Sunshine, freedom and a little flower

Dr. Sudhirendar SharmaEven if as a toddler you haven’t chased butterflies; even if as a student you haven’t studied Lepidoptera; and even if as a ‘sari’ connoisseur you haven’t fancied nature’s veritable hot couture, Butterflies can still enrich you with what may have missed you in life.Inducted to family obsession at an early age, a toddler’s instinct was to become a profession for Peter Smetacek. And he crafts his lifetime passion and commitment into prose that is as much enriching as entertaining. Without doubt, it evokes empathy for butterflies and moths.
One of the finest read on Butterflies, the book sends me down memory lane when, as students of entomology, we would emulate eternal romantic Dev Anand in unsuccessfully chasing elusive butterflies. Quite often, it would be the common ‘cabbage white’ falling into our net.
The author tells us that most adult butterflies do not last beyond a fortnight, but not before sending out a message that ‘just living is not enough; one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower.’ A toddler’s instinct in matter of chasing butterflies is perhaps borne out of such realization. No surprise, the toddler and the butterfly complement each other as symbols of ‘freedom’, neither of them enslaved to anyone.
As adults, however, butterflies evoke mischievous connotation to which Smetacek had once been an unintended victim. On the trail of Black Prince in western Nepal, his driving license was confiscated on grounds of him being a possible human trafficker. This and much more, Butterflies takes us into the world of these winged insects without any idea why they are colored, patterned and shaped they way they are.
Holding the largest private collection of butterflies and moths in India, the author infuses authenticity and authority in his writing. Even if one cannot make any sense of the myriad genera of butterflies, the narrative espouses belongingness to nature’s exclusive creation. Such is the magic of Smetacek’s writing that midway through the book one involuntarily starts looking beyond the window to catch a glimpse of a fluttering butterfly.
‘The fluttering of butterfly wings can affect climate changes on the other side of the planet,’ noted population biologist Paul Ehrlich had once remarked. Taking the argument further, Peter Smetacek convincingly proves that butterflies are indeed the indicator species that can help monitor slightest of change in the forest micro-climate, only if one could gauge the health of different types of forests using insect population.
Informative and engrossing, Butterflies is a real page turner. Without doubt, it is one of finest non-fiction writings I have read in recent times….Link
Butterflies on the Roof of the World
by Peter Smetacek
Aleph, New Delhi
224 pages, Rs 495

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