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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 7, Number 2, June 2013

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Kala Ramesh
Pune, Maharashtra, India


A Turtle's Dance

My daughter, and before that, my niece have all been raving about a ‘turtle walk’ that happens along the sea shores of Chennai. I was curious to know more about it.

On a Saturday morning, my daughter asked if I would like to join her friends on a ‘walk’ they were taking that night. When I showed my enthusiasm, she warned, “It’s a long 8 km walk starting at 11.30 pm, Ma. We walk through the night. Can you do it?” I nodded to everything she told me.

We reached Neelankarai from where this walk usually begins. Arun, one of the organizers, keen on turtle conservatism, briefed us about this walk: “The Chennai sea coast is a breeding ground for the endangered Olive Ridley turtles. The turtle walks are organized by the SSTCN (Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network) to increase the chances of survival of the Olive Ridley sea turtle. Student volunteers go in search of their nests at night, retrieve the eggs and take them to a hatchery.” We needed to look out for eggs as we walk . . .

Since I write haiku, my mind was already getting tuned to the crashing waves, the starry night and the crescent moon. Added to this was our search for these pregnant turtles. I rubbed my hands, for it was getting exciting.

We started off on our walk. During nesting season, January to April, turtles come in large numbers. After laying their eggs they vanish into the sea, and never return. The eggs hatch in 55 days, and the hatchlings head naturally for the sea, as the sea seems brighter than land.

But of late, with cities coming up around these seashores, the land at night is brighter than the sea, resulting in these hatchlings moving inland . . . almost courting death.

A female turtle has come on land to hatch her eggs. We know this game. We act dead.

waiting
for a bengal tiger . . .
I sense the power
of silence

She digs a deep hole on the beach sands to lay her eggs. It’s almost pitch dark but I can see her sway from right to left, gently pushing the sand over her eggs. We’re told, “She’s doing the waltz.”

long bus ride . . .
a woman breast feeds, her child
covered by the sari


Note: “waiting” first appeared in Notes From the Gean, Number 1, 2009

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