The chiming of the grandfather clock in the living room has lodged itself into my inner ear and somehow she catches on and asks me, excitedly, “Time, isn’t it?” I nod, if only to satisfy her now waning curiosity.
It’s not like the question is new or even unexpected. From childhood slam books to ‘Find Your Patronus’ quizzes and the leading queries of frantic online anxiety tests filled in the desperate darkness, all ask the same thing: What is your biggest fear?
Heights, fire, spiders, drowning, ghosts, war: one unlikelier than the other. Loneliness comes closest perhaps, right after failure. Complaceny and utter defiance of all expectations-misplaced and otherwise- rule out the latter. The first lingers on for far too long until its presence is a foregone conclusion. So then I wonder can you fear something that is already as much a part of you as the very skin on your body?
My heart, I realise, is almost like my study table. All year round, junk gathers in a heap upon it until the eve of the examination. Then the wood creaks, in what I imagine to be surprise, at the sudden contact with fresh oxygen. Clutter, declutter. Clutter, declutter. Except, there is no examination- no big looming date- as far as the heart is concerned. And so the debris remains, accumulates.
Somewhere between this realisation(?Understanding?) and late nights spent devouring gay fanfiction under thick blankets in sweaty, cramped rooms, I have my epiphany.
It’s conversations, of course.
A wide-eyed preteen sat down by anxious parents and gently told that she isn’t-was never – their own to begin with.
A sixty-year old woman who spends the next fifteen years of her life introducing herself to her husband-day after day after day.
A seventy-five year old who spends the rest of her life being told-reminded– by her teenage granddaughter that her husband is dead.
A young boy whose father engraves his will through his words, into his mind-and skin-with every lash of the belt as he is made to repeat after him,“I am not a faggot.”
You see conversations wield the power to make or break, to alter lives; they also have the underrated yet more consequential ability to change human minds. I’m sure dictators throughout history knew this as did colonial rulers. The reason large gatherings were forbidden and the press was stifled and rigid curfews so strictly maintained (Remember the Rowlatt Act?) was that people talking to one another would inevitably lead to the formation of a somewhat cohesive, even if not unanimous, public opinion. It would be amiss on my part to mention autocrats and imperialists and not democrats when history is repeating itself today, across the world although I do believe its keenest sting is being felt by us, here in India.
It is not just revolutions and resistance that make conversations my biggest fear and led to my big epiphany, so to say. Over my teenage years, I’ve overnight become what you would call difficult, as I’m sure my parents would tell you but thankfully somewhere along the way I’ve learnt to pick my battles, if nothing else. So imagination my condition when my sister in the midst of a mundane conversation about prayers blurts out that I’m an atheist or ath-e-east as she calls it. For a moment there’s complete silence as I contemplate ten thousand and one different ways to kill my sister while my ‘hardcore believer’ of a mother looks at me-confused, as if solving a Sudoku. You know those moments in life when you know what follows will either be the frying pan or the fire, and you don’t know which one to wish for? Well I had my moment and all I got was a placid almost clinical dose of water and I swear, if you ever find yourself in such a position, you want one of the former options. Rage I can absorb, even counter but I sure as hell have no clue what to do with the bitter cold.
But I digress. Even initiating conversations make me gnaw at my nails. Sitting through one simultaneously vexes me and drains me of whatever energy I posses. Then there is my inability to filter-that I have spoken (and written) about so much that it is probably my pet peeve now-and how three, two, sometimes zero words stumble out of my mouth and wreak the worst kind of emotional havoc.
Perhaps, I’m most terrified of the conversations that I have in my head. Going over, redoing, repairing debates, speeches, meetings and of course, conversations from years ago again and again and again and there is no until. The conflict of everything I could be and won’t amount upto, constantly crashing against the walls of my mind. Lost potential-I fucking hate that word-and whatnot.
On the clearer days, I wonder how utter inaction breed utter paralysis of thought and emotion. Aren’t action-pumping adrenaline and hero complexes and bullets and tanks- supposed to be the scary things? Since when have supressed thoughts and inadvertent beliefs become so much more formidable, fearsome?
Have you ever felt the a crushing heaviness at the pit of your stomach? You may be lounging in front of the television, chatting in class, walking home: doing ordinary everyday things that you do and the bottom of your body just seems to drop and become a hollow nothingness. Have you ever felt frozen as your heart fell right through your body? Have you?