Silkwormsby Jeremy Collins / 12.11.2009
I still remember the smell. I was 10 years old and there were too many of them. Silkworm season at my school was a training exercise in apartheid capitalism. Every year one or two boys would arrive with a few tiny silkworms and within weeks these would spawn a vast industry. The abuse of natural resources (stripping mulberry trees) and cheap labour (parents and domestic servants stripping mulberry trees) were integral to the process. The first silkworms of the season were extremely valuable and a fortunate few would get rich, trading them for valuables and sometimes even cash. This would go on for weeks until eventually the worm market would bottom out.
At that point, anyone left with silkworms would be stuck with them. And after a week or two silkworms got really boring. The same voracious appetites, the monotonous crunching and crapping, the musty smell of caterpillars and caterpillar dung mingled with wilting mulberry leaves. The cocooning phase always came as a relief. No more trips to the tree!
In 1980 there was a massive surplus. After a few weeks nobody bothered to offer their worms up for grabs; the clever kids had already done that. It was only chumps like me who were learning that when it comes to silkworms, unless you’re running a factory more is definitely less. That year there seemed to be even more of the slow ones; the ones that just kept eating as if they knew that moths had no fun at all, that the world was only as good as the leaf they’d clamped onto. Eventually the last straggler would succumb to its peculiar chemistry, wrap itself up and drift off into a bloated coma. But who could wait that long?
One rainy Saturday afternoon, standing over a basin filled with warm water I learned what many people had learned before me: anything is possible in the absence of compassion. I remember how I felt, that my disgust at what I was doing made it somehow easier to do it. And later the disgust gave way to curiosity, for in the absence of compassion what is left?