Closed up spider on green leaf. Image Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

In Perth, Australia, police rushed to a home where a child was heard crying as a man repeatedly screamed, “Why don’t you die!” Apparently a passer-by alerted emergency services when he overheard these ominous words and the sound of a child crying. When the police turned up at the house, the man explained he had merely been trying to kill a spider as he was afraid of this creature. He apologised for the inconvenience caused.

Some might find this funny but my sympathies are with the man who suffers from arachnophobia. His response might seem irrational but when you read that the country harbours ten of the most venomous spiders, he can be excused for over-reacting. Among these are the funnel-web, of which there are 40 species; the redback; and the tarantula.

This wasn’t the first time a spider has caused a ruckus in Australia and resulted in policemen rushing to respond to what they thought might be a crime scene. In 2015, police stormed into a home in Sydney where they found a man throwing furniture at a spider.

Of course some of our reactions are over the top but if you have an irrational fear of something, no amount of logic or reassurance helps. Somehow there is a perception that women are the ones more likely to scream or jump around if they see what men may consider harmless. Justin Timberlake is said to be terrified too of spiders. But I have seen grown men become paralysed with fear on spotting a snake. I bet you’re thinking how often do people come across a snake in their daily life. Well, if you have lived in a house with a huge yard filled with profuse vegetation, chances are that you will definitely come across this reptile.

I remember one such creature slithering into my bedroom many years ago, crawling past two sleeping dogs and making itself at home in a corner behind a box. When I discovered its presence, I did this frenzied dance accompanied by screaming that brought my parents rushing to my room. It was my brave mother who tackled the snake while my father stood at a safe distance, shouting words of encouragement and advice! We later came to know that it was a harmless rat snake but the deed had been done. It was killed and the dogs, who are supposed to sense such creatures, emerged from their deep slumber only because of the noise I made.

I know some people who are petrified of lizards, another creature found in most Indian homes. A friend of mine would blanch and shiver with fear whenever she saw one. I couldn’t understand her reaction to this seemingly harmless reptile until I thought of my own phobia, which is the cockroach. It makes my skin crawl and I am unable to deal with it as, in my experience, it has an unerring instinct to make a beeline for you if you try to confront it.

My mum, who was a keen gardener, could tackle any garden pest with aplomb. The only thing she couldn’t bear the sight of was the hairy caterpillar which often infested certain trees. This was one time I could come to her rescue, and I bravely flicked it off whatever surface it was on, thereby relieving my mother’s anxiety and making me feel like her knight in shining armour!

Since we all have particular phobias, although they might not be restricted to bugs and insects, we should respect the fears of others. All we know for certain is that there are two kinds of fears — fears that make sense and fears that don’t.

— Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.