24 October 2020

Fear Day and days of fear

There’s a girl who is probably around ten years of age given to circling important days on her calendar. She has circled her birthday and those of her immediate family, I am told. Along with the particular name. Perhaps she has circled the birthdays of her closest friends as well.

This is something that other children probably do too. Adults also do it. Some with a passion. All this in addition to appointment diaries, alerts scripted into mobile devices, day planners and secretaries.

What’s special about this girl is that she had circled a date and made a strange note next to it: ‘Baya Dinaya’ or Fear Date. Date of fear. Date to be feared. The 11th day of October, 2020.

Well, she’s a Grade 5 student and this was the day of the Scholarship Exam.

Now there is a big discussion about the Grade Five Scholarship Exam. Some believe it should be scrapped, others disagree. This is not about that debate.

There are children who eagerly anticipate examinations because they are well-prepared or super smart. Most, however, even the super smart and well-prepared, get nervous, especially when it comes to critical exams. In a situation where a high score at the Scholarship Exam opens the door to a good school and a more assured future, it is not unnatural for kids to be nervous. Most times it’s the anxieties of the parents that rub off on their kids. This too must be mentioned. Not a good thing for ten year old kids, but that’s another story.

The date is one to cause fear, so the little girl wrote. Inquiries revealed that she’s actually quite a free spirit, highly intelligent and creative, and endowed with above average analytical skills. Apart from the usual nerves associated with an important exam, the 11th of October couldn’t be a date that warranted special mention along with the tag ‘fear.’

She marked it that way. Maybe that’s what it is for all her friends. Maybe there’s a sobering element that she heard too often in school. I don’t know. But that’s how it is: ‘Baya Dinaya.’

The positive thing about such days is that they get done and regardless of how the day went, the ‘it’s done’ part of it offers some kind of relief.

It’s different when it comes to the plurality of fear-days. Night ends and it is not dawn that breaks but another dark 24 hours. Fear does not abate. Anxiety doesn’t retire itself.

This country has seen such periods. The end of the eighties was one such era. Only, ‘fear’ was not the tag but ‘terror.’ The bheeshanaya, it was called, or ‘(Period of) Terror.’ Death literally knocked on people’s doors.

We also had the three decades long struggle against terrorism. It was the randomness of various attacks on civilian targets that made every single day a fear-day. The bheeshanaya wasn’t that random. Vigilante groups roamed all over the country. However, in periods of armed conflict, those who actually lived in what is ironically called ‘Theater of War,’ have fear days (plural), one after another and then another and another. Nights bleeding into new nights, as black and foreboding.

And now we have Covid19 days. Fear days. Plural. Unlike an exam-day, the clock doesn’t run out on fear. It’s an hourglass that is turned upside down the moment the sand runs out.

The (relatively) positive thing about it is that safety protocols become second-nature. Vigilance, vigilance and vigilance once again. Not a happy place to be in but that’s the price one has to pay for safety.

We are in ‘fear days’ now. The hours may or may not run out, but not in the foreseeable future. We can’t mark a date with a circle, worry about it, suffer through it when it finally arrives and breathe easier when the day is done.

The little girl is now done answering a question paper. She’s a spirited child. She’ll smile regardless of outcome, I am sure. And this I wish for every single child whose fear-hours will end shortly.

Monday was a fear day, at least for those sitting the GCE A/L Examination. It will be done by the end of the month. Children will be fretting now. Well, most of them. Let’s wish them the right level of tension, nothing more. And relief that will break out in incredible smiles.

Meanwhile let’s face these days of fear resolutely. We can.

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News']  
Eyes that watch the world and cannot be forgotten   Let's start with the credits, shall we? 
The 'We' that 'I' forgot 
'Duwapang Askey,' screamed a legend, almost 40 years ago
Dances with daughters
Reflections on shameless writing

Is the old house still standing?
 Magic doesn't make its way into the classifieds

Small is beautiful and is a consolation  
Distance is a product of the will
Akalanka Athukorala, at 13+ alre
ady a hurricane hunter
Did the mountain move, and if so why?
Ever been out of Colombo?
Anya Raux educated me about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
Wicky's Story You can always go to GOAT Mountain
Let's learn the art of embracing damage
Kandy Lake is lined with poetry
There's never a 'right moment' for love
A love note to an unknown address in Los Ange
A dusk song for Rasika
How about creating some history?
How far away are the faraway places?
There ARE good people!
Re-placing people in the story of schooldays  
When we stop, we can begin to learn
Routine and pattern can checkmate poetry

Janani Amanda Umandi threw a b'day party for her father 
Sriyani and her serendipity shop
Forget constellations and the names of oceans
Where's your 'One, Galle Face'?

Maps as wrapping paper, roads as ribbons
Yasaratne, the gentle giant of Divulgane  
Katharagama and Athara Maga
Victories are made by assists
Lost and found between weaver and weave
The Dhammapada and word-intricacies
S.A. Dissanayake taught children to walk in the clouds
White is a color we forget too often  
The most beautiful road is yet to meet a cartographer