“ I am no bird; and no net ensnares me/ I am a free human being with an independent will” postulated Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre. I will tell you what freedom is to me. No Fear. Walk where your heart leads you. Sans all restrictions and burdens. And yet Voltaire averred,” Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains” . Societal, Familial, Collegial, Organizational to say nothing of Religious and Ideological … pressures abound from all directions. Even my own history & experiences serve to bamboozle me. Slowly Freedom becomes a chimera we all admire & aspire for… but like the horizon, it fades further as we move towards it. And, those who do not move, do not notice the chains that bind them. And thus remain in the false impression that they are free!!! So, immediately after India celebrated it’s 75 years of Independence, I am sitting down to understand what freedom means to me.
If I look back in my own life, freedom was choosing to study Humanities/Arts when all my well-wishers wanted me to be a doctor or an engineer. Freedom was deciding to marry my cousin when others were proposing alternatives. Freedom was deciding to adopt a baby girl, and not a boy. While all these were decisions of importance, Freedom also was declaring that now that I am in a house of my own, i will not force myself to eat everything & clean my plate, as was expected in my father’s house. Rather petulantly I declared I will “waste” food & not force myself to eat all. Not showing obeisance to elders, refusal to touch their feet as expected in Indian society; Wearing dark shirts and light color trousers, when everyone went for the other way round, all were an expression of freedom. Wearing crumpled clothes & hair very, very short was freedom. Every rebellious act could be a statement of freedom. One followed Robert Frost in letter and spirit who said,” Freedom lies in being Bold”.
To me 3 names come to mind when I think of Freedom. Krishna, Savarkar & Mandela. Let me explain. Mythologically, the story of Krishna is a classic mix of freedom and free will. We are all aware of the events and activities surrounding Krishna’s birth in prison, Vasudeva carrying him out on that fateful night of torrential rain, Krishna being brought up by Nanda and Yoshoda. As Krishna started growing up his divine/free will started exerting and the actions that he took…killing of Puthana, Trinavrata and Bakasur all show actions taken to rid the surroundings of nefarious demons who were making the life of the common people difficult. Krishna’s role on Mahabharata & the expounding of the Bhagwat Geeta give us the importance of decisive action in life. The entire concept of Krishna Leela is a classic example of freedom of will & acting to ensure greatest good of the maximum number. The mythological stories of Krishna or Vishnu or Ram all underline the importance of doing the right thing and following the dictates of the heart, boldly and free of any restrictions.
Talk of Freedom, and to every Maharashtrian, the one name which shines the brightest is that of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Savarkar’s iconic escape from the ship, which was carrying him back to India, while it was docked at Marseilles is a story often repeated when people talk of the love for freedom. His incarceration at the Cellular Jail (Kaala Pani) in the Andamans physically imprisoned him, but most of his time was spent writing books, essays, novels and poetry which were nationalistic in fervor and urged all Hindus to agitate for freedom. Freedom was his first love and literally he laid his life down for freedom of thought and expression. To me George Orwell’s words ring truest when we think of Savarkar’s contribution,” If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”. The clarion call of Savarkar rings loud and clear even now.
Historically Nelson Mandela is the 3rd person who comes to my mind when we talk of freedom of action & thought. This champion of Freedom, just like the other 2 we referred to above, spent a large part of his life in prison. Having been born in the Royal family of Thembu, trained as a lawyer, Mandela got into ANC early to oppose apartheid. He flirted with communism, was arrested many times for sedition. He negotiated an end to apartheid and paved the way to the first Multi Cultural General Election after which he served as the 1st President of South Africa in 1994. Mandela believed and professed that “Freedom is something that dies unless it is used” (Hunter Thompson). Under his government, South Africa made great strides in reconciliation between country’s multiple racial groups. Revenge was eschewed and people were free to profess & live with their differences. The secret to Happiness is Freedom. The secret to Freedom is Courage. Mandela taught this truth to a hurting nation.
So what does Freedom mean to me? Freedom is being what you are without having to seek anybody’s permission. Accepting yourself as you are. Accepting others as they are. And no one makes an effort to change the other. Let everyone be. Respect and encourage diversity. As Hans Christian Anderson taught us through the Fairy Tales we all loved and grew up with,” Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower”. Virginia Woolf says the same thing less romantically in A Room of One’s Own ,” Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind”
Take inspiration then from Independence, & be a Zealous Warrior to guard Freedom : vikas