The Ants and I
by K. L. Kamat
First Online: September 01, 2001
Page Last Updated: January 29, 2014
Translated from Kannada Original Iruveya Iruvu
One night, when I was in Plassey, I was woken up by sudden attack of the
cockroaches. I got up to tie a
mosquito net around the bed, and I was shocked to find a whole army of the roaches. I sent
a number of them to Yama's presence. The roaches must be belonging to the family of the
asuras (demons). Even the beheaded bodies seemed to have life! But, when I got up the next morning to
clean up the mess, there were no bodies or remains! I wondered if the roaches rediscovered
the Sanjeevini. I was shocked to find the floor spotlessly clean. As I brushed my teeth
wondering about the disappearance of the bodies, I noticed one slow moving cockroach. I
thought I must kill at least one, and as I approached, and altogether different kind of
shock waited me. It was like the devotees of Puri pulling the chariot of Lord Jaganath.
Hundreds of ants pulling dead body of cockroach with their might. They were pushing the
limbs of the cockroach as if it was walking. The buoyancy was provided by another team of
ants which were pushing from the behind. I suddenly understood how the Lilliputians
transported Gulliver. I watched them with a great amusement. The caravan ran into an
obstacle. One volunteer ant went around the obstacle to find an alternate route and came
back and communicated the message through body language. Their mission now was more
difficult. They pushed at the rate of barely millimeter a minute. But their enthusiasm and
determination was not at all affected. Once just the approached their home, the body
slipped and fell several inches. The members without a second thought regrouped and
started the endeavor all over again.
I got hold of one ant and put her under the microscope. Was she a beauty! The antenna
curved beautifully into an acute angle. The jaws were sharp as a saw. Her eyes had a
natural mascara. The feet were light and were designed for a rapid movement. Her body was
slim and light. She had six limbs like other insects, but no wings. Her complexion varied
from fair to golden on different parts of body. She must have been bored. She started
cleaning herself. She shook her face and antenna and feet. It looked like her saliva had
cleaning properties. This little creature has all the cleaning equipments built into its
body. The bristles on her body act as brush and there is a comb with a sharp teeth in the
slit of her knees.
As the ant clean herself it's easy to draw parallels between the other self-cleaning
animals like squirrels and cats. It is probably this self-cleaning process that keeps them
healthy and away from the diseases.
She squat on hind legs and cleaned every tiny particle from other limbs. She used front
limbs to clean the hind limbs and even wiped her eyeballs. She applied saliva all over and
then sucked it dry.
The ants are always busy and my prisoner was utterly bored without work. She even
yawned. I wondered if ants ever slept. Do they sleep on their back like us or on the
stomach like cats and dogs? I wondered if she had eaten since morning. If her family comes
to know she is missing, I wonder what they will do? She was shattered by unexpected
freedom and did not know what to do and where to go. Then she ran into her best friend;
they whispered in soft language. And then kissed in a French style. How free is this
community, I admired. Then my pretty model merged with her gang and I could no longer
distinguish her from her comrades.
I continued to watch parade of ants and new knowledge dawned on me. All the
responsibilities of the colony were carried out by females. I got hold of fat ant and
discovered that he was male. He was a really big guy. His jaws were enormous and
ferocious. But the delicate females did not care for him. If he got in their way, they
would simply climb on top of him and continued. The role of this soldier was to warn the
marching workers of possible dangers.
Another day, as I prepared tea, I realized ants running all over my hand from the sugar
packet. Instead of being thankful to me for providing the sweets, they started biting me.
I wondered how the ants got inside this tightly sealed packet, and noticed there was
minute hole the ants had made. The fat soldier must have used his jaws. How did they know
there was sugar inside? I placed the sugar in open container and kept it under the sun.
The heat drove the ants away. I repacked them hoping that I had gotten rid of the ants for
good. As I drank my tea, I noticed one solitary ant picked up a small particle of the
sugar crystal and ran to the colony to announce the rediscovery of the gold mine.
Immediately the army traced back the footsteps of the messenger and ambushed sugar packet.
I admired their smelling sense. I sprayed sandalwood oil on one of the ants, and let it go
to the colony. Apparently what constitutes strong smell to us is not recognized by ants. I
realized they antenna where the sensory organs and when I cut them, the ants were unable
to distinguish food from dirt.
In India, to protect food the ants, each foot of the storage shelves is
water, thus, creating an artificial island. One day I was shocked to find my rosgullas
(Bengali sweets made with dehydrated milk) under the ants attack in spite of the protection. Then I noticed a tiny piece of
Amrut Bazar Partrika from the shelf was touching the wall, and the ants had used it as a
bridge. I admired the innovation and adventurous spirit. When I disconnected the bridge,
the ants on the shelf had no option but to fall into water and die. A couple of hours
later, their attack on the rosgullas was still going on--this time, they were using the
dead bodies of the soldiers floating on the water as the bridge. I thought the sacrifice
of the soldiers was as great as those of our soldiers protecting our borders or Rajput women
who had committed Johar. But who will erect hero-stones for these tiny souls?
Ants and Tribals -- Essay on human nature, the life of insects, and their co-existence based on a real life experience in Bengal.