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The Museum of Vestigial Desire

The Butterfly Nest

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Scene 1

The first scene is of the cemetery, the sun was setting and the cold and wet wind was blowing. The thief could not go anywhere without the risk of getting arrested, so he stayed in the cemetery for the night. Now, people often said that the cemetery was haunted. But they did not mention details about the ghosts who haunted the cemetery. What did they look like and what did they want? The thief had just robbed the only jewellery shop in town. He had taken all the cash and had pocketed a few of the big diamonds. The shop’s owner walked into the shop just as he was walking out and he had to kill him too. So, in addition to being a thief, he was also a murderer now. He was on the run, the cemetery seemed like a safe place to go undetected - just because people were afraid to go there.

In the cemetery, he could find no shelter from the wind and the drizzle. He just sat on one of the tombstones, resigned and ready to face whatever was happening.

Once he resigned, a family of butterflies settled on him. The butterflies were yellow in colour and bigger than usual. Soon, he was fully covered with butterflies and he was fully hidden. It was not clear if he was there at all. Even the outline of his human form disappeared and he just appeared to be a cloud of butterflies. A cloud of butterflies, all of a similar hue made something of a curtain on that spot where he sat. The curtain seemed to flutter and shift a few inches every now and then. But the thief had the perfect cover and this cover moved with him. He was not visible at all through the cover. Slowly the news was spreading that a deity was making an appearance in her full glory at the cemetery. The townsfolk forgot about the crimes that had to be investigated and they gathered at the cemetery, looking at the deity from afar.

The thief saw the people assembling at the gate and his playful frame of mind vanished. He became conscious of remaining hidden. The butterflies did not care about what was on his mind. They still danced randomly around his body-frame. The people who were observing this phenomenon, were looking on in amazement. They felt they were looking at some kind of divine play. Somebody saw some fragments of the thief’s clothing and said that there was a person behind the hive of butterflies. This possibility got the gathered people even more excited. Each of them wanted to catch a glimpse of this blessed person now.

They came inside the cemetery and walked cautiously up to the divine phenomenon. They had mirrors and sticks. They kept trying to catch a glimpse.

The thief was now shaking with fear, if people found out it was him, they would kill him before he could appear in court and face a judge.

The cemetery had many holes in the ground, certain parts of the ground had slipped away during the rain and hollow cavities being formed all over the terrain. The thief fell into one such cavity. All the butterflies could do was to go into the cavity too, a few at a time. It seemed to the gathered crowd that the divine apparition had just gone into the ground. They still could not see the hole in the ground, the fading trail of the butterflies still covered the hole and hid it. The townspeople thought that the divine apparition had disappeared just as it has become visible. They believed that they were calmer and in a way charmed and blessed now. They felt that the divine apparition lingered in some way and changed the quality of their experience entirely. One of the people in the group said that he felt warm all over, maybe he even felt feverish. Someone else felt a bit afraid, he was even trembling and exhibiting other symptoms like dryness of the mouth and cold sweat. What kind of apparition was it that lingered in so many different ways? Presences of divinity are qualified by this logic. They aren’t any one thing but are capable of seeming entirely different to different people. Divinity cannot be understood for this very reason. There is too much understand and so much so that it bursts the seams of our cognitive capacity. We easily disagree about what it means to be divine.

The thief meanwhile was in a hole under the ground. The hole was small, damp and cold. The butterflies had meanwhile disappeared. The thief’s instinct told him to lie low and lie in the dark parts so as to escape any prying eye that peeped into the hole.

And lots of these folk peeped, more than half of them. But they saw nothing divine. They were a disappointed lot.

Divinity is elusive and sometimes it reveals itself but then it goes back into hiding as it pleases. The key is to track the smell so as to be able to be tricky and impulsive. To run into your own shadow, to be crushed under your weight.

The thief was afraid of being caught, of being prosecuted. Out of the pressure of this fear, he felt like he had no options. Either he had to be OK with being stuck in the hole for the night or he had to pray for divinity to rescue him. Prayer worked for some but it had never worked for him but he was interested, curious and eager to unravel the mystery.

To whom did people pray to? And how did they pray? And what were the signs that prayer was working? Were the signs ever apparent in real time? With the indefinite loops of sequential delay how does one even make correlations between prayer and the blessings that emanate from it?

