Fear, says my dictionary, is a reaction to actual or perceived danger. Well, what a dry, boring definition. I think fear is so much more. It is that lump in your stomach when you anticipate the one thing that is most unpleasant or painful to you. It is the uncertainty and insecurity that surrounds you when you encounter a situation which is rather alien or new to you. The fact that you cannot determine the outcome of your actions in such a situation strips you of your confidence! It can be an instinctual reaction or one that has been cultivated since a long time. It is the state when your heart beats wildly in panic, when both mind and body are benumbed.
Well, there are so many things I fear today as a 20-year-old. Failure, humiliation, loneliness, diseases, fights, the unknown—these are some of them. It’s funny how they are all mostly abstract concepts or social situations! This makes me believe that as we grow into adults, our abstract, social or personal fears take precedence over the relatively simpler ones that we had as children. But of late, since I am being surrounded by (young) adult fears too often, an inexplicable wish has risen in me–to look back at some things that my child mind feared and explore why I feared them. So, here are five things that scared me as a child:
Maybe it was the way they look—their long, writhing, boneless bodies. The swiftness with which they slither, the curvy movements of that stealthy slithering that creates patterns on the ground or, their slow, silent hisses. The fact that they have relatively calmer, intelligent-looking ways of killing (good lord, yes!). The fact that they are venomous. All this creeped me as a child, that is actually, till the first 13 years of my life. As I grew older, I read more about them. I watched videos about them. Also, I actually saw two small garden snakes on two different occasions, resulting in what I could call, a puncturing of the great hype of fear revolving around them (for which I give full credit to Indian movies and myths!). Today, they scare me only a little, because, as I grew up, I started fearing humans more than anything else. And guess what? Snakes have more reasons to fear humans (leather-makers will know).
2) Mathleen ma’am
She was a teacher who taught me in second grade. A tall woman (everybody looked tall to me back then!) with a pink-looking horse-face and a long, sharp nose affixed in its center. A bindi on the forehead, hair combed back into a half-pony and the churidar, every average school-teacher’s attire in India. If your picture of her is complete, let me give you one last detail—she had strong, hairy arms that beat up 7-year-olds. She also had a demeanour and style of interrogation that could intimidate the faeces out of full-grown adults. Once, I didn’t take my computer text-book to school. To hide this grave crime, I decided to take out another textbook and pretend to be studying from it. But I was found out in no time and my little mouth was squeezed, my jaw held captive by a couple of hard fingers hanging from those hairy hands. And before I knew it, one tight slap followed another. My body shivered from the impact of the blows and as she rained her shouts on me, all eyes in the class widened towards my direction, in horror and with a strange sense of understanding and empathy towards my humiliation. Mathleen ma’am didn’t stop at this though. Several times after this incident, she bullied and picked on me on different occasions that year. I kid you not, one day, she said quietly to me in front of everyone—“Roll no. 41, beware”. What a creep. She also told me I would be sent to jail if I didn’t do well in my tests. Did I believe that? Your guess is as good as mine. For many days, I tried to avoid school to avoid her, till one day, my parents found out everything and raised a hue and cry with the principal. But this brute of a teacher still continued to scare and ‘punish’ students. Besides, what could complaining to the Principal do? Damage once done is irreversible ma’am. Well, even if she hadn’t done these things to me, I would have never liked her—her name began with math.
When I was, say, 7 or 8, I saw a movie in which a happy and prosperous family was reduced to utter penury; they went from living in a nice, sprawling apartment to begging in the streets and covering themselves with tarpaulin sheets in the rain. It was a silly b-grade bollywood movie, but had a lasting impact on me. That night, I asked my father if such a thing would ever happen to us. “If you don’t cut down on your daily diet of cheeseballs, yes” said my father, with a solemn face. From that day, I was determined to save every penny I could to save my family from destitution. Denying myself vadapav or dhabeli in the school canteen, trying to learn as much as I could about budgets and saving, and of course, scolding all and sundry in the family about overspending. For the little me, poverty was the worst, and only when my parents sat me down and told me that there are very few chances of us getting poor because of my actions, did I stop my rigorous anti-poverty drive.
Oceans and other large water bodies always produced a wonderment and fear of a different kind in me—it stemmed from the fact that one could never fathom the lengths and breadths of these vast spaces of water on the planet. When I looked at an ocean, it seemed like an unending blue that drowned anyone who ventured too deep in its waters. It made me feel powerless and insignificant, like a tiny little drop. Also, the ocean was a symbol of mystery to me. I believed, that no matter how much I learnt about it, I would never really know or understand fully, the large parallel kingdom of god that resided beneath it. My capacities were limited to its endless depths. An ocean during the night gives me the chills even now—the absence of sunlight just compounds the great mystery of what the ocean conceals. I would rather prefer the cool, sparkling and transparent waters of the shallow streams that reveal your feet standing on golden pebbles surrounded by tiny tadpoles (which you know are not turning into frogs immediately!)
A lot of my friends and followers will empathise with me here. Till 15 years of age, I was in morbid dread of this subject in school. For most, it was just math, another subject. But for me it was a reminder of my slowness and dullness to everybody’s quickness and sharpness. It was a confidence-crushing juggernaut that charged at me with special, almost supernatural force! Even if I studied or practiced it, I would always find myself lost and helpless in its many problems. A right answer once in a while would be like an oasis in a desert. And the day before a math exam was nothing short of nightmare. And the Indian educational culture only aggravated my phobia of math, for god forbid, if one was slow or lagged behind, he/she would be hollered at or humiliated. Oh, and imagine, just be in my child shoes and imagine, how I felt when my teachers called me out to solve problems on the board, in front of everyone. They didn’t even allow us the privacy to hate and fear this subject, everybody had to know how bad you were at it.
So these were five of my greatest fears as a child. They have not entirely left me, but as I said earlier, new fears have manifested themselves in my being and pushed these to the periphery of my consciousness.
Did this list make you think of your own childhood fears? Yes? No? Well, go ahead, share your own fears here, for my comments’ section eagerly awaits you. This is my first blog in a year and a half, and I shall welcome your comments and views warmly—they will only encourage me to keep writing!