Our office is in a kharanja (lane) off the central artery of Dalsinghsarai. The betel-green walls of office are separated from my lair by battees number gumti (railway crossing #32), detached travelers, vendors chopping and sifting tobacco, people waiting to get their colourful bicameral holders filled up with choona and tobacco, low-tech welders, honkers, two cobblers, burning garbage, overzealous bikers, hawker selling coconut flesh, schoolkids, consumers, and a few hundred odd people carrying on with their lives. I can identify the lone Garib Rath on this train line by the sound of its generator car. I know that Vaishali Express arrives in the evening and the Garib Rath early morning, but I am still unaware which direction Delhi is in, what days the train arrives, where the train arrives from, and why its passengers are headed somewhere. On the rail tracks, pantographs of locomotive alternate with nebulous soot. Unfortunately, I cannot witness each passage, but the high pitch horn of the older locomotives set them distinct from the mellow bass of electric ones. However, aberrations—like other matters in life—challenge this hypothesis. The diversity of human nature is more evident when the sounds contrast for a few moments only to scoot off to their destination. Still, twitching eyes at conference table is the measure of difference between pilot’s fear and bystander’s fearlessness.
Fear is one of the few innate emotions. Conceived in no particular order, anxiety is a distinct close cousin accompanying it hand in hand. Incidents which trigger fear are always around the corner in our otherwise ephemeral palaces. Inspired from these memories, even innocuous activities like walking kindle unexplained anxiety. With anxiety reappears the flood of memories, which draw baleful locks of algal nets with nothing but fear to maim the sentience.
On most evenings, I end up locking office for the night. There is certain solace in the quietude of empty office. Still, solace does not necessarily relive those clawed-in tentacles trying to pull. The hundred or so steps from office to the main road is a life lived in itself. The ten foot wide alley has three exits: the office, the central artery and a rather narrow connection to a cluster of houses. The pitch black gutter on one edge has a stink which I cannot identify anymore. A twelve foot wall rises off the other edge. Although there is no street lamp, light still disperses from beyond these high walls. This is as safe as it gets. As I walk down, an irrational fear grips me time and again. The mugging of yesteryear triggers that fear as I wriggle my way between two innocuous people, whom my mind constantly frames as muggers. The pulse is always in the evil embrace of fear. As people move closer, reactionary measures start falling in place like a well-exercised fire drill: heart rate picks up, limbs tighten, teeth clench, a shiver starts building up, mind prepares to flee, but I never adjust my pace. This crossing is unlike that of rail engines. The excitement and fear crescendos till that momentary meeting, from where it starts bleeding like a nicked jugular. It is the guilt which flows now.
What does one do when fear becomes the driver of their life?
Another day, as I sat there next to a health centre incharge admonishing the health workers, a sense of déjà vu set in. The clear hierarchical divide manifested in a staggered seating arrangement and operations. Phones of upper echelons rang with impunity, the next ‘level’ which sat on chairs around the table ran the risk of eviction if their phone rang, and the grass-root worker—apparently the bottom most step of the organizational ladder—sat on dhurrie pacifying their wailing kid, talking with no one but their brethren bothering to listen. It was a reiteration of fear, my fear of unchallenged authority, a fear of being trapped in subservience and obsequiousness. Indeed, old habits are difficult to cull; even though the mannerism aligned, the constant rational rebellion of the past five and a half years ensured that the reasons and sense of unrest prevailed. In those moments of observing the admonishing, fear started flexing its talons. I would have been swamped but the reasons rescued me before a watershed could arrive. Day in, day out, it is a challenge to maintain confidence in the face of one’s wont versus logic.
Fear has another enterprising companion: lie. Associated with deadlines and unkept promises, lies are an unfortunate reality in the participatory matrix of social sector. People will lie no matter what, but can we afford to lose our composure? Can there be productivity without the sword of deadline hanging over? Can there be positive outcome without instilling a sense of fear in someone’s mind? Can there be course correction without any retribution? I doubt there is a certain answer.
On the mobius strip that life is, also lies independence.
Tushar is enjoying the “post-apocalyptic scenario of Bihar”—choice phrase by a friend—at Innovators in Health in Dalsinghsarai. He has been listening to ‘fear of the dark’ by Iron Maiden for the past four years and recommends that you do too.