From the Heart of a Butterfly

A tongue-in-cheek tale.

There is something about butterflies that is so endearing, so dainty and so utterly fragile that almost in every culture there are myths surrounding these delicate creatures. In some traditional myths, that I am familiar with, butterflies and weddings are intricately interwoven, so much so, that wedding invitation cards bear pictures of this lovely creation of Nature. Growing up, I have heard innumerable times, that butterflies are harbingers of wedding bells. Whenever, there are talks of an imminent wedding in a family, or there is a young girl seeking a groom, a butterfly will show up as a presage to this joyous and auspicious occasion. My intent here is neither to prove nor disprove this phenomenon, but, only to recount a few incidents from four generations of our family, where a butterfly has glided in, as though by divine design, to flutteringly proclaim a happy union of two kindred souls.

Let me start with my mother; the pickiest of all brides-to-be. She was nearing her late twenties, yet, no groom had matched up to her expectations and thus, she remained a maid, and, I may as well add, a happy one at that. She taught at a school, took great care of her appearance, went to movies with her friends, read a great deal and was in no rush to enter the state of matrimony. Unbeknownst to either my mother or anyone in her immediate family, a large, silver butterfly had life-sized matrimonial plans for Ma. On a lazy afternoon, like Ma and Dida (my grandma) often did, they idled on the serpentine green verandah of their red brick house. 

An autumn breeze picked up, carrying on its back, scents of wood smoke and jasmine. Dida’s knitting needles clicked to the tempo of a bird twittering in the guava tree and Ma, as usual, was immersed in a novel. Suddenly, without any preamble, a translucent white butterfly with silver edgings on its wings, drifted in leisurely on the shoulders of the scented wind. It settled gently on Ma’s forearm, trying to get a foothold on her smooth, silky skin. With infinite languor, it spread its wings; out and then in. Again. Out and then in. Slowly, ever so slowly. Delicate, like Chantilly lace. Ma watched and waited, holding her breath. Again, wings spread out. Wings drawn in. Dida too, watched the butterfly with a rising thrill in her heart, when suddenly, with the grace of a ballerina, the beauty lifted off, flitted indecisively, like a sailboat in a typhoon, settled momentarily on Ma’s head, like a blessing and then quickly vanished into the thick foliage of the melon tree. The following week, Baba rode into Ma’s life, suave, debonair and infinitely handsome, captured her heart in a twinkling and before the year was out the two were married.

Next, take the case of my daughter, Tanaya. Pretty as a peony, all of twenty-four years of age. Ernest student, striving for independence, and no serious significant other, yet. She was kind of worn at the edges with school and exam fatigue when, on a sudden burst of sunny desire, to drink in the midsummer freshness, she urged us to drive to a Rib-fest by the lake. Lilting music, flip-flops, and shiny, sun-kissed shoulders everywhere. Delicious, succulent meat, falling off the ribs made, for us, a decadent lunch, rounded off with heavenly scoops of icy gelato. Exhilarated by the heady, festive breeze we stretched out lazily on the carpet of lush, verdant grass, gazing up at the cloudless sky. The clear blue dome dipped to kiss Lake Ontario at the hazy horizon, when out of all that blueness, sprung up a large spritely butterfly, its wings buffed and beautiful; a rich burgundy, enunciated with several dark chocolate orbs. Velvety and exquisite, it circled overhead and then, having cited its nubile target, landed squarely on Tanaya’s shoulder. It stretched its feelers in audacious magnificence and took a whiff of the scent of the woman, and fluttered to her cheek. Tickled, Tanaya smiled an indulgent smile. Burgundy Beauty bobbed slightly and smiled back. In adoration of womanhood, it rose intoxicatingly on the wings of the clear, golden air and disappeared into the blinding light. It had worked its magic! At the end of the same month, Sahya, our son-in-law, drove up from Boston to seal the deal of a lifetime with his future wife.

Of course, it was no other than Dida who started this butterfly business in our family. At sixteen, Dida had a wild, sovereign spirit. She raced with the wind, bathed in the sun and danced in the pond with her two insufferable brothers. She was their chaperone, their companion, and their conscience. Dida’s mother was adamant that her daughter finds a groom before she turned seventeen, an age, which in her mind, was the age at which a girl turns into a woman, nay, an old woman! With a worried heart, she consulted several matchmakers to find a suitable groom for her daughter. A groom who would be able to love her, give her and tame her. Dida had splendid, milky skin, glossy, flaunting tresses that fell to her waist and eyes that flashed like lightning. Most men, who answered the match-makers’ calls, were enthralled by her persona and would have given anything to take her home as a bride, but when Dida spoke to them, with no affectation, no demure coquetry, she unwittingly made them feel small and insignificant. So, they left. Half-heartedly. And, Dida, confirming her mother’s worst fears, continued to remain a spinster.

The day Dadu came to meet Dida, it rained the entire day. Dadu’s mood, that day, was as sullen as the skies. At his mother’s behest, he had had to travel all the way from the city to select a bride and had it been a sunny day, he might have sported a kinder demeanor. He abhorred village-clay squelching under his well-heeled loafers and the damp, earthy air gagged him. When he arrived at the house and lifted the knocker to knock on the door, he started back in sudden alarm. A bottle-blue butterfly, with deep purple etchings, was resting on the very knocker, Dadu had just lifted. Agitated, at the sudden movement, it fluttered into the wet air. When Dida opened the door, she looked transformed. She had shed her skirt and blouse and was clad in a beautiful peacock green saree. Her hair was braided in a sleek knot at the nape of her neck and a fresh rose was tucked behind her ear. She wore no makeup save a faint smudge of kohl under her eyes and a red dot on her forehead. Dadu, was thirty-four, exactly double Dida’s age, and as he stood there, holding her gaze, the impatience from his heart evaporated. He felt young and happy. Dida held the door open for him to enter, and seizing the opportunity, the bottle-blue butterfly quickly slipped ahead of him, perched on Dida’s arm and entered the house to complete the match-making. After a few months, the day Dadu took his new bride home, it was Dida’s mother who shed the most abundant tears.

In my case, the butterfly goddess had reserved a brilliant tangerine monarch butterfly. How it slipped inside of my mosquito-net, that insanely torrid, July night, would forever remain a mystery to me. I was almost asleep, on my side, when, like the murmur of a knowing heart, I heard a distinct vibration in my ear. Awoken suddenly, I flailed my arm sleepily. The whispering of its wings retreated a little but did not stop. Tucked in an upper corner of my room-within-a- room, was the most exquisite butterfly I had ever beheld. The orange of its wings, as bright as a leaping flame. The ebony-black edges, hand-painted by its Creator. It floated down and landing on my bare calf, caressed it ever so gently that I trembled a little. Dida was in the high four-poster next to me and, responding to the commotion from within my mosquito-net, she had pressed her bed switch to turn on the blue night-light. I peered at her through the nocturnal gloom. Huddled in the shadows, she was smiling her calm, knowing smile. The dream in her eyes crinkled at the edges. Then she said, “Bhai, wedding bells are about to toll for you”. Bhai, literally translated means brother but loosely interpreted it means “dear friend” and Dida always called me Bhai. Within a week or so, like a dream, my husband-to-be strode into my life. By early September, we were engaged and he earned the license to scoop me up as pillion on his motorcycle, and throttle full-blast through the city, the wind rushing in our faces, our wishes skittering like stars.

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From the Heart of a Butterfly