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One human’s garbage is another roach’s microbial garden of bliss. Image Credit:

Science calls it katsaridaphobia. The husband calls it a silly overreaction.

Tens of millions of humans and I can confess that this six-legged creature single-handedly sums up our personal insect hell. When schools closed for summer, some families chose to relocate. This move shook up a few other families from another kingdom who have been thriving and breeding undisturbed in the dark crevices of drain pipes, dredging on raw sewage and rotting garbage, forcing them to relocate after the depreciating chemical barriers had been re-erected by the real-estate staff, who were seen prepping vacant houses for new tenants.

One roach took a night stroll and managed to trespass into the guarded, pest-free, chemically barricaded fortress that I call home. That night I sleepily walked into the room, turned on the lights and caught sight of a black stain marring the white floor, scampering about on its spiky appendages.

In an instant, sleep was gone, eyes popped out of sockets, breath caught midway between the lungs and the nostrils, heartbeat picked up into an acceleration and the adrenal medulla pumped in adrenalin for a fight-or-flight reaction.

Mosquitoes cause dengue and malaria and yet I don’t go about screaming when I see one, food poisoning from roaches are a walk in the park in comparison.

- Pranitha Menon

The mind, fired with adrenalin and a passing hint of logic from previous experiences, chose flight. Logic screamed that I, the damsel in distress, had to find my knight in pyjamas, lost amid an array of screens, to come to my rescue.

In hindsight, I marvel the multitasking power of a shocked human mind and body. Never mind that the shock was rendered by a creepy crawly as big as my pinky with absolutely no history of pouncing on or gobbling up humans, not even bright enough to recognise one, that merely scampered about in figure-of-eights in response to the stimuli of light, low-frequency vibrations and the wind of frenzy that I was generating.

Fear genes

The husband was amused. He doused it in a cloud of Raid and sent it off to insect heaven. The only relief was that my children were locked in dreamland and did not witness their mother outperform them in a state of utter frenzy. The following morning was spent training my paranoid eyes on pesky invaders or a search party of the deceased invader between reinforcing chemical barriers and upping my home hygiene regimen.

Inside the confines of my now roach-free home, this phobia does not make sense. Mosquitoes cause dengue and malaria and yet I don’t go about screaming when I see one, food poisoning from roaches are a walk in the park in comparison. Studies show that katsaridaphobia is resultant of a gene that passes this fear onto their offspring. Father believes that humans must coexist with the other creations, roaches included. Mother is more practical in that sense — she has my seal of bravado after the many roaches she has smacked away from my line of sight.

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So, I cannot blame my parents or the genes. It could be because one human’s garbage is another roach’s microbial garden of bliss; that they can hold their breath longer than a yogi, twist themselves better than an acrobat to traverse narrow crevices; that 4,000 species of roaches worldwide can survive fighting for a cause by going on strike without water for a week and food for a month; that a day-old roach would lose to Usain Bolt only because of its size and that they march into our kitchens armed with the extensive training to diffuse a roach bomb.

Or is it because it is said to have survived the nuclear apocalypse or simply because its mere presence has the power to contradict everything that I am in my roach-less world? Today, the chemical barriers are in place, a shiny can of Raid awaits alongside a home remedy of boric acid and milk powder for good measure. And it takes one roach to forget it all and run for life!

— Pranitha Menon is a freelance writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @MenonPranitha