The Blue Chatur

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’).

chatur, aka dragonfly
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.”

The sport
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 –

“what comes from the forest stays in the 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.

49 thoughts on “The Blue Chatur

  1. Hi Priyank.
    Visiting after a long time. Thsi is a very touching story but very your style. you write memoirs in a nice way that makes the reader feel she is part of it. keepit up and Happy Holi belated!

  2. Wow that reminded me of fond memories
    when we were small, we had a nice society garden which grew grass and we played commando hide n seek and similar stuff
    Just yesterday my homesick sis was talking about old times and how the birds would sit on the massive gulmohar in our colony

    Infact being relatively close to hanging garden mumbai used to be beautiful and we had so many wonderful butterfly s swallowtails etc and dragonfly s, parrots, shimpi pakshis and sometimes we even had a mor(peacock) or two visiting from there.
    Our passtime was catchin butterflys with baddi rackets a practice we stopped later

    Now sadly there are no birds or butterflys just more and more people and buildings

  3. prax:
    It is nostalgic to hear your little narration. At the same time it is so sad to see that most of our natural habitat is gone :( You had peacock in your colony? आणि शिंपी पक्षी पण होते?? wow!! मी कधीच् बघीतले नाही… किंवा आठवत नाही. Thanks for those notes man.

  4. Celine:
    I vividly remember that post because that was the time since I started visiting your blog. I’ll keep practising and making you read the stories until it gets better :) Thankyou!

  5. Dragonfly and damselfly adults are hunted in Bali. Dragonflies are extremely difficult to catch but several interesting techniques have been used successfully. Latex, sticky plant juice, from the jackfruit tree is applied to the end of a slender stick. This stick is tied to a longer, sturdier stick. The stick is lower to a resting dragonfly and with a quick tap, the dragonfly is stuck to the plant juice. Dragonflies are also captured by hand, but one must be very quiet and quick. If latex is used to catch the insects, it is removed with cooking oil before the dragonflies are cooked. Sometimes the dragonflies are placed directly on the grate of a charcoal grilled for cooking. Another method involves boiling them with ginger, garlic, shallots, chili pepper and coconut milk. The wings are removed before cooking unless they are charcoal roasted.

  6. These poignant snippets of childhood are very beautiful..sometimes what we do in all excitement as a kid makes us learn something valuable in life ..I was thinking of the bombay rains this morning…its raining in bangalore too

  7. faintly remember the peacock but we had parrots parakeets and yes the शिंपी though it is a tiny bird
    it has a very distinct call, last time i saw a mor close bye was 5 yrs ago while i was getting down from lohagad high speed as it was gettin dark and i was without a tourch

  8. Priyank,

    Did you know that the Gujarati word for the Marathi “chatur” is “vaniyun” (baniya)? Shows the essential unity of the two languages. Maybe the ripple effect of two dragonflies skimming a pond at the same time :-)

  9. BTW how do you manage Devanagari font? And does it include the uniquely Marathi characters such as “a” in “bAg” (without the anuswaara), “o” in “blOg”, “r” in “dusaRyaa” and the “L” in “keLvan” etc.

  10. Lakshmi (backpakker):
    Guess what, its raining in Toronto too! But its not the type of rain we are used too, its more of a misty rain. Nobody gets wet even if they walk for 10 min. Unfortunately life is yet to grow because most of the ground is still snow covered :D

  11. Vivek:
    Welcome to my website, I am thrilled to see your comment :)
    I like your analogy of two dragon flies in a pond, such confluence is what makes our country so interesting :)

    Windows XP and above have default support for Indic languages. You need to enable it thru control panel > language settings. Yes, all characters are possible including बॅग, ब्लॉग, केलवण. मला “दुसर्या” हा शब्द नीट लिहिता येत नाहीये, पण हो, लिहिणं शक्य आहे :)

  12. in language settings do i choose hindi ?

    thanks for devnagriying the shimpi
    (more work for u)

    vivek ur comment reminded me of rambodoc for sure

    and this is the second post on travel / trek ive just posted

  13. Thanks Priyank, for your response to my query about the Devanagari font. It seems you pronounce “kelvan” differently than I do. What I mean was the “-l-” that looks like an infinity symbol with a short vertical stroke above linking it to the shirorekha — the one used in names such as Panhala, Chiplun, Kelkar etc. The reason I ask is that, right from the days of the manual typewriter, “hamereku chalengaa” Maharashtrians have made do without this (instead of aggressively demanding it) and used, as substititute, a half ‘-va-’ joined to a taalavya ‘-tha-’ (as in “thasaa”, “maath”, “mothaa” etc.). I’ll certainly try out the font, and hope there will be an on-screen keyboard to help me along.

