Fear

 

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If there is any word that I fear the most it is ‘FEAR’. I am afraid and terrified of the numerous and sub numerous ways my fears tend to blossom – projecting their tentacles from deep within my sub-conscious! I’ve been like this always – since the time I was born. Cloudy sky, smell of antiseptic, sound of train travelling over river, morning alarm, moving cars, carbuncles, lizard, furry animals….my list is endless. Surprisingly, the only thing that I should have been afraid of but am not are cockroaches. I’ve surprised myself again and again with the ease with which I’ve held on to their whip-like tentacles and thrown them out of the window. Much to the relief of my screaming mother!

My fear has however provided comic relief to most of my family members time and again.

When I was in the fourth class, one of our Science teachers had spoken in class about the sun and the universe. With total innocence she had explained how everything would eventually come to an end.

“It may so happen that the sun would set and not rise again”, she had explained. That bit of ‘not rise again’ somehow slithered into my mind as my fear factor. I was ofcourse not aware of it.

That evening I watched ‘Star Wars’ on television. The sun, as usual, was ‘westward ho’, sprinkling the leftover orange and purple hues here and there. I just happened to look out of the window and then suddenly, all of a sudden, that small seed of fear that had creeped during my Science class blossomed into a fear foliage!

At first it was a mild tingling of sorrow bubbles bursting here and there. Then gradually the lava of sorrow couldn’t hold itself together. It erupted with a steady stream of tears coupled with loud howling. It took many minutes for my family to realize that my tears and howling were beyond control. Emotions and expressions varied from person to person.

Stomach Ache.

That Star Wars unsettled her. I had warned you all. Insane, creepy-looking beings can unsettle even adults like us.

Hungry. She must be hungry.

My mind in the meanwhile listed all the things I would miss in case the sun would choose not to rise again.Grandma’s stories, my mother’s little fist-balls of rice that she would feed a sleepy me, the black gooseberry pickles sold in front of the school gate, my secret diary, the doll with a damaged cheek, the wicker basket to pick up the Parijat flowers…..

This only increased the tempo of my howling. Every now and then I would look out of the window to setting sun and improve on my vocal chords. Umpteen glasses of water, temptation of an extra sweet, coaxing, warning – absolutely nothing worked to subdue my fear. Till my exhaustion got better of me. Exhausted and hoarse-voiced by now, I surrendered myself to my soft, white pillow – almost whimpering like a hurt dog.

“And now, would you kindly tell us what exactly is wrong with you?”, my grandmother used her ‘thunder’ policy.

“The sun….”, I sobbed.

Everyone looked out of the window in unison.

“What about the sun?”, they were curious.

“What if…”, I sobbed again.

“What kind of disjointed sentences are these. Have you gone totally insane?”

“ What..what..what if the sun sets now, never to rise again?”, I vented out the ultimate puff of fear that was entrapped within me.

The reaction to this was obviously cart full of silence at first, followed by total disbelief.

“And who on earth, told you this?”, my mother tried to question amidst supressed laughter.

“Miss Nandi”, I managed to blurt out. Somehow within myself I was kind of happy to place the high-heel-shoe and pencil-eyebrow Miss Nandi in the seat of a probable vamp!

For the next few days, Miss Nandi became the talk of the town. Or so I thought. Every second person in the larger family asked me about ‘Miss Nandi and her big, bad sun story’. Till the suppressed giggles made me realize that the joke was on me!!

This has been a well known incident in my family. But there is one incident that I have never disclosed to anyone. But now I think I should.

Now there was this little shop at the turning of our road. Not a shop exactly, a shanty of a shop. A shanty of a shop that spelled MAGIC!! In that little space which could barely accomodate a seller, Bell Jar after Bell Jar sat the components every childhood is made up of. Crunchy peanuts, shiny ping-pong ball sized lime pickles, colocasia chips, mixtures of various hues…

My special attraction however lay elsewhere. With every purchase of 100 gms of peanuts, the seller, called Bhujiawallah, would pack in two to three pieces of green chilly pickle wrapped in a piece of newspaper. It was that age where everyone who gave an extra or a free item was hailed as demi God. And to me Bhujiawalah was one such special magician.

So in one strange-yellow, summery afternoon I set out to meet my God with a two rupee note. To my utter dismay I found a younger looking man in Bhujiawala‘s seat. Most probably it was his son. But this son was no where near the halo-bearing Bhujiawallah. This one was puff cheeked, with three of his front teeth missing and one jutting outside like a walrus.

