This Environment Day, I want to come clean. I committed a crime when I was a child

Over the years, I have learnt to respect animals, birds and plants. But I feel angry when I see adults not respecting nature and when they don’t teach their children to do the same

Shivani Gupta
| Updated: June 5th, 2020

Photo: Shivani Gupta

I have been living with guilt for years, and I want to come clean today.

As a kid, I was fascinated with butterflies – the light green, orange and black butterflies floating blissfully in my garden back in my hometown. I used to be awestruck looking at the colours on them, and the design patterns. I wanted to know their secret – from where did they manage to get so many colours? They resembled my painting pallet!

I would chase them often, but I could never get hold of them. They would just fly away – in a split second – mocking me, teasing my patience. I would get angry. One day, I saw a butterfly resting on a flower. I thought I had a chance. Very silently, I started approaching the flower, and in a split second, I caught hold of it. There! It was wedged between my two fingers. I felt victorious.

This wasn’t it. I went in and brought a mug full of water. The butterfly was now getting restless. Its colours had started discharging in the form of powder. I could see it on my fingers. I dropped the butterfly in the mug. Before you judge me, remember, I was just a child.

Butterflies resting on muddy road. Photo: Shivani Gupta

More colours came off her – green, orange. It was as if the butterfly was bleeding. After a few seconds, I picked it up. It was alive. But I had robbed her off all her colour – her prized possession. I had robbed her of her beauty. The butterfly was now pale and white and restless. I felt sad for what I had done. It was trying to fly away, away from me, but couldn’t … its wings were heavy because of the water. The butterfly eventually flew away. I am sure it never came to my garden again. Maybe, it warned her friends too.

Since then I have been living this guilt. A part of me wanted to move on, but I never could. This stayed with me, in the form of guilt. It all came back recently.

I was still a child when I did this. I didn’t know what I was doing. But can the same be said about those people who allegedly fed a fire crackle-filled pineapple to a pregnant elephant, which eventually led to her death, and the death of her unborn child. The pineapple reportedly burst in her mouth. She suffered burn injuries on her tongue and her throat. The fetus must have suffered too. It was living, after all.

Reports surfaced the next day that the elephant had accidentally consumed the pineapple. It was not meant for her. It was meant to scare wild boars. Well, it was meant for some animal! While I am aware that farmers living near the jungles suffer losses because of these animals. They destroy their crops. But, couldn’t we have devised a less cruel way to shoo them away? A fire cracker-filled pineapple … seriously?

But I don’t blame the mentality. We are not taught to respect nature. Yes, this needs to be taught to kids. Because the fact is, most of us don’t respect plants and animals. Most of us don’t value nature. We take things for granted.

Monkeys eating biscuits offered to them. Photo: Shivani Gupta

When monkeys come to our housing societies, why is our first reaction to shoo them away with sticks? If a stray dog is resting on our staircase, why do we shoo it away instantly? When cows block our roads, what do we do? Isn’t this behaviour deep-rooted within us? Haven’t we all grown up seeing this? As adults, don’t we see other adults do this? Why do we chase peacocks and rabbits? How would you feel if someone chases you? The way some people treat puppies, would they do that to their babies? Well, we even confine them in cages in the zoos. You must have seen adults throwing pebbles on the caged animals and teasing them? How would you feel when someone does that to you?

Well, who am I to judge? I am guilty too. The only difference is, I learnt to respect animals and birds as I grew up. Even now, I feel sick to my stomach when I see a butterfly. The fact that I still feel guilty, means that I am truly sorry.

This Environment Day, let’s be respectful and tolerant towards animals, birds and other species. They are as alive as we are. Let the monkeys snatch away your bananas or tomatoes. How about offering water to stray dogs? Let the pigeons and sparrow lay eggs in your balcony. Let the colourful butterflies fly.