Born To Torment; Conditioned To Survive

Over the millennia, man has conquered everything in sight (and many things not in sight!). Having stamped his authority on the world, he set its sights on the universe. The moon was the first stop; now it is the Mars. He has got the better of deadly diseases like plague and cholera, which wiped out millions of human lives in the medieval times. With rapid advances in genetic engineering, he is now threatening to create whole human beings – complete with all the desired attributes – defying The Creator in the process. He has tamed the ferocious tiger, the king of the forests, and the mighty elephant and made them dance to his tunes. But there is one small creature that he has failed to conquer or tame: the humble mosquito!!

All of us know that mosquitoes cause malaria. But not many of us know that malaria is the biggest killer in India – and more so in Odisha. Dengue and chikungunya, both of them caused by Aedes variety of mosquito, have of late emerged as major killers in India. From DDT in the olden days to medicated mosquito nets now, man has tried out everything he could to prevent malaria or – at the very least – check the fast and furious breeding of mosquitoes, but to no avail. Natural and man-made causes have led many species to extinction, but the humble mosquito not only survives, but continues to grow exponentially, cocking a snook at man.

Of course, man has invented a plethora of mosquito repellents, each of them claiming to be better than the others but none of them really saving him from the irritating and painful pinpricks of the mosquito that one dreads more than malaria. It all began with the “Rooster” (“Murga Chhap”) coils. Soon, there were numerous clones like All Out, Good Night, Mortein and so on. After it was discovered that the toxic fumes released by the burning coils were harmful for the human body and could even cause mishaps if used in closed rooms came the tiny cake, to be inserted in a metallic slot of a small plastic machine, that burnt slowly with electricity. And finally, it was the liquid repellent launched by more or less the same companies that earlier sold coils and cakes. All of them did repel mosquitoes for some time. But so great is the survival instinct of this stubborn creature and such is its power of adaptability that all of them failed to repel it after a while.

Years ago, I remember asking for a pack of Good Night coils to the neighborhood grocer. He handed me a pack of Mortein instead. When I insisted on Good Night, the shopkeeper asked; “How long you have been using Good Night?” “Six months,” I said. “Then, I am afraid it is time to change your brand, Sir. Never use a brand for more than two months because mosquitoes get used to them very quickly. Please try this out,” he said. The man could well be making a virtue out of a necessity by pushing the stuff he had. But for all one knows, there could be a grain of truth in what he said. Experience suggests mosquitoes do adapt to repellents lightning fast. After the cakes stopped working, a friend suggested that the room be closed and used cakes may be burnt to ensure that the mosquitoes fall off. Fall off they did, but only to get up after a while!!

Nets, said another friend, provide the best possible protection against mosquitoes. I tried that out too, only to find that all it takes for the enterprising mosquito to find its way in and start sucking your blood out (It’s perhaps the only living being that feeds solely on the blood of other living beings!) is the tiniest of holes in the net. They also have a remarkable ability to sneak in through any opening inadvertently created through movement of head, feet or hands while sleeping. And as everyone knows all too well, just one mosquito inside the net can ruin your sleep for the whole night!

Having tried out everything and failed to deter the determined mosquito, I have now settled for the Odomos cream. But here again, the mosquito has shown amazing powers of adaptability. When I started using the cream a couple of years ago, applying it all over the body once used to take care of a good night’s sleep. But now, its effect barely lasts a couple of hours!

What is most irritating thing about mosquitoes is their ability to strike when you are at your most vulnerable. They would crowd the toilets, especially if they are damp and dirty, and then bite you at your unmentionables knowing well that there is little you can do about it. Decades ago, I used to find dozens of them perched on the wall opposite the toilet seat, waiting to pounce on me the moment I sat on the seat. My mornings used to begin with holding one of the slippers in hand and ruthlessly killing all the mosquitoes (sometimes numbering 40-50) perched on the wall in front before settling down on the toilet seat. The white wall resembled some abstract painting that no one could decipher!

I have often felt that the reason man has not paid the necessary attention to fighting the mosquito menace is the fact that mosquito repellent is a million dollar industry. It’s a bit like the gun culture in the US: everyone knows its deadly consequences, but so powerful is the gun lobby that none one wants to put an end to it. Having lost all hope on Man, I am now banking on God to come with some miracle that would lead the extinction of this species altogether!