I was eight, on the farm in India, catching butterflies. The pastel powder of their wings crumbled onto our fingers as we held them shut. We’d lift them up for examination, watch them wriggle, realize they were nothing but glorified ants, lose interest, forget we had lost interest and try to catch another one. The afternoons were red and soft with warmth, and, barefoot, I could feel the damp slick of the sweet smelling earth after rain. At that time I wore stripy dresses with detailed patterns. Some had a rare strip of velvet, which I loved to stroke. My mother always color-coordinated me, matching hairbands, stockings and clunky shoes. But on the farm I went barefoot. There were clumps of trees and a crumbling wooden look out tower, a dried up pond and rolling hills, and all of this was alive with butterflies. My grandmother planted her flowers very carefully, arranging them in layers of height and schemes of color, grouping textures, smells and transparencies into clusters. After trampling one flowerbed for a while, a herd of baby buffaloes, we would run out of butterflies and look for a new patch. There was so much waiting for them to settle. They teased us, flitting between our faces, over and around our hands. They danced, and we were captivated. My dog ran about us in circles, driven by our frenzy, jumping and snapping his jaws up at them. With his patchy black and white fur, lithe frame and rounded ears, he too was like a butterfly. Finally one would alight on a petal and delicately snap its wings shut, and then we, the hunters, would pounce. Seema, the farmer’s daughter, managed to catch one every time she tried. She always seemed so at ease, dark and agile and free in her denim dress. I felt clumsy and brutish next to her, like a puppet with a lazy master.
After a while of us playing, my mother ran over and told us to stop, as we ruined the insect’s wings and stopped them from flying. This was true. I had often seen them stuttering in their flight after I let them go, or one flickering wing coming off onto my sweaty finger, falling limp into my hand before I tipped it out onto the grass. I felt confused, as she had been the one to suggest our activity, with a glint in her eye as we lolled about bored on the sharp cut grass of the morning. She had grown up on a farm, and must have caught so many more over time than I did in one afternoon. I tried convincing her to convince me that the ones I’d already touched would be okay, but she wouldn’t indulge me. She told me to never do it again. I imagined rehabilitation schemes and butterfly hospitals, fake wings and flying machines. I wondered if butterflies could have graves.
Aranya Jain planted her Nassau Weeklys very carefully, arranging them in layers of height and schemes of color, grouping textures, smells, and transparencies into clusters.