Babu was both shy and fearful. He experienced fear more than shyness, which sometimes helped him hide the fact that he was afraid. When he cringed, people elder to him remarked that he was shy, when in fact he was shaking internally with a feeling bordering on dread. He often kept his mouth shut, for fear of saying the wrong thing. And people, the forgiving older people, invariably interpreted his silence as attentive listening, for most people crave for listeners, and dislike interruptions when they talk. Silence on his part also earned him the merit of obedience and one of good manners. He glowed internally at these kind remarks, and did not bother much about their accuracy. Gradually he began to accept his condition as a natural ally in building his reputation for being good. As he spoke less and less, the more introverted he became, and soon he lost touch with the social side of life. Even when he was among a crowd, he peopled his world with his imagination, which was ever active behind the silent mouth and the wide open eyes.
The greatest fear Babu faced, one that ran through his heart like a train hurtling on tracks, was the fear of the father figure. His father spoke little, to the point and never argued. He sometimes cracked jokes, around the dining table, which was the only time when his face did not sport seriousness. His mom shushed everyone into silence when his father was around. Babu never stepped into his room where, reclining in an easy chair, his father either read a book or a newspaper. When he was doing neither, he was seen at his desk hammering away on his Italian typewriter, the fingers flying with such rapidity that the key strokes sounded like staccato gunfire. When irritated, he felt his father’s voice grate on his heart, felt the pounding in his heart, and everything inside him stood still, clammed up. Babu feared the tone, the rasp in the voice, the irritation in the speech and above all dreaded the chilling effect it had on him. Any voice that remotely resembled it drove iron into his heart. Babu’s fear rose from a rasping male voice.
Fear became Babu’s companion. It was always there, round the corner, except when he was hiding behind his mother’s pallu. He pushed his mother first and straggled behind. She became his bodyguard, not that if ever anyone got physical with him. Not even his dad, though there was that one time when he got the jolt of his life, a lightning strike that seared across his cheek and spun his world into a tizzy. It was a morning like any other, but Babu felt disinclined to go to school. He expresse his wish to stay at home and his ever considerate mother gladly obliged. Babu’s father, however, did not take kindly to it. On the other hand, he demanded to know the reason for his son’s stay at home. Learning that it was nothing but truancy he became furious, strode up to the cringing lad hiding behind his mother’s pallu and smartly executed a vicious slap on Babu’s tender cheek. That left a welt and fever in the body and fear in the mind. Feeling Babu’s burning body, his father rushed him to a clinic and confessed his rash act and promptly received humbly the good doctor’s reprimand. That was the first time Babu felt his father’s hand and never again did he feel it, either in anger or in affection. The wound healed in no time, but the fear became stronger in time.
Babu’s fear expressed itself in one undesirable way. Like hurt brought tears to the eyes, fear filled his bladder. Unbeknown to him, urine shot out before he realized and held it back. Babu’s glands worked furiously, ever on the point of releasing their secretions. It so happened that while in primary school he wanted to sharpen his pencil. Without a moment’s thought he dashed towards the teacher’s desk and started using the new sharpening tool fixed to her desk. Suddenly, the stentorian voice of the teacher rose from behind him – what are you doing there? – and sent fear through his heart. Babu wet his shorts, felt weak in the legs and managed to limp back to his seat. It wouldn’t have troubled him if that was just a one time happening. It happened again when an older boy heckled him and threatened to slap him if he did not part with his marbles.