WRITER: Govind Dhar
I thought as I grew older, fear would become a concept I’d grow more accustomed to. Yet as time wears on, fear morphs like mercury in the mind, slipping quietly into spaces and filling them with cold, metallic trepidation. Its vagaries form milestones in our sensorial lives, shifting from terrifying noises in the dark to the electric thresholds of confusing rites of passage and the tests – academic, social or health-related – we face as we age. For those who have children or aging loved ones, fear can become a wall, making us shudder at the smallest bump in the road, preventing us from lifting the veil, turning the ignition and pushing ourselves forward.
My mother taught me that fear of the unknown was overrated. She said that it was simply a visceral invitation to something yet to be known and perhaps enjoyed. Her notion of fear and how to deal with it has become one of the guiding forces in my life. But while I’ve tried to stare every new opportunity in the face, I still feel immense nervousness before the moment of daring, before taking the plunge.
I remember the time I visited Audi’s tamely named Driving Experience Centre outside Berlin with a coach of bona fide petrolheads. As they excitedly exchanged anecdotes about courses, engines and near misses, I became keenly aware of my comparative virginity. I was petrified.
After a day manhandling a gorgeously proportioned 5.2-litre V-10 R8, there was one last treat in store – a blistering shotgun ride with Le Mans legend, Marco Werner. From the front seat of a vehicle stripped to its raw, asphalt-eating credentials, there was little doubt how far one driver, one petrified man-shaped jelly, some sound German engineering and a beast of a race car was going to be pushed.
Before crowbarring myself in next to Mr. Werner, a German camera crew approached. Rather than say a prayer or something boring, I chose to let my brain and mouth engage in a death-ridiculing fandango.
“How do you feel?” the anchor asked, sticking a microphone in my face.
“I feel great!” I lied.
“Anything you’d like to say before you go off with Marco?”
“Yes,” I fibbed outrageously. “I wonder how well Marco will do today. He won’t find it easy to beat my personal best.”
Challenging a professional racing driver, especially when he’s strapped into his weapon of choice, is stupid. Watching him listen to a translation of what I’d said without telling him I was joking was probably more stupid. Foot squarely wedged in mouth, I clambered in and said that little prayer.
I cannot remember much of what happened next, except that the sound of the engine filled my head. It was far louder than in the velvet-like purr of the cars we’d been tootling around in all day. Sat here, the world seemed desperate to come crashing in through the windscreen and sit on my lap. Marco seemed to be in some sort of controlled fit. He sat stiffly, head riveted to his neck as the G-force hit, pinning us to our seats.
The industrial crunch of the gears was matched only by the intensity with which Marco smashed the pedals. His hands seemed to be wrestling with the wild beast that was the steering wheel. I remember looking straight ahead and seeing a hairpin turn sprinting towards us. Marco had not let up on the accelerator. He seemed set to roar into the barriers ahead. I’d barely put my thoughts together, when I heard a new sound. Nervous laughter. High-pitched and sing-song, like that of a person being tickled against their will in a formal situation. It was completely involuntary and it was coming from me.
I expected at any moment to become a careening fireball of power, testosterone and supreme German engineering. As we swung around the hair-pin, Marco slammed on the brakes with such force that the car’s primal grinding and shuddering remains clear in my head to this day. We were in and out of the bend in a flash, tearing our way towards the finish. When I wobbled out, someone said that I looked like I’d just given birth. It was probably one of the most terrifying (and thrilling) experiences of my life.
But I’m sure it won’t be my last. There are all sorts of new fears to find and as I get older, my nerves will probably continue to dance the fandango with my foot, my mouth and good sense. I regret this sometimes but know that almost always, it makes the journey more fun. After all, what’s a new experience if it’s entirely free of fear?