Fireflies (jugnu) have always held a special place in my heart. My earliest memories of them trace back to the swarms of fireflies I saw during a family visit to Nashik during my school summer holidays. In a massive backyard laden with mango trees and pomegranates, I remember watching in awe these twinkling insects, dancing in the night like a million stars. It is one of the most impressionable memories of my formative years.
Much later in life, I had come home to my parents in Ambala for another set of summer holidays, this time from college. In the evenings, I would often sit in our porch enjoying the calm at dusk. The monsoons were round the corner. The air was a bit dense. To avoid getting sweaty, I had a big standing fan (farrata) placed a foot away from me, and I’d enjoy its strong gusts of air effectively beating the sultry heat.
That’s when a tiny teeming little caught my eye. I saw a firefly! Yes, it was that time of the year – the onset of monsoons! I felt an adrenaline rush and immediately childhood memories of Nashik came gushing back. Now this firefly was hyperactive. It changed its flight path erratically. And somehow, intuitively, I just knew that it was going to fly right into the fan!
And that’s exactly what happened.
I heard the dreadful sound ‘tangggg…’ It was hit. Injured, but not dead. Probably cut by the fast-moving blades, but not sliced enough to give it a ‘death blow.’ Instant death was not in store for this creature.
Post this hit, I followed its hysteric flight path. My eyes tracked it wherever it flew. Only this time, its path was erratic not because of the excitement of the evening, but due to the distress of the excruciating pain and shock it must be in. Finally, it landed on the ground.
I sat and watched it. Its glow was palpitating. Like an aeroplane’s fluctuating red lights on an airstrip during take-off. Gradually, its glow reduced. Becoming less yellow. More pale with every passing second. The palpitation also became more measured.
It was dying.
I could see that. I could feel life slowly evacuating its body. I remember distinctly, that for a flickering second, I thought – shouldn’t I just snuff the life out of it? Wouldn’t that be better than just watching it die…slowly and painfully? Shouldn’t I just stomp it with my foot and release it of its pain in one go – because it was going to die anyway! I thought my action would liberate it from the world way sooner. And maybe the firefly will thank me for making it less ‘aware’ of the rather uncomfortable process of dying that it was going through.
So I raised my foot above it. But just as I brought my foot down towards its body, my leg froze mid-air. I couldn’t do it! I just couldn’t crush it. Something stopped me. My action seemed cruel. Wrong. Heartless, maybe? Who was I to give it death? How could I snuff out its life? Can I ‘kill’ a living organism? Shouldn’t nature take its own course?
Almost immediately, I found myself questioning that thought too. The farrata with its monstrous blades was not a part of nature, was it? That was placed for my comfort. To add extra doses of wind. That wasn’t nature’s plan. Nature intended a humid quiet non-breezy evening, wherein fireflies could feed and flourish. The fan was man-made. A product for my convenience. So when the firefly’s injury was a result of human intervention, it was perfectly legitimate to crush it and bring death to the suffering creature in a non-natural way.
Lost in my thoughts, I suddenly looked down and realised that the palpitating glow was gone. The firefly was dead. It was ready to become one with the earth below it.
I walked away. Confused. Hurt. Guilty.
Much late into the night, I had troubling thoughts. I struggled to understand the root cause of my sadness – was it really the death of the firefly or was it my own inaction? Was I a selfish and cowardly person who just watched the firefly die slowly rather than having the guts to give it freedom? Or was I a fair, intelligent, moral, and far-sighted person who chose non-intervention in the creator’s gift of life and death? Exhausted, I fell asleep.
To this day, I remember that evening distinctly. Little did I know then that my conversations with myself were my first brush with the contentious moral and legal debate called death by euthanasia.
This article was published at Spark.