Actually, we ought to call them Guindy ants because that's where they really came from. Rom remembered that in the mid 1980s, he had moved an old, decrepit refrigerator from the Snake Park to Croc Bank, and when it was unloaded, a whole lot of ants spilt out. Nobody thought twice about it then. Almost a decade later, they suddenly reared their ugly red heads by the tens of thousands.

At night, they marched in military order; if they were not out scouting for sugar, nectar, anything sweet, they were looking for a place to nest. If they moved into the closet while we were away, the clothes developed damp yellowish indelible spots. During the evenings, there were so many on the floor that everyone sat cross-legged on chairs and tables.

One morning, I even found them inside the computer's CPU. Hurriedly, I undid the screws of the cover, ran outside the office, and maniacally shook it free of ants, larva and eggs. Rom was worried that all that shaking would loosen an ICU or two, but I was too hysterical to take any notice of his concerns. There was only one good thing about these ants from hell: they didn't bite.

Sleep was possible only under mosquito nets. In the middle of the night, you could see lines of ants walking along the net stays and the sides. We teased our guests: “Hope we don't see you being carried away by ants!” while they smiled nervously in response. After a while the jokes got stale, and we could take it no longer: WAR!

Crews were sent out into the grounds to hunt and destroy. The no-chemical policy was temporarily rescinded, and noxious insecticides purchased. Starting from one end, the ant exterminators worked their way up the Croc Bank campus. The nests, located at the base of trees, had to be dug up and then the whole lot sprayed with poison. Even as this enterprise was partly underway, fresh ant nests were discovered in the newly-cleared area. It was a decidedly losing battle: we were outnumbered and out-manoeuvred.

We figured that keeping houses and offices clean of ants was more practical than ridding the entire property of them. We threw sheaves of tobacco leaves with abandon into the book shelves of the library, clothes closets, and kitchen cupboards. Our clothes may have smelt a bit strange, but nobody commented. Plants touching the buildings were pruned, overhead cables buried and the security staff on night duty primed to keep an eye out for ant invaders.

We set out little dishes of sweetened boric acid liquid every night. At several kg of sugar a week, it wasn't cheap. When one nest died, another moved in. For months it seemed like we were hardly making any headway. None of the experts we contacted could comprehend the scale of our problem, and dinner-time conversation sounded like a war-room meeting.

And then, suddenly, there was a remarkable change: the ants virtually disappeared. The answer to our prayers: toads! Little ones, medium ones, and huge fat mammas were everywhere. At every step, several toads jumped out of the way. One would position itself along a line of ants and methodically tongue them up one-by-one, like picking prey off a conveyor belt. During our after-dinner walks, we came upon big toads so stuffed that they couldn't hop anymore. With their stomachs grossly distended, all they could manage was a waddle-roll. Relief made us laugh with just an edge of hysteria at these toad antics.

Within the next couple of years, the ant problem ceased to exist, and there was peace. Then, we moved to our farm near Chengalpattu, and one night, a few years later, we stared in utter horror as hundreds of the distinctive Croc Bank ants marched into the house! We could almost hear the drumbeats of war in the distance.

(The author can be reached at janaki@gmail.com)

Keywords: Croc Bank ants