Let us play a game. Take a few random alphabets and rearrange them into a word that makes sense… then make another one… and another one… I generally find that anagrams make me less fearful of even the most fearsome words. I chose A-E-F-R and one of the words that I made, was FEAR. Now this happened quite a few years ago, so let me first tell you why I played this game.
I was in junior school then and was known as ‘darpok’ or the one who is forever afraid. Being afraid did seem reasonable to me and I can tell you I did see witches and other evil outlines in the shadows. ‘It is your imagination playing with you,’ I was told by everyone, ‘and this is surely because of all these story-books that you keep reading all the time.’ I did wonder if it was correct to blame mere stories, but then I also realised that words could do anything.
It was during this phase when going out in the dark was awful, that fate brought me near a school-mate who was called the ‘fearless Nadira’ of our class. Benita Dunn, even in Class III, was the sort who had gone into the dense thicket of trees just behind our school and came back alive to report that there were not more than fifty trees there and most had lovely red flowers on them. We didn’t believe her, of course, and still continued discussing the tigers and the lions that could be lurking in the shadows there.
‘I know there is some big animal there,’ said Brijender, another class-mate who had once entered that forest but had jumped out sweating after just a few seconds. He had managed to get our respect for this of course, and so used to sit next to Benita in class. Let’s say, Benita had allowed him to sit next to her.
During one such day, our teacher asked me to collect a few shoe-flowers from the wild patch behind the school. She wanted to tell us something interesting in a flower. I went pale and was unable to even stutter out my denial. During lunch-break, Benita came over and said, ‘So you’ll be entering the forest today, eh?’
‘Must I?’ I answered and my look conveyed that I would be only too happy to let her go in and get the flowers.
But Benita was in no mood for this helpful gesture and said, ‘We will all stand outside that forest and clap when you return.’ The entire class agreed and we trooped towards the most fearsome area around our school. On reaching, I simply sat on the ground and refused to get up and go in. ‘I can’t. I can see a lot of witches waiting for me… and I can even hear their cruel whispers.’
‘There are no witches in there and the cruel whispers that you hear are just leaves rustling,’ said Benita. It was at this point that she took out a notebook and a pencil and asked me write A-E-F-R. I did that.
‘Now make a word with these alphabets,’ ordered Benita. I thought for a while and wrote FARE. ‘Can you think of another word now?’ goaded Benita. I then wrote: FEAR. The others were looking at what we were doing and were seemingly puzzled. Making words didn’t somehow seem like magic. But then Benita pointed towards the second word and said, ‘Look at this word. Do you see witches dancing in it?’
‘No,’ I said.
‘Are there tigers or lions staring at you from the alphabets?’
‘No,’ I said.
‘Then you don’t fear this word. Right?’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I somehow like this word.’ And saying this, I simply got up and walked towards the trees. I entered the forest that day and did collect the flowers that I asked to. But more importantly, I lost my fear of fear. Thanks to the word game. Thanks to Benita.
I must add here that I also began entering dark rooms after this. I volunteered to also go to the terrace and switch on the lights as my mother followed me there. Not that I stopped enjoying my story-books… I still loved reading those fantasy tales and loved being in my own world of imagined characters. The truth is that I started interacting with these weird characters that I imagined and in a few years, wrote my first short-story too.
The important thing though is that fear was no longer fearsome for me… and I realised this the day I went up on the stage to recite a long poem for an elocution contest in school. All others were jittery and some had stage fears that made them clamp up as soon as they reached there… but I just went up, recited my poem… and even got my first elocution prize. The truth is that fear had stopped making me afraid.
So if you have fear plaguing you, just take these four magical alphabets A-E-F-R and make as many words as you can. Look at what you have written… and lose your fear of fear.
14 December 2014