. It was softer than my father’s shaving brush and of the most marvelous silver-grey color.
‘Hey, have you heard the news? The turtle is awake.’ She sat on my shoulder and squeaked in my ear.
‘Huh? Turtle? Which turtle?’ I was surprised.
‘The turtle in the backyard silly’. Katto broke a nut in half and offered a piece to me.
‘There is a turtle in our backyard? Wow!’ It was pleasant news to me.
‘There always has been a turtle in the backyard. But he had been asleep for the last hundred years or so.’ Katto chattered on: ‘Go meet him. Pay your respects. He would like that.’
So I ran to the backyard. There was no turtle anywhere.
‘Mr Turtle! Mr Turtle! Where are you?’ I hesitatingly called.
I could hear nothing in reply. All was silent and the brick floor was shimmering in bright sunlight.
‘Look closely son. He is having his siesta under the bushes.’ The sun whispered.
‘Where? I cannot see him.’ I desperately searched under the bushes.
The sun laughed quietly and shifted a little. The shadows changed and I started to see something which was never there before. A mottled hard and curved shell – dark green and grey. I poked at it with a small stick and it moved.
‘Who disturbs me?’ A strange low voice murmured.
‘I am sorry sir. I just wanted to meet you and say hi!’ I said very very respectfully. Turtles were serious business and I knew my manners.
‘Hmmm! Once you will grow old, you will realize something very important. Nothing in this life is more delicious than a siesta in Summers.’ The turtle gradually opened up his small deep eyes and looked at me.
‘Ok. I am really sorry. You can go back to sleep. We will chat another time.’ I started moving back.
‘There is something else you will realize once you grow old. No time is better than now.’ He smiled at me kindly: ‘Sit down and let me look at you closely.’
So I sat down under the rose bushes. It was pleasant there. The dark soil was wet and the anacondas were squirming happily. I prodded one with my finger. It was all moist and soft.
‘Now don’t do that. He doesn’t like that.’ The turtle admonished me silently. I withdrew my finger. But the turtle was wrong. The anaconda didn’t care.
‘What are you doing outside at this hour?’ The turtle asked me gently.
‘What is wrong with this hour? This is the hour of adventure.’ I was confused.
‘You should get out at another time. It is hot.’ He looked up at the bright sun.
‘No time is better than now.’ I repeated his words and the turtle laughed. It was a deep rattling sound, pleasant to hear. It was a warm laughter coming straight from his belly.
‘My mother is asleep and I am free. There are lions to hunt and desert gypsies to dance with.’ I politely waited for his laughter to die down.
‘Ahaa!’ he grinned. ‘We have a dreamer here.’
‘Is it bad being a dreamer?’ My mother always said it was better to act than dream.
‘Bad? Absolutely not. Being a dreamer is rather marvelous.’ The turtle winked at me: ‘It is the dreamers who will change the world.’
‘Change the world? But how?’ I found the turtle strange.
‘Dreamers can see things, others can’t. Dreamers can sense things others can’t. Dreamers can hear things which others can’t and dreamers can do things, others can’t.’ It was more of a song than a statement. I loved songs. They were simple, yet meaningful.
‘Can dreamers see God?’ I asked the turtle. It was a very important question. My mother always said God was invisible.
‘Oh yes! They can. You can.’ The turtle raised an eyebrow.
‘Nopes. I cannot see Him. Nobody can.’ I pursed my lips determinedly.
‘Hmmm! What do you think God looks like?’ He asked a question I could answer easily.
‘He is big. Bigger than everything. He must be a giant because He is all mighty and powerful. Moves his finger and the earth moves and the mountains crumble.’ I could go on and on but the strange expression in the turtle’s eyes halted me.
‘Now who told you that?’ He asked concernedly.
‘My teacher told me that.’ I said visualizing her green eyes and golden hair which made a halo around her lovely oval face. ‘But she didn’t say what God looked like. I added the giant part myself.’ I said proudly.
‘Of course you did. You are a dreamer.’ The turtle laughed again.
