I am engaged in an ant war, but it didn’t start out that way. Initially it was a gentle attempt to remind Mother Nature’s other creatures of the opportunities outside of our home. Despite fastidious cleanliness and a commitment to absolute aridity, our little ant guests refused to vacate. They were determined to remain in the relative comfort of our Indian villa. It would take more than a little extra elbow grease and a few paper towels to convince them to move out.
As a kid I delighted in watching Twilight Zone re-runs. One of my favorites was titled, The Little People, which originally aired on March 30, 1962. In The Little People, astronaut William Fletcher and his co-pilot/navigator Peter Craig break down on a presumably deserted planet. While effecting repairs, Craig, a narcissistic tyrant, discovers a race of little people who think him a god. Craig torments and kills the little people, eventually dying a horrible if not just death—Craig was squashed by a giant space-being at the end of the episode, karma-style, after which the little people push a big statue he demanded they construct in his honor atop his dead, lifeless body, a fate I’d like to avoid if possible. Now, some forty years later, I’m reminded that “one’s place in the universe is relative” (IMDB Storyline Summary).
The Little People episode stuck in the memory banks for three reasons. First, growing up I wanted to be an astronaut. Second, it was beaten into me at a young age that the strong defend the weak, a concept co-pilot Craig does not grasp. Finally, even at a young age I believed in justice, or it’s Hindu and Buddhist cousin, karma. Karma is essentially the idea that what goes around comes around, even if sometimes someone needs to help it come around—which is what happens to Craig when an even bigger being lands on the planet.
Hoping to avoid the depletion of any good karma accumulated over the last fifty years, it seemed a plan more aggressive than cleanliness and less destructive than mass ant genocide might be a good place to start.
The Kinder, Gentler Approach
There are many suggestions for getting rid of ants humanely, and many people on a local Expat social media page shared their experience. There is tea tree and neema oil, vinegar, turmeric, cleaning with soap nuts, chalk, essential oils, drying up water, and even attempting to lure them away from the house using honey. It might take weeks to find all these ingredients in India. Luckily, I had several ready and waiting to be tested.
First, I added a bottle of vinegar to soapy water and mopped the kitchen. I was careful to get every corner, around entry ways, and in the closet. I then poured straight vinegar onto a towel and started wiping every conceivable surface. Counters and walls, check. Cabinets, inside and out, check. Under the dishwasher, check. Window sills, check. Every surface was covered with vinegar.
Next came drying. We were already drying every surface, dish, and faucet after use. I added a look into the drain under the sink, pulled out the dishwasher, and inspected the Reverse Osmosis system. All dry as bones in the Mojave.
The stick thusly applied, it was time for the carrot—in this case, a honey trap. I smeared a light trail of the gooey bee nectar from the outside closest point of potential entry toward a nice pile of dirt 2.5 meters from the house, and left a cap full of golden honey as a tantalizing ant reward. Even an ant in a hermetically sealed suit could follow the path.
The point of possible entry within the house wasn’t conducive to a chalk barrier—it’s possible their main point of ingress is from the concrete wall behind the sink. I considered for a moment simply drawing a giant chalk circle around the house—technically it would be a rectangle—but concluded it might serve to keep the ants inside the barrier rather than out. Chalk required a bit more thought, as did the application of turmeric, which during repeated attempts did not stick to the wall behind the sink. Soap nuts were also out, and neema oil required an order through Amazon.in. Our essential oils, another suggested technique, are in a box in the US—I can see exactly where they sit, right next to an oil burner, incense, and an Enya CD. Everything available was deployed and the house smelled like a giant douche.
Checking Our Progress
The similarities between my ant war and The Little People episode are uncanny. Ants are smaller than us and seem to outnumber us by a factor of thousands. Other than being an annoyance, they really aren’t bothering anyone while looking for something to eat and drink. We are in India, which in some ways is like another planet. And Fletcher and Craig landed on the planet in a spaceship—I’m considering building a spaceship on the rooftop balcony. We could place our ant war in the original script and hardly anyone would notice.
The smell of living in a pickle jar dissipated after a few hours, but I decided to leave the area untouched overnight. In the morning I returned hopeful our house guests had departed. The floor seemed clear, no moving specks, and there was nothing in the sink. But a closer look at the black counter top revealed several, six-legged little visitors in search of food. There was a single dead ant poised atop a cotton ball previously doused in vinegar and placed along a main ant trail, but given the lack of additional evidence, I attributed his passing to old age.
The honey trail was gone, completely dry and totally lacking in even a hint of stickiness. Oddly, the small cap of honey was also missing. Perhaps they grew tired of carting it back in pieces and simply carried the entire cap home.
In any case, the vinegar and honey was a total bust. The score was Rob: 1, Ants: 0. The ants triumphed in round one.
Time To Get Serious
The saying goes, “A happy wife is a happy life,” and my wife was not happy about sharing her home with thousands of tiny little guests. Interestingly, Googling for “A happy ant is a happy life,” returned zero results. We called in the Bug Guy.
