Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Shelling peas, Caterpillars, Fighting ants and What is home...

Raghav was in the midst of clearing a level in his new found passion - a game called Real Racing Challenge, on the iPad. Occasionally, he would scream out what he had achieved or come over to me and share something that he was thinking about....or ask me to choose cars to race with for his next level.

I was in the kitchen shelling peas that had been lying in the refrigerator for many days and needed attention....yes everything needs attention - our bodies, our minds, things and people around us, feelings that rise and fall...and when something is given that undivided attention, I have found that things are peaceful both within and without.....and then one begins to notice tiny miracles and celebrate every moment...

So here I was, flitting like a butterfly, from shelling peas to listening to my son....back and forth, back and forth, my attention flew from one to the other, but stayed with each, trying to find the sweet joy in doing both.

The peas were a rich green despite being in the refrigerator for so many days. I loved the cool, soft texture between my fingers, the sound of popping them open and watching the perfect green rounds roll into the vessel in line, with an occasional rebel that rolled out and onto the floor! I found myself lost in the moment until my son called out to me...so many times I have found a quiet peace and joy in mundane, repetitive activities and chores around the house that I so love to do, because they keep me in constant touch with myself in an intriguing way.
our little friend

My thoughts stopped when I saw a bright green caterpillar move out of the half-opened pod. I quickly called out to Raghav to come and see what I had found...unabashedly sharing the excitement of the little child in me! That was the beginning of our wondrous exploration over the next few hours.

Raghav first brought his magnifying glass to look at it more closely. Suddenly, he remembered the little bug box that we had (which I  thought was long-forgotten!) and ran to get it. While I gently transferred the green squiggle into the bug box, he reminded me to put in some of the pea pods in, so that it would have food to eat.

For the next few hours, all that he did was to watch it closely from all angles, describing it and sharing what he discovered, felt and thought.

let me take a closer look...
"Amma it has seven legs on each side....so that makes it 14 legs!.....I wonder how it manages with so many legs...I can't manage with two sometimes!"

"It has beautiful black dots on its body....see how beautifully God has created it?"

"I don't think it has eyes....I can't see them.....but it has a head."

"Look at the way it moves....it is as if its whole stomach is moving forwards and backwards!"

pretty pattern
"Amma, why does it lift its head and stretch out like that? What is it trying to do?"

"I don't know....maybe it is exploring or trying to get out....", I replied.

"Then, why don't you Google and find out? Google will tell you everything!", he said with a certainty.

"Where do you think it came from? Where is its home?", he asked with concern and a little sadness. "Where do you think its family is?"

That led us onto a path of exploring our thoughts and feelings about what is a family, what is home, how it must be feeling, and so on. We spoke about how it must have come from a farm somewhere up in the hills (because peas usually grow in hilly areas), how it perhaps fed on the leaves of peas, how it must have travelled by bus or lorry or train, to the organic store we bought the peas from, in our bag and then to our house.

when time stood still and watched with us....
I remembered how when I was in 3rd or 4th Grade in school, I used to love the essay writing activities our English teacher gave us about imagining ourselves to be something - like a coin or a flower or a fly and write in first person, how we felt, describing our imaginary journey. This conversation reminded me of that exercise. But what was different here, was that similar thoughts and putting oneself in the shoes of another, happened so naturally and seamlessly, triggered by a real-life experience. It was not contrived. It was not a flight of imagination. It was real - one could see, feel, touch and live it as it was unfolding before us.

"Amma, I think it has come specially to be with us....I don't think it will be sad anymore amma. It has a family now....we are its family..."