“Peanuts for two rupees”, I placed my note over his counter, wishing to wrap up my business as fast as I could.

He definitely was more skilled than his father – he waited till the weighs balanced neatly. Then with acute deftness packed the nuts and handed them to me.

“Chilly pickle?”, I questioned. I hated him. Where was the glory of a free item if one had to actually ask for it?

He paused for a few seconds and then packed four green chillies in a torn newspaper bit and kept it over the peanut packet.

“Fu fu fan fe”, he spoke out in his monotonous tone.

“What?”

“Fu fu fan fe”, he repeated his question or answer or statement or whatever.

“What is it?”, I repeated my question.

“Fu fu fan fe”, he repeated. His teethless mouth would only permit that much. My repeated queries yielded no other answer, till it reached a level of frustration. At one point of time I began suspecting if he would take away my packets. So I grabbed my packets and ran as fast as I could – till I was out of his sight. But then my fear had already gripped me.

Maybe he was asking money for the pickle too. I concluded within myself. From then on things became miserable. I could neither eat the peanuts, nor could sleep at night. Everytime I would close my eyes, a teethless vest-clad figure would appear and say “Fu fu fan fe”.

To me that “Fu fu fan fe” became the curse spelt by the wicked witch. For days and months together I avoided the shop like plague. I rummaged my brain and found out excuses galore to avoid that shop; that road infact. No amount of coaxing from my mother or grandmother would prompt me to go to that shop. The ‘Fu fu fan fe’ fear went on for many days till one day I noticed that the shop had shut. ‘ A big apartment will come up soon, so they have gone back to their village’, someone informed. My ‘Fu fu’ fear remained locked within the tin shutter of the shop forever. Though I still wonder if they had left the innumerable bell jars behind.

But I’ve noticed one thing strange, that if I fear something the most, it is a species called Homo sapiens. I am mighty afraid of people and their expectations. I have tried, failed, tried and failed an infinite number of times to confront the question, “What if…”. I’ve never been able to convince myself that it is okay if I say ‘No’; it is okay if I am not perfect enough to meet people’s expectations; it is perfectly alright to put my foot down once in a while.

When I was in my high school, I had undergone an intense phase of fear and hallucination. I had just shifted from another state and another board, so this change of school, board and atmosphere was a bit tough for me to handle. But worse was the Principal of the school. Every now and then, she would haul me up for a session of reprimand. Round and rotund that she was, her double chin would blow in and out similar to a toad, while she spoke. I am sorry to ever think of a teacher in terms of a toad. But my fear made me hallucinate that a toad was actually speaking to me. I would look down, up and even try to close my eyes, but the vision of the toad croaking wouldn’t shove off my mind. In those two years that I survived, I constantly battled my under water illusion.

But as they say, every fear has it’s share of triumph. The moving figure in the dark would ultimately end up being the shadow of a hanging cloth, sound of foot-steps in the hall would actually be sound of water droplets from the tap and not everyday would the sun set, never to rise again!

The finishing touch to my final fear story is also one such lesson in triumph. In the two harrowing years that I survived in that school, my every day prayer was to see a day when I would be able to answer my Principal. But the day actually came many, many years later – when I was way beyond my schooling years. It was a programme on Women’s Day and our focus theme was ‘elderly women’. A lot of women from different churches, old age homes etc were invited to the programme. Since our organisation was conducting the programme, I was in charge of being the resource person. As I was in the middle of my presentation, there, amidst a group of fragile, wrinkled faces, shone a face that seemed oh-so-familiar. Croak! Something rumbled within my mind. I felt my feet turning icy cold but I didn’t want to give up. I converted my speech to an interactive discussion. All the while, my lub-dub went croak-croak with fear but this time I didn’t want my fear to win.

Programme over. Applause. Applause. Applause. A pair of old hands came my way. “Congratulations Ma’am. You were excellent! In which school were you groomed”, she said. Her voice was soaked in genuine appreciation.

“Oh, in a lot many schools…I’ve been through around seven schools in my life-time”, I laughed.

“Could you help me get down the stairs”, she requested.

“Sure”, I smiled.

“God bless you! Your teachers must have been so proud of you!”, she smiled.

The toad suddenly jumped into the big, bad pond and swam away. In front of me, stood my old, helpless Principal!

I had a good mind to take out my tongue and wag it – Fear, this is for you!

But then, there was this unbeatable feeling of triumph that didn’t smell of revenge. It was a soft, mellow feeling of happiness….one that surpasses every fear!

