Sunday, June 15, 2014

When the butterfly died on me....

A dead butterfly is not earth shattering news unless the death happens in your house, under your purview and with two kids hinting that you caused the poor creature’s death. A monarch butterfly suddenly made its way into our home, a gorgeous black, red, white spotted butterfly, just when we were all leaving for Mysore. I thought it will fly out just as it flew in and left to catch my train.
Two days hence when we returned, we found the butterfly on the floor, in a room different from where we saw it last. Its wings were intact. Only its legs seemed bent, like a fractured green twig. Had the maid left the fan on and injured the butterfly on its way out? I placed the butterfly on a window sill hoping it would flutter out or make a leap to the tree branch which hung at some five feet from the window. I didn’t know how to help it. Soft silvery black powder that felt like eye shadow, stuck to my fingers. If there is anything called pixie dust, then this butterfly powder felt like it. As kids we believed that smearing butterfly-wing dust on our forehead guaranteed our immortality. I hoped the butterfly didn’t display its mortality in my house. My kids would freely cry for one week hence.
“What can we feed it?” my son asked worriedly.
There was no honey in the house. What about ghee? I thought and placed some ghee beneath its feet (remember butterflies taste with their feet?)
After a while my daughter reported excitedly, “Dit is get-upping.”
I rushed to find that my stupid ghee idea had merely made the butterfly uncomfortably entangled in the viscous substance. Since I had caused its discomfort, I felt karmically bound to help it. I browsed the net on how to help a wounded butterfly and a website instructed me to put the insect in a box with some green in it and place a sponge soaked in sugar solution for food. I did all that and even helpfully placed its feet on the sponge. In less than twenty minutes the butterfly was dead. The very same creature which had survived two days without food, died within minutes under my helpful attention.  My children glared at me with disgust.
I spent the entire day mooning about how the road to hell is paved with good intentions and also how I would have been more careful and prompt in my action if the creature was little bigger like a squirrel or a puppy.  Small and gentle creatures are almost always forgotten or brushed aside. It is as if the lower you go on the food chain, the less you are respected. Strangely the butterfly reminded me of a gentle uncle of mine, who never spoke a single harsh word to anyone but was almost always sidelined because he was neither rich nor had a job. His deep affection and humble outlook to life was always submerged amidst opulent, garrulous crowds of relatives. In a world of shark eat shark, what did we care for the meek and poor? Amidst loud actions and words where was the space for small and gentle considerations?
As I put the butterfly into a box for burial, I began weeping for all those tiny, gentle (and eminently endangered) gestures like smoothing the hair of a spouse of twenty years, of saying thank you to the man who collected garbage, of not hurrying a child through its meals, of listening to people fully without glancing at the laptop every two seconds, of allowing the other person to hang the phone first….of just remembering that there are many mute and small creatures like the butterflies, which nevertheless have pixie dust on them.


  1. I was an avid reader of your column in Indian Express years ago. I enjoyed and always looked forward to read. Your writing style with a witty humorous touch is my favorite. Thank you giving us your life experiences in your writing !!