My mum, being a doctor herself, had this belief that she never do justice to us, when it comes to diagnosis or prescription. She used to say, and she still says it, well, that you can be a good doctor only if you treat the patient as a piece of flesh, that you feel no emotion towards. Yeah, I know filmy, very. But that's it. She never treated me, or my brother or my grandmother, or my father. She always asked us to see some other doctor whenever we needed one.
I was in class four, I think. One morning I woke up to find my right ear and the surrounding skin abnormally parched, and all red and white marks on it. I remember how awful it felt. I had no clue what and how it happened. I went to see a doctor in our neighboring hospital. They said it's a spider bite. What? Do spiders bite? How? No, they don't bite, but they have their saliva, which is, well, not harmless. What do you mean? Why would a spider have its saliva on my ear? Umm, it was trying to weave its web, maybe, kid. Keep yourself clean. Wait, no, I mean, if a spider tries to weave a web on my skin, this is what happens? This ugly patch of skin that hurts? Unbelievable! Huh, yes, kid. Just bathe every day, be clean. Now take these medicines, apply these ointments, blah blah.
There was a Harry Potter mania going on, err, a Daniel Radcliffe mania. People who never read books, started ridiculing me for never having read a Harry Potter book. I was in Class Eight maybe. In and out of love, more than twice. Adolescent infatuations, I guess. I cared very little about what people thought. Adolescent indifference. Okay, I started reading and finished reading the Harry Potter books. Okay, they were good. Fantasy that made sense in the real world. good. But, uh, I dunno, but, uh, okay. This will be a legend. Why not read it anyway?
I was with my English tutor, watching a movie at his place, of course, against and hidden from my parents. My parents, uh, yes, my Mum and my Dida. I don't know my Dad, really. The movie is Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets. The Forbidden Forest Scene. Ronald Weasley says he is scared of spiders, because they have eight legs. Only if they had a fewer legs...hmm. Interesting. Eight legs, that gives them more power that us, vertebrates, surely. Okay, I hate spiders too. But what is this? This is a scene with spiders larger than the trees, with hairy legs, yes eight of them. What, there are such spiders in the real world? In rain-forests? What bullshit? I have never seen spiders more than an inch big.
Oye, kid the spider that had licked you wasn't no ordinary one. It wasn't an inch-big spider. It was as big as the size of your palm. An inch big spider can't infect you, okay? Read the books.
I am in Class Ten. Our english teacher is having a free period, and using it to the fullest. Discussing career goals. Asked myself, I reply that I want to be a soldier. Oh boy, you're romantic. Being a soldier isn't being what your Byron tells you. Come back to earth. No, Ma'am. I've watched Lakshya. It's not Byron. Okay kid, again, come back to earth. No, Ma'am, I'm determined. *They stop giggling. My eyes are stiff. I am angry.* Okay, do you know what it takes to be a soldier, do you want to join the Military or the Air Force or the Navy? Ma'am, it doesn't matter, as long as I get what I want. I want my life NOT to be at my own mercy. Okay, it's a pity, but then okay. Even Owen had been to a war. Exactly Ma'am, even Owen had been to war. They say being to a war means seeing everything that is there to be seen in the world. Very well, very well, so have you been preparing yourself for the physical tests for NDA? Not yet, Ma'am. I'll do it. Okay, do you have any idea, what you go through in the training? There are highly demanding tasks, highly scary ones. Aren't you scared of heights? No, Ma'am. Aren't you scared of water? Or anything? Anything at all? No Ma'am, I've learnt swimming. I'm not scared of anything. Whoa, kid, you can't be so sure. A man is always scared of something. There must be something you're scared of. No, Ma'am, I'm not scared of anything.
Think carefully. You have your time. There must be something you're scared of.
Ma'am, I think there's nothing to be scared of. As in, okay, maybe I'm scared of myself. I'm scared of what I might do, might think, might say...I'm scared of my abilities or the lack of it. I'm scared of myself.
**The class is murmuring. The teacher starts talking to another student. She frowns at me, and asks me to meet her after the class. Ugh, once again they'll tell me, I'm off-track.**
I had lied to her. I am scared of spiders.
Class Twelve. On the brink of stepping into the big, bad world, as they said it in a the Farewell. It didn't matter to me. I didn't care where I was, or what I was doing, as long as I had her.
Off to Kolkata. Living with Dad, the man, I don't really know existed. Economics Major, by default. Okay, I had fought my way against engineering, but the truth that my Dad doesn't know is that I don't hate engineering or physics or maths. I just had to be in Kolkata. I couldn't have gone where I was getting admitted by my WBJEE score. Kolkata. No matter what every one else said, I never felt that it was any different from Durgapur. Small-town-to-big-city, whatever, I never felt. I was born here, I belong here. Or so, I tell myself. Till date.
My first year. The second part of the sumer, that follows the monsoon. One night, post midnight, of course, I need to go to the bathroom. I switch on the light, I open the door, and there in front of me, right above the chamber-pot, is a spider, as big as my palm, with a thick hairy body, and thick black, intimidating legs. Okay, I have to admit, to myself at least, that I am scared of spiders. But wait, what if the fear doesn't exist? I survived that night.
More months gone by. I have worked on my phobia. I met that spider every night, in my bathroom, till winter. I wouldn't kill it until I've stopped fearing it. That is its purpose, I tell myself. I google and get huge pictures of huge spiders,a nd stare at it, and fight my fear. I fight my nightmares. Even in the conscious state, I imagine I am in a room full of spiders, with no doors or windows. I wriggle on the bed, I imagine, I fight. I imagine. I fight. More months. The spider at the bathroom is not seen anymore, for two years.
Few weeks ago, on one such night, during the hours before sunrise, I go to the bathroom, I meet my beloved-palm-sized spider. It's sitting right there, above the chamber pot. I am not too scared. Its like, my mind tells me that I should be scared of that spider, but actually, my mind isn't right. I smile. I survive.
Tonight. The spider in the bathroom, it's right below the chamber pot. This time, I don't just need to pee. I need to sit on that chamber pot. But no, the spider will not be in sight, if I sit. I am scared, of it, only because I wouldn't be able to see it, its movements. I just have to shoo it away, and send it off to somewhere where I can get a view of it. I can look at it, I need to able to look at it.
Then I see the bottle of Phenyle. It occurs to me, that the humane-most instinct would be to hit and hurt and kill the object that you fear. I splash some of that intoxicating-smelling-black liquid on it. The spider staggers a little, moves away, and I go to answer nature's call. I look at it. I talk to it, softly. Dear Spider, I didn't want to kill you. I watch you wriggling now, taking the last few breaths inside your quivering little frame. Long ago, I was afraid of you. Now I am not, or that's what I think. I am just afraid of what I can't see, I can't predict. It's not your fault. It's the fault of the way this sanitary-ware is designed, that I couldn't see you from where I am, and so I had to shoo you away. I could have let you stay there, like you've always stayed, otherwise. But I needn't have killed you, I know. I am lying, you'll probably say, I've always wanted to kill you someday. And I dunno, if you're right. I just decided, for myself, that I don't need you anymore. I didn't look at things from your perspective, of course. But, then, you don't have a nervous system, as superior as mine, so, I get the better of you. Now goodbye, I don't want Shochi Mashi to think that I'm mentally sick too.
The spider died by the time I left the bathroom. I killed my first spider.