Melancholy had begun to sink in as I coiled myself in a self-erected wall around me. The flowers had lost their fragrance, as the garden became colourless with bleeding drops of pain from my battered soul. I had seen enough, or so I thought, unbeknownst that the journey had just begun.

*

Many suns ago, I was born on a late spring morning, nestled on a foliate of lush greens. As I stretched my tiny arms above my head, the shell around me developed a crack. Rays of the sun filtered in, making me squint. As my eyes accommodated the light, a canopy of the azure sky became visible. The warm rays felt welcoming and comforting as if caressing me out of the deep slumber from another lifetime. 

Straightening myself, I got on my feet, breaking the opaque sheath that surrounded me. And lo! I found so many eggs of my kind. 

Yay! I am not alone!

I looked around to scan my surroundings. Feeling the spring in the air, I spread my arms in glee. It was a beautiful world I had woken up to. Some of my mates were still tossing in slumber; many would continue their eternal sleep; a few, who emerged before I did, had already begun exploring their environs. Unclaimed, unnamed, unwittingly they ventured into unknown territories, unaware that spiders, beetles, and birds were waiting to waylay them and devour their slightly emaciated, yet supple bodies.

They needed to eat something. I needed to eat something to survive. The contractions in my abdomen were hunger pangs. The intrinsic set-up of our genetic material figured out the nature of the response to be elicited from our tiny frames. We got busy stuffing ourselves. 

But first things first, I must clear my bed after the eternal sleep; I must gobble up my shell. I notice that few of us inhabited bigger shells than many others. I felt privileged to be amongst the luckiest handful who got a chance to live from amongst hundreds of eggs laid by my mom. I am proud to be a female.

My ravenousness made me polish off all the greens that lay close to me. Instinct warned me against stepping out in the open, lest I became easy prey.

Splash!

Before I could register what happened, my head was spinning, I was tumbling from one leaf to another with gravity accelerating the roll. I was somersaulting at a pace no Olympian acrobat could match. 

Thud! 

I landed on soft wet ground. When the chittering birds circling my head in a wobbly merry-go-round came to a halt, I gathered myself to see what had just happened. 

A baby elephant was practicing the art of splashing water with her snout. She was merrily jumping around in semi-circular movements to see how far she could aim the pressure. 

What’s so exciting about this? … Bah!

I must get back into hiding before the imaginary birds hovering over my head approach me for real.

“Hey Colleen, welcome to the world.” My heart jumped out of my mouth on hearing my name, making me throw up the last morsel I was trying to gulp down after the fall, as I heard this high-pitched voice over my shoulder. I didn’t expect blabbermouths to spread the news of my birth so fast and far! 

“Who are you? How do you know my name?” I managed to mumble while stepping a few steps away from her. 

“I’m your Aunt Jane. I had seen your name on the shell. I am your godmother. I have been checking on you and your siblings for a couple of days now.”

While we evolved in our shells, we all were forewarned of the brutal rapes and murders of unsuspecting infants and pre-adolescent girls, and how the predators are always on the prowl, waiting to find opportune moments to entice their prey. They are known to camouflage their appearances and unscrupulously remove traces of their tracks. And they ruthlessly slaughter their traumatized victims after their ghoulish motive of sexual assault is fulfilled. If I’m not careful, I could land up in a trap… I shudder to even think of it!

Is she really my well-wisher, or …

As if my thoughts were getting displayed on the clouds over my head, Aunt Jane said, “Take it easy. It was your parents’ dying wish that I am around whenever you and your siblings needed any guidance or help. Since age is catching up, I wouldn’t be alive too long. Until I am, you can count on me.” Saying this, she tapped my tiny head lovingly and left.

Strength is in togetherness, so I decide to stick as close as I can to my siblings and to make a few friends. Though practically it ends up with everyone out for themselves, the appearance of kinship dissuades the attackers to some extent. 

I begin spending the formative days honing my life skills, sharpening my defense tactics, learning to distinguish between the trustable ones from those to be kept at a distance, and most of all, chomp off on all the greens my body can accommodate. As if there is no tomorrow! Yeah, the latter learning is the mantra for my current form, to ensure I have a healthy life ahead.

