THE HAND­BOOK OF FEAR

As the fem­i­nist clas­sic Fear of Fly­ing cel­e­brates its 40th birth­day, FA­TIMA BHUTTO, po­lit­i­cal roy­alty and part of Pak­istan’s first fam­ily, ex­plores why and what women are afraid of

Harper's Bazaar (India) - - BAZAAR -

It was elec­tion day last May and I was with my mother, Ghinwa, in Naud­ero, a small sleepy Sindhi vil­lage, go­ing from polling sta­tion to polling sta­tion. It was the af­ter­noon and the sun was blaz­ing as we walked to­wards a men’s polling sta­tion. There were sol­diers. There was a re­fusal to al­low my mother—a can­di­date con­test­ing the polls—to en­ter the polling sta­tion. And be­fore we knew it, there was gun­fire.

The sol­diers on the roof fired into the open air. The sol­dier in front of us fired into the ground. A man was thrown on the floor and threat­ened. When my mother protested, the sol­dier who stood in front of us raised his weapon and told us to leave. At no point dur­ing all this, did I feel afraid. Not dur­ing the fir­ing, not dur­ing the threat­en­ing, not dur­ing the chaos that en­sued in get­ting the man off the ground and check­ing to see if he had been hurt (he hadn’t).

The pur­pose of vi­o­lence is never to make you feel afraid dur­ing the mo­ment, but for ev­ery sin­gle mo­ment you live af­ter­wards. And af­ter­wards, once the adren­a­line had worn off, I felt very afraid.

I am lucky to have spent a life­time sur­rounded by brave women. My mother grew up dur­ing the Le­banese Civil War, my grand­mother Nus­rat buried more loved ones that one should ever have to, and my friends are spir­ited and strong. I do not know that we can or should want to to­tally erad­i­cate fear from our lives. But I do know that women are ex­traor­di­nar­ily re­silient, and women from the sub­con­ti­nent es­pe­cially so. We face tremen­dous and daunt­ing en­ergy every­day– —from society, fam­i­lies, pol­i­tics—and yet we sur­vive. We sur­vive and fight back to raise our­selves and our com­mu­ni­ties, to speak freely and live in­de­pen­dently, to ex­press our­selves and to make our voices heard. We fight for our safety and pro­tec­tion and to en­sure har­mony in our worlds. What could be more fear­less than that?

Be­fore I knew what it was called or why I felt it, I was acutely aware of the feel­ing: A knot in my stom­ach, a slight dizzi­ness, a short­ness of breath that made my throat con­strict and my heart throb deep in my chest.

Fear has fol­lowed me since child­hood. Some­times, I was in­ter­ested and fol­lowed it too. Some­times, it over­whelmed me and I felt suf­fo­cated by it. At other times, I man­aged to ig­nore it. But it al­ways lurked, fear has al­ways been some­where close by. If you will al­low me to con­tinue sound­ing like the hero­ine in a Vic­to­rian novel for a few more min­utes, I will con­fess that for years I thought it was just me. No one else seemed to drag around this beast, no one else car­ried around as much fear as I did.

At the height of panic at­tacks en­dured through my col­lege years, I sud­denly re­alised that ev­ery­one—all the women I knew—felt that same heart-burst­ing fear too. We just don’t talk about it.

If women are told con­stantly to fol­low their in­stincts and to share their feel­ings, why is fear the one ex­cep­tion to the rule? Is it an in­stinct we ought to pay more at­ten­tion to? Or to­tally ig­nore?

Here’s the thing with fear, though: It’s both. It’s a yes and a no. It’s a cau­tion and hys­te­ria. It’s em­pow­er­ing—in that it keeps you alive—and de­bil­i­tat­ing when you aren’t able to ob­serve it clearly. There ought to be a hand­book of how to deal with fear (can you imag­ine a more ter­ri­fy­ing read?), but as there’s not, maybe we need only a few handy point­ers to get the dis­cus­sion started.

1. Fear doesn’t make any sense.

Orten­sia Vis­conti is an Ital­ian nov­el­ist and film­maker and is one of the bravest women I know. Con­ve­niently for our pur­poses, Vis­conti be­gan her ca­reer in writ­ing as a war re­porter trav­el­ling to Iraq, Al­ge­ria, and Pales­tine among other war zones, writ­ing and pho­tograph­ing con­flict for La

Repub­blica and TheW ash­ing­ton Post.“The night be­fore I went to Ra­mal­lah on my first as­sign­ment, a bee flew into my flat in Rome,” she told me when I called her on the phone to ask how she thinks of fear, “and I was shak­ing with fright. I thought, my god, what am I go­ing to feel in Ra­mal­lah if I’m ter­ri­fied by a bee? But I got on a plane and went, and out there in the field I was com­pletely lu­cid and calm. More than I’ve ever been in my life. Fear ex­ists only in your head.”

Fear is an il­lu­sion, it only has as much power over you as you de­cide to give it. Vis­conti never let fear stop her. She was later em­bed­ded in Iraq, trav­elled through Pe­shawar and Pak­istan’s Tribal Ar­eas, and made a doc­u­men­tary about Fidel Cas­tro in Cuba. (Min­utes af­ter I put the phone down with her, Vis­conti called back. She had re­mem­bered some­thing else about fear. “There was also the spi­der in Kabul…”)

Never take the op­tions that fear throws at you. Fear will al­ways hand you the most de­press­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties—the-glas­sis-al­ways-half-empty side of life

2. Fear is not an in­stinct you want to get over.

Fear, like pain, is your body’s way of keep­ing you alive. With­out that heart throb­bing, how would your body warn you of dan­ger? If you were not afraid of any­thing, you’d be dead. The feel­ing you get when you are walk­ing by your­self at night and de­cide to take a dif­fer­ent route, the sense that a cer­tain place doesn’t have good vibes, the anx­i­ety that tells you aren’t safe around some­one—that’s fear op­er­at­ing as pro­tec­tion.

