Friday, November 23, 2012

Phobia Blues


To Jose Xavier,
Who thought Mr. Bond had no right to wake up from the dead..


FEAR

There was a lot of panic. Pandemonium, as I struggled with my limbs in an asymmetric pattern. Desperate attempts to escape. Frantic cries to wake oneself up from a very bad dream. Everything shambolic… Noise amplified by the denser medium. I could hear my legs glide, my torso displacing the water beneath…
I was scared. Beyond everything I had experienced in my life so far...


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I am scared of water. And it doesn’t have anything to do with kidney stones or sun strokes. I’ve always been that way. I guess a lot of it has to do with my upbringing.  Having an orthodox Hindu grandmother and mother resulted in a lot of fascinating myth during the early days of my life. Revenge seeking Yakshis(evil fairies) that haunts the lakes, who lure a young man into the water and then strangle them. The octopus of Elanjikkal Kshetram (temple) which could swallow the temple cow if it wanted to…
On certain nights, we would go to the ‘Manalppuram’ and light ‘Aartis’… ‘May the soul be at peace’ we would pray, as the candles floated across the river to the next world...
I remember making promises to myself that I would never tell my kids those stories that made my early life very stressful. A lizard was always acknowledging the truth… A gandharva could in all possibility deflower our only sister while we were sleeping… Once you start believing, there was no escaping. 




Father, unlike mother or grandmother, was a realist. But the honest, hard working clerk in a chemical factory nearby, with an undying passion for books, only played along the script. He would sit on our paaya (mattress’ woven out of dried coconut leaves) and tell us stories he had read at the Sahitya academy. A particular favourite of his was Moby Dick. And on some days he would teach us history. How great civilizations were wiped away by floods...The Indus Valley, Muziris…
My brothers loved me... I would guard their clothes from pranksters while they played in the lake. And in return, they would bring me little fish. Usually the little loaches that cleaned your toes or the ‘poonjati’ (something similar to an over grown female guppy)… I would put them in a large chembu (tumbler) that I carried around and play with them until my brothers get out of the water. There was also the “Thuppal Kothi” which would come to us if we spat on the water. Unlike my brothers, Father was genuinely concerned. So with great difficulties, he convinced a ‘saar’ to grant me access to the officer club’s pool.
Apart from the weird part that the pool looked shallower than it actually was, the swimming lessons had begun well. Until I drowned one fine day… The tutor had left the rope I was clinging on to. I drowned but not in the way people expect you to. Ever so slowly… As if it was my destiny to sink. To sit there are the bottom of the tank...
Nandu, who had jumped inside to save me, thought it was a stunt from my part to get the lady instructor wet. But I was just numb. Of fear, curiosity, anger? I don’t really know. I sat there, at the bottom of the tank and opened my eyes…

CALM

I opened my eyes. Everything needed time to settle down.  But when it finally did, a sense of calmness started creeping in.  Not out of hope. It was realization, of the inevitable… I looked around. Suzanne and Raghu had probably escaped.  I knew I was going to die...I was sinking to the bottom of this cold, dark mystery...
Of course it had to end like this. I had to be devoured by my biggest fear. All had been perfectly scripted... I think I managed a smile. How insignificant are we in the big of scheme of things!  There weren't abominal octopuses around me. I would've been happy to see a yakshi.
There, in that lake, with few seconds to live, I had overcome my phobia. It was always the ‘mystery’ of the water that scared me. Not the actual running out of air…
I felt weightless. Was I dead already? I felt I was going upwards…
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 Once I had drowned in the sea. College days, when impressing girls meant taking unnecessary risks...There, beneath the waves I had tried to get up. But my legs found no place to rest my weight upon. It was probably after another wave that my hands hit the bottom of the sea. 
Water can do that to you. The upthrust and the gravity… They play with you until you lose your sense of balance. You are no longer sure where ‘up’ and ‘down’ is. And in your desperate attempt to save the life, might end up moving further away from air.

I closed my eyes again. My wife, Lathika… She was pulling my sleeve towards Leopold. Where we had met years ago on a rough Monsoon day... She kissed me and then stopped abruptly... A big tubby cat had caught her attention. “Look at the size of it”, she says...

BREATH

I was out of breath. I needed air. My lungs were crying out for help. I knew I’d die the moment I released the little air I had in me… But I was going to die anyway. ‘Why not do it peacefully’, I thought. ..
I was cold and scared in the middle of this huge man-made lake…
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My wife was at the hospital… A baby boy the smiling nurse had said… “Show me my wife”, I demand…
”Lets name him Varun”. I nod in agreement. The God of sky, sea and the ocean…
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No. I did not want to die.

GOD

I think it was Sigmund Freud who said it. “The more you try to forget something, the more you end up thinking about it.” I had to breathe. My lungs couldn't hold on much longer…
What was that sound? An extremely shrill noise… My ear drums, they hurt. My ankles… What was that unbearable pain? I was sinking now. And fast. I tried opening my eyes…What was that light in front of me? God…

MIRACLE
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Father walked away shaking his head in despair. Mother looked at me… I think she was sobbing. They had covered me in a thick blanket… Siblings had queued up to see their brother… Rakesh whispered in my ear – “Next time you are sitting on the bottom of the tank, try catching your ankles….”
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Life guards say I came to them. All they did was pull me out of the water. Everyone else survived…
 

                                           * -------------------------- * --------------------------*

Note: The story was made in a night. But it was something I had wanted to do for quite a long time. That’s 2-3 minutes in 1000+ words(My initial story had 3000+, a lot of clarity has been sacrificed while compressing). I’d like to thank Manoj Kumar (director: Orkut Oru Ormakoot ) to whom I first expressed my desire. It was he who suggested the idea of flash backs. A lot of that phobia came from within. Some of it was created through various things learned from the National Geographic magazine. Thank you UDL school for exposing me to that magazine. Interested readers are urged to read more about the “Belize blue hole” where expert divers get confused between the stalactites and stalagmites.
Three writers had a significant impact on my writing style. Arundhati Roy’s description of the Meenachillar. M.T’s love for Bharatapuzha. And T.Padmanaban’s excessive use of dots(….) to keep the reader guessing. I've got some facts wrong. Just adding to the drama..


Next time you are in a pool imagine that you are sitting on a chair and reach for you ankles....


It’s just a humble attempt and I’m looking forward to your feedback.

4 comments:

sarayu srinivasan said...

There was this one summer break I really enjoyed. I was 6 and fell into the water tank while playing “reverse” in a mock train game with 5 friends, near an open water tank. All the kids thought it was magic when I went missing. Some thought it was because I used to talk a lot about supernatural stuff and this was a curse. I was treated like nothing before (though I had to shave my hair off because amma had made a deal with God..) I could have died. When I think about it now, I feel a chill down my spine. But this one event actually made me a water lover.
Very well written! Could relate to it immediately.

Nevin said...

Should have talked to you before writing the story. That gave me a chill as well. Thanks for reading. Glad you could relate to it..

Nikhil said...

nice effort...

I think it might have been better if it were not a first person account

and you probably need to take regular journal notes if you want to write fiction,

from scenes of movies, everyday life etc..

Nevin said...

Thanks bro. I found it very difficult to convey the flash back part, narrating the story as a third person.


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