It’s a line they probably still use in hackneyed Z-list productions to this day: the hero does something marginally heroic, which pisses the villain off so he twirls his mustache and meaningfully enunciates, “Lagta hai cheenti ke par nikal aaye.” For the Hindi-challenged amongst you, that means “It looks like the ant has sprouted wings.”
Coz black ants sprout wings right before they die, see? Glad to have cleared that up for you. (Except for the part where it’s completely untrue but more on that in a bit.)
I don’t know how many times I must have heard that line and just let it slide over me, understanding it to be code for “bitch is gonna die” (ha! never happen, evil-doer! NEVER!) but just the other day a couple of ant things came trooping into my home and made me see it in a completely different light. Coz an ant with wings is horrible.
Have you ever really paid attention to those things? I’ve never seen an insect look more pathetic. A couple of minutes of watching them walk around like those emaciated old men you see working as rickshaw-wallahs or construction workers in the summer and even my cold heart began to feel sympathetic – and I hate every insect ever born with a passion. Including ladybirds! Which are cute! And butterflies! Which are beautiful!
An ant, on the other hand, is not a beautiful thing at any point of its life. It’s fucking disgusting. I’m sure they’re fascinating from a biological viewpoint but that’s not what I’m talking about! It’s a creepy crawly that bites. Yech. Trifecta of horror right there. Add wings and it’s pretty much my every nightmare come to life.
But as it turns out, Bollywood screenwriters to the contrary, wings signal a very happy period for the ant – coz a worker ant with wings is an ant who might be getting it on with the queen ant (same principle as the queen bee). It’s one of those one-night-only kinda deal. I don’t think the queen is cannibalistic – can’t find anything to suggest it anyway – so perhaps the Metaphor Gurus got the whole cheenti-ke-par idea from the general demeanor of the ants. Which, as I’ve mentioned before, is miserable.
Maybe they’re just not used to having sex and it confuses them that the largest and bossiest ant in the colony is suddenly all up in their business or maybe the sprouting of the wings is not a pleasant process. Maybe male ants have a fear of intimacy. Whatever it is, I wouldn’t want to be one of them.
They were walking around in forlorn pairs, stumbling a bit like they’d been on an all night bender, hunched over in misery, attempting short flights somewhat unenthusiastically before giving it up, just silently studying the ground and apparently lost in deep thought. Occasionally they’d lose their balance or bump into something, try to react the way they probably would have with their normal bodies, lose their balance and end belly-up on the floor. Meanwhile the partner ant wouldn’t even look over, too lost in its funk to even care.
After a while I noticed that these beings were now attempting to colonize my bed. Now, the floor is one thing but my bed is strictly off-limits. Another person would have probably guided them gently off their chosen path or something, but this is me you’re talking about. Confronted by the prospect of spending a night in a room with insects evidently determined to hold a pajama party with me, I did what came most naturally – hysterically swatted them off with a rolled up magazine.
Which is when I realized the most horrible thing about these ant-sex-monsters. They don’t die like a normal ant on an average day. Apparently, during their flying ant phase, they’re really tough to kill. I guess Nature really wants them to get it on.
There then followed a sickening yet fascinating hour of me lying in bed, studying the death throes of an ant. (The second ant gave up the ghost rather more easily – or perhaps my aim was just better with it – and some other, smaller, ants came out of absolutely nowhere and nibbled it into nothing. Time to call pest control methinks!)
Unlike cockroaches, I found that the flying ant likes to wriggle around to the last. It was on its back with its wings clearly crushed, and its bottom half was paralyzed (well, it wasn’t moving at all – I’d call that paralysis). But the middle section and the head didn’t stop trying to correct its position.
I was then seized with a dilemma. Having placed it in its current unenviable state in which it looked certain to fulfill the predictions of lazy Bollywood writers, should I now just put it out of its misery? And if I did, would its bits and parts stick to my magazine? Hmm, maybe I could get up, walk the three feet required to pick up an old magazine and swat him with that instead?
Even as I hemmed and hawed, the ant righted itself and staggered off, dragging its bottom half with it. It didn’t give its fallen comrade a second glance from what I could tell. There was no, “There but for the grace of God, go I” business here. If ants have religion, it appeared this ant had better things to ruminate in the name of God than intra-species cannibalism.
I couldn’t understand it, frankly. Not the callousness of the ant, but that absorbed look on its face. Its probably silly to think that I could recognize the expression on the face of an ant, much less read its body language – but you weren’t there. You didn’t see what I saw. It’s like sighting an U.F.O. You either see it or you don’t.
And what I saw was an ant who was not happy. So not-happy was he that he didn’t care that he’d been swatted and kicked off an extremely comfy bed; he didn’t care that he got to shag the queen (maybe. I only really knew him towards the end of his life. Besides what am I? Us Weekly, Ant Edition?); he didn’t care that his fellow journeyman was being devoured right next to him; he didn’t even care that half his body no longer worked. All he could concentrate on were the wings he was carrying around.
You see people talking all the time about the superpowers they’d like to have – the ability to turn invisible, have immense strength, control objects with their mind… fly. But it’s always seen as something extra that falls into your kitty. Nobody wishes for a gift and then wonders about its price tag.
But what if you could fly except it wouldn’t be the way Superman did it, just blasting off into the blue sky whenever he felt like it? What if you spent your whole life on your two feet and then one day, for reasons you couldn’t really comprehend, your back split open and wings came out? And it messed up your sense of balance, brought with it a ton of attention to which you’re unaccustomed and you didn’t really know what to do with it or how it worked or how much you trusted it or whether it was permanent?
I think I would look like that ant. Metaphorically speaking.