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Contemporary Desi Coming of Age

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Disclaimer: The following contains graphic scene involving snakes as well as abuse and strong language. Reader discretion advised.


Varun Sharma had life long fear of snakes. Black mambas, anacondas, rattle snakes, garter snakes and… cobras. Especially cobras. The way the fake eyes on the hood looked at one to scare away the predators was enough to induce Hitchcockian nightmare. 


There was once a sprite - his neighbor’s kid- who threatened to leave a box with a snake inside in front of his doorstep with mail after he accused him of stealing his Nikes one day.


Thus from then on he never spoke his deepest, darkest fears ever. The sheer thought of opening a cabinet or a box to find the wretched creature terrified him.


And then there were those folklore how local gangs back at home would fling live cobras through the window to startle the sleeping victims.


When he was 11, his family moved away from Madras to Philadelphia. His father was a software engineer and IT consultant and received a fellowship to pursue his postdoc there. He was well-published on ACM and was a candidate for the Turing Award. However, ever since they left their hometown India, Varun never went back. His parents and twin sister did. He also had an arranged marriage with Sravana and two kids after they briefly visited him at Ventura to maintain Green Card who afterwards went back. And that was the last time he ever saw them in flesh. He was so afraid of a random encounter with a snake charmer or a cobra that he would beg his family to leave him behind. In fact, he even refrained from looking at the Hindu deities especially with images of cobra linking around a god’s neck or around arms and feet.


It was disturbing. It was unsettling and unbeknownst to him he seemed to shy away from his religion.


Years passed. He seemed to get by fine at Van Nuys. He graduated from high school and was doing undergrad at a community college. Then one day his parents had a crazy idea.


“Have you heard of NLP?” His father once quipped while stuffing his mouth with peas and mashed potato with as spork. He worked from home now and always loved a good casual conversation as well discussion of worldly affairs at lunch-table.


“Yeah.”


“Your mother and I was thinking of taking you to this guy… this doctor who might help you with your case.”


“Daddy I am trying to eat.”


“I understand beta. I was just trying to talk about NLP since you are so interested in psychology and hypnosis.”


“Dad I know what you are thinking. These won’t work. Trust me.”


“Ah-cha-chak how do you know that beta?” Varun’s mother chimed in after dropping a good dollop of gravy on his thali of rice and idli.


“Mama…you don’t understand. And besides who you are thinking of? Tony Robbins?” He gave out a forced chuckle.


“Mr. Rad is nothing like that beta.” His father replied.


“Mr. Rad? That’s his name? What’s that short for? Mr. Radisson?” Varun hissed.


“It’s southern California beta.” His father replied in a dead-pan tone.


“Daddy, this whole thing is bullshit. They seemed to work for the moment. But then they come back. Trust me. I saw countless videos online as well as that footballer from Good Morning America… what’s his name again? Michael Strahan… that’s right apparently had his phobia cured live on air. But I am pretty sure it comes back after the adrenaline wears off.”


Beta please give it a chance. You can’t go on your rest of your life like this.”


True. He thought.


Session 1


Dr. Rad seemed to be the friendliest person in town. He had long, fluffy beard like Santa and wore thin-rimmed glasses. And as far as the crazy part…? Well, it wasn’t for nothing that he earned that moniker. He wore a kilt to his office and had a bagpipe and a French horn right on the bookshelf. There were also coat of arms on his wall and several tartan scarves, memorabilia and golf items - from a 9 iron to several autographed balls in a cabinet.


What the fuck is he on? Varun thought.


As soon as they were let in he got up from his seat and widened his arms to greet them. “Hullo friends. You don’t have the slighted idea how delighted I am to see you guys.” Dr. Rad beamed cheerfully in his white tuxedo.


“And why is that? You don’t get patients.” Varun blurted out.


For a millisecond the smile disappeared from his face. Then he regained his natural cheerfulness: “Ah I see! You must be the one with the infliction.”


“Infliction? That’s one way to put it.”


“Come’on beta now.” His mother insisted.


Although he was 24, he hated the fact his parents accompanied him to the doctor’s. The doctor raised his hand in assurance. Then he politely requested the parents for some privacy.


“So. Va-rrrrooon? That’s how you say it?”


“It’s Varun dude.” 


“Ah! Ah. I see. And you are majoring in computer science and philosophy I hear? Double major?”


“You are a creep man. How do you know so much about me?”


The old man feigned curiosity: “Ah why but your father told me everything about you. He even said that you are skeptical of my powers.”


Powers? Is that how you fuckin define it? Varun muttered.


“Yes. I don’t think NLP or anything else works. I am even aware of exposure therapy.”


“Ah beta..”


“Please don’t call me that. I hate that.” And yes, that is true. Varun did hate that.


“Ah my son. What if I told you by the time you walk out of that door on the third day, you shall be -” he made a waving motion in air “- cu-red!” As if Varun will receive salvation on that day. 


Ta-da. Varun noted. 


“Mis-ter Varun! You honestly don’t think I can cure you of your life long phobia of snakes… especially cooooooowwwwwwbraaas?”


