Living in times of fear

It is all about trust, but where have those trusting times gone?

By Asha Iyer Kumar (Life)

Published: Fri 30 May 2014, 8:27 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:40 PM

These are deeply divided times in the history of mankind. Fear and mistrust are crushing the tenuous sentiments of hope and good will that once sustained a charming, old world. The symptoms of decay are worsening with each passing phase of human existence, so apparent in the way we are conducting our lives and adding to our chronicles of strife — both on the inside and the outside.

It is unfair to sound gloomy in the opening lines of a weekend column, but when reality stares in the face, one must stare back at it than linger in a state of denial. Facing things squarely might not provide automatic solutions, but it will at least help us to take cognizance of our ways, so gone astray, and will stir us to ponder.

Remember those times when we could get on a plane and land on any continent without being asked to remove the shoes and belt an agonising number of times on the way? Or when the parents of a young girl entrusted their daughter’s safety with their son barely out of boyhood, in the belief that a male company was all she needed to get anywhere safe? And when people could leave their children in the care and company of a friend or relation, without the slightest thought of them being physically violated? Where, pray, have those trusting times gone?

It isn’t that the world was an immaculate patch of civilization earlier, and it was suddenly mauled by the rogue effects of modernism. The dark aspects of human nature have always instilled fear in man, and the struggle for survival has brought him unforetold misery. The world wars and the holocaust will forever remain blots in the grand narrative of human evolution, but what we are presently suffering from is a malaise of a new kind. We are seeing the rapid mutation of human mind that is sapping our confidence and pushing us into lasting paranoia. It is changing our approach to life and people. It is robbing us of our freedom, and making us vassals to an anonymous enemy.

9/11 was probably a tipping point, when fear became an absolute reality in our lives, complete with contours and references. The human matrix became too complex and sinister for even the super powers to crack, and suddenly everyone felt exposed and vulnerable to the nebulous nature of terror. The enemy now lurks in every corner, waiting to assault.

Back home, to millions of Indian women, an incident that took place in Delhi was the back swan event that altered the way they looked at life outside of home. It isn’t that Indian men have suddenly turned ravenous beasts on the prowl; it isn’t that women haven’t been targeted before, yet that one incident has shattered the confidence of the Indian woman standing on the cusp of liberation and empowerment. It was as if a society was suddenly plagued by sexual terrorism, and every woman had an even chance of being a hapless victim.

I was once a fearless woman who worked late nights in a metro away from home. It was a time when the world was not filled with terrorists and rapists. It’s impossible for me to be so plucky and unconcerned now. I wonder what brought in these wicked gales of change to my world.

The human story is still developing, and its growing sophistication is introducing newer forms of behavioural viruses into its system. We have the dare to conquer newer peaks, but we can’t stop looking over our shoulders. There is fear in our eyes and jitters in our hearts. It is an anomaly that is hard to comprehend. Are we freeing ourselves or gaining new fetters, I wonder. Can our lost trust in man be found with our faith in the providence? Or as W.H. Auden said, in these baleful times, “is faith even more difficult for Him than for us?”

Asha Iyer Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Dubai

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