Many of you—my readers on this blog and on social media — so kindly and sweetly message me to tell me that you love how fearless I am, and that it inspires you. I feel humbled by your love.
In truth, though, I am not fearless. Nobody is fearless.
When I was 6 years old, my father, who always wanted to make his daughters bold and undaunted, put an airgun in my hand and taught me how to take aim. Then he pointed at a target he made on the wall and said- “Shoot.”
I was afraid of the gun, and the sound it made. But not once did I say ‘no’ to my father. Not once did I say: I can’t do it.
I took the gun and aimed. I hit the mark.
This is my first remembered experience of moving past fear. From that moment on, I could very easily hold the gun and shoot a target on the wall. I forgot my fear.
I learnt to drive pretty late in life, because my mother couldn’t get past her fear of road accidents- which is perfectly understandable, since she lost her husband in one of those. Ironically, she’s pretty fearless herself, but when it comes to her children she cannot get past her fear. I have felt acutely the restrictive effects of this ‘love guided by fear’ and I have consciously attempted to not love my son in this restrictive manner.
I want to love him like my father loved me- the love that makes you fearless.
When I was 7 years old, my father would make me sit on his lap while he drove his jeep, and late at night on the empty road of our government officers’ colony, he would put my little hands on the steering and ask me to steer. He had such dreams for me, so many things that he wanted me to learn.
However, I actually became a proper driver only at the age of 28. Let me rewind a little and tell you that story.
When I was 20, I decided to learn driving no matter what my mother said, and secretly asked our driver to teach me. I would make him shift to the shotgun seat and try driving to the University myself. Slowly I did learn to drive, but then I needed to practice taking the car to other places and other routes as well, and of course my mother wouldn’t let me take the car anywhere else. She was apprehensive and scared enough when she found out I was driving the car with the driver sitting beside me, and no way would she let me practice alone. So I couldn’t really brush up my driving skills.
A couple of years later, I moved to Delhi for my job, followed by marriage the next year. Being a professional in a demanding field, I hardly had any time left to learn and practice driving, and after 2 years, in 2012 I became a mother. Life gave me no space to even think about driving.
Until 2014. I was in Aligarh then, experiencing the lowest phase of my life. I decided I was going to finally learn to drive properly. Contacted the Driving Training school and began to train again. I had obviously forgotten everything I had learnt earlier. But in 15 days my training was complete and I was asked to practice daily to become an expert. And yet, just like last time, mom refused to give me access to the car. I was stuck again.
So after a few months, I contacted the training school again, and did the 15 day training yet again—I figured this was the only way I could get to practice.
When I got back to Delhi after a year, I finally had access to my own car. S, My husband, would sit beside me and I would drive around the township where we lived, while he guided me. And then one day he gave me the keys and said—now go drive on your own.
I was afraid. I was very afraid of taking the car out all alone. But I took a deep breath, and stepped past my fear. That was the day I actually began to drive.
From that day on, I drove my son to school every morning, and picked him up from school every afternoon, getting plenty of driving practice. But I still didn’t take the car far out into the city.
Until one day, a friend of mine asked me why I don’t drive to Delhi myself. I confessed to her that I was afraid.
“But it’s just like driving here, inside the township. No difference! If you can drive here, you can drive there too!”
So the next day, I drove the car for 30 kilometres. That first day, I felt my heart in my throat. I felt fear pulsating in me. But I didn’t give up.
The day didn’t go by without minor mishap, I must admit. I did graze the back bumper of another car, misjudging the distance. But I learnt and grew. From then on, every day that I drove out into the city, I learnt and I grew, driving across greater and greater distances.
Then one day I took a different route to Delhi—via the highway. The first time that I had to face huge trucks and buses honking at me angrily and coming at me like whizzing arrows. I felt fear in every pore of my body. Every nerve in my head tightened and knotted up in stress. But I gritted my teeth and told myself—I won’t let this get the better of me.
And I didn’t.
Another time, while returning from an assignment at night, I lost my way. Google maps completely betrayed me and took me all around the world (as it felt at the time!) and I was nearly choking with fear. I had no idea where I was and how I was going to get home. Relief washed in waves over me, when I finally found the way back home, stopping by the roadside or at police stations and asking for directions.
That was the day I lost the fear of being lost.
It was the day I learnt how to find alternate routes, the day I discovered that even if I got lost, I possessed the skill to navigate myself back towards the right track. In more ways than one.
Earlier this year, I tasted the metallic, pungent surface of fear in the lobby of the Max Hospital, right before I had my breast biopsy. Those moments before the biopsy, when Sajjad and I sat in the lobby of the hospital, waiting.
Fear gripped my throat, sucking it dry, and churned in the pit of my stomach.
“Game face.” I kept repeating to myself. “Game face!”
Just to prove to my fear that it would never, ever get the better of me, I asked S to take pictures of me in the hospital gown, sitting on the operating table, minutes before the biopsy needle punched into my breast. And so I was photographed—all grinning and making V for Victory signs with both hands—just before I was operated upon.
Doesn’t mean I hadn’t been afraid just two minutes earlier.
We all experience fear. The reason some of us come across as fearless is because we refuse to let fear dictate our lives. We refuse to give in to fear.
We rebel, we protest, we walk resolutely ahead.
So when you all tell me that you love my fearlessness, I want to tell you that you are fearless too. We’re all fearless, though we all feel fear.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to move beyond it.