The Ants and the Snake

Once, there lived scores of  ants in an ant hill. They had built the hill over years of labor from the mud on a slope away from the paths men frequented. It was a desolate place with a lot of shrubs and grass. Not many creatures frequented this way except for one who had lost the way and therefore their location was not known to many.

Their fort was well protected by the myriads of soldiers in the nearby vicinity who were ready to pounce on any intruder or predator including some men who wanted to bring it down whenever they chanced this way. Soldier ants and the regional chiefs co-ordinated every hour and discussed the weather and the wind which were also a risk to their stronghold. From the ground, for tiny them, the hill looked as tall as a mountain which might take an hour to climb, even for the swiftest among them.

The Queen had to be protected at all costs. If there was an invasion and the commander in chief thought they and the fort would not be able to survive the onslaught, there was a small army kept within the palace to transport the queen to a safer destination in minutes. For that a couple of forts at a distance were already prepared and maintained daily. The food and water rations were stored at appropriate locations at various places in and around the hill for the army of ants. Special squads were sent far to detect any smoke or bush fire that might pose a risk to their lodgings.

On one side of the mound, a couple of rats burrowed their holes and decided to stay put there. Since they didn’t mean harm to the inhabitants of the fort, they were not attacked. In a few weeks time, a snake that meandered that way, chanced upon the rats stay. It decided to make an attack on the fortress. It circled the hill, crushing many soldier ants who tried to bite the intruder as he wriggled upon their ramparts and made a run to the many holes dug by the rats. The rats ran into the bushes and disappeared.

The snake thought of pitching his tent in the hill though every day he met some resistance from the soldier ants who were dead against this slimy creature putting the fort at siege. Daily hundreds of ants died or got injured from the snake’s movement who used to go in and out as if he owned the place.

A group of children from nearby homes who had thought of making this place a playground for their vacations, cleared some of the bushes and the grass. At first they met high resistance from the ants but who then retreated to the fort lest they meet with lethal consequences from them or their parents. Every day they started playing games metres away from the ant hill which was well hidden among the bushes.

The snake also was aware of the children playing at a distance but ignored them as they didn’t seem to threaten him. Oblivious to him, he continued dealing deaths and injuries to the ants on his meanderings. The ants sometimes irritated him but for the cool comfort of this mud hill, he could tolerate them till the rains arrived.

This could not go on for long this way. The snake has to be driven out and the children too since they might wreak the hill if they ventured into the bushes, thought the commander in chief. He sought a meeting with the queen and the elders group. I don’t know why the queen persists with this group of elders. They just pamper her, eat and drink and while away their time. And the queen calls them worldly wise. I, in my lifetime haven’t heard any wise words from them except citing issues with the way I operate!

The meetings with the queen and her group of the advisory board was either short or a long drawn out affair. There were times when he was dismissed in minutes and days when he used to sit hours and get audited on his actions. But this time it would be different. He would strike terron in their hearts and ask for more batallion and thereby increase his stature while trying his best against the snake and the children.

The court was already assembled as he stormed in with his bodyguards and took his seat. After the initial customary greetings they came to discuss the safety of the fort. The queen cast a glance on him which was a signal for him to voice his concern. He gave a lengthy speech often trying to embed fear in the group if immediate steps weren’t taken to get rid of the imposter snake and the children.

We will make an attack on the snake with 5000 soldiers and another 10000 would be needed to drive away the children. He made his point and sat down. That is the size of our full army including those who guard our backup forts. One of the elders remarked and continued. We cannot put at risk losing 15000 of our men sending them on a mission where there is a feeble hope of winning. But we can’t stand idle when daily we lose hundreds of our soldiers. This way we would lose either way before the rains, said the commander trying his best.

The queen asked of the eldest ant in the group. Is there no other way, Sir? The eldest closed his eyes as that was his habit while trying to arrive at the solution. After a couple of minutes he opened his eyes and said that there was one. Tomorrow morning nobody will bother the snake.  Let a hundred soldiers march back and forth every day morning until further orders to the eastern fort which is the nearest to the children’s play area. Let the queen be shifted tonight to the western fort deepest in the bushes. Let us abandon this fort tonight and let the remaining thousands assemble at the west until further orders with the queen.

What do you have in mind, asked the Queen. Your majesty, the queen, you must have faith in me but the strategy will be disclosed later. Please arrange to issue necessary orders since we have to act on this immediately.  The Queen made the orders and put the commander and his deputies into the act. They murmured a bit as to what good would come of this but they obeyed the orders to the word for that was how they were brought up.

