Saturday, January 22, 2000

Fear not the night
By Ruskin Bond

NO night is so dark as it seems. No despair is so deep that it cannot be lightened.

We associate darkness with despair, but I have always found night to be kinder than day.

‘The night has a thousand eyes’....and I have grown accustomed to the night’s brightness — moonlight, starlight, lamplight, firelight! Even fireflies and glow-worms light up the darkness.

Over the years, the night has become my friend. On the one hand it gives me privacy, and on the other it provides me with limitless freedom.

Not many people relish the dark. There are some who will even sleep with their lights burning all night. They feel safer surrounded by bright lights. A primaeval instinct, perhaps, going back to the time when men hunted by day and were, in turn, hunted by night. Yes, I think I too would prefer to have the lights on if a flesh-eating brontosaurus were to poke its head around the bedroom wall.

  And yet, in this lifetime, I have always felt safer by night, possibly because there aren’t too many people around when it’s very late. Just the odd burglar or two, and their object is usually to get into someone’s house and decamp with the family jewels.They are not into standing by my side and communing with the stars. Late-night revellers are usually to be found in brightly-lit places, and are easily avoided. Stand still in the dark and they will pass by, singing. The odd drunk stumbling home is the most harmless of souls. I like helping drunkards find their way home, although I am seldom thanked for it: Drunkards are never grateful.

I am safer by night, true, but then I do have the advantage of living in the hills where violent crime is relatively rare. If I were living elsewhere, in town or city, I am not sure that walking home at midnight would be calm and uneventful. Not that walking home at midnight in Landour is uneventful. Something is always happening, but in a different sort of way. One is conscious all the time of the silent, scurrying life in the surrounding trees and bushes. Rabbits, field rats and other rodents are about their business. I have smelt the feline presence of a leopard without seeing it. I have seen foxes dance in the moonlight. And I have seen flying-foxes flit from one tree-top to another. I have watched pine-martens on the prowl, and heard the calls of owls and other night creatures.

Not all on the same night, naturally. That would be a case of too many riches all at once. But there is usually something happening — something to see or hear or sense.

The more superstitious amongst us are afraid of the dark, and to some extent most of us are superstitious, having been brought up to believe that evil spirits walk at night, that dark deeds happen only in the dark, and that those who live by night are hostile to those who live by day. Humans are day creatures, their senses are no longer attuned to the darkness, they are ill-at-ease when they are away from light. We have even learnt to equate unhappiness and failure with darkness, night-time with nightmares; we call madness a "darkness of the mind".

At night we are alone with ourselves, with our secret fears, and the human mind is most uneasy when left alone with its own inadequacies and defects. The day, on the other hand, has so many distractions. We can forget ourselves and our failings in feverish activity, and in inter-acting with other insecure people. Their problems give us some relief from our own. And at the end of all this activity there will be some who will simply swallow a sleeping-pill and escape the night!

But sooner or later, we must face our real selves, our lonely real selves.

Children are not afraid of the dark until and unless they are conditioned to such a fear.

Late last evening, walking past the cemetery, I found small children frolicking around the graves of those whose remains lay harmlessly beneath the soil. They were the caretaker’s children, who slept there every night, undisturbed by the souls of the dead. No draculas sprang at them. No banshees shrieked in the night. But when I asked a couple of sophisticated teenagers from a public school if they would care to spend an hour in the cemetery after dark, they recoiled in horror at the suggestion. Brought up on scary ghost stories, or their parents’ fear of the dark, they were more superstitious and fearful than the unlettered children who knew there was nothing to fear.

Nothing to fear when the sun goes down.
Go out and accept the night on its own terms.
It is not so dark as it seems.