Evenings in Kochi are spent in feverish anticipation of the enemy. Windows and doors slam shut. The battle gear is hastily brought out—bats, mats, coils, oils, nets and meshes. And then the war begins. For decades together now, Kochi has been fighting this ongoing battle with the mosquito. From tried-and-tested sprays, lotions and vaporisers to indigenous concoctions and home remedies including whimsical ones such as planting pitcher plants in the courtyard, very few things remain to be experimented with.

“We in Kochi have devised unique ways of walking and staying put in a place. (Observe people waiting at the bus stop). We subconsciously move our body to reduce damage. The mosquito has become so deeply ingrained in our psyche,” says Dileep K., an IT professional, who lives in Panampilly Nagar. Recently, a small fire broke out in the area after a couple of residents decided to burn some dried grass to deal with the problem.

December, which is the breeding season for mosquitoes, is when the problem peaks, but most residents would beg to differ that any time is the worst time in Kochi. According to an Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) bulletin, released in the year 2000, the number of bites received by an individual in Kochi in a year was between 20 and 2,352. The numbers may well have gone up, for there is never a dull moment for salesmen dealing in mosquito products.

Old-fashioned nets are a sure-shot method, says Abdul Rasheed of Cochin House, a shop in Broadway selling nets in fancy shades—pink, red, orange, yellow, blue, green and purple. “This is to match your walls,” he says. There are nets large enough for three, four and five sleeping people. They come in plastic, cotton, polycotton and nylon (the cheapest at Rs. 120 for a double cot). The most expensive are the circular, tent-like nets that come for Rs. 1,200, more suited for AC rooms.

However, it is the bat that has emerged the favourite—an electronic, rechargeable device that requires one to summon all of one’s athletic faculties. The metallic mesh in the racquet electrocutes the mosquitoes almost instantly. All it takes is some brisk swinging.

Says Vrindha Pradip, a home maker: “It has been one of the most effective means so far. Since my daughter is allergic to the chemical repellents and vaporisers, this is the best bet.” Electricity Mosquito Swatters, as they are called, are mostly imported from China and cost from Rs. 150 upwards depending on quality. The most expensive in the category are made-in-India bats, loved for their sturdiness. They are priced at Rs. 500 and above. Most stores in Broadway that sell the bats source them from Mumbai. Permanent magnetic nets and retractable roller screens are seen as a one-time investment. Abraham A. has fortified his house with aluminium mesh on the windows. “They are flexible and washable,” he says. Even the ventilators have been ‘netted’.

Muraleedharan, who works as a security guard in Vyttila, however, feels there is nothing to beat the natural method. He relies on the magic potion—coconut oil. “Try it. They won’t get to you,” he says. Ajayan K., his colleague, who has been in the job for over 15 years, says he uses popular repellent creams. “But they’ve now grown resistant to them,” he rues.

Treat the breeding source

The service division of the Pest Control of India, Kochi, gets calls from houses for mosquito treatment. “We use a combination of anti-larval, anti-adult fogging and spraying measures. But the menace cannot be treated locally. Mosquitoes have a flight capacity of about 2 km. Only if an acre of the surrounding area is treated, results can be expected,” says Madhusudan P.A., customer service executive. The Aedes species of mosquitoes that spread chikungunya is prevalent in Kochi, he adds.

Apart from open drainages, vacant plots are one of the major breeding sources, says Mathew Joseph Moozhayil, former president of the Cochin Citizen’s Forum. “The Corporation does not levy taxes on vacant plots and there are several of them in the city. The mandatory ward committees that should meet at least once in three months are not active. If they were, the problem would not have gone out of hand,” he says. Unscientific waste disposal, too, has worsened the problem. The Corporation carries on its anti-mosquito drives, but to no avail. And the Health Department, which is believed to have some answers, remained unavailable for comment.

Kochi can do all it can, but we will prevail, our winged interlopers seem to be saying.