Anyway, the night passed and the thief spent hour upon hour in the damp hole and battled sleep with fear.

Scene 2

The thief crawled out of the hole in the morning. By that time most of the crowd had dispersed but the people who were there were either too sleepy or expecting to see something out of the world and simply ignored the ordinary thief walking by. He was covered in mud, his face could not be seen and his eyes were like craters on the face of the moon. He got away easily. But he did not want to get away, he sort of missed the butterflies and the spectacular show they had put up the previous night. When the butterflies were all around him, he felt covered. The cover was like a firm shelter. The shelter was firm but fluid like a surface of water. It felt safe, yes. But also he felt larger, he felt like he was more than the person who was born as a baby who was lost in the world. But now he was walking out of the cemetery and the previous night’s events were still fresh in his head. For the townsfolk it might have been a visual treat but for him it was an experience that gave a new lease of life to his imagination.

He did not need to be a thief anymore, he did not feel deprived. The feelings that the experience with the butterflies produced in him, stayed with him.

Once he was away, the light of day had changed. The light of dawn was shining through the clouds. He looked at it and he felt nothing. The thief thought that he wanted to cherish only experience. He did not want any possessions or any money. Not that he didn’t have any use for it. He believed that visual experience would provide him everything. He just wanted to see clearly. That’s all.

What could he see? If he looked into the hollow of the tree, he saw darkness. If he looked at the sun, he saw only light. His eyes started showing him patches of light after he saw the sun. But he looked at the Sun, overtime he wanted to feel that he could still see.

Vision is not a sense and it is not a default. Sometimes you see what is in front of your eyes, sometimes you don’t. Being blind to the world is dangerous. You don’t see the fire, you don’t know when you have save yourself.

It is necessary to save yourself.

But the thief could see alright. He did not wear glasses and he did not know how to read. The thief kept walking on and he reached a river. The water of the river was very clean. The water was transparent. He could see the fish swimming underneath. He could even see the fish eating other fish and for some time that part of the river cleared up. Death has an avoidance reaction.

He sat in a boat and asked the boatman to take him across the river. The boatman took a meandering path to go across. First he took the thief around the river and showed him the sights. The first among the sights was the central jail. The jail was on the bank of the river, the prisoners had a break and in their break time they were tossing stones into the river. One of these stones hit their boat. The thief was superstitious. When the stone hit the boat, he thought that now he would be arrested. The people or the police would catch him. The boatman was also looking at him in a strange way. Very much like a predator looks at its prey.

When he reached across finally, the butterflies surrounded him again. The boatman was part of the crowd the previous night at the cemetery. He was equally awestruck as everyone else. Boatmen are always believers. To keep a boat afloat and to not let it sink, takes a certain amount of skill but it also takes prayer and reliance on the divine spirit. So when he realised that he had given a ride to an organ of divinity itself, he was overjoyed. The butterflies had drifted away at night because they could not find their way into the hole and still survive. But here by the bank of the river, they found him ready for occupation. They quickly covered him as if he wasn’t a person and only a symbol.

The thief could still walk, when he was blindingly covered by the butterflies. The many eyes of the many butterflies that hid him became like his pseudo eyes which guided him around. This time the thief started trying to communicate with the butterflies. He tries singing and humming. Every time he sang, the butterflies came closer to him and he felt they like the tone of his voice. But the butterflies were deaf, they just liked the warmth his body exuded, when he sang a song.

They came to a nest of stones and the thief sat down there. The river was still in view and he saw that the boatman had fetched the townsfolk from the cemetery and they were soon going to arrive. Now, he was not afraid. Now, he did not want to run or hide. If people were coming to him, let them come. What would they say? What would they ask?

The crowd arrived. It maintained a distance this time, they figured that the previous night they had startled the butterflies away. Today they were calm and quiet and they maintained a distance. One of them asked the divine apparition who it was and why was it was making itself visible this way.

People silenced this young boy. Direct questions were not to be asked. Asking such questions would startle the apparition away, because it might not want to reveal anything more than its presence.

Scene 3

The divine apparition sat on the rocks with the crowd surrounding it. Now, it started speaking. The thief’s voice was filtered by the fluttering cover of the butterflies. This filtered voice now sounded like it was very distant. It was diffused. Now, a conversation between the thief and the gathered townsfolk started.