The next day morning, the snake woke up to see there were no ants to disturb him. He peeped out of the hole. Yes there they are, he was amused but at the same time curious. They are all marching to the smaller ant hill. Why would that be? Maybe the rats are there after running from here. No, they would never come within 100 metres of me. He surveyed the other parts of the fort. Yes the ants have made a transition to their new place. But why?

The question came to him again and again without an answer. Then a fear crept into his mind. The weary ants, did they sense any danger here for them to abandon this well built fortress. The children had come today but only two of them were there. He could dodge their eyes and quietly scramble into the smaller ant hill and see what the ants were upto. He wriggled quickly towards the play area and that is when the children saw him go into the nearby ant hill. When they realised the danger they fled towards their houses raising an alarm. The chain of ants were asked to stop the marching and asked to immediately get back to the western fort as soon as they saw the snake at the eastern fort.

All the ants were at the western fort and asked to bide their time till further orders from the commander. All were looking at the play area and getting bits of information from the few sentries posted  at the gates. There was a lot of commotion when a group of people came running with sticks and a bag. They destroyed the Eastern fort in a minute to unearth the snake who made a run to the central fort but was beaten, caught and secured in a bag. Some of the men came into the bushes and found the towering but now deserted ant hill and destroyed it also and went back. On the way back they were heard rebuking the children for selecting this area for their play.

The same day evening the queen had assembled a quick meeting to discuss future plans and congratulate everyone on the turn of events in their favor. The elderly advice had saved them from daily casualties and impending doom. They put up plans to build a big fort after the rains. Till then the queen and her army would continue their stay at the western fort as per the meeting minutes. If only they had asked for elderly advice earlier, many more lives would have been saved, some soldiers were heard saying to each other. The commander wiser from this experience now understood that Every problem with our enemies may not have a military solution always…

Marching Soldiers

Today when I had started writing a children’s story on ants, I was reminded of this poem that I wrote in 2016. Dear readers, it is always good to have a dose of rhyming poetry before the prose😊

Every day we go in search of dear food
chains of us in queue till we get shooed
crane at our folks going the other way
we always are a army having our say.

Descending in numbers at any place
no stampede as we increase our pace
no one knowing from where we came
wonder it seems we all look the same.

We change our course to get to our food
though near it seems, it has to be good
none bothers as we take it to our stay
we act sober and collective on our way.

Wary of wind or a stream of cold water
pranks of a kid as we try climb a platter
flanks of us leaving behind our dead
there are things in life we seldom dread.

Every time you see us marching along
like a silent long forgotten folk song
Well knit as one doing our own tasks
all the while storing food for wasps.

As you stumble upon our brittle house
refrain please to drench us and douse
slain and lifeless we lie by your clout
We had homes till you wiped us out.

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Think and Grow Rich

While I was a student, once walking across D. N Road in Mumbai Fort area in the late 80’s, I stopped at the street hawkers with their library of second hand books strewn across the foot path. I picked up this book ( Think and Grow Rich) by Napolean Hill, read a few paragraphs and asked for the price. The stall keeper said it would be 20 rupees. I thought it was a bit on the higher side and kept it back, to which he asked me a point blank question. Do you wanna become rich? I replied in the negative and left. If I had said Yes, he would have asked can’t you spend 20 rupees to become rich? Those, dear readers were my thoughts when I walked away…

Wishing you a bright Diwali and a healthy and prosperous New Year.

Common Picture Wing

This is a dragonfly that is usually found near marshes, ponds, lakes or paddy fields in South Asia. It is also one dragonfly that I have heard several people mistaking for butterflies. I guess it is owing to their slow or weak flight, unlike the “usual” pattern of other dragonflies. The scientific name for the […]

Common Picture Wing

Diaries of a Hechicera: Life is about dancing with the Flow

*Boatman* Peter was a novice fisherman, who struggled with the paddles, the moment the waters got rough. He felt he would drown any minute and this would make him panic. He lost a lot of business because of this. Hence he decided to approach Confucius, who was a master boatman, who was known for his […]

Diaries of a Hechicera: Life is about dancing with the Flow

A Morning Ritual

There is a small garden where there are a few saplings to be planted. A fertilizer bag remains untouched for more than a month now after its arrival. There is a spade glistening in the early morning sun. You are at your lethargic best, though not to be blamed as the situation is like that. Nobody wants to venture out as everything has become virtual. In fact everyone wants you to be at home. All establishments unlike of old times, do not want you at their door step. So travel has cut down and that can be seen while you measure yourselves at the navel.

