Ants and Animals: Bio Diversity in Indian Homes
Ants are a part of life in India. At home, I call them Keedee, which I guess is a Gujarati word for ant. I didn't know It was a Gujarati word, untill a few days ago, when I found some ants wondering about carelessly at my work desk. I shouted loud in genuine surprise and pretentious emergency:
Me: "There are keedee's here! There are keedee's here!
Four co-workers looked towards me. Their faces blank. They didn't understand the emergency, so I repeated.
“Keedee? There are Keedee's here”
"Huh", replied someone in a hurry. I realised then, that Keedee not a local word. It turns out i've never had to refer to ants by their name, outside of the four walls of the house I grew up in.
"Mungi! There are Mungi's here", I said, using another word that I think was local.
"Oh aaaant", said one of the curious onlookers, in relief of finally understanding what I was panicked about. Seeing no need for an emergency conference for eliminating the small ant army, they went back to their work.
Growing up, there were many ants in my home veranda. There were 3 types.
Small red ants-- we call them "laal keedee". These hurt! They bite fast, and the bite is so painful that you would immediately jump up and dance them off.
Small black ants-- these are harmless. Kinda delicate. You can bully them. Stare at them marching in their neat line. Then find a break in the line, and scrape a finger on the ground (that disturbs their trail). Then watch the line get lost and scattered .
Big black ants-- we call them 'mankodo'. They have big black jaws which could hurt you real bad. There’s an often quoted story, of how my sister was bitten by one in her childhood-- how she cried and clutched the mankodo in her fist.
So these three ants were a-plenty in my home a decade ago. Now? They're hard to find. The red ants are kind of gone... not sure if I am happy or morally sad. The black ants have evolved-- they have become smaller. (In Bangalore, there were super small, like 1 mm, and had make my kitchen their war zone. I was super freaked at first, but later, I got used to them. You could event dust them off your food and still eat the food, they were that tiny.) I don’t see the big black ants anymore. They were in abundance, now their homes hard to find. This all makes me sad— did we do anything?
It's not just the ants. There are other changes— Fireflies in the backyard went away 25 yrs ago. In the decade, Earthworms-- Before, 5 inches was enough. Now, can't dig enough to find them. Sweet Sparrows are down to zero in the decade. The butterfly variety has decreased. Snakes stopped as well. Two langoors (big, handsome monkeys) would come home, every April/May to munch mangos directly from the mango tree, and look at us through their keen eyes, balancing their big grand tails. 2 years ago, was the last we saw them.
Frogs are on a BIG TIME decline. In monsoons, there would be frogs of all sizes. The fat ass frogs would croak in the veranda. The smaller ones would hop pointlessly into the home— one frog always ended up hopping all the way, into the inner bathroom. How do they know the way around the house?? Anyway.. In the monsoons, there's always a baby frog in the bathroom, and I always, scream and run, when It makes Its presence known, by jumping around goal-lessly.
There is an abundance of high survival animals though. Many crows, cats, and stray dogs. The crows had a congregation last month, and KAWW'd for a couple of hours, when a cat be-headed a crow and evil'ly left the body on the road. The dogs just hang around on the road--- they are nice and non-interfering.
But the most resilient animals is the ugly domestic lizard. She is everywhere-- on every wall or ceiling, behind every clock, painting, or board. Especially in summer. I would pay for an app that tells me if there's a lizard behind a curtain or cardboard. I would pay more, if the app shoo'd it away. Lizards are a part of many houses. Small homes might have one resident lizard (you can name it ‘chipku’) but bigger homes might have so many, that you can’t name your lizards. What a problem to have.
I peacefully coexist with all of these. A street fighter looking cat, usually wanders into the veranda-- you can hear my mom's voice shouting "SHOOO! SHOOO!" from the kitchen. And I sympathise with the cat saying “mom, let it be na”.