“The sky is clear today, yet it will rain,” the thief said.

The townsfolk were surprised. They were also afraid. If it really did rain, the crop they had sown in their fields would be ruined. They rushed away quickly to protect their crops. They covered the crops with a sheet of plastic. If it did not rain, the plants might die with no sun and no air for a day. But they believed in the divine provenance of the butterfly-being.

Meanwhile the thief had used the moment of silence and absence of crowd to run away. When the people came back, there was no divine apparition anymore.

The thief knew the forest that was adjacent to the seashore very well. In fact he was hoping to find some or the other tranche of hidden treasure which he had hidden but forgotten to re-claim. He picked up a stick and prodding away in different parts of the forest that he remembered using at some point. He could find no treasure but he found lots of other things. He found an old pair of shoes, he found a skeleton, he found a pot of water, and he found hair. But he found no treasure. While he was busy finding treasure, the butterflies vanished. He didn’t want to read his own experience as a parable. He did not want to understand the absence of the butterflies as a cosmic message that he should not look for treasure.

Because he was not looking for treasure for the money, for the wealth. As his new avatar was motivated only by visual experience, he only wanted to look at the treasure. He did not want to even touch it. Why did the butterflies disappear then? He did not want to read into cosmic events and their reasons.

The butterflies had not disappeared. They had only gone to haunt and cover someone else. There were many people who were like divine apparitions in the world. All the apparitions that had this form that consisted of fluttering butterflies were completed by the same swarm of butterflies. They could move really fast and they could move all around the world with ease. All the human hosts of the apparitions viewed the phenomenon as a strange occurrence that they could not make sense of. The butterflies did not say anything to anyone. They could not speak. They only made appearances and disappearances.

But just as the thief had changed as a person after the episode with the butterflies, all the other hosts had changed as well. Mostly people had become humbled by the existence of an external force that had its own design and whimsy.

This community of transformed people were very peaceful. They did not pursue their desires. They only wanted to see interesting frames which shed light onto them. They searched for these frames relentlessly but their search was patient and without any anxiety. For they knew with certainty that they wound find the treasure. And when it would happen depended entirely on when some cosmic sequence got completed.

For doing something, one needs to hang around pretending to persevere so that when it happens, it appears to be our doing.

The community of transformed people knew this and never tried very hard to achieve anything.

The butterflies came back to the thief in the evening. In the evening, the thief had stopped searching and was gathering fallen fruit for dinner. There wasn’t enough fruit and the thief had to make peace with hunger.

The butterflies clamoured around him and he realised that he needed some sheltering from the world. His naked gaze only saw the world in a very distracted way, how could he even make sense of so much information? He needed shades, not just for his eyes, but for his whole body. Maybe he needed to start wearing robes.

The butterflies stayed with him all night but left at four in the morning. After they left, the thief started designing a robe for himself. He went back to the cemetery and stole scraps of cloth from some corpses. Then he made a loose garment which appeared to hover around him but never touched him. It had a hood and it cast a shadow on his face. It felt like the butterflies were still with him. Whenever the swarm came back, he took the robe off.

Once at four a.m., the butterflies thought that the thief was sleeping, and they started slowly fluttering away. But the thief was not asleep. He was awake and was only faking sleep so that the butterflies went on about their routine. Once they were out of sight, the thief started following them. He wanted to connect with some of the other transformed people. The only way he could do that was by following the butterflies. Their bond otherwise only consisted of unspoken gestures.

He followed the butterflies, but they seemed to be aware of him. That day they did not do anything of consequence. They flitted from flower to flower and braved vast distances and rough weather but only to bask in a specific hue of the sun.

Did the butterflies not have any other people to take care of? Was there no community of the transformed or did they not want any of them to meet each other?

By night the thief was back in the forest and he waited for the butterflies to come back. But they did not come back. He slept in anticipation and woke up with hope as well. But not just that day, they never came back. By seeking more answers than the ones given to him, he had broken the covenant of divinity. He had attempted to trespass and now he was alone again.

