Nidhi Ajay

The Choice Of Horrors

I was his eyes, he was my heart. My father was a kind man, I am aware that not many people get to say that. My father was visually impaired and a staunch patron of the arts – literature and music. Growing up in the 70s, he did not have access to education for the blind but the thirst for knowledge was unquenchable and he had hoped me, as his eldest child would help him see the world through reading. The misery he suffered, which I only see in retrospect, was not limited to the hindrances that blindness caused him. He was constantly overlooked, dismissed, ridiculed by everyone in our 20-folk family and he found catharsis in art, which he bought from the junkman’s shop for five Rupees apiece.

This was twenty years ago, and I remember sitting in our cool room with lavender walls and my father – colossal as he was, would lie down on the queen sized bed and I would sit on top of his belly, reading. Those were immersive moments where time lost its meaning as I dipped into one story from another, his favourite being the ghost stories of Charles Dickens and Henry James. I remember reading to him this particular poem, the place, the smell is painfully vivid in my memory and it said “A Wednesday’s child is full of woe.” I am a Wednesday’s child. The poem had predicted the root of my disability.

My father passed away five years after I read that poem to him and our family was hurled into the world, driven by instinct and in my case the compassion of my grieving grandfather. My way of coping was through books, and old films that my father had collected on VCR tapes. A lot of black-and-white film noir, all of Alfred Hitchcock and an entire host of war documentaries.

As the world around me began to show that I was a ripe prey because I had no paternal support, I began to question gender roles. Over the years my gender and the fact that I am a fat sexually active woman, has led to delay in my diagnosis which in turn escalated my disability and my dependence on psychiatric care, unstable jobs and relationships and this general sense of impending doom that follows me, never letting me breathe or live like a “normal” person for over a decade.

Pain is an inalienable part of the lives of those of us who are chronically ill. But even in the face of this Herculean pain that seemed to overshadow everything that I was, I wasn’t ready to give up just yet. For me there are essentially two kinds of horrors – one that begins somewhere in the pit of my stomach, wrenching my gut, labouring my breath and leaving my soul paralysed in the inferno of volcanic pessimism and animalistic fear. The other is all of the above but here I have a sense of control, I have consented to this sudden increase in adrenaline and I am surrounded by characters I care about. I AM NOT ALONE.

It is this sense of power and control that has led to the creation of a massive body of work by trans and cisgender women and non-binary femmes throughout the history of speculative fiction. This medium has been used to highlight misogynistic and transphobic popular culture narrative not only because we are queer but also because we are many a times vulnerable.

There are characters in speculative fiction that remind us there exists an army of ideas in the human psyche that goes unaddressed and hetero-centric narratives of tabloids and commercial publishing.

Some of the wondrous examples of such characters are: Nell and her troublesome relationship with her deceased mother in The Haunting of The Hill House by Shirley Jackson; the Monster’s yearning towards the family in the woods in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; the mother who kills her daughter to serve her from slavery in Toni Morrison’s Beloved; a woman who saves herself in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber; a protagonist that fights gas lighting among other atrocities and saves her life in Alice Thompson’s The Book Collector.

I was not just entertained but thoroughly engaged by the expert female storyteller, what distinguished the female authors of speculative fiction from their male counterparts for me was the empathy they provoked in me, in contrast to the lack of empathy which I received while my struggles in real-life continued. I think it is necessary to understand that these pieces of art inspire fear and can make a person anxious but this anxiety is in the person’s control. One can shut the book or as Joey Tribbiani from Friends does, put it in the freezer in contrast to the real life anxiety that has to be faced without respite.

It may sound absurd to a reader who is completely unaware of Bipolar Disorder (I envy you) but what draws me the most towards speculative horror is that I have a legitimate reason to be scared and the awareness that the film will end, the last chapter will close. In my reality the sentence is eternity. This is my choice of horror and I adhere to it.

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About the Author

Nidhi Ajay is a queer, bipolar writer of North Indian descent. Her work is rooted in oral histories and exploration of the psychological disability spectrum.