There is a routine in every city, town and village of India. It is a special routine and one which has evolved over the course of time, though the essential objective remains the same.
It begins as the sun sets and the shadows grow longer. When TVs are switched on for the commencement of prime time serials. It is imperative that each and every window is shut before that lone street lamp lights up signaling the arrival of the evening.
This is merely a preliminary procedure in the age-old tradition of keeping out one of the Indians’ oldest enemy - the dreaded Mosquito.
Mosquitoes have thrived under the loving and nurturing care of Indian gutters and rubbish heaps. And the rapidly darkening sky signals their time to step out and embark on a ‘bloody’ drinking binge which lasts till the wee hours of the morning.
Keep in mind that closing windows is but a small step in the comprehensive high-security anti-Mosquito routine. Next is the lighting of the mosquito coils in the house. Very similar to the Diwali tradition of lighting diyas all around the house to ward off evil.
But mosquito coils can be a messy business, so last week’s Indian Express sports page makes itself useful at this point. They are usually slipped under the coil to collect any burnt ashes. Some of the older folks might also engage in walking around the house with a frankincense incense burner leaving a nice aromatic smell which supposedly keeps the mosquitoes at bay.
In recent years, the new Electric Mosquito racquet has become quite the rage in India. It's your fun, calorie-burning way to fight against 'em macchars. It provides the whole family from Mummy-ji to Chintu beta with sufficient exercise. All you need to do is wield the bat in the air like a tennis pro or a Viking hero (depending on your choice of adventure).
The most rewarding part is that satisfying crackling sound when the mesh comes in contact with a mosquito and sends it cheerfully to its spark-filled death. This continues till bedtime when GoodKnight liquid vaporisers are switched on for the night while the family huddles inside their beds carefully tucking in their mosquito nets over their bed corners.
You might think that with such a complete routine in place, there's no way an errant mosquito could pry its way in. You would be sadly mistaken. Because each generation of mosquito continues to evolve and grow an extra shield of protection against all mosquito weaponry known to man.
Mosquitoes can be sadistic too. They bite when you when you have just cut (or bit) your fingernails to their shortest, depriving you of the satisfaction of being able to scratch yourself into a red, blotchy frenzy. Sometimes they bite when you are in a sort of ‘arm-less’ situation – rolling out chapathis , or cleaning fish, or some other hand-consuming task where you can only grit your teeth and resort to facial contortions as the itching starts to set in.
I should give a special mention to mosquito repellant creams, although we Indians would never actually use those, would we? Those are reserved for the unsuspecting white tourists who have (gasp!) never ever been bitten by a mosquito in their entire lives and actually believe (yes they actually do), that a layer of cream will keep the ubiquitous Indian mosquito at bay.
Despite all our efforts, there are those unfortunate days when the Routine cannot be followed. The windows are left open too long. Or there is a power outage making the vaporisers and racquets redundant. Or a tiny mosquito gets trapped under the net and keeps you awake all night itching and cursing.
On such days we Indians resort to the most ancient, albeit tried and tested, technique of repelling mosquitoes - communal clapping.
Clap in the air, flap your hands, and slap your neighbour’s face - communal clapping is a time intensive activity in its own right. But experienced ‘clappers’ can be more effective than any product.
So just remember, getting down to basics might be the best way after all. Happy Swatting!