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Ants in My Pantry, Ahimsa in My Heart

By Rajesh C. Oza Email By Rajesh C. Oza
December 2014
Ants in My Pantry, Ahimsa in My Heart

with PostModern Gandhiji (PMG)

An advice column offering the Mahatma’s perspective on modern dilemmas


Dear PMG,

My Appa is the most peace-loving person I know. He is against violence of any kind.

He’s such a believer in the nonviolent life that when my brother and I were young, he refused to buy us toy guns, constraining our playacting of “Cops and Robbers.”

Once, when he caught us cruelly torturing insects with the burning heat of the sun focused through the lens of a magnifying glass, he actually made us sit in the baking sun for several hours until Amma reprimanded him and brought us inside for lemonade.

But the odd thing is that to this day, when Appa sees ants in the house, especially in the kitchen, he goes on the warpath. First he cleans out the entire pantry of any sweets. Then he lays out traps for the ants to take poison back to the queen ant. And then when the swarm comes toward the trap, he sprays it with insecticide, leaving an icky, lifeless trail of black bodies.

Wouldn’t Gandhi say that Appa is a bit of a hypocrite?

Dear Friend,

“The general rule was not to kill the snakes, though I confess none of us had shed the fear of these reptiles, nor have we even now. The rule of not killing venomous reptiles had been practised for the most part at Phoenix, Tolstoy Farm and Sabarmati. At each of these places we had to settle on waste lands. We have had, however, no loss of life occasioned by snakebite.” (M. K. Gandhi)

Although Gandhiji’s autobiography (My Experiments with Truth) has many prohibitions related to “-ANTS,” (mind-numbing intoxicANTS, mistreatment of servANTS, indenturing of peasANTS, coercion of tenANTS, non-vegetarian restaurANTS, obsequious sycophANTS, guilty defendANTS, coolie merchANTS, riotous assailANTS, faux mendicANTS, wavering aspirANTS, violent combatANTS, corrupt accountANTS, and, of course, British occupANTS of India), there is no quote in the book that directly states that Gandhiji was against ridding one’s home of a colony of ants.

That said, if Gandhiji had a rule of not killing even venomous reptiles at his ashrams, he certainly would not have looked kindly on going to war against harmless ants.

Before he had internalized ahimsa (nonviolence) as the most important prohibition, Gandhiji, like most people, was not averse to violent acts against subhuman creatures. As he writes in his autobiography, “I also felt that it was quite moral to kill serpents, bugs and the like. I remember to have killed at that age bugs and such other insects, regarding it as a duty.”

To be sure, humans have an aversion to creepy crawly insects and reptiles. And good hygiene suggests that keeping one’s house clean includes keeping it safe from hordes of ants. But perhaps your Appa might consider using cinnamon powder from the kitchen pantry. PETA suggests using this natural ant repellant to do little harm to little creatures and no harm to the environment.

[Dr. Rajesh C. Oza serves as a consultant to organizations and individuals requiring change leadership. We invite questions for consideration in the PMG column at raj.oza@sbcglobal.net.]

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