Varun hated the way he seemed to know his primal fear and dragged on the syllables of the chosen trigger word.


“Do you doubt me? Haaa. Haaaah. Haaanh?” Dr. Rad came close to him, stood two centimeters next to his face and repeated: “Do youuuuuu douuubt me?” 


“Jesus Christ. What’s wrong with you man?” Varun leaned back wiping away the spittle. 


“My bad. You are right. You are absolutely right. I shouldn’t have done that.” Suddenly Dr. Rad retreated, went back to his chair, and tied his coat buttons as if he had a change of mind. “I suffer from Dunning-Kruger syndrome. I have finally come to limitations of my powers. There are certain phobias and illness that cannot be cured. They must be remain latent in a human psyche, lurking deep in the hidden, dark, cobweb-shaken attic of subconscious, forever conniving, sabotaging, and even planning a person’s life like the looms of Clotho and other sisters of the Fate.”


“See!” 


“My child… I can cure phobias.. Phobias and fright of darkness… scotophobia, agoraphobia, arachnophobia, hemophobia and even koumpounophobia or fear of clothes’ button to arachibutyrophobia.” The performer said slowly. Hypnotically. “I can cure even phobias of snakes, but such … feaaaaar… of cooowwwwbras. That I surely can’t. Not cobras.”


“Okay. That’s enough.” Varun intervened. He simply didn’t want to hear that word again.


“Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra. Cobra….” The doctor seemed to go into a Pentacostal trance and appeared to have a fit as he kept repeating the word which Varun so dearly feared.


“Stop. Stop it I said!!!! STOP IT!!!!!” Varun rose up and thundered. But suddenly the airwaves filled with that word repeatedly blaring from the intercom. Varun compressed his head with his palm on his ears and rushed outside.


__


Varun was terrified for the rest of the day. He couldn’t eat. And after he stormed out he went to the restroom to vomit. He felt he need to purge the entire experience out of his body. 


“This guy is a psycho MOM!!” Varun shouted in the waiting room.


The mother tried to calm him down by patting his face full of sweat with a handkerchief. “Calm down beta… Relax koro. Jo hua so hua. Whatever happened, happened.”


“It has passed. Let us go home. Forget about this incident, beta.” The father seemed to agree.


Varun skipped his epistemology class where they talked about maya and illusion of Mahavira and Mahayana logic as he later found out from Fred on Facebook.


He had zero appetite and couldn’t fall asleep. He felt his worst nightmare will come true. Varun also smoked weed occasionally but felt so paranoid that if lit up a bowl, he felt real snakes would materialize out of nowhere.


It was the worst day of his life.


Session 2


Despite such trauma, Varun decided to go back. He was intrigued. This guy is batshit crazy. He needs to have his license revoked. As Varun wondered this, Dr. Rad burst through the door at the lobby and hugged him as if he glad to see an old friend.


“Ah Varun. Oh come. Don’t just stand there. Give this old codger a big hug, you boob.” Dr. Rad wrapped his giant arms around him declaring in a booming voice.


One of the nurses forced a faint smile. By now, they were all well-accustomed to this psychologist’s eccentric behavior. No one even knew if he had license to practice medicine or any degrees except word-of-mouth had it that he cured the celebrities from their primal fears.


“I knew you would be back. What’s your Twitter by the way? Follow me. Follow me and also sub to my YouTube channel and show some love.”


This time his parents didn’t accompany him. He drove the Kia straight his office. 


“I have arranged something for you my friend. We are going to a different room today.” 


Varun was confused. He could sense his stomach churning with wiccan eeriness. What on GOD’S name does this madman have behind the door?


“Now my friend. What am I about to show you might stifle you… startle you… or even shock you given your state of mind.”


“No. No!! No!!!!!” He protested like an abused person might. Then before Varun could react he pushed him and closed the door.


Varun grabbed the handle in futile and slammed the doors. “Help!!! Help!!!! Someone help me. Please. I beg you. Someone please help me!!! HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”


The room was completely dark. 



Few seconds later the lights flickered on. It was a big room filled with stacks and stacks of hundred dollar bills. 


“Welcome Mr. Varun.” The familiar voice boomed through the intercom. “I thought you would appreciate my surprise. And as I can see… you did!”


“You are a sick fuck. You know.” Varun seethed. 


“Now.. hurry we must. For only we have an hour. What you see in this room is a distribution of a million dollars. Now all that wealth will be yours provided…”


He flicked on a switch. For the first time Varun noticed there was a projector and screen in the room. The room dimmed and an Indian cobra or Naja naja graced the screen.


Every visceral cells of his flesh wretched and wanted to burst yellow liquid through his pores.


This was absolutely disgusting! Varun shuddered and closed his eyes. It must be at least 12 feet tall on the projection screen.


“Prooooo-vvaaaaaaaaaided. You wrap this snake around your neck which we have in the next room.”


“No!! No!!! No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Varun clutched the door handle and lurched outside. The door gave away this time as Dr. Rad’s maniacal laugh echoed through the sound system. 


Session 3


Varun was curious. It took him an entire month to gather himself after the incident. But one thing stuck with him. The kook said I will be cured by the third visit. What possibly could go wrong?