 

Pic Courtesy: Pixabay

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Tail Tales

mij

Our Mij

Jimmy, Jimmy…aaja aaja:As the priest approached mid-way through his sermon, the older ones sat in rapt attention – listening to every one of his words. The young ones in the meanwhile giggled silently and fidgeted in their seats. It was just then that he appeared. Nearly fifty pairs of eyes rivetted to the direction of his appearance.The priest fumbled a little – not having expected the limelight being taken away all so suddenly. He, on the other hand, was non-chalant about this sudden attention. He took his seat near one of his known ones. “ Go…go, I say”, my mother whispered. But she knew he wouldn’t move. It had been his routine to somehow make it to the church every Sunday. And no one or nothing could deter Jimmy – the local stray dog!

Jimmy was not our really, real pet. He was one among the many stray dogs who ‘helped themselves’ into a family. He roamed about carelessly through the entire neighbourhood. But he was one stubborn dog! He would do what he exactly wanted to do. So he took upon himself the ‘duty to see off’ the different odd members of the neighbourhood! So, we had Jimmy accompanying us to our bus-stand, to the local shop, to the laundry and even to the church. To us it was amusement but to the others, who hardly knew him, it was a frightening experience to suddenly discover a dog standing next to them at the bus-stand or taking a seat on the floor beside them in the Chruch.

We were also very convinced that Jimmy must have been a horse in his previous birth. A shrill cry of ‘Jimmmmmy’ from my grandpa and Jimmy would gallop through the entire neighbourhood to reach for his ‘night dinner’ of leftovers. His speed and style of galloping was no less than a majestic horse.

But one night there was no sound of his gallop outside.

“Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy”, we went about calling through the entire locality. The other local doggies accompanied us in our search. But Jimmy was nowhere to be found.My grandpa, who could hardly be called a ‘dog lover’, too got worried. He too went around looking for Jimmy.

And then we found him – just near the heap of sand at the turning of the main road. He was sleeping – never to get up again! He had apparently gone in front of a Mini-Bus.There was no blood, no wound but perhaps an internal injury.

Jimmy was perhaps the only dog with whom my grandpa had developed an uncanny bond of sorts.

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Ruhaani & Rianna with a stray puppy: And the legacy continues

Lalu- the lonely: Lalu was a dog to the rest of the world, to herself she was a human. Atleast that is what she thought herself to be! Lalu being a male name shouldn’t actually have been her name but when it came to naming dogs, children always choose the easy names so what could have easily been Lali or Lily, became Lalu to the children. Lalu was the typical royal snobbish. She would hardly venture out of our little nook and her world revolved around us – children. Inspite of our constant ear-pulling or tickling, Lalu would still linger around us – playing games with us in equal mirth. So fond was she of us, that she hardly cared for her own puppies, resulting in their premature death. But Lalu’s death was perhaps the most tragic we had ever come across. It was one foggy morning that we discovered Lalu – shivering and moaning near our gate. Her entire back skin was torn apart by what seemed to be a splash of acid. Her sight sent shivers down our spine. In those days when vets were hard to be found, we were clueless about what we could actually do. Moreover she was in too much pain to let us even touch her. But what was astounding was the fact that inspite of her gashing burns and her deep pain she neither growled at us nor did she let anyone touch her. She let out long sobs of immense pain punctuated by helpless tears. With our own little knowledge we tried to comfort her by pouring medicines and cold water on her burning wound but nothing would comfort her. By nightfall, so immense was her pain that she began grinding hard stones with her bite – turning those into tiny pebbles. Her moans grew to loud wails. Unable to cope up with her pain, she banged her head against every possible object. But – she wouldn’t bite any one of us! Her condition grew pathetic over time. I sobbed with my friends, hid my head under a pillow to escape the sight outside the window and even shut my ears tight to escape the sound of her wails. Her condition grew worse. The elders were equally worried.

On the evening of the second day, someone told us of a woman who was an animal lover and lived in the nearby apartment. The security at the apartment wouldn’t let us in. It was just then that someone pointed to us, “There she comes, talk to her directly”. We ran to her and explained the situation. To our relief, she was actually as kind as she was told to be. She accompanied us to meet Lalu. As she approached Lalu, she looked towards her in genuine grief. The woman bent down and inspected the wound. “Sepsis has already set in”. She sounded worried. “Can we save her still?”, we asked, unable to comprehend the gravity of the situation. “No…I am sorry, we cannot”, she shook her head. “Things would only turn worse”.

Then she turned to us and held our hands, “ Look, what do you all want? That she should suffer?”.

