Summer in my locality has subtle indicators. The birds make a beeline for the bowl of water on the terrace; so do the housecats. The flowers in Khushboo Flower Shop droop a wee bit earlier than they did in good old winter. But among the most conspicuous indicators are the men, often in groups of two, who frequent the houses in our lane. They arrive out of the blue; they almost apparate. More often than not, they carry a little notebook under their arms and a smartphone somewhere on their person. The phone rings incessantly, you see.
“What is it you want?” I say from the balcony.
The two men look up at me, their faces serious. “We are on a search mission.” They say solemnly, their white uniforms slightly shabby from the day’s toil.
“Search for what?” I demand at once. With the number of people searching for truth and communal harmony ever rising, I don’t want our locality to be the next spot for activism of any sort.
“Look, just let us come up the stairs. We wouldn’t take long.”
Yeah, that sounds about right. Just let two strange men come up one quiet summer afternoon. They are probably salesmen, I gather. “We don’t want to buy anything.”
They seem to be getting impatient. One of them stares into a nearby potted plant, the other glares at the air conditioner as if it were a monster. “Look, they say. If you are hiding anything, please let us know. It is for your own good.”
By now the proceedings have become so weird that I look blank. “Where exactly are you from?”
The men give me a hassled, you-are-the-reason-India-is-still-a-developing-nation look. “Obviously, we mean mosquitoes.”
Mosquitoes. Mosquitoes! Those annoying creatures I remember drawing the parts of in high school Biology. Those creatures who can make sleep disturbed and scratchy. This time round, these creatures apparently warranted a summer afternoon’s “search mission” and the searched party’s total confusion.
“We don’t use coolers any more. And the air conditioner is serviced, really.” I say in one breath. A tiny mug of water sneaks out from a corner. Granny must have been watering plants again and forgotten to drain the mug. I push it further behind in a sly movement of the foot.
They don’t seem too convinced. “Are you quite sure?”
Oh gosh. With the whole backlane replete with construction material and I am sure there would be some puddles of water too, all these men could do was bug me. That gives me an idea.
“Why don’t you try the backlane? I am sure your mission will reap better results there.” I lower my voice for effect. “There could even be water puddles.”
It works. The two men nod and are off before I can say goodbye.
As soon as they are gone, I clean the mug. I double check the air conditioner and audit the house with scrutinizing eyes. I make a mental note to keep all inlets for mosquitoes closed, especially during their favourite buzzing time – evening. I don’t want those slimy monsters to bring anyone down with disease.
Really, these men on a mosquito-search mission bring in summer like no one does. They make me miss the cleanliness of winter all the more; Delhi’s chill is usually sufficient to destroy all err, bugs. But they also tell me that mosquitoes or no mosquitoes, Granddad will soon bring home mangoes and watermelons and twilight will extend for several hours before the stars come out.
When I survey the freshly cleaned house, now drained of all – however remote – mosquito breeding grounds, I am glad the search mission is a yearly feature.