He realized that the worst is behind him. He already suffered through hell. And it might heed well to listen to Winston Churchill’s advice of marching straight through.


“You know the ancient Romans believed in trepanation and throwing the disturbed individuals in a snake pit to rid of their phobia right?”


“No sir. I didn’t know that. And I certainly don’t think you have any crazy idea in mind.”


He took him to a room and raised the shutters to peer inside adjacent room which was dark. 


“No… except-” Again the good doctor paused with showmanship. “You have to witness this! Howz that for systematic desensitization!”


He cried gleefully as he turned on the light. Literally thousands and thousands of cobras were crawling and writhing on the floor all tangled up.


“This my friend is the dessert!! The cherry on the cake. The capstone. The grand finale. My swan song!!! Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.” Dr. Rad made an ‘after-you’ motion.


“Hell no.” Varun was pale. Too afraid to be angry. “Please. I beg you man. Please don’t do this.” He was ready to fall on his feet and coil his arms around his ankle. Then temper overtook his fear. “Fuck you. FUCK YOU!!!!!!! Fuck you. There is no way in hell I am doing this.”


“OH but yes you are my son. Beta…” Dr. Rad’s squiggly eyebrows danced and taunted.


Then the doctor rushed out of the room. Two minutes later Varun noticed he materialized in another room through the window of the intermediary chamber where he saw three familiar apparitions from the outfit. All had hooded masks on. 


“This is the moment you have been waiting for Varun. Unless you crawl through the room I will blast your mother. Then I will shoot both of your kids one by one.” The crazy psychologist coolly gave the ultimatum.


He surely isn’t gonna do this. Is he? 


The doctor unhesitatingly drew a Colt 22 and blasted the hooded head of the eldest person in the room which fell sideways. The head exploded like a watermelon splashing red ink everywhere. The doctor approached his victim and pulled aside the mask. It was his mother. 


He was then about to shoot his two kids. They were barely four or five. Varun didn’t hesitate. He kicked the door and made a dash for the other end of the room where his family was held. But before he could take a single step, he fell and was swallowed in a pool of squirling psychedelica which seemed to dance in motion. 


Tens of cobras wrapped and coiled his ankles, his neck, his arms, his torso, his face as he made a gasping attempt to dive to the door which stood as a target in his frontal sight of neocortex. But to no avail. Some snakes’ tails got inside his mouth as the animated carpet enveloped him squeezing and harassing omnidirectionally. 


Varun tried to stand to shake them off.


Then it stopped. The sound of the projector was turned off and another set of bright lights turned on. Half of the snakes seemed to vanish from the floor. But Varun couldn’t detect what was happening.


The familiar guffaw was heard as Dr. Rad waltzed in clapping like a spritely child.


“What did I tell you Mister Varun!! Haha what did I tell you?” The man laughed. He laughed a belly laugh as if finally getting the cosmic joke. “Tadaaaaa! You see Mister Varun. All of this is magic. These are all maya. An illusion if you will.” 


He carefully picked up a cobra which was a toy snake. State-of-the-art technology created from advanced robotics lab. There were about five million dollars worth of robotic snakes with artificial intelligence invested in this particular section of the laboratory. And the rest of the illusion was completed with hologram. 


Dr. Rad flew in his family with special diplomatic ties and string pulling. Not only his mother was in it, but so were the kids. The doctor revealed the fake blood and the dummy which was switched in the melee. 


He reminisced as he wrote the check for $14,000 suite at the front desk of Ritz-Carlton about to check in. Three decades passed by since that weekend. Varun Sharma still wasn’t sure if conquering such ophidiophobia was worth it. He joined the army, got divorced, failed an ice cream and Boba business, endured loss of his parents and his best friend who withered away to colon cancer, tried bungee jumping and scuba diving, entered an improv competition and won, became a millionaire at the age of 48, and experienced other facets of life.


Can he honestly say because of the incident of that day he became the man he is now? Can he honestly now declare it was chiefly because of the crazy psychologist his self-efficacy shot through the roof and he believed he could achieve, undergo and walk through anything if his or family’s lives depended on it? Can intolerable cruelty to rid one off phobia be ever justified? 


All these thoughts rushed through Varun Sharma’s mind at rapid speed activated by the pendant on the blonde receptionist’s neck. It was a Shiva with a cobra wrapped around his neck. 


“Nice jewelry!”


“Oh thanks.” The pretty blonde smiled. Varun Sharma felt he could easily have her phone number. But he didn’t even need to try.


“Your luggage has arrived. This way sir.” The bell-boy appeared and gracefully bowed. As he was about to enter the elevator another person reached for the button to hold the door. 


The man dressed head-to-toe in a $20,000 Armani suit and wearing a $1,200 Bulova watch disappeared through the doors.


Some people are afraid of closed and confined spaces huh? How silly. 


Varun thought.


July 07, 2023 21:18

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1 comment

11:46 Jul 16, 2023

The title caught my eye. The doctor suffering form "Dunning-Kruger syndrome" was so funny, I just learned that term a few months ago. I def do that too. Good thign he was cured of his phobia by the end.

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