Living arrangement

A bugging surprise

12:39 PM

We had a long, very long weekend in India. With Independence Day falling on a Friday, and Janamastami the Monday right after it. Four days to occupy at home. I say home, because that is what we did, the fair percentage of people that decided to escape the city that weekend probably ended up in that six hour long traffic jam on the express highway the paper was talking about on Saturday. And those who stayed in town probably hit the Malls on Friday to get the best discounts possible (readers from US, in India 15th August is the equivalent of your Black Friday).

This Monday, I figured out I could at least be a tad productive after a few days of just lazing around and going out for coffees. So, I decided to tackle the mess in a dresser unit we have sitting in the living room. The one I talked about many times already. Yep, the one that started as a cheap storage solution for our kitchen essentials in Bangalore pre-2010. The one that got abused, bruised and repurposed with every move. The one I ended up painting with 3D gold paint and swore to throw one day...soon. That one!
I use it to store all our DVDs in the open shelves, and all my craft supplies in the cabinets storage space. This is the space that usually gets messy really fast, and I don't even bother to clean it all up as there is a lot of...well...junk in some of the shelves. The monsoon usually doesn't help the situation much and a lot of things get soggy and a bit moody in there.

I thought this would be an easy, 30 minutes job. It was just a matter of emptying the entire dresser unit, sorting everything out, dusting what needed to be dusted and trash what needed to be trashed before putting it all back in the dresser...EASY!
It was easy until I opened the bottom cabinet where I store old diaries, notebooks and odd ends of craft paper. At a glance, things in there looked waterlogged (or just saturated with dampness). I was preparing myself to throw a lot of that crap away to be frank. Imagine my surprise when I lifted the first spiral note book to see it disintegrate and fall back on a massive swarm of termites. YES TERMITES! As in white ants, wood eating bugs...these little guys indeed!

The termites presence was not a shock, in the past year I called the society manager 3 times to get pest control to treat spots in my flat. They already ate half a bathroom door frame, left dirt tubes in another corner of the living room and in Ishita's room. The entire building is infested, and each time pest control came to eradicate them they came back by another route. Last April, the new society management sacked the previous company for doing a sloppy job and hired a new one that drilled holes all around the building, and on every floors to inject gallons of pesticide into the foundation. At this point, I thought we were finally free of these parasites once and for all.
Turns out the colony in question is still kicking strong. I haven't moved that cabinet in over a year, and they clearly made themselves comfy building a big network of dirt tunnels between the wall and the back panel of my old rickety dresser unit, eating away the shelves and their papery content undisturbed and undetected.

So, what was to keep me busy for 30 minutes ended up keeping me sweating and scrubbing, and vacuuming, and cleaning for over 2 hours. I started by grabbing the shelf on which the notebooks were and threw it in a garbage bag with all its content and took said bag outside immediately. I then took the can of Hit spray we keep to kill mosquitoes to spray the infested area enough to at least numb the termites long enough for me to sweep them away. If you are interested to know, Hit will kill them. When I found it out, I pretty much emptied half of the can in the cabinet.
I then pulled the dresser away from the wall to assess the damage better. That is when I noticed they pretty much built a mud pie on the wall and glued the cabinet to said wall. I gassed them with some more Hit spray and swept what was loose already to throw it away. Then, I took a huge roll of paper towels, the kitchen cleaner, and scrubbed off what was stuck to the wall and floor. At one point I ended up needing a kitchen knife to scrap some of it off. Once the floor and wall were both clean, I ripped the cheap MDF back panel off the back of the unit (it was easy, it was so eaten it came off crumbling) and threw it away. I then used the vacuum cleaner to vacuum clean every last bit of termite crap I could find before washing the area with more kitchen cleaner. Once the area was as clean as it could get and all the damaged bits of MDF gone, I sprayed what was left of the Hit spray in the hole in the wall through which the termite came and saturated the area.

Once all that was done, I finally could put everything back in said dresser. Needless to say that I took some extra care to check every single inches of my belongings for any signs of termite tubes or traces they could have left. That dresser unit is now bumped to the top of the list of things we need to replace in our flat. We already found something we like to replace it, and in fact, found it a few weeks ago. We have been talking about getting rid of that eye sore of a unit for months, if not years already.

Said unit is a brilliant example as of why MDF laminate furnitures are not a cheapest option to go for. The good quality laminate comes at a price (which can be as steep as hardwood). The cheap road side store options will end up breaking apart too quickly, bloat during the monsoon and invite unwanted guests into your home. There are solid woods native to India that are naturally termite resistant and once treated even more so. Teak is the best known one. Sadly it is a costly option. Sheesham is another sturdy and relatively bug resistant option, that once treated and polished is as good as teak at at a more affordable price. If you plan to get furniture made out of rubber wood, make sure you ask the wood to be treated and waterproofed as well to prevent water logging and termites problems. I did so with all ours, and they haven't lost shape in years.

Finally, this morning I decided to look for termites repelling alternative to the one offered by lest control. While you need pros to rigorously treat the ground around your building and repeat until the infestation is gone, it seems people can use natural ways to keep them at bay. In India, the method of choice is to bruise fresh neem leaves and let them steep in a bucket of water for 24 hours before using said water to spray areas that are termite prone. Apparently neem sap contains substances that will alter the behaviour of termite, lock their jaw and prevent them to feed, and put an end to their reproductive health as well.

Needless to say that at this point, I am all for it.


  1. Oh the bugs, particularly during the monsoon.
    However I have to say my grandparents lived in rural Louisiana & the bugs were 10x worse. I spoke with a Viet Nam vet I met trekking in Nepal whom was originally from Louisiana & he agreed the bug situation in Louisiana beat Viet Nam, India & Nepal.
    We have carpenter ants (& several other kinds of ants) as well as termites here in rural Nepal.
    I guess every kind of critter is looking for 'dry ground' by coming in the house during the monsoon. Leeches, centipedes, fireflies, huge cockroaches, about 7 kinds of ants, geckos. moths, midges, silverfish, gnats, wasps, - living between a cornfield 7 a rice paddy you name it we got it.
    At least we haven't found a diamondback rattlesnake in the toilet like we we did at my my gran's house in Louisiana once.

    1. The monsoon is creepy bug time indeed, and now that you tell me, I am not sure I want to visit Louisiana :-)

      Right now I am looking everywhere inside the flat for other signs of termites. And I haven't even been able to get a hold of the society manager today to report the problem. But I guess that with the outdoor getting so saturated with water, they are just finding a dryer place to stay :-(


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