Wednesday, October 24, 2007


All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Sure, but why make the mosquito? I mean, what purpose could God have had in mind when she set them on earth? This is the biggest of many mysteries about this six-legged insect (I know because I have dissected mosquitoes – both dead and alive – in futile attempts to understand them better): why have them at all, when all they bring to this world is malaria, misery and more mosquitoes? It seems a better idea to exterminate them rather than try and answer this question, but given the difficulty in achieving this, we have to learn to live with the menace that is the mosquito by controlling it. This is no easy task. Let’s look at some of the things we’ve have grown up doing, in an attempt to keep the mysterious mosquitoes at bay.

1. Switch on the lights: This works reasonably well. Maybe, it’s because mosquitoes are nocturnal insects, tending to prey in darkness, like the Rakshashas whose powers multiply manifold at night. So simulate daytime, and drive them away with candle-power?! Hmm, maybe, but from what I have read, mosquitoes tend to go by the warmth of your body when they seek blood, rather than sight (which they lack). So I find it confusing that there is some correlation between the luminous intensity of my bulb and mosquitoes. Maybe the light matters more to us than the mosquitoes: we can see them better to manually squash them! Anyway, who cares as long as it gets you a good knight’s sleep, right? It’s another small matter, though, that some of us just can’t sleep with the lights on. It may be a good idea to count the mosquitoes hovering around the light, rather than sheep jumping over a stile, to fall into the dreamless…

2. Switch on the fan: This works quite well too. But again, what causes mosquitoes to stay away when motored blades circulate stale air around the room? Maybe, the air turbulence makes conditions unsuitable for a safe flight. Maybe they have problems taking-off, or maybe they can’t land with precision. Makes me wonder, did the Germans think of this as a solution when the de Havilland Mosquitoes or the “Mossies” were deployed by the RAF during WWII?!

3. Switch on the repellent: This works the best. During my time, I have seen repellents varying from the smelly-smoky coils, (remember the Kachva Jalao, Macchar Bhagao advertisement? – used to be my favourite, especially as part of the Sunday morning cartoon routine on Doordarshan), to the blue ‘mats’ (funny name that!) of Good Knight (to stiff competition from colourful Casper mats – endorsed by Hema Malini, I think) to the all powerful ‘liquidators’ which are in greater vogue these days. I remember the new waves of advertisements for mosquito repellents – the frog-like “All-out machine” (oft-aired during cricket matches), then the Mortein ones for dealing with mosquitoes with colourful personalities (put to great amusing use for teasing people nicknamed ‘solley’ – mosquito in Kannada – for their size, appearance and behaviour), and also this not-so-common one called Odomos, a liquid you can apply on the body to keep the bzzzz away (the advertisement showed a scantily clad wrestler – of the Indian variety, the pehlwan – ‘before’ and ‘after’ this unique therapy).

The serious problem with using these repellents is, of course, that poison for mosquitoes is poison for men too! I, for one, decided to do away with strong repellents and experiment with other remedies. Read on!

4. There is the traditional samrani which involves burning a naturally available substance in a bandli. A modern noxious variant of this method is to drop in one of the mosquito mats in the bandli. It has a telling effect, and it can be especially entertaining to take the smoke to a mosquito, and watch it drop into a free fall towards the centre of the earth, but it’s not the healthiest option.

5. A purely non-toxic method is the traditional mosquito-curtain or the “solley-purdah” that goes with four-poster beds. Grandmothers still tell us this is the safest way, and it probably is, as long as the curtain doesn’t have holes! The curtains are useful, not just in defence, but can be excellent combat weapons too, if used innovatively. I remember my cousin would wait for the mosquitoes to make their way into the enclosure (give them a small opening somewhere) in search of warm human blood, then proceed to wring the curtain to devastating effect. There would always be a few caught inside the ‘fishing’ net!

Well, these are my top-5 tried and tested – none too successfully – methods. The reason for my failure is that, somehow, mosquitoes have managed to maintain that mysterious aura, spawning so many popular theories and unanswered questions. For example, does closing my windows at sunset really keep mosquitoes out? Are they as prevalent on the thirteenth floor of a building as on the ground floor? How do you explain the fact that they get through thick woollen blankets and coarse jeans with the same ease as going through my skin? How come they manage to whisper nice things into my ears as I try to sleep, no matter how I brandish my bed-sheet and no matter which way I turn my face?

Have you heard that ‘morning mosquitoes’ are more dangerous? Or that there exist several different varieties of mosquitoes, with the ‘Talkad solley’ being the fattest and most blood-thirsty of the lot?! You might remember studying that only the female anopheles mosquito carries plasmodium vivax, but do you even know that only the females bite? Can you explain why they make that noise, why they leave behind a bulge when they bite your skin, what the secret of their flight is, how far up they can fly …?

I could go on about their inexplicable ways and unsolved mysteries, because what I seem to know about them is as much myth as reality. Hence, I seek that one pre-eminent scholar among mosquitoes who can give me deeper insight, provide a truer picture, and throw light on the imponderable workings of a mosquito’s psyche… Maybe, she could even come up with a safe way of eliminating them from the face of the earth, for surely, the world would be a better place without them. Until that search fructifies, I can only derive limited pleasure from the sight of my blood-splattered wall.