*

My gluttony for verdure was increasing by the hour. Mandible craved some inactivity; gut detested stagnation! I had to move to another territory to get my fill. With my increasing weight, it was becoming cumbersome to move even small distances. I decided to hitch a ride. But how and with whom?

Just then I remembered the baby elephant who had come visiting our area a few days back. I was hoping and praying for their herd to come this way soon; my prayers were heard quickly! 

I could have asked for the moon today!

I climbed up her bushy tail and held on to it in a tight grip. I could put Tarzan to shame with my balance despite the vigorous sways. I hope I made the right decision! I visualized greener than green vistas that awaited me after this arduous ride, to keep my mind occupied.

The pachyderms were moving to a nearby farm, where they lived a domesticated life. Since their family too was herbivorous like me, I found ample food to eat with them. 

 

From that height, I was already salivating at the numerous colourful blooms on the farm. What else can a foodie need? I made a leap of faith from the tail to the gooey soil below. Too late!!!

Ugh! It was a poop cake! 

Squishing my way out, I rub my body against the dry grass to remove the traces of the literal shit I had landed myself into. 

Wait a minute! Why can’t I smell what my eyes can see? 

The fragrance of lavender cloaked the redolence of roses. My olfactory nerves had to do a mega adjustment for the motor nerves to follow the trail towards the tender petals and leaves of the rose bushes. 

How I detest the lavenders!Wonder why the gardener planted them so close together!

Moving around the undulating mountains of loose sand, I inch towards my chosen meal for the day. I can see the tenderly unfurling leafage. God, I am famished!

*

Thanks to my huge mate, I got to enjoy day trips to the distant forests and fields, hiding in the tail or riding her back, holding on to her strong baby hair. Traveling widened the horizon of my mind. Meeting and interacting with perfect strangers improved my social skills. I found it interesting to know more about the lives of beings from different cultures. 

It is intriguing how the air, soil, and food of that land impact their physical form and well-being. Besides, I got to explore and gorge on some exotic varieties of blossoms. Before each nightfall, we would return to the haven of our farmhouse. It was to be my new address; at least until I entered the next phase of my life.

*

The weather was beautiful but I hid in a bunch of white daisies. I had been a recent victim of incest. Aggrieved, horrified, bruised, and desolate, I sat there huddled and pondering…

What causes the girliness in a woman to vanish? What causes her heart to bleed when she’s not at wrong? What makes men think women are an easy catch? Why do the victims cower and cover and writhe in pain, and the assailants, despite their cowardly and heinous acts, are brazen about their claims and unashamedly ride the wave of negative fame?

Questions! Questions! Questions! Answers of most get clouded and coloured in chauvinist dyes. Sad sediments of colonial supremacy, eh?

Just then, Aunt Jane, my godmother (or should I call her my guardian angel?) suddenly appeared out of nowhere. “Hola, my little one! Chin up! You are my valiant maiden. Whatever happened was not your fault; how you resurrect yourself will reflect your true mettle – your grit and valour to rise above the storms.”

“Let me tell you the story of your mother, my dearest sister and trusted friend. Her beauty was beyond compare! With her lustrous span of multi-hued wings, she walked with a gait that made many desire that it would be their heart she’d take. The youngest of her siblings who made it alive, she was a powerhouse of ideas, who held intellect over attachment. Known for her righteousness, she was forever willing to bail others out of their sticky situations. You are a near reflection of her character, my dear.”

“One day, a handsome butterfly came from a distant land and it was love at first sight for both. His brain matched his brawn. Enamoured, they fluttered for each other. They danced and feasted, garden-hopping in areas closer home and sometimes, travelling to lands far away. Life was fulfilling as they had each other to love, live and rejoice with.” 

Awww… How sweet! I listened to her dreamy-eyed.

“After having explored each other’s hearts, minds and souls, they were ready to adopt parenthood. An obscure and secure place was selected for delivery, and soon the place was abrim with tiny globules all around.” 