So don’t strug­gle against fear. Keep it and learn how to lis­ten to it. In­stead, fight your ir­ra­tional fears. The small voice that tells you you’ll fail, that you can’t make it, that you’re not good enough.

You won’t, you can, and you are.

3. Fear and brav­ery are not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive.

Bella Pollen, the Lon­don-based nov­el­ist, and Christa D’Souza, a jour­nal­ist who writes for Vogue and net-a-porter.com among other mag­a­zines, are not just tal­ented women who hap­pen to be hi­lar­i­ous and beau­ti­ful and clever. They are also the heart and spirit be­hind the Mare­fat High School in Kabul. Founded in 1994 in a refugee camp in Pe­shawar and taken home to Kabul in 2002, the school has over 3,000 stu­dents and this year Mare­fat hopes to ex­pand to in­clude more stu­dents, in­clud­ing adult lit­er­acy pupils.

Pollen and D’Souza of­ten travel to Afghanistan and were there in Jan­uary when a deadly blast oc­curred at a restau­rant they of­ten vis­ited, fur­ther down the road from where they were stay­ing. Luck­ily, they were not din­ing there that night. I asked D’Souza if she was afraid then. No she said, weirdly not then, though she ad­mit­ted: “Fear is the emo­tion that un­der­lies ev­ery­thing—my life is re­ally gov­erned by fear, ac­tu­ally fear of walk­ing down stairs, fear of the tele­phone, fear of be­ing told off…”

But Pollen begs to dif­fer. “I like to pre­tend that I’m brave, I scoff at dan­ger to any­one who’ ll lis­ten to pump my­self up, but un­der­neath I’m a huge cow­ard,” replied Pollen, who, by the by, has climbed Mount Kil­i­man­jaro, writ­ten a novel on the Mex­i­can bor­der (where she’s spent a fair bit of time), and trav­elled around Karachi’s shrines, port, and bazaars with an en­vi­able calm and cool. “Some­one like Christa though—who checks it’s safe ev­ery time she gets out of the car and who is un­der the as­sump­tion that she’s a cow­ard be­cause she’s fright­ened of ev­ery­thing, is the op­po­site—re­ally feels fear, but she still gets on and does stuff de­spite it. That’s the real def­i­ni­tion of brav­ery in my book.”

By the time these two coura­geous women left Kabul in Jan­uary, con­struc­tion on 28 new class­rooms for Mare­fat stu­dents had al­ready be­gun.

4. Fear is not a good de­ci­sion maker.

When stuck in life and faced with a dilemma, never take the op­tions that fear throws at you. Fear will al­ways hand you the most de­press­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties—the-glass-is-al­ways-half-empty side of life. Don’t lis­ten. Rely on your com­pas­sion­ate, con­nected in­stinct in­stead, the one that op­er­ates from a place of love. You rarely go wrong with that one.

5. Fear is like math —and not in a good way.

The less you un­der­stand it, the more daunt­ing it seems. The only rule to cop­ing with fear is to ob­serve it prop­erly.

Fear comes from the gap be­tween re­al­ity and our ex­pec­ta­tions. It’s our as­sump­tions about the fu­ture—and our place it in—that can be so ter­ri­fy­ing. What if ev­ery­one laughs at me dur­ing my pre­sen­ta­tion? What if I never get mar­ried/get pro­moted/grow up? What if, in­stead, you didn’t ex­pect any of those things but en­joyed ev­ery mo­ment of what you had now? (I don’t ac­tu­ally know how to do this, but have it on good as­sur­ance that it can in fact be done).

Tracey Cur­tis-Tay­lor is a pilot and for­mer fly­ing in­struc­tor. Last November, she flew solo from CapeTown to Sus­sex, Eng­land, in a 1930s de­signed open cock­pit bi­plane. For­get the dis­tance for a mo­ment, which is mas­sive. For­get even the 90-year-old-plane—with no mod­ern equip­ment, co-pilot or, let’s face it, even any win­dows. Tracey’s ex­tra­or­di­nary jour­ney—soon to be the fea­ture of a doc­u­men­tary film—was a con­stant bat­tle of sur­vival.

Was she afraid? Not of the flight, she replied. “Many peo­ple have a fear of fly­ing but my fear only man­i­fests it­self when I lie awake at night think­ing about the many haz­ards in­volved: The wind, the weather, the ter­rain, the dis­tances, and the ma­chine it­self.” It’s the gap that fear ex­ists so eas­ily in. And none of us are im­mune to it. But Cur­tis-Tay­lor, who is plan­ning an­other dar­ing flight, this time to In­dia, con­tin­ued. “I am never afraid when I climb into my aero­plane. On the con­trary, I only have to see it to feel a rush of joy and adrenalin at the thought of get­ting air­borne again. So many times dur­ing my flight across Africa I was filled with great hap­pi­ness and a deep sense of seren­ity.”

As the Bha­gavad Gita says, “Fear not what is not real, never was and never will be. What is real, al­ways was and can­not be de­stroyed.”

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