Saturday, May 31, 2008

THE BENEFITS OF SMOKING

Not cigarettes…though my father was a heavy smoker. I am remembering the daily evening ritual performed in my childhood home to get rid of pesky mosquitoes.

In the late afternoon we would play outside in the parar math (neighbourhood playground); frantic games requiring a lot of running about. When we would sit down on the grass, panting, sticky with sweat, the mosquitoes would buzz above our heads in droves, looking like vertical quivering grey columns above our heads. Inexplicably, some of us would have hardly any mosquitoes chasing us, while others would have large fan-followings (We said that eating sweets made the blood sweet, which attracted mosquitoes).

The mosquitoes would follow us home, some intrepid ones settling on bare arms and legs to bite. Inside the house, they would lurk in dark corners and beneath tables and beds, stinging and biting whenever they could, especially when there were power-cuts.

To combat the mosquito-menace, my mother and baroma (aunt) would fill an earthen open-top funnel-shaped pot (with a handle to carry it) with narkoler chhobra (coconut-fibre), put dhuno (a sharp-but-pleasant-smelling incense: the smell is preserved in my olfactory memory) on it, and light it so that there was no fire, only smoke.

This homegrown smoking weapon would be taken to each room and solemnly brandished all around, especially in the nooks and crannies, to expel the demon-descendants (Hindu legends say that mosquitoes were born from the tiny bits a demon’s body when he was killed and cut to pieces by a god – I’ve forgotten the names – a gory birth explaining the bloodlust of mosquitoes).

We would also temporarily desert the hazy battleground, returning only when the air was clear enough to breathe. Only my dadu (grandad) would refuse to move from his bed, sitting like a coughing-Gulliver (with his nose covered with a napkin) amidst the struggling, reeling Lilliput-mosquitoes.

The smoke-chased and chastised mosquitoes would flee (coughing and choking like us, I presume) for the evening, only to return, emboldened, the next day. Much like their foolhardy demon-ancestors, they were defeated again and again (by the dhunuchi - the aforementioned earthen weapon).

Now, in these anti-smoking times, we use liquid mosquito-repellents plugged into electric sockets. No haze, no hassle, no thrill of battle.

DID YOU EVER BATTLE PESTS WITH HOMEGROWN WEAPONS?

13 comments:

Peter Rozovsky said...

Now, in these anti-smoking times, we use liquid mosquito-repellents plugged into electric sockets. No haze, no hassle, no thrill of battle.

And, regretably, nothing as evocative as your tales of fighting mosquitoes. In my youth, we just slathered ourselves with liquid insect repellant. We were also told that shampoo either repelled or attracted mosquitoes; I forget which. I think most of us washed our hair at least occasionally, regardless.

===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Laurie said...

Good post. I am responding again from laurishere in Honduras. I used to live in South Louisiana, where my parents used mosquito netting for sleeping. However, smoking out the pests is still popular at outdoor parties. Somtimes we would take fishing trips on the Gulf of Mexico. All of a sudden, large salt-water mosqutoes would descend like a cloud, especially at dawn or dusk. The only solution was to put that boat in gear and get out! I like the demon imagery.

sukku said...

ha...mosquitoes...my bad experience was in a place called Mambalam in Chennai, I was a student then and was staying in my guardians friend's place, 2 bachelors and that was the first time in my life that I realized that mosquitoes can keep you awake the whole night. I still can hear the buzzing sound....and I stayed there only for a few days...and perhaps would have lost couple of pints of blood....

tina said...

my mother used to tell us to keep the electric fans on every night to keep mosquitoes away; according to her, the powerful gusts from a fan would make any mosquito dizzy, and dissuade them from landing on exposed skin. it didn't always work, but up to now i still do this every night to get comfortable before sleeping. :)

Peter Rozovsky said...

Would you believe that until this moment, I'd never considered the possibility that mosquitoes could get dizzy?
===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Aleta said...

Like Laurie, I'm from South Louisiana and the mosquitoes get heavily populated in the area. There are trucks that drive by at night time and spray to kill the insects. It's not good to breath in the chemicals that they spray, so you don't want to be around the truck. Stuff stinks too. We make sure to not have any bird baths or other such standing water in the area as breeding grounds for the blood suckers. I don't remember what my parents would do other than keep the doors closed as much as possible for the pest control.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

You should also write about the spectacle of dhunurchi naach during Pujo. Not quite as enacted by Sunju Baba in Parineeta.

J.A.P.

Sucharita Sarkar said...

thanks, everybody for sharing your mosquito-memories.

Peter,
I've always felt that mosquitoes buzz themselves dizzy, without us smoking them to a tizzy!

Laurie,
The demon-myth is part of Hindu folk-tales.

Aleta, Tina, Sukku,
There's no doubt that mosquitoes are a menace, as is the mosquito-fogging.

JAP,
Thanks for the suggestion. I'm saving up my Durga-Pujo memories for another post.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Regardless of who induces diziness in mosquitoes, the question marks the first time I had ever considere anything from their point of view.
===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

tina said...

i dunno how my mother found out that mosquitoes can get dizzy; i just took her word for it. :P now that i think of it, some old commercials for mosquito coils advertised their dizzying effects on mosquitoes, so maybe my mother's idea had some basis. :D

Jaquanda Rae said...

Alas, I'm late but better than never. We didn't use homemade weapons. We used Vape Mat mosquito destroyer. I have no idea what it was made from but it was green, stiff and coiled. You'd light a match at the end and it gave off pungent fumes that killed the mosquitoes. I think people still use it out here in Jamaica.

Peter Rozovsky said...

One wonders what it does to the humans who breathe it!
===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Sucharita Sarkar said...

That type of mosquito-coil (green/maroon, spiral, stiff) was/is used in India, too...but is considered too strong to use if kids are around.