Shweta Ravi

Penned down the Penned-Up Bit

Dear Aldabra,

(the tortoise who so kindly lent me the semblance of his shell)

To forget is to not remember. To not remember is to accept the erasure of splits in my tectonic plates that once curved apart to carve my today. I feel befriended in my yearnings with your amazing knack of picking the tiniest flinch and sound off the earth's crust (without ears!) and coupling them into cosmic wisdom. Perhaps the past is a distress message once sealed in the old beer bottle tossed into the sea, catching up with us every now and then on diverse shores.

In an early fear- tainted phase of my life, anxiety and panic bumped into me. Vulnerability in the wrong hands turns into a temptation. They conspired to sell me off an elopement package with loneliness and there, I landed at your door, a bundle of contradictions since I wasn't born one of joy. Joy feels safe. Contradiction is a double-edged sword, its flailing arm hurting itself and others in the relentless quest for an amorphous scabbard. A fragile me with an agile loneliness hastily squeezed through the mottled brown carapace into the large-heartedness of your shell. The shell was a nest I came bolting back to, away from the world's din and clatter to give vent to another incongruous sound, the sound of my own voice. I sought the shell to elude adjectives of judgement. The more I surpassed courtesy in extending my stay in your shell, the deeper I shrunk into it. Loneliness bloated. Time raced on with ten-speed gears until loneliness became excruciating as pain yet as indispensable as air.

Losing and finding myself in exile have been milestones. I have plummeted like Alice, soared like a phoenix and in the interlude, clung to moments of sangfroid to move from being wounded to wise. I talked things out with loneliness. It said it was there to protect me including protecting me from itself. I have now become more accustomed to be seen unapologetically walking mostly alone, talking nothing when there is nothing to talk or not playing someone else to be with everyone else. To be like others is to not be what I am.

When connectivity is less inside my shell, I try to forge connections. There's no rush hour here. There's ample time to watch life looming large in the littleness of the roadside lantanas, merge with the song and soul of a random sparrow and admire it splitting into lines and patterns in the sky that never become boundaries. On cemented walls, I have met the most loyal friends in lizards and the prettiest ones in ladybirds who I idly imagine must have insisted on being frocked in those black polka- dotted reds by God.

If the entrapment in loneliness is mine, I own the space too. In it, I have often let the past little me slide out of my silhouette and get some fresh air like we do to a scar. But like a spell detonated too soon, she recoils faster into the past than I do in the present. The demons who nailed her coffin then return in self-righteous disguises to nail my coffin now, by pointing out at my mental ineptness through a salvo of unsolicited Whatsapp sermons about how the wrong done with us is insignificant, how we react to it is what matters. I'm glad this time I'm there to stand by my little me, to tell her not to bother, to tell her that this world abounds with insensitive idiots and I would never blame her for not comprehending the laws of action and reaction when she was just nine.

That little me never wanted to be a teacher. She wanted to be bigger things, perhaps a manifestation beyond anyone's grip that dared to squish her self-esteem into another pulp. Eventually I not only found the 'big' in bits of me ingrained in my students in the strength and creativity I was able to foster in them over the years, but also discovered an implicit purpose in the immensity of this role life chose for me. I have begun to harness my loneliness to discern such wrestling emotions on my students' faces, sub-consciously trying to see more than what is being shown. It could be a silent rebellion or a stifled scream being lulled and held before a storm. I engage with them in the common terrain we share, not by posing questions to render them an outcast or offering answers that engender the feelings of a victim but reassuring them that they aren't the sole inhabitants here and surely not in hell. In recognizing their fragmentation is determining their totality.

Do I dwell in a contorted alternate universe, I wonder. The paradox of reality intrigues me. Don't most inhabitants themselves of this stereotypically sane world want their reality to be otherwise?

I'm doing fine sticking to my reality living a sanity which is the sum total of tons of madness I don't feel the need to justify. Each day I navigate through the fullness and half ness of my being to discover some wholeness. Each day, I believe there is more in the world to love than hate. Thank you Aldabra for always being there and not just because you are a slow-paced tortoise. I know if you find me in pain again, you will share your home and if you have no home, you will share my pain.

Your pain in the neck (guilty of overshooting my stay in your shell into which you found no space to retract your head).


Shweta Ravi is a writer and educationist. She's lured by both- the simple and the spell-binding to carve her imaginative clay . Her work mostly focuses on the intersection of ecology and literature. Her pieces have appeared in print and online journals like Teachers' Plus, Active Muse, Commonwealth writers (Stories to Connect Us) and Women's Web.