Scene 4

The desolate thief began to regret that he ever endeavoured on the project to find the other transformed people. But no amount of regret and feeling bad brought back the butterflies. The butterflies did not think, they did not even have the capacity to think. They just flew here and there attracted by some or the other energy. The thief’s energy was just not the same anymore. They did not know what reformation meant, transformation is absolute - there is no scope for a relapse.

The thief was considering various options. One of these was to go and surrender at the police station. And then maybe be jailed for life or be left to die. The other option was to become pious and work on himself so that the butterflies got attracted to him again. This was a remote possibility. He knew that, but he still wanted to try. The possibility was remote because he wasn’t confident of how well he would be traversing the path of virtue. He also knew that virtue was often a doorway to vices more dangerous and deviant than anything else.

He was trying to make a choice and wandering around while he did that. He reached the bank of a river and a fish spoke to him. The fish said that if he jumped into the river, everything would be alright. They said that the river water was very thick and it was not really possible to sink in it. If he jumped in, he would only float. The fish that was speaking to the thief was golden in colour and had blue eyes. Fish do not have a face as such and so no emotion is betrayed when they speak. In the absence of emotion, the thief needed to make a simple choice about whether he wanted to believe the fish or not. This simple choice was in fact a big thing. It was a gamble. If he jumped into the river, and if what the fish was saying was false, he would die. And his dying breath would be spent in denial, denying that he listened to the fish without when he clearly didn’t have to.

So he did not jump. And he did not die at that time. And the butterflies did not come back.

If he had jumped, the butterflies would have come back as their urge to save a transformed individual was very strong.

He did not jump and he did not get saved. Unless you risk extinction, you do not get to live. As he did not get to live again as a charmed and blessed individual, the empty shell of an existence he was otherwise leading was not interesting for him anymore. He felt that he was ready to die.

So he sat down beside the river, decided not to eat or drink anything and took a pledge to keep sitting there till he died. A few days passed and then a week. After the weeks passed, life was in fact ready to pass out of his body frame and death was standing by to descend on him. And still the butterflies did not come.

He fell unconscious and still the butterflies did not come.

He did not get up again, he was literally breathing his last few breaths. And still the butterflies did not come.

He died.

And then nothing happened.

The butterflies didn’t come, nobody even noticed or grieved. The townsfolk found his body and assumed that he had died because of the burden of his own crimes.

What had happened? The butterflies gave up on him and got distracted? The thief was abandoned.

But sometimes you can live, only after you die once. The butterflies came and settled on his corpse and he smiled, he came back to consciousness with a jolt. And he was thinking he did not want to die. Not then and not in that way.

The corpse came back to life. That was not a miracle. It was just the way things happened. For considering something to be a miracle, you have to firmly believe in an idea of reality that is absolute.

But if you don’t, then everything is equally miraculous. Everything is more than what it seems. There is no sense of the ordinary that remains anymore.

You might say that there is a scientific explanation for everything. But there is not. Science explains events that fit its format.

Now the thief was wandering here and there with the butterfly mask hovering around his whole body. He was not there anymore to feel pleased about it. What the death event had killed successfully was the voice in his head that produced the noise of narrative.

This meant that the relationship between him and the butterflies was no more being commented on by himself in his own head. He did not associate the butterflies as symbols of some divine event anymore. It was just an event. What it evoked in others did not affect him. He was not sensitive to himself anymore.

The butterflies fluttering, flitting, swarming around the thief became a local attraction of sorts. The thief did not speak, so like a silent movie it was accepted as a natural phenomenon.

Like the river, like the water fall, like the mountain, for the townsfolk the butterfly swarm around the thief became a feature of the landscape.

No questions were asked and none were answered. Some other thief was arrested for the crimes of the transformed thief. This story has reached a point where nothing can go wrong anymore.

But this tranquillity was about to be disrupted.

Another transformed individual with another swarm of butterflies arrived in the town. This individual had come also to check if the other transformed individual whose stories were becoming almost as well-known as his own was real.

He went and met the thief. He saw the spectacle with his own eyes. And then he did not think to ask any further question.

Scene 5

For the town these were very positive days. There were not one but two transformed individuals whom they could see. They felt that the town had been blessed with special privilege. There was no other neighbouring town that had even heard of this kind of divine display. The mayor of the town built a statue for the thief in his divine form with the butterflies hovering around him.

