Obituary by Kaushiki Rao

We deeply regret to announce the demise of one Papue inexorabilis, alias Papu, at our facilities on March 9, 2013. A significant contributor to the National Bureau of Agriculturally Important Insects, insect Papu walked the fine line between being a trade union leader, and a loyalist and friend to the bureau.


Papu was unwavering in her struggle to ensure that insects be treated well at NBAII. On January 21, 2013, we walked into mayhem at the Insect Observation Room. Broken glass underfoot, agricultural insects mixing with non-agricultural ones and the security cat, used for insect discipline, tied up in finely spun cobwebs. Putting it down to an accident, we cleaned up the mess and resumed work as usual.


The next day was mayhem of a different kind. Absolute silence reigned when the entomologists filed into the Room. All insects were in their place and the security cat roamed free, but every insect was absolutely silent, still and facing Papu. This insect in her simple glass jar was wasting away, having not eaten her dinner, midnight snack, or breakfast. It seemed like she was on a hunger strike.


Rules for insects at NBAII are strict. No eating or drinking during Hours of Observation. No pollinating except during Hours of Observation. Insects are to be dissected at the behest of an entomologist and the method used is not measured in terms of cruelty.


The day of the hunger strike, Papu would not eat, would not drink, clamped her jaw shut when we tried to feed her. She would not pollinate as per schedule. She was inexorably adamant. The day after, she perversely would eat only during Hours of Observation, and pollinate only outside of the hours.


That day, Papu managed to communicate that insects are creatures with needs and wants independent of the entomologists. Insects themselves now have a say in how they are managed. Papu ensured that insects of the species Papue inexorabilis can eat and drink during a dedicated lunch hour in the middle of Observation and pollinate whenever the need strikes. Insects can now choose between Slow Method Dissection and Rapid Method Dissection. Security cats, known for their arbitrary disciplinary methods, have been removed.


Papu was relentless in her fight for the rights of all Papue inexorabili. Due to her, the species was upgraded from Agricultural Insect of Minor Importance to Agricultural Insect of Most Major Importance. Consequently, she ensured that all of her brethren were kept under observation in Imported Glass Jars, not just in the regular kind.


As the first female bred in-house, Papu was of incredible importance to research. Through her, scientists could understand what happens when Papue inexorabilis hits puberty. She helped show that at the early stages of life this insect in fact pollinates through the wings rather than through the feet. Papue inexorabili survive solely on the nectar of the ragi flower. Thus the survival of the ragi species is crucial for the survival of their own species. Papu showed that Papue inexorabilis at puberty are deliberate about pollination. They very carefully rub their wings against the stamen of the flower and then transfer the pollen by deliberately rubbing their wings against not just one, but several other flowers. They sow their oats.


In a relatively long lifespan of four months Papu was taken to various conferences and trade exhibitions across the world. There she conducted herself with grace and dignity, always performing her pollination accurately and in a timely manner, catapulting NBAII onto the world map of entomology. When she was present in the outside world, Papu was a model insect and a good example. She is therefore, admired not just for her tenacious fight for the rights of insects, but also for her loyalty to her home and Institution.


In honour of her contributions to the NBAII, Papu will be mounted on a dust free cork bulletin board and be available for viewing for a small fee of Rs 3.



Kaushiki Rao lives in Bangalore and works independently, mainly on issues of livelihoods.