Thursday, April 8, 2010

The article

Since the link to the above website is down , putting up the unedited article that appears on it. Will be removed once the link is up and again ( ) courtesy Mr Krushnemegh Kunte. Don't remember the citation either..

Our story - Yashodan and Jyoti Heblekar
The Yashodan Version

The learned group stood in a semi circle staring at the sloping roof of the house. The first one to speak , the one with his hand rubbing his chin thoughtfully , declared , “ Its going to leak from day one of the rains !” . The other pundit of gloom agreed ,” You underestimate the weight of wet soil . And you have planted ficus , bamboo and cane . The weight is going to crack the slab and the roots are going to go through . Don’t be surprised to see the root hairs peering through your ceiling.” The last one was more sympathetic, “I think the soil will wash down with the rains. That should actually solve your problem of removing it. No way is it going to remain on such a steep gradient”.

That was 4 years ago. The house was constructed a year earlier to that. Doesn’t leak. The soil is still there. No root hairs through my ceiling. Not yet. They are yet to find a crack to peep through. The wet soil ensures that the concrete slab does not expand or contract. And keeps the house cool throughout the year including summer.

This article is about butterflies and conservation. So what’s that to do with this? Lots actually! But will touch upon it later.

In Goa, being a professional naturalist or “wildlifer” is a damn glamorous career. Unlike Mr.Kunte’s early tryst at bride hunting, Goan fathers would happily give their daughters in marriage to these freaks chasing butterflies and birds. You go to one of those social dos, and you are introduced as a wildlife photographer, they go “ahhhh”. Page 3 of Goa times carry their mug shots all the time. Not me though! I am the guy standing lonely at the corner with a glass of soda. Because I sell insurance. Very unpopular and a tribe that everybody avoids like plague…or in these times H1N1. Well ! I don’t even own a good camera to pretend to be one.

Before that, another story. Trust me! All the threads lead to butterflies. Our life in city was picture perfect like the ones on the age old Doordarshan daily soaps : claustrophobic flats , restricted tap water , raucous neighbours , sultry summers and a ceiling like a barbeque grill. My wife, Jyoti gave me an ultimatum. Staying in the city or moving into a village. Read that as - Short commute to office or staying married to a pretty wife. Tough choice!

To begin with we had to construct a house in the village. The plot we bought was small. But it had to comply with all the wifely conditions viz Unending supply of water, lots of garden space, huge windows on all sides and view of green mountains all day long. Difficult! especially if the house takes up almost all the plot space. So we put up the garden on the roof. The whole house got built on deep and wide rainwater tanks. Huge windows were the easiest part. The last condition: view of green mountains- Impossible with the real estate guy wanting to give away the hill slope for mass housing to a few hundred migrants – needless to mention illegal constructions. It was like the city was chasing us in the village too! Neck deep in mortgage after the house construction, buying out that hill slope to stop that was like getting the credit cess-pool up right under the nostrils. We bought it. Since then have ensured that credit card companies remain in good profits.

What do we do with a relatively barren hill slope full of cashew trees? ( Other than enjoy nuts and fruits of cashew through the summer) .It was too small for agriculture plus had no natural water source. Simple! Pump the rainwater from our house tanks up the hill a few hundred metres away, flow it down again like a stream. Plant many many trees alongside – all local. Each chosen carefully to attract or breed butterflies. And start a butterfly park. Yeah! I still sell insurance. Lots of it. After all I have got a butterfly park to run and maintain ( besides my family – God bless them ! all very frugal in their needs ). Important to mention though , that the entire running of the butterfly park is handled by my better half – an off shoot of my very good negotiating skills .

Someday I will buy a good camera. And be called a “wildlifer” . Till that time , be a damn good insurance salesman. General Insurance , not life. True story – all of it.

The Jyoti Version

Yashodan believes he is good at sales . Someday he will get over his delusion. From a person who can’t just remember faces and whose negotiating skills are as good as Sourav Ganguly’s fielding , you don’t expect hardcore sales . People like him and that’s why he does well – period ! But he is good in butterflies and snakes and the numerous tiny critters and everything wild. It keeps him happy . And everyone likes a happy person – even if he sells insurance.

Every holiday , armed with nuggets of information from the learned visitors , loads of books on the subject of butterflies and the friendly dhangars ( Shepherds ) – at the risk of intense ridicule – we go around collecting weeds that supposedly attract butterflies like magnets. We plant those in our conservatory. Every morning , the local fruit seller is paid a visit for the discarded stock of fruits – rotten and damaged ; Hate to think what he might be thinking about a lady who comes on a car to buy rotten fruits . A million small sacrifices of stuff that I always wanted to buy but didn’t so that we could keep the conservatory running and paying the salaries of workers. And I am often asked the question : Why ?

Why the garden on the roof ? Why storing so much of rainwater when you have good supply of piped water – at the risk of a weak foundation ? Why compost pits all around the house – a sure way of inviting rats and in turn snakes ? Why spend so much on a butterfly park when you hardly get any visitors ? Why ?

I am not much into butterflies . Yashodan shows me a cerulean and a plains cupid . And they both look same to me. I am also certain that skippers are actually moths. But I love the Tawny costers and Tamil Lacewings because I have raised them like kids sacrificing my passion flower plants. My six year daughter can identify a monkey puzzle better than the pokemon characters – and I love it . My son , all of 12 years , is a snake expert . He climbs trees , swims in ponds and is every bit of Mowgli , yet excels in his studies. Mature kids , both of them . Not Yashodan though – he still runs down excited, like a 5 year old , each time he photographs a “new” butterfly on his downright amateur camera . That would 87 times running down to show me, in the last one year because that’s the count of different butterflies in our park . His only exercise .

That’s why !

I don’t ever worry about water . Don’t need to put on the air-conditioner . No trips to the garbage bin like we needed to each night in the city. Don’t feel like a hypocrite when I talk green because I live green . Yes ! I don’t talk green. I wake up everyday morning and I have my own park to walk my two German Shepards. My own flowers to offer to the Gods . Our own stream for the kids to play in.

That’s why !

We didn’t know if butterflies would ever come when we started work on the butterfly park . At the most 20 to 25 species , I was told by Yashodan. 87 and still counting – we don’t know from where and how . There were no plans or designs made ; randomly improvised . One week we put up the stream , another week it was the bamboo bridge . Turtle pond the next . We see something nice , we buy . Not on month ends though. Lots of money and effort in it already gone . I tell Yashodan – Don’t get depressed ,the butterflies are in ; someday we will have lots of visitors too. Actually ridiculous to say so , because it’s not him , its me ! He is always happy . That’s good for sales, isn’t it ?

That’s why !

Someday he need not sell any more insurance and instead chase butterflies all day long.
Someday I shall return to my medical practice . And buy him a good camera.

That’s why !


  1. Dear Mr and Mrs Heblekar,
    I chanced upon your website from my guru Karthik's blog. I thoroughly enjoyed your account and read most of the posts.Just thought of telling you that you guys are doing an amazing work!

  2. I invite you to register at and share some of your experiences with our community of nature lovers. You can cut and paste from blogspot if you wish. The report will be published under your name and you can link it to your post too..

  3. And I came in from Chandu's blog and i second him... Wonderful work you ppl are doing... I and my husband, also share a dream of having a butterfly park someday.. and seeing your rooftop garden, i'm convinced we can do it sooner :)
    Great work!