“Just as your mom was laying the last of the lot, a warbler dashed in from the branches above. She had had her eyes on your mother for long. Your dad intervened but got grievously injured. In a swift move, the warbler swallowed your mother; taking in your father too. The whirlwind romance terminated painfully in an eyeblink.”

My eyes had welled up by now.

Aunt Jane continued, “Every day the warbler pumped up his chest and narrated the tale of his conquest, of having had the most beautiful femme of their realm. This continued until he fell prey to the Dusky Eagle Owl, who was tired of the daily chattering that was ruining everyone’s peace. This is how it works, my dear. Even for someone who assumes he has a lot of clout, others know how to mute their voice.” 

“Delicate or weak is only an appearance. You hold the strength to make you reach the acme of unsurmountable mountains. Believe in yourself.”

 

I took a minute to gather myself and let the steam out. “But Aunt Jane, that doesn’t address the elephant in the room, erm… farm. No one is willing to educate the boys! No amount of social policing for girls will work if moral policing is not upped for the males of the species.”

“Just because the female happens to smile more, is amenable to speaking, is more empathetic to others, and has a fuller form, it doesn’t mean that she is inclined towards the male or is being flirtatious. It just means that she is being humane.” 

“Why is such a simple thing so hard to understand? Why does society look down upon the victim and make her feel guilty? That is exactly how I was being made to feel when I told it to a few friends. I assumed they would come to my aide, instead they loathed my presence in their vicinity. They abandoned me and moved to greener pastures.”

“Even if we look from the other societal perspectives, the life of a female is not so simple – Talk of hormonal and physical changes throughout the menstrual cycle and after, surname and residence post marriage, handling personal and professional fronts with equal élan, the responsibility of the young and the aged from parental and matrimonial homes, lower salaries for similar jobs, coupled with being more emotional and sensitive of the two genders.”

“How does society expect us to move ahead? How can we feel at par in any aspect, with our feet chained to traditions and home?”

“Where is the parity?”

 

Aunt Jane gave me a patient hearing and responded, “My girl, that gives you another reason to lead by example. The beauty of women coming together when left on their own is phenomenal. Show them that by first believing in your abilities. You must not stay where you are hurting. You must know you’re worthy of much more than what you’re getting.” 

“Rise so you must, to allow yourself another chance for light; the light, which reveals the scars you’ve carried and yet reveals more about the triumphs that the tribulations led to.”

“First love yourself, before desiring love from others. Seek no validation outside; look for strength inwards. Believe you will achieve whatever you aim for. Don’t be scared of change. It might be overwhelming initially, but the resultant output and outlook will be empowering.”

*

Melancholy had begun to eat me up after being sexually violated. I was crucified for being overtly sociable and naive. The doors were being closed for me. I could see nothing but darkness and disaster in front of me. That is when Aunt Jane brought her magic wand of hope and faith, and propelled me to see the light. 

Drawing a deep breath, I decided to pursue the only course open to me – to embrace transformation.

The journey of metamorphosis required herculean efforts accompanied by bone-breaking aches and pains. I moved into a cocoon, shutting myself from the outside world. I had to mould my mindset to refine my worldly view. There were moments of remembering, pausing, and reflecting to unearth and manifest the very purpose of my being, which lay buried under my layers of thoughts that were still to be ruminated.

I had a lot to deal with deep inside for me to turn a new leaf. Though transformations come naturally to a female, every such process requires a lot to unlearn, learn and relearn. I was prepared to evolve into a better being and for that, I was willing to bear whatever torture associated with it.

*

Today as I emerged from my self-induced hibernation, the mirror met a stranger. That stranger was more splendiferous, sensuous, and confident than the mirror had been accustomed to. 

With renewed vigour and vivacity, I step out into a brand-new world with buoyancy. My contemporary form vacillates with the zephyr as I allow my wings to unpack and gain strength before they are ready to face the gusts. And then, with the wind beneath my wings, I take a leap of faith. That is the beginning of my life of salvation and freedom.


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