“What are your insecurities about, even? I just don’t understand”, my grandmother yells at me just the same as everyday – trying to get me to open the windows and doors of my room, and let the air in. It used to happen everyday. I used to latch all the glass windows and put on thick grey curtains so that no light or fresh air ever came in. “You like to suffocate yourself”, she used to say, trying to folk-psychoanalyze me.
I was an angry teenager who didn’t want to meet anyone at home – just stick around in my room, latch the door, and sit inside the huge blue steel almirah that was in my room. I would sit under the bed for hours sometimes, until my grandmother would ‘sweep’ me out with a broom. Or sit inside a small window with glass latch doors.
But the almirah was my favorite. It was a scary thing to do – if I couldn’t open the latch from the inside, it would be a really terrible situation for my parents. But there, I could hear nothing and nobody could hear me. I felt like I was snuggled up and cosy.
My grandmother tried to get to the root of the problem – “What are you scared of?” she used to ask. My mother is a surgeon and she was at work for quite a number of hours each day. It was my grandmother who stood by my whimsical notions and idiotic ideas. She tried to see the good in them, and raise them for the better.
I had always been a dark child. Scared of being heard, read, probably even understood. I would learn greek letters and write all my ‘private documents’ and plans in ‘Greek’. I had made my own little sit-out in the verandah where I pretended to work. I used to write poems about pointlessness and never being able to find meaning. Years later, it has sometimes been scary to read such disturbing things that I wrote as a child. But that had not always been the case.
When I was even younger, I only looked at my grandmother who used to stitch, cook, knit, collect objects, read, conduct elaborate discourse over politics, religion, and modernity. She used to teach me to stitch, cook, knit, and collect objects too. I learnt diversity from her, and to never stop and sit. I was fearless to the point of being reckless.
I used to fall down a lot while trying to climb things and run around. I used to stick needles in my fingers from lack of attention, and not eat, for establishing individuality. I would not get along with my peers and not bother as long as I could collect rocks and bring them home, trying to create a board game. My grandmother let all this pass as side-products and vices.
But I grew up a little and turned 10. And then there were inexplicable fears.
The first one I remember was my second-class teacher warning all of us to not chew the ends of pencils. It was a bad habit. She told us that there would be some wooden stick insects that would grow inside our bellies if we didn’t listen to her and chewed on those pencils. I still have an elaborate picture of pencil insects right in front of me. They are half wood and half Natraj colors – red and black stripes. They are large, live in your gut, and eat your food instead of leaving it for you.
She told us that there would be some wooden stick insects that would grow inside our bellies if we didn’t listen to her and chewed on those pencils.
I had an irrational fear of push buttons after I once accidentally shut down the servers at my mother’s hospital. It was only because I had a strong urge to press a large button right in front of me. Thereafter, I pressed no buttons.
Irrational fears and strange insecurities happen to everyone’s life early – I am sure of that. There are unknown nightmares, falling teeth, friends who could leave you any moment, games you could lose at, other children to mock you – and none of these fears are what your parents fear for you. There are probably some of these that we carry forward with us, and some just get to stick around all our lives.
I am still scared of getting kidnapped, plane crashes, people around me going missing, contracting strange, unknown or new diseases, and just everything failing. Most of these things are hard to happen, but they exist as large looming possibilities to me even now.
I remember the time when I was 4 and Jurassic Park had just come out in the theatres. My dad had taken six of us children – siblings and cousins – with him to see the movie. I was the youngest of the lot, and quite frankly, was peeing my pants while the T-Rex tore down bathrooms and cars and wrecked havoc.
A few months later, a story appeared in the papers about cloning – sheep cloning had been successful for a while now – and they were going to clone mammoths, and probably dinosaurs. Yes – dinosaurs were going to freely wander here soon, it said. It was a regional newspaper trying to get some thrilling stories in. But I had just learnt to read and write, and this was not what I was looking forward to reading.
I could see it – a gigantic T-Rex stomping over all of Nagpur, killing everybody, and damaging households and dreams and families and stepping over just everything. A building at the foot of the T-Rex. I spent the whole day being absorbed in this irrational fear. At night, my grandmother brought me close and asked me what had been happening. I told her each detail of everything I saw.
All she said was, “Whatever will happen to you, will also happen to me – so we’ll be together, ok?”
That had been enough. I slept immediately and peacefully.