Irrational fears

Irrational fears

As I was drawing our living room curtains, a skinny, beige lizard fell on my shoulder.

Growing up in Bangalore as a child, I remember cockroaches that popped out of drains, and from behind doors. Father roaches, mother roaches, chocolate-coloured roaches and flying roaches – all as plump and squishy as dates. Yuck, yuck, yuck...!

Beady-eyed lizards, big and small, lazed around in our garden, sunning themselves on the parapets and the window grille. In the evenings, inside our verandah and the living room they would go chuk, chuk, chuk. They startled us out of our wits, tumbling down on us from above the curtain rods and shelves, without summons, like the sales guys.

My friends in the US who have pets at home and do not eat meat because they love animals, cannot understand how a vegetarian can be so intimidated by insects and animals. Their logic is that if you are a vegetarian, surely you must love the creatures, right?

Nope. I inform them that I was born in a family whose ancestors belong to a religion, Jainism, founded in 527 B.C. Jains believe in ahimsa (non-violence). Vegetarianism is a way of life for us. The aim is to, “Live, and let live” However, as a child, when these pests jumped on me without an invitation, I ran. I screamed. I would have loved to spray them into extinction. Whooossshh!

“Stop yelling, I say! They won’t bite you, poor things.” Dad scoffed at my phobias of all sorts. Mom and the domestic helps were more tolerant.  Amused by this drama, they would help shoo the roaches away from me. My elder sisters, who also disliked the creepy-crawlies, were more restrained in their reactions. However, I don’t remember my one and only little brother’s response. He was too involved back then tinkering with wires and peering into all things electronic.

On calm days, I tried to make sense of my “imaginary fears” as dad named them. My thoughts turned non-belligerent. “Hmm, maybe these harmless creatures want to share space, that’s all, and want to say a friendly hello.” It felt nice to be a pacifist, for a while. The lizards approved, right away. Chuk, chuk, chuk. They spoke in their lizard language all day long. For a few weeks, my heart brimmed with empathy and love towards my non-human friends in nature.

A month later, as I was drawing the curtains in our living room, down fell a skinny, ridged, beige lizard on my shoulder. “Eeeeekkkk!” I shrieked. I screamed and ran around the sofa trying to get the quivering thing, which was by then as nervous as I was, off my dress.

Today, when I wear my teacher’s hat, I smile when my students fuss over insects and lizards and hear them say,  “Aww, it is so cute.”