Home > Uncategorized > On Freedom

On Freedom

This morning, I was standing at Richmond Circle, waiting for a bus. A man was moving around with a cloth bundle on one arm and one cloth piece in another. I looked at the cloth piece; it was the Kashmiri design. I immediately looked at the man’s nose because Kashmiris have a peculiar nose structure, though not all Kashmiris bear it. The nose structure was not unique, but I was certain that the man was Kashmiri. Immediately, another man came around, again with a cloth bundle on one arm and a piece in the other hand, demonstrating the goods he was carrying. This man was Kashmiri and both the men spoke the language.

On seeing them, the immediate thought, or rather the sight, that came to my mind’s eyes were those pictures that all of us have been seeing in newspapers on the front pages: mobs throwing stones and policemen/security personnel shelling tear gas and the headlines shrieking about the Amarnath Shrine controversy. So here are these Kashmiris again, these bunch of Muslims, who are demanding azaadi … But the idea of azaadi is not practical, right? That is what most people told me when I first returned back from the Valley and passionately spoke about how a group of people cannot be coerced into staying with a nation because of an idea of “national unity and integrity.” But that is a matter of discussion and of words for some other day. Today, I want to explore the notion of freedom. In the last 3-4 weeks, I have been coming across struggles, battles and fights, for freedom in varying forms.

Let me begin with myself then when I have to talk of freedom. It is interesting but I first experienced freedom when I went to Kashmir. Those muted figures of Indian soldiers on the roads, at every furlong, had made me so uncomfortable that when I reached G’s home, I felt like something was wrong and there was an uncomfortable feeling of claustrophobia that was gathering in me, like some form of noxious gas. G later helped me unearth the claustrophobic feeling by exploring it with me: we figured that the discomfort has emerged from the heavy presence of the army, which, even though it had done nothing to me, was still a discomforting factor. At that moment, I suddenly felt like heck, what a free life I live in Mumbai.

On landing in G’s house, I could not help but marvel at that large house with a garden and how there were so many rooms in the house. Rooms in the house? I had only known of kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living room in that 55 sq. ft. house of ours in Bombay. And in that house of ours in Bombay, I struggled for every inch of private space. When my sister and I had started rebelling for our own space, we figured how we could never be able to afford our own space in Mumbai were we to live on our own. Freedom from home – that was such an elusive thought and yet, an idea that both of us nursed in our conversations at night and dreamt about it in our slumber, only to wake up next morning and find it distant, elusive and yet, so endearing. The rooms on G’s house – I can’t even remember how many there were and many which I had not known of. And here was G, complaining how he had established his space for himself – carved his freedom in those bricks, or rather in that door, which he kept shut always, indicating that people in the house should back off. Freedom – carved in bricks, set in concrete and shut by the door.

And then I land in Bangalore – well I am already here and still nowhere – and I hear of everyday squabbles, skirmishes, fights and battles for freedom – freedom from parents. Nah, I don’t mean to paint a nasty picture of that breed called parents, but what is most interesting in each of the squabbles, skirmishes, fights and battles between parents and children is that despite the squabbles, skirmishes, fights and battles, neither of the parties are perpetually free. What binds the two, parents and children, are a set of reactions where each one is responding from one’s own position of insecurity, of anger and of control. I don’t mean to state that freedom is never possible from parents, but that freedom has many shades where the freedom is not from the parents per se, but from the reactions that have come to define the relationship. I remember that when I first stepped into G’s room, my mind instantly raced back to the terrible battle of freedom that was going on inside me against my parents – I wanted my own space, physically and mentally – and how I hated my parents back then for ‘binding’ me to them. But as those days in Srinagar went by, I had realized that the root of every conflict lay in every home. And over time, as much as I have to feel grateful to my parents for their magnanimity and their understanding and to my teacher Goenkaji and my friends for enabling me to understand patterns of reactions and behavious, I still recognize that I am not free from several of the reactions that continue to define me as a person and the relationship between my parents and me.

Then I move into the streets in Bombay city and into the squatter settlements and in these are some of the subtle struggles for freedom – freedom from control of the state and battles for freedom from conditions of poverty. Within the power structures that shape the everyday life of squatter settlements, there are small and large negotiations taking place between various actors to carve out more space. There are struggles against the government for rights and for existence with dignity. There are struggles to move away from the controls of various groups in power. And there are struggles to increase the power of one over the other in order to attain a freedom that may seem illogical to those of us from the outside, but remains completely meaningful to those within the sphere.

Then I think of the many people in Bangalore, the professionals, who yearn to be free by having a stable job, a high income and an apartment. And yet, is that where freedom lies? I cannot be judgmental about what people perceive as their freedom because even in my maverick ways of living, I see myself as unfree. And in their stability too, people can be very much free!

If I were to stop writing, I’d end with one of things I have been discussing with a close friend for sometime now. In some of the circles that I am part of, there is the understanding that the availability of more choices implies freedom. Thus, because “the market” provides us with many things to choose from, we have the freedom to decide. The question is whether choice and freedom are synonymous? If you are left with options, does that invariably mean that you are free to choose?

I can’t say anything more. But I still think of the two Kashmiris I saw today in Bangalore, with cloth bundle on one arm and the Kashmiri suit piece on display in the other hand. And I still think of freedom and how it means so many different things to so many different people.

[This post is dedicated to Kashmir, my home and to Bombay, the place where my mind has thrived and developed without fear …]

Uncategorized ,

  1. July 11th, 2008 at 00:22 | #1

    It is always so refreshing to read your take on life, Kashmir and inner peace.

  1. No trackbacks yet.