The thief saw his own statue and decided to steal one of the gold-plated butterflies. Stealing from his own statue did not feel wrong. He sold the gold butterfly for some money and rented an apartment to stay warm and secure. He could not live as he had lived in the past anymore. He had to approach his life less as an adventure and more as an ordinary life that played some extraordinary roles. He kept his apartment empty, he got no furniture. He liked to stare at the emptiness and wonder how an empty space can be filled by anything at all and it could still retain its emptiness. He was thinking of emptiness as a state with no volume but a choice whether or not to be a host or not. A space could have a set of guest spaces but not accept them as guests and could remain empty.

The town did not accept the second transformed individual so easily. No hospitality was extended to him. He was not a guest. His presence seemed to fake the thief’s presence and render it as less novel. The townsfolk were meanwhile fond of the thief and his divine form. Their hearts did not have the pace for another reflection of divinity.

The other transformed individual who had come to town figured this. Whereas one individual was a thief, the other was only a school teacher. School teachers are not very intelligent. They learn the manipulatory patterns of children but that’s it. The thief had meanwhile sweet-talked almost every type of person in his life. The thief knew how to be liked and be popular. The school teacher knew only how to be divine. At other times he was no one in particular. This didn’t give him any particular advantage in his interactions with the townsfolk.

A time and place was decided for the two individuals to meet. The thief and the school teacher themselves were not very excited to meet each other. What would meeting mean? Would meeting make the imagination of how this experience came to be more difficult to access? Who would validate whom in the meeting? Who would have the privilege of validating? The one who came before? Or the one who had a better story of the divinity’s coming or becoming? These were questions floating in their heads.

When they met, first the thief excused himself and opened the windows. With the windows open, the butterflies could again find their way into the room. Finding them both in the same room was confusing for the butterflies. For a moment they hovered in the air, at a point that was equidistant from both of them. The butterflies were divine, so they had feelings. Did they have a mind too? No one knew. At that point some butterflies went to the school teacher just because they had hovered around him longer, most stayed in the middle though. No butterfly went to the thief at that time. It felt like a suspenseful moment.

“See, even the butterflies make it clear. I am the real transformed individual,” the school teacher said.

“Please enjoy the privilege,” the thief disengaged from the school teacher and seemed to get engaged with cooking in the kitchen. “Will you have some food?” The thief asked the school teacher.

The school teacher was geared up to have a showdown and hadn’t imagined that the thief would be so cool and uninterested in an actual clash. Moreover he had already eaten, he had been trained to always eat before getting onto any stage or into a competition. So he politely refused. After he refused he realised that it was a test. Could he accept a generous gesture? Or was he in fact unable to read into events and only responded from the perspective of being a person who operated at the level of language.

The school teacher realised that he had indeed not bothered to analyse the emotion behind the thief’s invitation. He did that by the time he was almost at the door ready to leave. But then he turned around and said, “Yes.” The thief who was feeling triumphant now felt beaten. He felt like the school teacher had gotten the better of him.

He quietly set about to serve food to the school teacher. First the dishes, then the water, then the food. The thief had cooked rice and vegetables. There was also a green curry that could be seen on the table. The school teacher was only doing symbolic eating, he was not hungry at all. He was taking small spoonfuls of food and stuffing it into his mouth. Without hunger the food tasted bland and uninteresting. The school teacher started wondering what the test was for.

The thief meanwhile was increasing loosing hope every time he saw the butterflies hovering noncommittally in mid-air, maintaining an equal distance between them. All his mind games were bearing no result, the butterflies remained where they were. They were not any closer to choosing him over the school teacher. Why did he want the butterflies to choose? Because this meeting had been setup as a challenge from the beginning. And if it was going to be a challenge, he was going to be the one with the upper hand. He had pulled many heists in his career as a thief and the heists which were competitive were that much more enjoyable. To look at the face of the loser grow smaller and smaller was an incomparable experience.

But this seemed to be a stale-mate so far.

The drudgery of cooking and serving the food was barely tolerable given the fact that game didn’t seem to tilt in anyone’s favour.

Seeing the stalemate, the butterflies lost interest in the two individuals and flew out of the window. They flew out to find some other individuals who were on the verge of transformation and surround them with their fluttering wings.

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