The grass forest
Wet and dry spells of rain pound Mumbai during the monsoon season (June-September). After a couple of months of rains, most of the empty grounds, waste lands and hitherto barren soils, get covered by wild grass that is almost a foot tall. When you are kid that swamp is named “the grass forest” or even “the secret forest.”
I have fond memories of the grass forest on the outskirts of my little suburban town (Dombivli). Many evenings were spent there – playing amidst itchy vegetation, mud, dirt, all varieties of insects, bugs and other yucky stuff. I’ll write about my adventures with bugs, earthworms, frogs, wild flowers and such other amazing creations of nature in some other post because this post is dedicated to the one and only चतुर (Chatur, meaning ‘clever’).
Photo: Dhanashri Avalaskar
Chatur is called Dragonfly in English. Wikipedia says this: “Dragonflies typically eat mosquitoes, midges, and other small insects like flies, bees, and butterflies. They are therefore valued as predators, since they help control populations of harmful insects. Dragonflies do not normally bite or sting humans, though they will bite in order to escape, if grasped by the abdomen.”
One of our favorite ‘sports’ during monsoon was catching the Chatur. We usually caught the chatur and released it after displaying our conquest to mates. It was the coolest thing to do and scores were discussed next day at school. Catching a chatur is an art that requires an amazing combination of patience, precision, alertness and timing. A chatur will typically hover over a blade of grass for barely a second and then move on to the next. At the same time the chatur is quite sensitive to any motion in the surroundings, so an extraordinary amount of patience and steadiness is required while approaching it.
There are two ways to catch a chatur. The most common method is to grab the end of the chatur‘s long and tiny tail. The tail is used as a rudder so the chatur vibrates and turns it unexpectedly. After studying these movements for a while it becomes easy to read patterns. The other method – the one that I strongly disapprove – is to catch the chatur by its wings. I think this method is easy but barbaric because it could potentially break the little guy’s wings, render them useless and thus lead to the chatur‘s death. As a rule, we never could let any chatur die.
The Blue Chatur
On one such evening I was chasing a particular chatur when my attention was distracted by something blue and brilliant, fluttering inches away from my hand. It was possibly the most beautiful chatur I had seen lately. I left my current perusal and went after this little blue guy instead. After a bit of chasing I finally caught my prize!
I was holding the blue chatur‘s tail between my thumb and index finger while placing it gently on the palm of my other hand. It made some attempts in vain to flutter away. My friends gathered around excitedly and I narrated them a long (and probably fake) tale about how I caught it.
I was going to violate an unwritten rule of the grass forest –
“मी घरी घेउन जाणार आणि ह्याला पाळणार” (I will take it home and keep it as a pet), I announced.
My buddies didn’t care. In fact, they agreed because suddenly it was a treasured possession of our gang and it would be good to display the blue chatur at school tomorrow. The other gang at school has been bragging about their catch in some other secret grass forest lately and we had to beat them.
Suggestions poured in about how to keep the chatur safe overnight. I could either tie its tail to a string and fasten it to a window railing or put it in a box. I chose to put it in a large match box since I thought that was less brutal. Then I inserted a twig of tender grass for the insect’s dinner (I didn’t know that it was a non-vegetarian). Content with the hospitality, I put the box away in my school bag and went to bed looking forward eagerly to the next day. I was soooo excited about my new pet that I woke up in the middle of the night to check if it was doing okay. It was, I loved my new pet!
I rushed to the school after checking that the chatur was still safe inside the box. I and my buddies decided to talk this thing up and create suspense among the classmates before we showed them the real thing. The plan was working well so far – everyone in the class was looking forward to seeing the mysterious blue dragon fly. Dude this was going to be awesome!!
No sooner than the recess bell rang, everyone gathered around me. Very ceremoniously and taking extra extra extra care I started opening the box gently while telling everyone how it was impossible to catch this rare species, how it bit me, blah blah (ah, I
am was such a drama queen). I finally opened the box… viola!!
There were screams of excitement from my peers! Lots of wow’s, compliments and admiration. My buddies were proud of ‘our’ catch but…
….but I was choking; I felt like someone ripped my heart out of my body and there was just a void there. My eyes were wet and I started shivering…
My beautiful new pet was lying in the box,..
And that was the last time I caught a चतुर.