Together from here to
there in search of beauty
A new book by a father and daughter duo explores
not only the wonder of butterflies but also their journeys of five
The butterflies of Sri Lanka – gorgeously
coloured and touchingly fragile - flit and flutter across the pages
of a new book to be launched on the 14th of this month. The result
of a five-year collaboration between Arittha and Ariesha Wikramanayake,
it offers much more than images and explanations – instead
this book is an experience, taking the reader along with a father
and his young daughter as they explore the wonders of nature together.
The book in its entirety - from photographs to
text – is credited to Arittha Wikramanayake and Ariesha, and
one has only to turn a few pages to appreciate how successful the
partnership has been. Filled with insights, explanations and a prodigious
amount of information, Butterflies of Sri Lanka makes for surprisingly
easy reading, in most part due to the light yet informative tone
set by the writing and the colourful photographs. The book will
appeal to young and old alike, offering nature lovers a much awaited
look at the island’s butterflies.
Chronicling 170 out of approximately 190 known
butterflies in Sri Lanka, the book is fairly comprehensive, and
excludes for most part only species that exist only in the inaccessible
northern reaches of the island or those that haven’t been
seen for many years. The butterflies featured are divided into several
categories, namely: Papilionidae, Pieridae, Danaidae, Nymphalidae,
Libytheidae, Acraeidae, Satyridae, Lycaenidae and Riodinidae. With
lifespans that range between two weeks to a couple of months, butterflies
come in a charming variety of sizes and colours, have distinct preferences
in terms of diet and habitat, are known for their love of mud puddles
and the delight they take in the sun.
Those who consider butterfly photography a trial
in patience best left to professionals, are right on only one count,
according to Mr. Wikramanayake. Patience is the big P of butterfly
photography, but there is plenty of room for amateurs. Having begun
taking photographs five years ago (when Ariesha was only 8), the
two enthusiasts started out with a 30,000 rupee, point-and-shoot
digital camera. Then, without the benefit of advanced lenses or
complex technology, they proceeded to take pictures of the country’s
butterflies. The result? A stunning collection.
It was only when they took their first picture
of a butterfly in the garden, and then tried to identify it that
they discovered a dearth of good reference books. “There were
actually only two books at that time that helped you to identify
(local) butterflies,” explains Mr. Wikramanayake adding that
both were very difficult to find, and exorbitantly priced. In addition,
each book seemed a little study in cruelty – featuring for
most part butterflies that were netted and pinned before being photographed.
As their distinguishing colours hadn’t been authentically
reproduced in print, the whole purpose seemed to be defeated. Here
was a real hole in our knowledge, one which Mr. Wikramanayake and
his daughter were determined to fill…their way.
In getting the pictures together, “not a
single butterfly has been harmed,” emphasises Mr. Wikramanayake,
saying that all of them have been photographed in their natural
environment. “We are proud to say we did it the hard way,
never netting, pinning, or freezing a butterfly, or even digitally
altering a picture to get the image.” In an attempt to faithfully
depict these creatures in all their beauty, the father and daughter
have closely studied their subject, and though they make no claim
to being Lepidopterists or expert photographers, in their own fashion
they now seem to be both. Ariesha herself loves butterflies and
enjoys figuring out why “they do the stuff they do”.
The bright-eyed 13- year-old says she enjoys almost everything about
her trips with her father – including the early morning wake-up
calls, which she describes as ‘fun’. Even the fear of
leeches (the biggest pests on expeditions of this sort) has been
conquered, and Ariesha has been known to collect them in jars and
let them ‘walk’ on her hand.
“We spend a lot of time together,”
says Mr. Wikramanayake, describing the close relationship he has
with his daughter. Working together on their project has only strengthened
that– waking up at 4:30, travelling long distances together
and hours spent patiently waiting for the moment to be exactly right.
Even so, they have not always got their butterfly. “If all
the butterflies were lined up, waiting to be photographed, there
would be no challenge,” he says philosophically.
Despite all this dedication, Mr. Wikramanayake
professes no great passion for butterflies. Instead, a desire to
expose his child to nature in all its wild beauty lies at the heart
of this initiative.
“ ...Butterflies really open your eyes to
nature in every possible way,” he says, “you learn about
trees, about food plants, about host plants, it takes you all over
the country, it tells you about the weather…and that’s
the best thing about it – that it opens your eyes and shows
you what’s around you.”
He considers this opportunity to get around and
explore the country with Ariesha infinitely preferable to sitting
around watching T.V.
It helps that butterflies are all around us, says Mr. Wikramanayake,
adding that even in cities they flutter in and out of sight –
in gardens and parks and also in bus depots.
“Some people thought it was impossible to
do…when I tell people I did this book with Ariesha, they look
at me with disbelief, but Ariesha could probably identify more butterflies
than me,” he adds proudly.
Arittha Wikramanayake heads his own law firm and
Ariesha attends Ladies’ College, and yet the two of them have
carved out the time and the effort to make the impossible, possible…and
they hope to again. In the future, the duo intends to involve Ariesha’s
elder sister in a book on Sri Lanka’s wildflowers, hunt up
the missing twenty butterflies and continue to explore and appreciate
the world around them.