The Bug Guy sprayed and dabbed, dabbed and sprayed all over the house. He shot poison into every drain and showered the baseboards with toxic solution. Everything was going fine until he showed me the pamphlet depicting all the insects his noxious mixture killed—not a single ant pictured. “Kills ants?” I asked quizzically.
Indian head bobble, he replied.
The next morning the floor near the sink resembled the D-Day beaches. Thousands of ants dotted the cement-colored tile, dead. These expansive ant graveyards extended for several feet in either direction.
Amid the lifeless ant bodies walked a few live ants, yet to succumb to the Bug Guy’s concoction. Ant’s are known to retrieve their dead, which might explain the massive numbers of casualties. As the first fell, their buddies attempted rescue after rescue until soon there were corpses piled atop each other. It was utter carnage.
Although the death toll rose over the next few days—each morning a new colossal graveyard appeared where the last was swept away—ants still crawled across the counter and into the sink. The invasion continued unabated.
The new score was Rob: 27,268, Ants: 0. The ants won round two.
Karma Be Damned
Up until this point I was confident my karma remained in tact. My initial efforts to convince the ants to leave culminated in only one death, said death being the result of old age. I’d convinced myself, perhaps falsely, that the bug guy’s butchery was his own, and therefore neither attributable nor deductible from my accumulated karma. However, any further steps were sure to take a toll on my karma surplus, if not the ant population.
I’d reserved partaking in rampant destruction, but my wife and correspondingly my life were not happy. A friend brought ant traps from the US a few weeks ago guaranteed to kill entire nests. The package described how the hungry ants would enter the trap, collect food, return to the nest, and deposit it in the ant smorgasbord, where all the ants could partake, eventually wiping out the tribe. It was pure Dr. Evil stuff. I set them in place.
The next morning I returned to survey the slaughter. The ant graveyard was back, although with fewer residents this morning than previously. But the traps looked like they hadn’t been touched. How was that possible? I promptly cut the tops from the traps and set them back in place. Sure enough, the ants walked around, over, and through them, but couldn’t care less about the bait. I concluded Indian ants do not like American food.
As it was late afternoon I did what any good project manager does when faced with utter failure—I opened a beer and procrastinated, hoping another idea would germinate.
Two beers and as many hours later it occurred to me that perhaps there was a way to make the bait attractive to our tiny Indian ant house guests. I could mix the US poison with some Indian spices—well, not exactly Indian spices, but something from India. Scooping the bait from the trap onto a piece of tinfoil, I mixed in several drops of honey purchased in India and returned the solution to the original trap. Then, a honey-soaked Q-Tip in hand, I smeared a path from the nearest ant egress point on the counter to the trap and rung the figurative ant dinner bell.
As it was officially cocktail hour, I left the ants to their own devices.
When I returned I noticed the ants vigorously attacking the honey trail and feeding on their single-course, Chef Rob dinner. The feeding frenzy lasted an hour before the ant wave receded. Some of the material in the trap was definitely missing, and there were new dead ants on the counter. I’d done what I could today—evaluation and introspection would have to wait until tomorrow.
Assessing The Damage
I woke anxious to see the results of the previous day’s efforts. There were more dead soldiers on the battlefield and more live ones on the counter, but their numbers seemed diminished. Torn between disappointment and hopefulness, I struggled with next steps.
Two days pass, then three. The ants remained but did not return to the honey-poison meal. Fewer little house guests were visible in and around the sink. It is very likely some of the ants woke with a major, post Chef Rob meal hangover, stomach cramps, nausea, and diarrhea—something similar to how I felt during my last visit to Delhi. However, the continued presence of dead bodies, though comparatively less, was a sign they remain residents.
If they took the bait once, it might simply be a matter of changing recipes—nobody likes eating the same thing at every meal. Boric Acid was on order and due to be delivered in a couple weeks. Perhaps they like peanut butter? Or agave syrup? More experimentation was necessary before throwing in the towel.
For now the ants remain, although their numbers appear drastically reduced. If my calculations are correct, the current score is Rob: 198,264, Ants: 0—in other words, the ants are winning. But the war is only beginning.
Effect on Karma
I have no idea what this did to my karma reserve. On the one hand, most of the dead are probably attributable to the Bug Guy—his karma is all but depleted. On the other hand, ants are small. If life is valued by the weight of the being—which is about all I can hope for at this point—perhaps the total impact to my karma is negligible.
Of course, that probably isn’t the case and the thousands of ant lives I consumed and will destroy when the boric acid arrives will likely leave me with a considerable karma deficit. It will take years to restock the karma reserves. The worst part is I probably I have to be nice to people again.
I suppose I should be grateful they didn’t topple a giant statue atop my dead body.
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Unless otherwise noted, I drew or took the photographs in the article—as lame as they may look. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is probably planned. Copyright can be found here for my original work.