22 September 2011

A butterfly story

Write something beautiful, I was told.  About butterflies, for example, I was advised.  I am not sure if I was being asked to write beautiful or write beautifully.  I don’t set out to do either.  I can, however, write about butterflies, although I cannot guarantee ‘beauty’, in description or shapes crafted by word choice. 
Butterflies remind me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ and the incidental character Mauricio Babilonia who was always followed by yellow butterflies.   Babilonia has an affair with Renata Remedios, better known as Meme, and gets shot on the orders of the girl’s mother who claims he’s a chicken thief.  He is paralyzed and is bedridden for the rest of his solitary life, while Meme rebels by going silent, leaving her mother to take care of the issue of their surreptitious liaison. 
Yellow butterflies take me to the world of Marquez’ Macondo and that particularly eloquent rendering of Latin American history as some have argued.   I see a yellow butterfly and the characters, their eccentricities, pathos, craziness, triumphs, love affairs and memory-laden longevity dance before me.  Or maybe it’s ‘within me’, I am not sure.   
Butterflies also take me to a story in the Grade 2 Sinhala text book.   Back then, we had to buy school text books.  I loved smelling those books.  Fresh-book-smell is one of my earliest and most enduring memories.  The books were purchased a few weeks before the new school term began and I would read all the stories in the Sinhala and English texts.  This particular story was about Samanala Kanda, also called Adam’s Peak (but not, one notes, ‘Aadamge Kanda’) and how butterflies in their thousands make a ‘pilgrimage’ to the peak held sacred by those of all faiths, and perish.
It is a butterfly story I’ve re-related to my daughter.  This was when she was two or three years old.  That was a time when I had to make up new stories all the time and not being very creative in crafting tales, I would usually do spins on stories I already knew.   It so happened that there was a small butterfly flitting around and that sparked memory.  It was easy after that to talk about the butterflies, their shapes and sizes; the butterfly pilgrimage, the possibility of straying and getting lost, the ways of returning to fold and path, and to describe the journey and the landscapes the butterfly thousands travelled across.
Butterfly, then, was a kind of code word or key that opened doors to worlds real and imagined, magnificent and magical.  It was a time-lock opener that took me to Grade 2 and the fragrance of a fresh text book and a story therein so I could hold my child’s hand, not as father but as friend, a fellow-inquirer as inquisitive and as ready to be spell-bound by narratives whose truth value was not questioned. 
She knows more about butterflies now than I do, for she is a keen observer of her surroundings, the insects and birds, the work of worms and the destruction of pests.  She is scared of frogs for some reason but is ok with butterflies.
I’ve heard that someone once said that when the first child laughed for the first time, it broke into a thousand pieces and went tripping along happily and that this was the beginning of fairies.  If the first child’s first laugh did break up in this manner, then I think it is more likely that it was the beginning of butterflies and not fairies, but that’s my personal opinion.  I think that it is also possible that there must have been a child whose first smile was butterfly-birthed. 
When innocence caresses innocence it is now fire that is produced, it is augmented innocence.  That’s a land that does not require visa or any other form of permission to visit.  Maybe we don’t visit it often enough. Maybe we’ve forgotten that it exists, or worse, forgotten that visitation is not forbidden.  But last night, as she lay sleeping, wrapped in a sheet and cuddled up against her mother, the little girl, now 10, was not child, but butterfly.  I kissed her as softly as I could because I don’t want lips or love to damage her so very fragile wings. 
I asked myself what kinds of pilgrimages she might make, who her companions of choice would be, the landscapes she would prefer to explore or be forced to walk across and then decided, ‘butterfly-pathways are for butterflies to pick; you can just watch and be amazed’.  And that, friends, is my butterfly story. 

The End.


Jia said...

Effectively made me homesick.fresh book smell is the best smell in the world.really miss this yr Colombo Book fair.Have y ever seen a blue frog.