I knew what was coming. "Let's make a home for it!", he beamed. So I Googled and found out how to keep caterpillars at home. While we pored over the information together, we watched our little friend move around, rest a while on a pod and then arch his body upwards towards the lens of the bug box. "Do you remember how you caught a mosquito once for me in this bug box, and then we set it free? Let's do the same.....let's make it a home so that it can come and go as it pleases", he said. "I think this bug box is too small for it....remember 'Flippy the Fish story' in my Oswald DVD? I think he needs a bigger home".

the new home we made for it :)
So we  found an old terracotta bowl, put some of our compost in it as a thin layer, added a few pea pods that Raghav insisted was his friend's food, and moved our friend into his new home gently, using a piece of cardboard. We watched him crawl around the edge of the bowl, sometimes so tantalizingly poised that we thought he might tip over. Raghav kept wanting to know why he was moving around the edge. He felt that his friend probably wanted to get away, while I felt that he was just exploring his new place. Raghav wanted to know if his friend was happy in his new home, and so we watched him move and stretch, trying in our own ways to make sense of what we saw. Finally, when the little green fellow crept into a pod and lay snug inside for a while, the happiest person that moment was my little son!

looks like a comfy home!

In a few minutes, our friend seemed to get restless again and started crawling around. He tried to stretch towards a plastic bucket close by, but couldn't. Raghav felt that he probably wanted to explore that, but that the surface was perhaps too slippery and smooth for him to crawl on. Then, we kept a piece of cardboard like a ramp, so that he could crawl out of the bowl and onto the floor if he wanted to. Sure enough he did! He even crawled over to Raghav's scooter nearby and then fell off!

arching its body to reach the bucket...
crawling up the ramp to its home!

You can watch a little video clip of him here:

 Our Rendezvous with a Caterpillar

There was a long line of red ants nearby, scurrying to the kambha which I use for composting. We watched how they hurried along, barely missing bumping into one another in their hurry. We wondered together about how they must send messages to each other or talk to each other. I remembered reading Feynman's experience while observing ants and rubbed the space in between with my finger. We watched together with excitement when the ants seemed confused and did not know which way to go. I shared with him whatever little I knew about pheromones and how when you rub the space in between the paths the ants take, they cannot smell and send messages anymore.

It was also wonderful to see how they did not once disturb the little caterpillar or come in his way. Each one seemed to have his own invisible space demarcated. Raghav suddenly found one little ant carrying something white and hurrying on. We figured that it must be some of the old rice that I had put into the compost pile. Raghav laughed as he watched this ant trying to move away from the rest with his piece of treasure :) and at one point a couple of them bumped into each other, tugged at the rice (were they fighting over it?) and then moved on.

Lost in the wondrous world of ants, we had forgotten about our little friend, the caterpillar. We looked everywhere, but could not find him. He had disappeared. Raghav was very upset and kept asking me: "Where do you think he would have gone?" I had no answer that could satisfy him. We sat together in sadness and thought about where he might have gone, why, how he must have felt and how we felt about it all. We spoke about freedom and home - what it means to us.

"We found him a nice home amma....then why would he want to leave?", he asked pouting his lips. He was really upset.

"What is home Raghav? What makes you feel happy at home?", I asked.

"Home is where I am free to do what I like. I feel safe and happy...and I am with you and appa", he said.

"Yes. So do you think he was free in this new home? Do you think he was happy? Did he have his appa and amma or family?"

"No....I don't know", he said looking sullen.

I hugged him and we talked about how we missed him....and then we hoped that he would come back to us someday, and be happy and free, wherever he was now.

The little bowl still sits in the same place in our balcony. Raghav still goes out every morning to see if his friend is back. The pea pods are now dried up, but still lie there in the same place. Who knows? Perhaps he will come back someday. Perhaps he won't.

Real life is filled with infinite possibilities.....of living, learning and simply being.
And so we live in hope and trust, celebrating each moment that comes our way, opening our minds and hearts to those endless possibilities that are waiting somewhere for each of us...


  1. Beautiful

    what a wonderful little trip
    Thanks for taking me along:))

  2. Such a sweet post.I would have screamed and ran to my husband asking him to get rid of the caterpillar.But you and Raghav have taken such a different path on discovering the little creature.God bless him.Reading about him pouting his lips made me sad too.
    Thanks for sharing the beautiful story about the Ants.


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