This week, somebody from the Free Press Journal, asked me a very special question, “What’s your PAN card number?”. This was followed up by “What does freedom mean to you?”, and then in a very infuriated tone, “What the hell is your PAN number?” If I answer the latter question, this article will end in just one more sentence. And we all know the editor expects at least two more. So instead, let me concentrate on the question on freedom. I consulted with the one person who understands all things — my daughter — whose pet name in the family is, ‘The Omnipotent One’! Here follows our combined treatise on freedom. And yes, ‘the omnipotent one’ has given me freedom to air our views in public.
There are three types of freedom, according to our vast research and unbelievably porous network of stranger’s contributions. The first is ‘obvious fear’. The second, ‘less obvious fear’, and third is the race horse called ‘Fear’. Let’s first look at the obvious fears. This is the list of the usual suspects:
- Being stuck in confined spaces: In the western world, it's the fear of being in restricted places like elevators and public toilets. In Mumbai, it's fear of your home. Which, generally, is a tiny restricted place.
- Clowns: How has this profession survived? Everyone is scared of clowns. And no, they have nothing to do with comedy. Where’s the comedy in looking like everybody’s great aunt, with even more make up than the deceased old lady at her funeral?
- Fear of darkness: Fear of the dark is one of the most, if not the most common, of the obvious fears. It starts in your childhood, just like acne, and resurfaces now and then. Then there is the obvious fear of spiders, sharks, snakes and fire.
Now that the obvious is out of the way, let’s turn to the less obvious. But a slight disclaimer － what you are about to read will shock you. You may stagger and lose your balance while coping with the knowledge I'm about to share with you. And especially be warned that as you read about a non-obvious fear, the fear like an air borne virus (which by the way is one of the less obvious fears) will slip into your system and will be there to stay, henceforth. So, if you’d like to stop reading this, stop now, if not it is too late to turn back.
Less Obvious Fears:
- Fear of women with moustaches: I remember on a train journey to a squash tournament, I went from Mumbai to Dehradun. It was here that I encountered the lady with the moustache. It's the same one that the actor Ranveer Singh sported last year. Could she have been a relative of the actor? It's tough to say. But for 24 hours, I was trapped in a compartment with a woman who sported a handlebar, rather proudly. If you are truly not a sexist, then you shouldn’t have a problem with a woman who sports a handlebar moustache. Let me tell you, in all honesty, much easier said than done. As my 22 hours in fear would testify.
- People who stare at you while you eat: Have you ever been in a canteen or restaurant, chomping away, and you notice someone staring at you. It puts the fear of god into you. I, for one, immediately lose my appetite. Of course, there’s a definition of time here, where the person must at least be staring at you for a minimum of 7 seconds. But, let me assure you, when they stare at you, they just keep staring. Why do they stare? Are they hungry? Are they attracted to you? Are they attracted to the act of you eating? Who can say? The best you can hope for, is that in a restaurant, you get the seat that’s facing the wall.
- People who talk loudly on aeroplanes: You are on a late-night flight. You are coming home. You put your blinkers on, hug your pillow, shut your eyes and go to sleep. You are just about asleep, when you hear two loud voices having an animated conversation. Cold fear grips you like a pair of super tight underpants. Your sleep is soon to become a nightmare. Two hours of hell. Worse still, you are in business class.
- Fear of traffic: How many times have I made the turn from Churchgate to Marine Drive and encountered a traffic snarl? One turn to hell. One turn and you go nowhere. Just millions of cars backed up. Then follows the honking and the hard stares. When you made the turn, you were paralysed with fear. Traffic in Mumbai has no reason, so you can’t apply logic and terror takes control.
- Fear of getting up: This is worse for people in their 40s. You are in your chair and have dropped your pen. There is no one around. So you will have to get yourself up from your chair. Fear takes over as the pen falls. Who’s got the will and skill to get up, bend down and pick that pen up from the floor? This is also the first cousin of the fear of doorbells. That damn doorbell ringing after you’ve sat down to watch your web series, or after you’ve laid down in bed to rest.
- Fear of construction work: Perhaps, for many including me, the most powerful of the less obvious fears. Every time that hammer falls on a nail, you are gripped with terrible fear, and this leads to excessive sweating, pale complexion and overall numbness. And mind you, construction work, unlike the other causes, can go on for months, even years. It was probably worse in the Mughal period － Shah Jahan took 27 years to build the Tal Mahal. Having said that, his workers did adhere to timings. No work between 2-4 PM and Friday, Saturday were strictly off. No such luck today. What all could we learn from Shah Jahan!
I’ll stop the list here. But readers are encouraged to write in and share their less obvious fears with us. Do not be embarrassed to share. No fear is too small or too casual. Even fear of having to read articles like this are acceptable. It was the poet Lukando who said, ‘One man’s fear is another man’s no idea’.
Awaiting your response, fearfully.
The writer is a comedian, TV anchor, theatre personality, satirist, podcaster and an author.
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