I saw it for the first time when I was in my early 20s and liked it at first sight. I had been in Mexico City and took a plane from there to a small town near the sea. At that time I was a management trainee with Lufthansa and could take aeroplanes as easily as I take busses now. The name of the town was Villa Hermosa, i.e. beautiful town. I remember those details, because there, for the first time, I encountered a mosquito net in a small hotel. I was thrilled to sleep under it. It felt like heaven. I had always dreamt – and I am certain almost everyone from northern Europe has this dream – of tropical climate and a mosquito net symbolised it for me. It was proof that I was in a place where one could get malaria and somehow this was exciting.
After that first time, I encountered mosquito nets in many places, in Panama, Costa Rica, in Indonesia. In Thailand, I saw an interesting version of it. A huge net was put up over the major area of the room, almost stretching from wall to wall. The whole family of some ten members slept underneath on mats on the floor. When I came to India over 30 years ago, I also often slept under mosquito nets. I remember the Tourist Bungalow in Puri where a wooden frame was fixed high over the bed for the net. Yet nowadays, the nets have become very rare. One can almost be sure that there won’t be mosquito nets, if one checks into a hotel. The guesthouses of Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry are a pleasant exception.
The reason may be that many hotels have now netting at the windows, but by far not all. Yet even if there is netting, as a rule, one or two mosquitoes sneak in, and even one mosquito is enough to make a racket over your ear just when you are just about to fall asleep. Maybe I am especially allergic to this sound, because for 5 years I suffered a yearly bout of malaria and suffering it was.
Of course there are other ways to drive mosquitoes away. A fan at full speed will do the job, and most fans in hotel rooms rotate automatically at full speed. But it is not always that hot that one needs a fan. And there are many people who actually prefer no fan, though those, who prefer fan, won’t believe this. Electric gadgets, too, make mosquitoes flee, but if they harm mosquitoes, are they harmless to humans? The smell at least is not pleasant and if electricity goes, fan and gadget are useless.
I sometimes travelled with my own net, but how difficult it is to put it up! Usually, there is only the curtain rod and the latch of the door. Bad luck, if they both are on the same side of the bed. And then there is still the fourth corner pending.
Long ago, in May 1981, I stayed in Lumbini in Nepal. At that time Lumbini was infested with mosquitoes. Though there was a mosquito net, it was almost impossible to get underneath without taking a bunch of mosquitoes in. There were some researchers in town who tried to find a solution to the malaria problem. One of them told me that the best protection against malaria is a mosquito net, because the malaria carrying mosquito usually bites between 10 pm and 2 at night.
I wonder why mosquito nets have gone out of favour in India. Is it another aspect of copying the west? Since hotels in Paris or London don’t have them why should hotels in Delhi have them? How nice would it be to find mosquito nets in hotel rooms where mosquitoes are to be expected! Tourists would enjoy their holiday better because they sleep better. Further, it would save electricity, since many people use the fan only against the mosquitoes. The danger of getting malaria would be reduced. It would give good business to the net producers and create jobs. And it would be a fitting tribute on World Mosquito Day, which was, as I just discovered, celebrated yesterday. Anyone convinced?
By Maria Wirth