In the evenings in India, at-home ‘tennis’ players begin their daily routine. They unplug what looks like a tennis racquet from the socket and get ready to wage war on a flying swarm – mosquitoes. They aren’t playing the latest version of Kinect or Wii. The bats are real, the mosquitoes are real and the battle continues late into the night. At the end of it, there are dark patches on the racquet, where a thousand mosquitoes have met their match.
The techniques have been perfected over time. Experienced players don’t wildly swish the bat in the air like beginners do – scattering the mosquitoes and not killing a single one. It’s almost like a Tai-chi movement, gently arcing and placing the bat skilfully in the way to get them trapped. Without too much movement, one has to angle the bat into corners where mosquitoes lurk – under tables and beds, waiting for naked feet and hands. Mosquitoes fly into the charged wires and there is a deeply satisfying ( if you are human) or deeply unsatisfying ( for mosquitoes) sizzle where they are set alight and burned to a crisp.
The smell of burning mosquitoes hangs acridly in the air, like the smell of smoke after the firecrackers during Diwali – and its even more unpleasant. But it’s short-lived and what’s more, it seems to work. So, unlike the old days, where people used to fan themselves, apply creams, burn coils or the husk of the areca nuts to keep the mosquitoes from biting, this is an alternative that works just as well. So, walk into any household with senior citizens and you’re quite likely to see these mosquito bats plugged into sockets, waiting for their masters to engage in the evenings.
It’s time for the daily game. TV remote in one hand and the mosquito bat in the other, there is grim resolve. And the first salvo is often fired by the mosquitoes who manage to croon seductively in the ear that the game is on. This provokes an instant reaction, with players standing up and slashing at any particle in the air in the hope of swatting the impertinent intruders. But when this fails to achieve results, they change tactics and go where the mosquitoes hide. And the first strike is when they flame and disappear in a small puff of smoke. There are no Federers or Nadals in the making but look into the future and it is possible that a rash of tennis elbows will need treatment with doctors wondering how their patients acquired this condition at such an advanced age. And the explanation that they were playing with mosquitoes is unlikely to amuse the doctor.
The Mosquito bat is just one more in a long line of products aimed attacking the menace. There is the ancient Odomos, a cream with a perfume that is loathed equally by humans and mosquitoes. Then there are the smoky coils that burn slowly and leave a circular trail of ash in the morning along with clogged noses. And the mats and gels that mosquitoes merrily prance around and attack just when the effect wears off. Like the Tom and Jerry episodes, the battle rages on.