Sadabahar in Uttar Pradesh 2023

by Sauma Afreen

After a sweltering afternoon, far outside town, we lay on a cot in a mango orchard. Dusk was fast approaching, and despite being called several times to load up our stuff in the cars to leave, all four of us decided to link hands.

We lay side-by-side on the jute cot under the mango tree staring at the skies. We knew we must wait, and that it would be worth the wait. We must see the jugnus one last time that year. Every year it was the same.

Lights for firefly Sauma
Lights photographed in Aligarh in 2023, copyright Sauma Afreen

As children we thought the jugnus were magical because they transported us to unknown realms. Whenever we saw one, it stilled the air and breaths of all around. Postures frozen, exchanging whispers of amazement, my cousins and I used to think that minuscule light bulbs were fitted inside their bodies. And when the light dimmed every few seconds, that their power supplies were breaking. In those few timeless moments of being in their company my cousins and I felt invincible, as if there was nothing we couldn’t accomplish in the world.

With our bustling metropolitan lives, the jugnus are just whispers in traffic jams drowned by careless honks.

When I occasionally spot them in the bushes and fields alongside the train track on my journey home, I’m reminded that not all are wiped out by chemicals or exposure to too much light at the wrong time of day.

These are the flickering reminders that beautiful jugnus are not confined to lazy evening memories of the past.

Listen to the author reading ‘Sadabahar in Uttar Pradesh’:

1) Jugnus are fireflies, small glowing insects that are under threat from light pollution, pesticides, and depletion of the damp places where the larvae grow for months before hatching and flying in the dark.

Using a chemical reaction, males produce their own light – bioluminescence – which attracts females for mating. Nearly all of the energy is converted into light, a more efficient process than anything humans have yet made. In India there are fewer than 10 species of firefly left, compared to 2,000 species across the world.

2) Sadabahar is an Urdu word that means evergreen.


(Copyright: Sauma Afreen, 2023)


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