The Magic of Mosquito Nets – Why They Need to Make a Comeback

I am a freelance writer based in Gangtok.

My house is on the second floor of an old four-storeyed building. It is surrounded by rain-bent trees, creepers laden with tender green squashes, bamboo clumps buzzing with cricket song, and old crumbling lichen-and-moss covered walls on which ferns and pink impatiens grow wild.

Being thus surrounded by nature, I get a lot of visitors from the woods. By day, birds and squirrels call on me, cheerfully hopping in through the open balcony, and by night, insects fly in through the kitchen window to say hello.

While I love the company of birds and squirrels, I must confess I am mighty scared of insects. So every evening around five, I get up from my table and reach out for my old friend, my peach-coloured mosquito net. I hook it up over my bed, transfer my laptop and writing things, and continue inside it.

I read under my mosquito net, I eat under it; I sleep under it and I dream under it.

My love for mosquito nets, called aathuwa in Assamese, goes back a long way.

Growing up in Guwahati, a city with far too many mosquitoes, aathuwas were compulsory. Every night my siblings and I were tasked with putting up the nets on all the beds. Father was very particular about this. Sleeping without an aathuwa was not an option. And that influenced me deeply.

Over time, I took to using a mosquito net even when I was not at home. During my student years in Bangalore and Dehradun, and later when I was working in Bombay, I always slept under a mosquito net. It was my way of making sure I had a good night’s sleep after a long hard day.

Well, it surely isn’t the most glamorous of things, but it is practical. It doesn’t cause air pollution. It doesn’t need electricity. It is cheap and has no recurring costs. It is washable and dries quickly. It can be repaired with just a needle and a thread. Above all, it is a foolproof, although temporary, way of staying away from mosquito-borne diseases like dengue and malaria.

Yes, sex and all is not very sexy under a mosquito net. For one, you can’t do it standing up, or fool around without a care – you will bring the whole thing down and it won’t be cute. But who says you always have to use a mosquito net? If action is in the offing, switch to Goodnight or Mortein. Problem solved.

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But when you are alone, and burping and farting with abandon, you can at least sleep peacefully under a net and not spend half the night fighting a losing battle against mosquitoes.

The aathuwa has always been there for our family. Once, when my brother was only a few months old, my mother, having put him to sleep under a mosquito net, returned to find him hanging by the net on the side of the bed, inches from the floor, sleeping peacefully, as if lounging in a hammock. A few years later, it was my infant sister; the aathuwa at these times filling in for our parents.

Then there was that horrifying night when a bat flew in through an open window into our parents’ bedroom. I must’ve been around 15, my brother ten and my sister eight. I had just finished hooking the aathuwa up over our parents’ bed when a furry black fist-sized bat swooped into the room.

Screaming, my mother, sister and I dived under the mosquito net. Once inside, we huddled in fear as my brother (my father wasn’t at home), himself terrified, chased the bat with a broom. I recall also the numerous times the aathuwa had offered me refuge from cockroaches and grasshoppers that would fly in from nowhere and scare the sh*t out of me.

Another thing you probably didn’t know is that aathuwas are excellent for drying clothes. I feel like my entire childhood was spent sleeping under laundry-covered mosquito nets, the heady smell of surf filling up my nostrils as the ceiling fan beat down on the washing-machine-laundered semi-dried school shirts, skirts, pants, socks, camisoles, vests, panties and briefs which my mother laboriously spread out over the net every night.

My mother had a job and she could only find time to do the washing at night. And because we didn’t have too many pairs of school uniform and under wears, she had to wash them every day. Moreover, in those days there were no fancy laundry stands like you do now. And the aathuwa was often the only thing where you could dry your clothes overnight on muggy summer nights.

Mosquito nets need to make a comeback.

As city after city succumbs to mosquito-borne diseases, we need to be aggressively pushing for the use of mosquito nets. Now is as good a time as ever. Let’s make mosquito nets fun. Let’s put cartoons and video game characters on them. Let’s do customised prints. Let’s get some endorsements, send out regional-language PSAs (Public Service Announcements).

Let’s make aathuwas in again.

There are so many things we can do and every little thing can make a big difference.

I’ll leave you here with this quick guide on mosquito nets:

Where to buy: Any shop that sells bed linen, especially family-run stores in your local market.

Size: Nets come in sizes like 3-feet by 6-feet, 4-feet by 6-feet and so on. It corresponds to the breadth and length of your bed/mattress. So the size of the bed is the size of the net you’re looking for.

Setting it up: First up, find something to tie or hook the net to. It could be nails, window grills, curtain rods or anything. Then, tie a string on each of the four corner loops of the net and hoist it up till you have a perfect box. Remember to tuck the net under the mattress.

Directions for use: Before getting in/out, shake the net well to shake off any mosquitoes that might be resting on the outside. Then, bend forward and gently but quickly slide in/out in one swift move. If you raise the net too high over your head, or if you leave the edge hanging by the side of the bed, mosquitoes will get in and you will have a tough time hunting them down. Trust me, there is no feeling more disappointing than waking up in the morning to find fat red swollen-with-blood-and-barely-able-to-fly mosquitoes inside your aathuwa. So be very careful.

Lastly, if you feel stuffy under an aathuwa, use a table fan or a pedestal fan (in addition to the ceiling fan/air conditioner). Place it near your bed and have it fan your upper body in a slow swiveling manner. It has worked for me in the past; I hope it works for you too.

That’s all from me. Good night, hope no mosquitoes bite.

Hitesha Phukan tries to write when she is not too distracted by the blue-green cloud-speckled mountains outside her window. 

Featured image credit: Reuters