Fear factor

Fear factor

Children are generally afraid of the many creatures that try to share our living space. Scurrying cockroaches and slithering worms are some of them. This, however, did not apply to me, for as a child, I spent many happy hours in the garden watching nature’s wondrous creations. Iridescent webs holding still spiders, long lines of diligent ants and bold and raucous crows fascinated me. Only one thing sent a chill down my spine. It was the sound of murmured prayers that heralded a funeral procession. As soon as it reached my ears, I would run, terror-stricken, to my mother and plunge my face into the folds of her sari.

She, the wise one, understood what was going on, for one day she cupped my face in her hands and said, “Why are you so afraid of the dead? They cannot do any harm. If anything, you should be afraid of the living. It is they who can hurt you.” Her words wrought the immediate magic of dissolving my fears about the dead. But I was not able to discern whether the rest of her words held any truth.

When I entered college, I took up English Literature as my subject of study. My father was bitterly disappointed as he, a successful physician, had fondly hoped that I would choose his profession. However, he had no words of reproach and treated me with his usual kindness. I got married soon after I graduated. It was an arranged one. The groom’s educational background was not different from mine and this gave me hope that I would be able to pursue my literary interests. I was, however, in for a complete surprise.

The household I had entered into was dominated by my mother-in-law. My literary accomplishments were of little use to her and she treated me like a household drudge. Worse, she was a possessive mother and took every opportunity to humiliate me. The arrival of two little girls did little to assuage matters. My husband, an only child, and his father cared little for what went on, so long as there was a semblance of peace in the house. My mother’s words that it is the living who can hurt would resonate in my ears. I knew I had to do something before I lost faith in the basic goodness of human nature.

Fighting enormous pressures, I worked for a BEd qualification and took up teaching. This restored my sagging confidence. It took me back into the world of academics and taught me the value of mingling with others and sharing their troubles and joys. Best of all, it gave me an opportunity to inspire and mould young minds.

The passage of time has shown me that ‘there is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so’. I see that everything — both the advantages and defects in life — serve a purpose. All of them are learning experiences. As writer Pema Chodron says, “Everything that occurs is not only usable and workable but is actually a means for waking up’.