‘Can I feel your belly when you laugh?’ I asked the turtle hesitatingly. Touching somebody’s belly was not something I normally did. But I wanted to feel the warm vibrations.
‘Oh yes you can my boy. You can do anything which makes you happy.’ He answered with a jolly laugh again and I gently placed my palm against his belly. Those were good vibrations. They travelled up my arm and reached my heart. They tickled my heart and I laughed too.
‘God is somebody you can easily see and feel.’ The turtle finally finished his long vibrating laughter.
‘How?’ I was all ears.
‘How do you feel your mother? I mean what if she gets up when your eyes are closed? Can you feel her leaving?’ The turtle asked a very strange question. I had never thought about it. So I closed my eyes and imagined me lying in my mother’s embrace. And then the answer came to me, as clear as sunlight kissing a brilliant red rose.
‘I know. I know.’ I answered his question excitedly: ‘When she gets up and leaves, her warmth and fragrance leaves too.’
‘Exactly.’ The turtle nodded satisfyingly. ‘Now tell me, what makes your mother your mother?’ He saw the confusion dancing in my eyes and so repeated his question. ‘What special quality makes her your mother?’
‘She gave birth to me. I came out of her tummy.’ I was wise way beyond my years.
‘Yes, true. That is basic. But what quality makes her your mother?’ He asked again. And I thought really hard this time.
‘I guess that would be her love. She loves me no matter what. She loves me even when I break a glass. Of course she is unhappy for a while and frowns but she still loves me.’
‘Yes!’ the turtle was jubilant. ‘Her love makes her your mother. You see the love in her and sense it.’
‘So? What that’s got to do with God?’ I was a bit perplexed.
‘That’s got to do everything with God.’ He said in a matter of fact way. ‘He created you, me, your mother and everything that exists around us. And He loves us unconditionally.’
‘So my mother is God too?’ I thought I was finally drawing a connection.
‘She is one of the smaller gods. But God is greater than her and different from her.’ The turtle was alert now. He was very alert and was looking at me with eyes sparkling with ancient wisdom.
‘Different how?’ I was mentally ready to start a comparison.
‘Different because unlike your mother and mine, He runs through us and through everything around us. He makes you sense your mother’s warmth and He makes you smell her warm fragrance. He makes you move and He makes you stop. We are alive when He breathes inside us and we fall dead when He leaves us. He is the sun, the moon and the stars and He is the rain forest, the desert and the earthworms.’
‘Not earthworms. They are anacondas.’ I rudely interrupted him.
‘Yes I am sorry. The Anacondas and not the earthworms.’ The turtle gave me a kind and affectionate smile. ‘And most importantly, God makes you dream. He makes you dream so that you can see Him and sense Him in all His glory and warmth.’
‘Tipu? Tipu? Where are you?’ My mother’s voice echoed in the distance.
‘Oh shit! She is awake.’ I cursed and then suddenly stopped. Cursing was bad and it was especially bad in front of a grownup. You could get spanked for that.
‘No problem. You can always curse in front me.’ The turtle winked at me knowingly.
‘Will I see you again?’ I asked, brushing off the seat of my shorts.
‘Oh yes. I will always be there. We will talk more and then some more. We will keep on talking till God leaves you.’ The turtle settled comfortably in the moist soil.
‘Hey there you are. How many times I have told you not to play outside at this hour?’ Mother had finally found me.
I ran to her hugging her legs. She took my hand and started walking around the corner. I looked back and waved at the turtle. I could not see him because the sun had shifted again. But I was sure he could see me.
‘Whom are you waving at?’ My mother looked back but couldn’t see anybody.
‘I made a new friend today. I was waving at him.’ I smiled at her.
‘A new friend? Who is he?’ My mother looked a bit worried.
‘A turtle!’ I happily informed her.
‘A turtle?’ My mother looked surprised for a moment. But then she bent down and kissed my sweaty forehead. ‘You are a dreamer my son’.
She just saw the happiness in my eyes and she was happy that I was happy. I was happy because I was a dreamer and I could see God.
She got hold of my hand and we walked inside hand in hand.