Even after spending a whole day in the ocean, Parina still felt like a fish out of water. She couldn’t understand this world. It’s been ages since she’d been exposed to a place where living meant hunting, eating, mating, dying and nothing philosophical.

Everyone was so busy fishing for food, moving restlessly. And the noise! The sea world was worse than a fish market. Everyone talked at once. And it was always something on the lines of “run, run, run” or “let’s go get him”. Or gestures pointing to such similar topics – surviving. Here they didn’t earn a living – they either killed for a living or got killed for someone else’s living. Stark and simple. When she’d left this place, she’d been a baby, too young to think, to form an opinion. But now she was back – older, wiser, an observer.

How will I live here for the rest of my life, she wailed. She was already missing her small little barrel. Her quiet, urbane world was so different from this scary, real-life horror show. She had forgotten what it meant to live here. Ignoring curiosity. Minding your own selfish business. The main worry you ever have in this wild world is how are you going to survive. What are you going to eat? Everything else is irrelevant.

A while back, she had gone and nearly made a fool of herself. While gliding along, hooting at her woe-ridden life, trying not to bask in the warm rays reaching her, she had spied a fish struggling against the transparent fingers of a jellyfish. Overwhelmed by love, she’d felt extremely sorry for the poor fish. And like a Good Samaritan jumped into the rescue act. Having decided to aid the poor fish, she rose to collect her breath and plunged in. But lo and behold! The script had changed. The so-called victim’s presence had enticed another fish into the tentacles and the jellyfish and the victim (?) were happily gorging on the stunned and stung newcomer.

Shaking her head at their guile, the dolphin had left them alone, grateful that she hadn’t bungled in and stirred their emotions. A great deal of good it would have done them even if they had been angry. I could have easily made a meal of both of them, she thought recklessly. But the next moment, she chided herself for such spiteful thoughts and pulled back into her usual morbid ones. But in spite of her snobbish attitude towards her new neighbours, she was completely captivated by the world she’d been thrown into. The distinct indifference in the way of life in the watery world made her pause and ponder.

Will I like living this way, she wondered curiously. Then realised, no, she couldn’t. She would be bored to death without books, music, and television. She killed time drifting around aimlessly, gulping fish whenever hunger seized her, a sharp eye perpetually on the lookout for other dolphins. She should hang around with her own clan, make new friends, pick up a few basic tips on surviving in the waterworld. Wandering hither and thither, up north, she stumbled upon a shoal of fish. They were being herded together by a school of dolphins converging on them from all sides. Feeling sorry for the fish, she watched as the dolphins trapped them near the water surface. Some tried to escape by flying but one or the other predating dolphins manifested out of nowhere to make a meal of the truant fish.

After lunch, the school disbanded, each one heading off in a different direction. Maybe they come together only to feed, she observed. Very organised dining habits. The dolphins had spoken a familiar lingo but she hadn’t understood the conversation. She couldn’t remember communicating their way. She hurried to tail a dolphin into dolphin land. But that dolphin wandered around so aimlessly, she gave up after following him around for hours without sighting any place bearing the faintest resemblance to anything like a dolphin land. She didn’t want to talk to him though. She was shy and scared. But she wouldn’t have minded a crowd. She could’ve happily been lost in one. Huh, maybe I’ll stumble upon them when I least expect to. Until then, I guess I’ll have to bear up with my own company, she thought. But it was getting terribly lonesome. She needed someone to talk to.

Excerpted with permission from Living in Dreamtime, Usha, illustarted by Salil Sojwal, Perky Parrot/Niyogi Books.