As a child I sometimes went and visited and stayed with cousins during holidays. One such visit really broadened my horizon. The cousin’s place was a fairly big old house with quite a few rooms. Unfortunately, however, we were never allowed to explore the rooms or even enter them. This was, because my aunt assured me, there were “baghs” (tigers), “jujus” (loosely translated as ghouls or the flesh-eating-undead) and “bhoots” (ghosts) in every corner. Specially as night fell, these creatures would lurk behind curtains, hide in dark corners and basically attack us if we shouted, played loudly, disobeyed the elders, fussed over our meals or did not sleep at the assigned bedtime.
As I had never encountered any such creatures in my own household, predictably, I was fascinated. And, I must admit, more than just a little frightened.
I returned home soon enough. One day while we were sitting for dinner, my dad asked me to get my grandfather’s glasses from my grand-parents’ room. The room in question could be reached after a short walk down a rather dark corridor and was itself lying in darkness. I would have to reach it, fumble for the light and then search the room for the glasses. We lived, it is to be remembered, in a older house with large rooms and more than enough furniture. With the new creatures occupying my head, the task was daunting. So I mumbled something about a tiger.
My father stopped mid-sentence. Tiger? he was shocked. And angry. The next thing I knew he had a torch in one hand and I was accompanying him to find the animal. Frankly, I was scared but did not dare argue. Obviously, my dad did not switch on any lights. He made me look for that tiger with the torch light, even sweeping the beam under the beds. In the end he finally switched on all the lights and made me check again. I was convinced there were no tigers (or the like) out there.
When my daughters were young, many a time, many a maid, relative or well-wisher used to attempt to coerce obedience by talking about jujus and tigers and ghosts. I was resolute that my kids or even their friends would not ever be threatened with such creatures. I was very vocal, even rude about it. But I absolutely would not have my girls growing up frightened of the dark or strange creatures that just waited to pounce. And even now I frown when I meet kids who have strange creatures planted in their head. I keep insisting that none of it is real. And they look back at me wide-eyed as though I am talking in some strange tongue.
“Real life has enough to be frightened about,” my dad used to say, ” do not burden yourself with nameless fears.”