“Noooooo”, we spoke in unison.

“Then you have to let her go”.

“Go?”, we were puzzled.

“We have to ensure that she doesn’t suffer anymore. And the only way is to put her to sleep. And by sleep I mean – to help her die”.

“Nooooooooooo”, we wailed.

“ Otherwise, she will only suffer further…her wails will be too, too pathetic then!”

Our gang of young ones consulted with each other and concluded that we should actually let her die – for her own sake!

Within minutes the lady got an injection procured. Gently stroking her neck, she brought Lalu closer. Then with amazing deftness, she pushed in her injection. Lalu did not protest. There was just a small whimper.

“Bye Lalu, bye…bye…bye…”, we hysteriacally waved at her. With her last bit of life remaining she looked at us. Then she gradually went to sleep. As her breathing became slower and slower we began digging her grave outside our compound gate. The sun had just begun to set….and there was too much silence!

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‘Judo’ helping himself into our family photograph

Operation Spotty: Lalu left behind two of her pups – a yellow one and a black and white one. The yellow one was named ‘Tiger’ and the Black and White one was called ‘Spotty’. Having two friends to play with, we had almost forgotten Lalu. But they were both different from each other. While Tiger preferred to stay indoors, Spotty was the outgoing one! He would devour off whatever he would find around and then speed off in seconds. That he was just a puppy and not a dog enough, was beyond his comprehension. And as luck would have it, one fine afternoon there was a screech, followed by a shrill wail. We rushed outside, only to discover Spotty in immense pain. A car had run over his tiny front paw, deeply injuring the left one. Not to let another Lalu story happen, we picked up Spotty and immediately summoned a meeting of the ‘near and dear ones’.

“We must do something. Otherwise he too might end up having sepsis”, the little bigger among us declared.

“Yes, yes, yes”, we endorsed his decision.

We had come to know of a government-run animal care hospital quite near to our house. So we decided to take him there.

“Shall we take some money?”, one of us asked.

“Hmm…not a bad idea. We also need to get permission from the elders”.

It took a bit of coaxing but finally, armed with permission and ten rupee note we headed to the veterinary centre.

The the animal care centre was actually was a dilapitated, old building with a huge grassy, courtyard. As we entered, we noticed a small line of animal owners with their Bovine patients. Oblivious to the happenings around, the animals chewed on the lush green grasses around, letting out a ‘hope-these-weirdos-have-not-come-to-share-our-grass’ kind of look every now and then.

As we hurried inside with a whimpering Spotty, the ones in the queue protested vehemently.

“Emergency, emergency”, we shouted.

An old doctor and his compounder sat in their ‘chamber’ – checking a ‘happy-looking’ goat.

A sudden appearance of five children certainly unsettled him.

“Hey, hey you kids. What do you want?’, the compounder screamed.

“Emergency, emergency”, we emphasised again.

“What emergency?”, the doctor looked puzzled.

“ He has injured his foot and may die anytime soon”, one of us pointed to the puppy.

It was then that he discovered the tightly wrapped puppy.

“Let him finish with me…I mean my animal”, the goat owner protested.

The doctor scribbled his medicines and handed over to the compounder.

“Take medicines from him”, the doctor instructed the goat-owner.

Then he turned to check Spotty. As he looked at the near-torn left front foot of the puppy, Spotty whimpered.

“ This part is gone”, he declared non-chalantly.

“Gone? What do you mean by gone?”

“This part has to be amputed!”, he sounded emotionless.

Gulp! The word amputation sent in waves of fear!

“Do you have a clean razor ?”. The doctor went about his business casually.

“Razor!!!!”

“Yeah, a razor. Get a shaving razor from the nearby shop”, he instructed. For even once he did not wonder if it would be possible for five young children to procure razor blade.

But we had to accomplish our mission, so one of us ran and bought a blade from the shop nearby.

It took five and a half minutes for the entire ‘operation’. He was given a ‘post-operative rest period’ of fifteen minutes. Exactly twenty and half minutes later he emerged from the ‘operation theatre’ with a bandage tied to his injured foot.

“Fifteen days of ‘Bed Rest’ and he should be okay”, the doctor pronounced in his professional tone, without once realising how a street doggy can possibly be coaxed to a ‘bed rest’.

Our ‘Opeartion Spotty’ was successful!

Spotty went on to live for many more years as the ‘three-legged one’. Tiger in the meanwhile died as a pup!

