Mother shied like a startled horse. Father just raised a disgusted eyebrow. That was when I brought those wriggly things home from the hill. Little black and white striped fellas curled onto a leaf. After a bout of negotiations I was allowed to keep them as long as they were kept on the terrace in a CLOSED container.
Then the fun started.
After a bit of hunting around, dust-covered clothes and a brainwave, some chocolates were quietly divested of their transparent plastic box. Placing the wrigglers in it was a matter of few seconds. I put in a few leaves and bits of stick. How much oxygen do 1 cm. caterpillars need? Couple of tiny holes were punched at the top. These should take care of any vapour from the leaves and free me from guilt of asphyxiating two tiny lives to death.
Those little twerps grew by leaps and bounds. And boy, they were fastidious about what they ate. Only the leaves of a certain creeper would do. So there would be yours truly trudging to the hill everyday to procure fresh leaves. The tiny cats doubled in size every alternate day. Twirls of skin shed from their striped bodies. They had now grown into real whoppers. Their movements grew more sluggish. Were they pensive about the abrupt twist their life would take?
This would be the day. Yes! I bounded out of the bed and ran to the terrace where the box was kept. Then heaved a sigh of relief. No, they were still just cats, though one of them had attached itself like a J hook on the underside of the box lid. Their stripes were now colored a lemon green and black.
Now, the long wait. All daily activities were thrown to the wind, to the consternation of my family. Every two minutes I would do a refresh scan of the box.
The cats seemed to have entered into a trance. Unmoving. And then I got a phone call I could not avoid. 10 minutes gone - what would those cats be upto in all that time? Luckily, nothing. Relief.
And then – it happened. Gripped in a fever of excitement, I stared. The pale green liquid abruptly oozed out of the sides of the caterpillars, rapidly encasing their bodies. The outer skin was sloughed off like one would unzip a coat. All over in 20 seconds flat. Then came the gyrating throes of death – or life?
Finally the dizzying movement was stilled. What remained was something that looked like pistachios dangling from the lid, glinting gold here and there.
By now even the family had shown a sneaking interest in the welfare of those pupae. The lid had to come off, as the butterflies should not be stressed in anyway when they emerged. But then the birds could get at them out on the terrace. This time I faced no objection to keeping the pupae inside the house for the next few weeks.
As the days progressed, the internal changes became apparent. The green of the chrysalis seemed to vanish as the dark and light pattern of wings showed through.
And one fine morning as I stared at those inert forms, the shells just broke open. A thin foot, then several others and the rest of the body emerged. The butterflies had arrived!
Beauty sure comes in small packages. These were crammed in just 2 cc. On their gossamer wings they brought pieces of sky splattered with clouds, all smartly edged in black.
They clung on to the now pale ghostly shells, unfurling, drying and straightening their wings. Lazing in the sun.
After a while, both flew away.
For a person who till then, went ‘eeeks’ at the sight of a caterpillar, was there just a hint of tears in my eyes?
© Alaka Yeravadekar
A version of this story was also published in a Chicken Soup series book.