Naturalist and author Nelson Rodrigues is all aflutter. His passion has come to fruition with the release of Butterflies of Mumbai, a visual ode to that symbol of nature’s beauty. The last time anybody documented Mumbai’s butterflies were the English, some 50 years ago.
The author can’t pinpoint exactly when his affair with the little winged creatures began, although he does remember being entranced by a wedding centerpiece on which sat a dainty butterfly cutout. The moment of reckoning, however, was at Corbett National Park, when he saw his friend Isaac Kehimkar, an authority on butterflies, lying flat on the ground to click them. His interest ignited, Nelson then became a member of the e-group ButterflyIndia, accompanying members on their various jaunts, which took him all over India including the Northeast, where he spotted some 300 species.
But the idea for the book began on a whim when a friend suggested he should write a book on Mumbai’s lepidoptera. Nelson turned the idea in his head and decided to give it a go. For starters, he had his own list of 129 butterflies. With the help of friend Amol Purandare, another enthusiast who had a list of 130, he began to document in earnest. That was six years ago.
Today, the ad-consultant and copywriter can’t quite believe he has a book to show for his efforts. Aimed at students and amateurs, it’s an entertaining pastiche of dazzling pictures, simple text and pertinent facts, profiling 153 species with big-sized colour pictures showcasing male, female, caterpillar and in some cases even the pupa of each species. Purists might frown over one of the best features of this book – the author has coded butterflies on the basis of colour and not families as is normally done. Says he, “Classifying butterflies under blue, yellow, green, etc makes it easy to identify and remember them. Nowhere has this kind of classification been attempted before.”
But for a bird ID that he got wrong, Nelson might have become a bird watcher. Instead, he switched to chasing butterflies. “It’s a level of madness one can hardly imagine, spending Sunday after Sunday to photographing butterflies. I had to make sure I got at least two perfect shots of each,” he says. Some of the pictures he first clicked with a 3MP camera are amazing and measure up to the best, he says, while recalling how mighty kicked up he once was about shooting the Bamboo Tree Brown, Black Rajah and Common Nawab in the space of an hour. Or the time, when, absorbed in clicking butterflies, he found himself stuck in quicksand.
In his everyday life, Nelson is a marketer, publisher and distributor. “I’ve used my marketing and printing experience to publish and promote the book. Even getting a sponsor took time, so I decided to promote it myself. This way, the reader would not have to shell out big bucks for the book,” he says, adding: “In our country, it’s always about saving the tiger. No thought is given to promoting awareness of smaller creatures.”
The author has also penned a few poems on butterflies — there’s one at the beginning of the book. The rest, he says, are for “personal consumption”.