13 March 2015

Noticed the countless butterflies around you?

This is the twenty third article in a series I am writing for the JEANS section of 'The Nation'.  The series is for children. Adults consider yourselves warned...you might re-discover a child within you! Scroll down for other articles in this series. 

Watch the wind play with the cloud.  Watch it turn those fluffy white things into forms and patterns.  Watch the wind use the sky as a canvas and clouds as though they were pieces of cotton wool that can decorate and delight.   Watch these things while stretched out on a mat in the garden when the sun is either too your or too old to hurt your eyes.   If it’s all dull and boring, take your eyes off the sky and look around you.  At ground level.

If there is space for you to stretch out on a mat in your garden or anywhere else, the chances are there’s a lot happening around you.  Some of the ‘happening’ will be too slow to observe and would probably test your patience.  For example, the grass will be growing but you might not see it.  The leaves may or may not move with the wind.  If it’s a garden there might be some flowers.  Pretty ones, perhaps.  And if you look carefully you’ll probably see some insect movement.  Perhaps even a butterfly or two.

Perhaps there’s nothing much to see.  No flowers. No butterflies.  Just grass or dust.  That’s okay.  You can still imagine, right?  You can imagine all kinds of things.  You can go wherever you want and be with whoever you want to be.  But right now, think of butterflies. 

There are many ways to think about butterflies.  You can think of them in terms of size, shape and color.  There are butterflies that are common and there are rare ones too. There are entire books devoted to butterflies which talk about various species, habitats and habits, defense mechanisms etc.   

You could think of jewelry where the designs have butterfly motifs or are inspired by butterflies.  You might think of ways in which different cultures see butterflies, how Japanese think they personify a person’s soul, especially the soul of a loved one who has died, or how they see large numbers of butterflies as bad omens.  The Chinese, you might be interested in learning, see two butterflies flying together as a symbol of love.  You might have also heard of the idiom ‘butterflies in the stomach’ and that it describes nervousness. 

It might amaze you to know that butterflies have inspired important technological innovations, such as nanotechnology research to produce paints that don’t use toxic pigments.  Did you know that discoloration of butterflies is taken as an indicator of poor air quality in certain cities? 

Yes, there are many ways of thinking about butterflies.  J.M Barrie wrote, ‘When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.’  You could even say ‘that was the beginning of butterflies’ and that would be a wonderful way of thinking about babies, laughter, delight and butterflies.  

And then there’s R. H. Heinlein’s butterfly definition: ‘Butterflies are self-propelled flowers’.

Stop right there.  Read it again.  Butterflies are self-propelled flowers.  Now look at the flower closest to you. If there are none, go look for one.  If there aren’t any flowers anywhere close, just close your eyes and think of a flower.  Any flower. Now think, ‘that’s a butterfly that has not yet taken wing.’  All of a sudden there are so many butterflies to think of and they all have names and even fragrances, right?    And there are butterflies hidden in wrapping paper too.  Only, their outlines are yet to get cut.  But if you think about it, they are all capable of flying because they are all self-propelled. 

The world is made of butterflies.  Isn’t it beautiful? 

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