It was around 7 pm. I had flown from Nagpur to Delhi that afternoon. Then got on the airport metro to New Delhi metro station. Next, walked into a group of haggling auto rickshaw drivers, all quoting exorbitant rates. Finally negotiated with one who seemed better than the rest. The driver dropped me off near my house. Still a little distance away as the rickshaw couldn’t negotiate the narrow lanes of Kotla. But I would manage as I had only one small suitcase.
I was rummaging my purse to find the exact change under the dim streetlight, when the auto rickshaw driver exclaimed, “God! How many mosquitoes!” I looked up to see a million mosquitoes buzzing around our faces in that hazy light. Needless to add, both of us were glad to get away from that place as soon as we could.
The last time I saw so many mosquitoes together was on a summer vacation to my grandparents’ place. Afternoons were spent around baskets of sweet lichees and mangoes from the baagan that they owned. Muzaffarpur. Near the gigantic water tank which had huge bee-hives all around. Sitting on the khatiyas in the evening in the verandah. Enjoying the long leisurely discussions with our cousins in the light of the Petromax lamps. Electricity was often errant for hours. But we were taught to smear ourselves with Odomos. After dinner we kids were all bundled off under mosquito nets. Where the first ten minutes used to be spent in clapping. To kill the mosquitoes which were trapped inside the net. And then inspecting the net to see if you were unlucky to get one with holes, which meant you needed to clap and slap all night! Machcharpur. That’s what we had rechristened Muzaffarpur by the end of that trip.
The crazy part of mosquitoes in Delhi is that they bite not just in the night, but all through the day. So you might be trying to concentrate on something at work when you have a pesky mosquito come and sit on your keyboard. You wish I could slam it right there, but you know your carefully typed document could vanish. Then it buzzes up and slowly sings a tune in your ears, distracting you completely.
Each morning there is a team waiting at the door of the lab to sanitize our rooms in the wake of the corona crisis. Each morning I wish they were spraying mosquito repellent instead. The worst is the washroom. You can see these bloodsuckers resting in neat lines along the walls. Waiting patiently for an unsuspecting host to enter. The standing joke among my colleagues is that if they decided to, the mosquitoes could easily carry one of us away together. There are so many of them!
The vaporizer with the anti-mosquito repellent is switched on all day and night at home. But to no avail. You are forced to wake up early as there are these painful welts appearing on your arms and legs. Scratch scratch. Itch itch. And then you realize that the wall next to your bed has splotches of blood as you might have murdered a few in your sleep.
Cities. With their burgeoning populations. When we are finished with corona, we will have malaria and dengue to deal with. Or perhaps typhoid. The water from the Yamuna stinks of an overdose of chlorine. It can’t mask the ammonia from the poison that factories dump down the river. The rigmarole is endless. They call it survival of the fittest.