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Once Upon a Bug…


Jewel Bug, Coorg -


Long, long ago, in the days before PCs and video games, when TVs were tourist attractions at the homes of the connected, children in South India prospected for precious metals in their backyards. When you did strike gold, or any other likely gem, you tucked away the precious catch in miniature safe deposit lockers, which had previously served a more humble role as matchboxes. That could have been the reason why the jewels hidden within sparkled with an iridescent flame when they stepped out with a self important majesty that awed both owner and spectator alike, no matter how many times you’d seen them. We’re talking about the (un)common Jewel Bug, a beetle-like creature of fancy found in home gardens, that sparkled in rich metallic hues that’d put a rare ruby or lapis lazuli to shame. Known as ‘ponvandu’ in parts of South India, these dazzlers were prized finds for entire generations of children whose stock rose or dipped with the extent of their bug collection, and thus were guarded zealously. These living gems, however, had an inbuilt anti-theft mechanism to deter potential thieves: an offensive scent that could scare away all burglars, except those with malfunctioning olfactory units. While images of Jewel Bugs may remind some viewers of amethysts, corals, rubies, and other precious stones, they remind most of us of something infinitely more precious: the good old days!


Photograph: Ganesh H. Shankar Story: Rajesh Ramaswamy

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