Now, let us do this. Imagine the following. Take the spade, dig the ground at multiple places to plant the saplings, put some fertilizer from the bag, put back the mud around the plants. Amble across to the tap, switch it on, take the water pipe and water the plants that are newly planted and the others. Give an occasional spray at the chirping sparrows and other birds who hover around the pools to take a quick drink or a bath as is their custom. Now that you have read this, close your eyes and do the above activity imagining each and every detail.

If you enjoyed doing this virtual activity, either repeat it daily morning, or take it offline by running to the nearby nursery to get a few saplings and plant them in real at your place, and repeat the watering and fertilizer activities daily.

The Caretaker

Vinu came up to the cinema booking counter. Gasping for breath, he requested ” 2 tickets please“. It was the fifth day the new movie was playing at the theatre. Reji at the cash counter asked him “All alone today?” to which he replied ” she is not keeping well“. Reji gave the change back but before he could ask why two tickets, Vinu had vanished into the crowd.

A few days back while coming from the weekly market hosted by the neighboring town, Vinu was getting worried as he still had 2 long miles to cover before he could reach the fields where his village was. It was getting slightly dark although the rising moon seemingly bigger than usual, heralding a full moon night comforted him. The next 15 to 20 minutes would be treacherous, he thought. He was also thirsty and cursed himself for not carrying a bottle of water on him. He had heard a few stories from the villagers about these woods and they came to him now, he hurried almost breaking into a run. This was the place where robbers used to trouble weary travelers and the poor villagers who went this way to the weekly market. In the morning, he had gone with Hari and Shyam, but they had returned back early, he had said he would be right behind them, but had lost a lot of time in the market loitering around all the stalls making those several item purchases which was asked of him.

What is the hurry comrade, are you afraid of the darkness or is it that you are carrying something valuable that you don’t want to share with us?” came a whispering voice at close quarters. Very soon a hand on his shoulder and a knife placed on the other prompted him to turn slowly. There were two of them with handkerchiefs tied around their mouth. “You are a good lad. Let us relieve you of the burden that you have carried so far safely to us. Now will you run across the fields to your home where your people would be worrying about you. Tell them your goods were stolen here and they will believe you, since this is not the first time it has happened“.

Vinu, of 15 years although a brave lad, started crying. How could he face those who had given money to his volunteering for small purchases on the eve of the festival. Dinakar his wealthy neighbor had gifted him 50 extra rupees for bringing his ordered goods. How he and Vimla, his childhood friend had planned to see the new movie that would be shown in the theatre with this prize money. Now as he walked alone crying thinking about his impending loss of face on his arrival back home, he hated going home and decided to stay put in the woods. The fear of the woods and the thieves had vanished. How one fear, the fear of facing them all had become the primary one and banished all others out of his mind.

What if he loitered around and found the robbers den and recover his goods if they had let their guard down. It was not only easy but risky too if they saw him or sensed his motive. A second meeting would turn out to be a sour one and mighty unpleasant. “What can I do alone against the might of two grown up thieves. Who knows if there are more of them in the den. Oh if there was some goodness in the forest let it come now to help me out“, he cried out to no one in particular but hoping that someone in the dark woods might take pity on him.

What are you doing here at this time of the hour. Don’t you know that I frequent this path on the new moon day and why are you crying“. The harsh tone suddenly changed soft. Vinu looked up to see a goddess form standing in front of him. “Who are you?”, in all innocence, he asked. “No I am not that
which you are thinking. I can assume any form I wish and to you I would look like how you see me now. I am the caretaker of the woods here. I see that no harm comes to it and no one disturbs the sanctity of these good old trees. Now can you tell me your story that made you cry
?”

Vinu recounted all that he had experienced in the last hour and how his hopes of seeing the movie with his earned money seemed to have dashed to the ground. “Don’t worry about the movie now whatever it is. Let me handle your case. How do you want your goods back. Do you want to smoke them out or drown them all“. “No, no.. Nothing of that, just let us go and get my goods and if they see us, can you frighten them out of your magic prowess which I assume you must have“, he paused looking at her.

The smiling spirit said, “So be it. Let your imagination run wild but keep holding my hand firmly so that no harm comes to you. At the forest shrine at the outskirts, a lot of your villagers had come to me with complaints for the past few months. Some of them have given me small presents and promised
more if I can get rid of these gang of thieves”
.

