Brilliant bugs and funny boys

Brilliant bugs and funny boys

“Fufuji! FUFUJI! Is a baby ladybird called a babybird?” asked 10-year-old Shaurya, busy collecting shiny red ladybirds in the palm of his hand. Three polka-dotted beauties, freshly plucked off thorny bushes, were sitting there dazed while a fourth was sneaking off towards his wrist. “Get back,” he said, pushing it with his forefinger. His exasperated aunt, who had only just leaned back on the pirul-covered hillside under a pine tree and opened a book she had been trying to read for a week, said no, they were probably called baby ladybirds. He had already asked her how many spots a ladybird had and (after she confessed she did not know) reported that they had three on each wing and one in the centre that both wings shared half-half. “And are all butterflies girls?” Fufuji shook her head in a no. “Then why do we say: titli ud rahi hai for all of them?” Using a cluster of pine needles as place finder, his aunt shut her book reluctantly and got into an explanation about how the Hindi language, and some others like Spanish, gave genders to all objects.

“You are not listening,” she said, a little sharply. Shaurya had flung off the ladybirds that were desperately fluttering their wings on this sudden descent, and was now crawling away commando-style towards a little brown butterfly on the ground. In a quick move, he covered it with a cupped palm and then slowly lifted a finger to make a small opening.

Using the thumb and forefinger of his other hand, he drew it out gently. “You tell Saransh that. He’s the one who asked. Main toh khali time pass kar raha tha,” he laughed with his catch fluttering in the air. “Let the butterfly go.” There was steel in fufuji’s voice and after measuring it for a minute, Shaurya reluctantly loosened his grip. Both of them watched it unfold its wings and disappear into the distance.

“Butterflies don’t have eyes like mosquitoes and houseflies. If you go quietly behind them you can catch them,” he whispered to his aunt, starting off on another commando crawl towards two unsuspecting butterflies. He was distracted by a large mosquito that flew under his nose and he followed it down the slope. Fufuji turned her head back to the hills in the distance where the green-roofed army bungalows of Dagshai gleamed on a distant hilltop. She had just read a few pages of her book when Shaurya returned. “Fufuji! Fufuji! FUFUJI! I saw another big mosquito. He was eating a ladybird. He was a ladybird-eating mosquito,” he said, eyeing her shrewdly.

“Really! I want to see it too,” she said. “Haan, haan chaliye. No wait! You can’t see him. Only children below 11 years can see him,” Shaurya said. By then his cousin Saransh, who had just finished an alu ka parantha and achar breakfast at the resort kitchen had also huffed and puffed his way up the hill.

“Oye Saransh! I just saw a very dangerous ladybird-eating mosquito,” Shaurya said. Saransh looked alarmed. By then Shaurya had whispered something in his ear and Saransh looked at his cousin in conspiratorial glee.

Both the boys went around the hill and soon returned. “Mamma, the mosquito is not eating the ladybird. He is just sucking its juice,” Saransh said, noting with pleasure that Mamma was starting to look a bit scared.

“After he sucks all the juice he will suck in the ladybird skin and swallow it too,” Shaurya added. He watched with satisfaction that his aunt’s eyes had gone round and she was looking really frightened now. “How will he swallow the hard wings?” she asked. Saransh looked at Shaurya for help. “Oh! He will break them into bits like a papad and eat them.” Saransh was now looking at his cousin in undisguised admiration. “I think, I’ll go down to the resort,” Fufuji said, “but don’t think I’m scared”.

The boys were both trying to keep a straight face. “Fufuji, you go. We’ll just look at the mosquito some more and then come,” Shaurya said. His aunt disappeared down the narrow mud path and the boys grinned and high fived. Suddenly, they heard a shriek. It was Fufuji. They scampered down to find her staring at a huge plant with large green leaves. “Oh no!” she said. “That’s a Septopus. A bachchon ko khane wala cactus. A plant that eats children. I saw it on National Geographic some time back. Just be careful you two.” With that, she legged it down real fast, giving one last scared look to the big plant that was waving its long leaves in the air.

She has only just reached the wooden bench on the lawn and ordered a cup of tea from the kitchen when there was a sound of rolling stones and the boys tumbled down the mud track, one behind the other. Shaurya, it seems, had thrown some stones at the plant and it has sent a large leaf out to catch him. Saransh had to use the knife in his multi-tool kit to cut it off and then both boys had fought off the child-eating plant and escaped. And here they were, scared and breathless but with their lives intact. “You had better not go up again. The Septopus is very, very dangerous,” Fufuji said.

Since she was looking into her book, the boys couldn’t see the wicked gleam in her eyes. Taking a quick look at the two scared boys, she smiled to herself and got back to reading a Satyajit Ray short story about a man-eating plant. It was titled ‘The Hungry Septopus’.

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