    • How true, Vivek!

      We must absolutely insist on getting on the Marathi keyboard an infinity-symbol-like ‘L’, as in “Kelwan”.

      Ravindra Joshi
      Navi Mumbai

      PS. I just happened on this discussion in my quest for ‘Chatur’, that is, dragonfly, just in case you wonder about my rather belated comment.

  14. Vivek:
    Ah but ofcourse, the correct way of writing is केळवण not केलवण. Sorry for the oversight! So the typewriters would show it something as व्ठ? Thats sad :( But unicode – the universal font – supports every possible character!

    I am going to write a post on how to enable Indic language support on Windows XP machines. And yes there is a software that makes typing quite intuitive, so writing vivek=विवेक्, viveka=विवेक, khaDapekar=खडपेकर. Capital D=ड, while small d=द, and so on.

  15. Priyank,

    I went through the route you suggested, but there is no Indic language font support available (I have Windows XP Professional). There are, of course, choices available for languages such as Xhosa, Tatar, Azeri and Catalan!

  16. Priyank,

    The second para of your box sheds some light, i.e. enter it as Itrans, and it appears on the screen as Devanagari. Neat, if I can figure out the interface software that makes it possible.

    Incidentally, I am fairly competent with Itrans, but it is visually so inelegant that I avoid using it as far as I can.

    Will look forward to your post on Indic language support on Windows XP machines.

  17. Vivek:
    I blogged a new post but sorry, the geese wanted to go first :)

    You are absolutely right, I felt the same with itrans. But the unicode method is universal, friendly and futuristic :)

  18. Priyank, wow, this is such a nice photo. You said: ‘Catching a chatur is an art that requires an amazing combination of patience, precision, alertness and timing.’ – I can believe, glad that you let them go on the end, however, sad story about the lifeless one. Glad that you don’t catch them anymore. Nature is too beatuful, and should not be disturb. Thanks for sharing this story, very interesting, and again, your chatur photo is amazing. Anna :)

  19. We would catch dragonflies on our visit to Mangalore naively by the second method and tied a string to the tail ignoring what would happen to it after we were tired playing. Now when I remember those moments my stomach starts churning. Your post brought back that painful memory :(

  20. I felt strange reading this because it reminded me of my own childhood. I grew up in a “wada” where we had a pond and a lot of fruit trees. There were usually a lot of dragonflies and buttlerflies around. I was more of a tomboy and my favourite pastime was catching these things and keeping them in a matchbox. guess it was cruel but I didn’t kill any! I did once tie a string to a dragonfly and make it fly like a kite.

  21. Oh, Anna, the chatur’s photo is not by me! Its by someone else and so I wrote her name right below the picture! I’m glad to know that you liked the story. As I grew up, I started noticing many things that I never felt before… Nature, for example :)

  22. Kev, I had seen someone do that, but I was too weak to do it :D Painful memories, yes, but aren’t we happy that we realized things because we made mistakes.. :)

  23. Nita:
    Tomboy, huh :P I guess catching dragon flies is quite typical, esp in tropical climates like ours! I don’t know what the fascination is, but I still remember how enjoyable it was!

  24. very nice story and well written! Though I never caught dragonflies as a kid, butterfly gazing is a childhood passion that I still have not gotten over :)

  25. What a photo man!!! Amazing colors. I wish my mobile had this kind of vivid *power*. But this photo is little post-processed or may be I don’t know anything about good cameras :) And I am proud of my mobile who nearly matched this photo.

    @Chatur…. chatur??? don’t laugh now, but my childhood buddies and I used to call it “Ghoda” and I don’t know why. But in my area at least, it was called Ghoda. Chatur is sounds boring bookish :P and Ghoda sounds stupid :D , better call it Helicopter :D :D

  26. Hi, we used to do this too – in the jungles surrounding the neighbourhoods in Assam, Manipur Tripura, it also involved collecting live butterflies, yellow being the most common – always seen fluttering in the grass like flower petals blowing with the breeze, and then keeping them in shoe boxes with holes cut out in them, mostly with mine they escaped through that hole n in the morning I would find they were gone. I suspect my mother released my prisoner-pets :) Priyank, loved this post – grt to be reading you after all this time. Where r u now?

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