They walked hand in hand and at every step Vinu kept looking at the face of the forest caretaker who had appeared to him as a goddess and also to assure himself that every moment of it was real. When the caretaker of the place walks with you why should one fear. The spirit said to him. “I will give all
what you lost, what will you give me in return”. “I will, I will…” nothing came to his head all the more because he wanted to gift something valuable in return. Lost for words, he put a question back. “Ask
me. What do you want me to give and if I am blessed , I surely will?
“. “You truly are blessed little one, or else why would the wonder of time make us cross each other’s paths today. I will ask my gift when I have helped you with the return of your goods. Come on now, and as we walk, tell me all about the village, the villagers, the theatre and the movie that you intend to see”. Vinu though tired went on rattling everything he knew like a tourist guide that made even the spirit sigh and whisper, “How I wish to be a part of your sweet little village“.

They had come to a clearing in the forest where a few trees had met the axe and logs were arranged in a circle with a small fire lit at the center. The gang of four now were resting and one or two wandering off to sleep. “There it is! my sack of good things. Let me go and get it”. But the spirit
holding on to him said they will walk together into the ring. As they walked into the ring, there was everything that would warrant a fight. One of them noticed the lone Vinu and started laughing at which the other got up and started towards the boy with a stick. “Unless he gets a sound beating,
he will not remember to go home
“. Vinu at the sight of the stick thought of running away but the forest spirit invisible to others held on to his hand and whispered to him that he would not be harmed. 

All of a sudden, a pack of wild dogs descended on to the place and started fighting with each other barking ferociously at the party of thieves who didn’t know how to contain the animals who had come uninvited. They beat a hasty retreat with the pack close on their heels. “I don’t think they
would come back here for a few days or so, and then I would deal them in my own way”.
Vinu, all smiles, tired and famished thanked her when she picked a bunch of fruits from a tree which he ate in no time sitting on the ground. “Now pick up your sack and let me come with you till the outskirts in case you fall into another situation. Why don’t you come with me to the village, stay with us and enjoy the festivities? I will also take you to the Cinema and we can watch the new movie”. She smiled, “Good lad, I have a lot of work here, but yes, whenever you go to your theatre for the movie, have a seat beside you for me, so that we can watch it together. And make me a promise, you wouldn’t tell anyone what happened here and about me helping you”. Both of them hand in hand walked across the tall mighty trees spread out like a procession and the moon light so very bright peeped into the dense foliage lighting up their path to the fields. All the way back, Vinu was telling the spirit how glad he was to get out of the forest that night without any injuries, thanked her at the perimeter of the fields where she stood still, till his diminutive figure vanished into one of the houses.

When Vinu arrived that night, half of the village was awake looking out for his arrival and how glad they were to see him walking back across the fields, especially Hari and Shyam who had arrived earlier without him and subjected to a lot of scolding from the elders for not taking care of the boy on the way back. Heaping blessings on the boy and a lot of thanksgiving to the forest deity, they all retired to their houses. The next day, a lot of people came back for their goods and were glad to see him having picked the finest at best rates. But towards the evening, he developed high fever and was in bed for a few days, though now and then few came to enquire about his wellbeing especially Vimla.

After 4 days into the festival, the fifth day he went to Vimla’s house wanting to ask her out to see the new movie which had run for four days and might disappear on the seventh day. But it seemed he had passed on his fever to her and she was not all in a position to accompany him that day or the next. A sad Vinu, ambled across to the theatre all alone. At that point he remembered what the forest goddess had told him, she will come and sit beside him if he had a vacant seat reserved for her. With a rush of happiness coming back, he ran to the cinema and bought tickets for both of them.

The cinema hall was always packed during the Navratri festival, as most of the villagers was seeing it many times over; he hurried across the hall searching for the seats, as his eyes was getting adjusted to the darkness. He seated himself and waited for her. Within a few minutes, he sensed her hand in his, her typical fragrance but couldn’t see her because of the darkness. “So you came, just as you promised!“. “Yes, I never break my promise“, she replied in a sad way. The movie started immediately and Vinu was all eyes and ears into the movie and enjoyed it thoroughly. As the movie ended, he looked at the forest spirit, she was almost invisible, though he knew she was there. “Why cannot I see you now?” “You will, whenever our paths cross next time, but for now, you will have to content with my presence“. They walked out hand in hand just as they had walked through the woods. Vinu was silent, he had broken his part of the promise as he had confided to Vimla about the encounter in the woods. She bade him a whisper of a goodbye with Vinu hoping that they would meet in the near future, the dense woods willing…