Thursday, December 28, 2006


I was right to bring a mosquito net with me. Those pesky mossies may not be females of the anopheles variety (the ones that carry malaria) but they sure are pesky!

And you don’t need a lot of them to drive you crazy at night.

I’m not long back from Bhuvaneshwar, in Orissa state, immediately north of Andhra Pradesh, where I’d traveled for a conference. I didn’t take my mosquito net with me because I didn’t think of it, and anyway it’s all strung up in my room over my bed and would have been a pain to take down and put back up again.

The other night, in Bhuvaneshwar, at 4:00 in the morning, I wake up to this horrible whining, like I imagine a kamikaze plane might sound when it homes in on its target. I’m reminded once again of just how unbelievably stupid I am when I vainly—and violently—smack myself on various parts of my head, thinking that in this way I’ll somehow subdue the beast.

Seconds later the whine returns. I cover my head with the blanket, but then it soon gets to be too hot under there, so I turn it down and hope for the best.

Seconds later the whine returns.

It always seems to hover near one or other of my ears on its way into land, like it knows that that’s where I’ll direct my attack. I wait till the whine stops and, as my pesky friend has predicted, I smack myself hard over my left ear. Meanwhile the mossie is sucking the blood out of my neck.

I no more than momentarily disturb its meal, and the whine returns.

After half an hour of this ridiculous behavior on my part, I decide to get up, turn on the light, and use my God-given vision to get the bloody thing. I prop myself up in a sitting position, pillows stacked behind my back. I pretend to be reading a book to fool the mossie into a false sense of security.

There it is; now I welcome the whine. I’m alert, every sense strained in preparation for a counter attack.

I see it now, dancing in the air nearby, but only briefly while it’s against a backcloth of white sheet or pastel-colored wall. It disappears each time I grab for it, cleverly swooping into the camouflage of some dark backdrop or other. Then it lands on the sheet and, like lightning, I swoop down with my hand and gleefully smash out its life.

I hate to kill anything; but I make an exception for mosquitoes.

I confirm my kill. There it is, squashed flat as a pancake in the palm of my hand. But there’s a smear of fresh red blood, and it’s mine, so the bloody mossie got what it came for in the end.

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