Thursday, October 21, 2004

A roach riposte

Yesterday Rubaru posted a deeply felt blog about how his paternal side burst to the surface on descrying a sweet little roach that was encroaching on his computer space. This has caused me to re-think my own long and tortuous relationship with these creatures...actually, no it hasn’t: I still loathe them with every atom of my being.

But ‘loathe’ is too courageous a word. I’m terrified to death of them. My recurring nightmares are scripted around them, especially the flying ones. I’ve never been able to kill one, no, not even by the impersonal method of flinging a shoe at it from the next room. (How oft I remember my mother humming "All Creatures Great and Small" off-key as she sallied into my room for a killing operation.) In fact, I can’t even bring myself to spell out the full noun here (the one that begins with a ‘C’), for then I couldn’t bear to visit my blog ever again knowing THAT word was hanging there in its full black, insidious horribleness.

What is it about roaches? On the one hand, there isn’t even a widely known word that denotes fear of them (the equivalent of arachnophobia for spiders). But on the other hand, it’s almost univerally understood (without being explicitly stated) that they are far more repulsive than spiders, which have a peculiar symmetrical beauty of their own. You won’t see films about giant roaches terrorising the countryside. (The one that came closest - Mimic - was more a psychological horror film than an explicit one.) And you can watch the National Geographic for hours on end -- including footage supplied by micro-cameras that have been poking about in insects’ burrows - without seeing a single closeup of one.

A few half-hearted attempts have been made to deconstruct their dark, creepy mystique. I remember vaguely a passage from Gorky’s My Childhood where his grandmother or aunt says she’s terrified of them because she can’t comprehend their purpose. Woodworm and lice signify something, she says, but heaven knows what these creatures are, whence they derive their power and why they have been put here among us. This otherworldly aspect is accentuated by the fact that a roach’s face -- triangular, with bulbous eyes -- closely resembles caricatural archetypes of creatures from other planets. They don’t quite belong among us, seems to be the message, even if they’ll eventually outlive us by millions of years. Whose planet is it anyway?

Of course, I haven’t ever been close enough to a roach to see the details of its face. The closest I’ve ever been was a couple of inches away, and in unusual circumstances. This was class seven or thereabouts, and for a science class we had all been asked to "collect a dead insect and stick it onto a blank page of your exercise book with scotch tape" (adequate grounds for the dissolution of the entire edifice of formal education, one would think). A fellow brat called my name while I was speaking with someone else, I turned around as he opened a tiffin box -- a tiffin box - right under my face and instinct kicked in as I shut my eyes and jerked my face away. I have no clear memory of what I saw in those 0.2 seconds - something glistening, something black - but the smell has stayed with me all my life.

Well, that’s it for this blog. To all a pleasant night.


  1. For a long time I was suspicious of dates because they resemble roaches. There's a horrible moment before you bite into a particularly juicy date (or worse, when you spy a roach) in which you morbidly imagine what it would be like to take a chomp of it...yech!

  2. Ha, ha on confusing dates with roaches.

    For a long time, brinjals used to give me the creeps because of their resemblance with roaches. Lost that fear when a roach flew straight into a pan in which aloo was being made and all that was left of the roach after 5 seconds were the antennae.

    Anyway, roaches fascinate me in a morbid way and have blogged a couple of items:

    * Cockroach Control
    * Cockroach-controlled robot!

  3. Hey, I still call my mother when I see a cockroach anywhere near me. Good to read your post. I thought I was the only one so terrified. Lizards, spiders also freak me out.

  4. I guess you haven't seen some other species like spiders having been bought up in Delhi. The place where I grew up -- Dharamshala in Himachal , we had monstrous spiders in the house with a leg span of at least seven inches. Even now in Dharamshala , tourists are scared out of their wits when they encounter these beasts in the Hotel bathrooms and bedrooms alike.

    I think the breed is known as the Huntsman spider ,they don't build webs and are relatively docile , won't bite unless you manhandle them. Couldn't stop myself from commenting after reading such an old post.

  5. I am pretty glad to discover there is another one who is that scared of c-roaches! I thought I am the only one who is not able - not at all- handle the c-roches. I suffer of real roach phobia. In my country there are no ones - how lucky I´ve been! It is very unusal to encounter them here and it is always a synonym for a dirty places. Even my Grandma who is 88 y.o. has never seen any roach in her life! As well as my parents. I did. When visited Tehran. I thought I would get crazy from it. I wanted to die, I wanted to escape. I cant look at it, even on the pics. I also cannot tell the word c-roach, it´s hardest to pronounce it in my mother tongue..I dunno what to do with it as it really limits me in my life (I have to be feared all my trips to "risky" countries with high c-roach rating.) Seems I am safe just in Central and Northern Europe, maybe in Canada too. Rest of the world is covered with insecurity regarding the c-roach issue. I consider hypnosis as I have no idea what to do with this problem.

  6. Interested to see that some people have even more intense repulsion from this creature than I do. I have been trying to cure myself by thinking of the Hindi word tilchatta, which somehow seems sweeter than the English word, and also by recalling what a Tamil friend told me - that in some communities they are not killed but swept out as they are considered vehicles of Lakshmi. Don't think this has worked yet, though but am still hopeful:)