Our pet Mij: We had a number of stray dogs as pets and parrots every now and then. The dogs however never stayed with us and the parrots never survived beyond one week. We once adopted two chicks as pets but they did not live beyond a month. So our only, really real pet was Mij. Mij was a German Spitz – a gift from a friend of my father. He came to our house as a three-month old furry bundle of wool. The first few days he slept with us under the blanket. We were overjoyed! We dreamt of days when we would play around with Mij in abundance. But we soon discovered that Mij wasn’t exactly like any other pet dog. For one, he actually hated too much cuddling. He would rather have a corner to himself than suffocating with grown up children! And unlike dogs in general he hated it terribly if people ever tickled or patted him. His jaws would quiver a bit and he would happily expose his fangs if we dared to meddle with him too much. But he was a master of himself and my mother. My mother would be the only one he would listen to! He would eat his food in the same fashion as us. Just like us he would suck the juice out of drumstick and throw away the inedible part; given a boiled egg, he would first eat the yolk and then the white; and like a true Bengali dog he would relish Fish Head! He never ever ate unless and untill my mother would ask him to and he never stole food – except sweets – that too of a particular variety. Once my father had got the same variety of sweets and having given Mij his share, I kept mine on the shelf for the time being. When I was back after ten minutes, the sweet was gone. We looked around high and low, just in case the sweet had fallen somewhere. But it was never to be found. And then we discover – powdered bits of the sweet clinging on to his moustache as he hid himself under the dressing table.

“Did you or not, steal the sweet/”, my mother thundered.

Pop came out his front paw, asking for forgiveness! Now, who could have not forgiven that gesture!

He had earned a nickname for himself as the ‘biting dog’ as he did bite people in abundance. But this had a plus side to it as well. In the six years that he stayed with us, not a single thief ventured to come to the vicinty of our compound, leave alone our house! A mango-thief, unaware of his reputation, had once dared climb on to our mango tree in the early hours of dawn. We would have perhaps remained unaware of his presence had we not heard the helpless cry of the thief. When we reached the courtyard, it was a sight straight from a comedy film. With a growling Mij just below him, a lean man hung precariously from a low branch of the tree. Each time the helpless man dared move a bit, Mij would jump up – his jaws nearly touching the poor-man’s bum! “Please Mashima, please take him away. I swear in the name of my mother, I would never ever dare come again”, the man howled – his eyes popping out in genuine fear! But Mij was not ready to give up so easily. So we had to coax and cajole Mij to tie him up, just to ensure that the thief doesn’t die of fear! However, it was the only incidence with thief we ever had in six years.

One thing which we had understood was that Mij was not like any other ordinary pet. He would never show emotional attachment towards anyone other than my mother but was fiercely protective of us at the same time. When I had returned home after a six month trip outside, he didn’t let anyone of the family members come close to me for one full month. He would follow me wherever I went and would sit on my clothes if I ever took out clothes from the cupboard to go outside. So hyper he became about protecting me that he identified my study book as a possible threat and tore the enormous book to flying bits! When I entered the room I saw his happy face – as if declaring – “Look what I have done! Took on that bastard single handedly and tore him to bits!”.

I do not know if this is a myth or a reality but they say that dogs are often over-sensitive. They cannot accept anyone or thing taking their position. I am not sure if this was the reason or if it was a mere co-incidence but Mij died, exactly a month after my son was born.

After my son’s birth, my attention towards Mij declined . I would often find him staring at me as I cuddled my son. He had not been keeping too well and I thought it was owing to his poor health. There was a certain sadness in his looks.He used to stay upstairs with my brother, while I used to stay downstairs with my son.

Then on 12th of July, things became bad. He had stopped eating altogether. I heard my mother crying and coaxing him to have a little food atleast. My father, brother, grandmother had all rushed to him. Only I sat downstairs, holding my son and crying. I had been advised by doctor not to climb stairs so i felt helpless. But the crying and mourning upstairs was too much. I knew it was his final moments perhaps. I chose to go upstairs. Step by step I climbed up. The mourning grew louder. As I opened the door, I saw Mij with his face turned towards the wall – forcing himself to take his last few breaths. And then he gathered all his strength, he turned his face. Looked towards me. Let out a sigh. And that was it! Our world with Mij came to a stop!

We cremated him in our garden outside with his favourite items and his food plate.

My father turned it into a concrete tomb-like structure.

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Final resting place of Mij

That was the last pet we ever kept. The pain was too much for us to think of another pet.

Till day my brother cleans his tomb and offers flowers before he goes to sleep every single day.

To us, he was our brother afterall!