A Chat About Freedom

23 12 2006

It is a common tendency to avoid difficult questions labelling them to be “intellectual mambo-jumbo”. That is the easiest way too. I feel that even the people who argues vehemently for freedom tries to escape from other dimensions of it. In fact, the escape from freedom is a central characteristic of many a people born and brought up in symbiotic and withdrawing families (Ref: Eric Fromm’s theory). And especially in India most people come into that category.

Let us look at the case of many a typical Indian women. A girl is usually brought up to be an image her mother itself. The mannerisms, dressing and even so called sense of modesty is rather imposed up on her from the childhood itself. Once I happened to have a chat with a friend of mine. Let us call her Chaithanya (not her actual name). Brought up in a traditional family she got educated in Bombay and I happened to see her after ten long years. She was complaining about the extreme chauvinistic attitude of Keralite men and rightly so. Even the movies made is Malayalam reflects how the male and female stereotype in Kerala are. But when I asked her. Some distant cousin of her had apparently boasted about immodest dressing of women which “provocates” men and she felt irritated. But she had to smile and sit there being a young woman who should be “modest”. I asked her why did not she retort and she replied “all though I do not like it, it is a reality that we girls need to act a lot and keep quite in such situations or else it is considered as impudence”

“Well, then you don’t approve it ,right. So why not at least speak about that in a casual conversation at home avoiding a heated debate. See Chaithanya, how can you conclude that people won’t approve until you try it first and take the freedom that you know you possess.” I said.

She replied, “Perhaps,you are right…. But I simply can’t. You have to be a woman to understand that…”

“I cannot be a woman which is a fact. But you miss the point here. Nobody can make you free. There is nothing like a person being emancipated by other at the intellectual level. Only you can make you free. And for that you need to be convinced about your freedom and be prepared to take the freedom and its responsibilities… You know I rmember Balachandran Chullikkad’s lines

Oru daiva puthranum ninte rakshaykkini

Varikilla kaathirikkendaa.

Neemaathrameeyullu ninte mukthikku nin

Neethi boodham thanne sharanam

“I can appreciate your thoughts but some how I miss out in action……….  I mean most girls do … We are helpless. ”

“Dear Chaithanya, you are an old school friend and playmate of mine. We have known each other from very early ages. And you know that we both were just enacting the role our parents and society gave till the time when we began to think by our own.  I remember that you had to be near home with other girls when we played football and cricket in the field. And at times you used to ask us whether you could join it. Usually the big boys there had the say and response is typical. A girl cannot possibly play football with boys. We both accepted it then and now I think it as absolute stupidity. If you had been with us on the ground regularly you would have turned a sturdy girl. But then, that is a deviation from the female stereotype that our society has. That fear makes your parents dictate you to be that stereotype girl in all aspects. Of course, I do not see anything wrong in being a ‘chocolate loving’, ’emotional’, ‘chaterbox’, ‘well dressed’, ‘good looking’ and ‘modest’ girl that you see everywhere. Only that they have taken refuge under authority to escape from freedom. I tell you that freedom is not a chocolate. It is sweet but burns like a fire.  All I am telling is there is no point in this blame game alone. The conditions are not desirable, that is a fact. But what is the point in complaining without challenging those powers-that-be. ”

There was a moment of pause. Then she continued.

“…… Das, I accept what you said. In fact, these had been the thoughts that dominated me, while doing my graduation at Bombay. Once back, I feel that I am automatically returning to that old self…. And you are one of my good friends, so nothing to hide. You see, we are by design made more earthly creatures…… The menstural cycle itself reminds every women her so called limitations, each month…. You know, the feel is different.  I admire women who were really able to challenge all those limits…. I mean they are really something….. But can I be one of them … is a big question …..”

Again a moment of pause.

“Yeah, I understand. At least intellectually, if not with its full emotional strength. Still, those are not answers too. Don’t you realize it? …….. Within a few months you will have to enact your part as the heroine of the age old drama of ‘pennu kaanal’ …. And I could never imagine a more stupid way to for a couple to know each other. The script of the dialogues that goes on is predecided. Directed by a ‘vivaha dellal’. It was an issue of  ‘big fight’ in my home once. I had categorically said that I am not in favour of those nonsenses and don’t expect me to be an actor in it. And at some point they might press me for it and I will have to deny it…….. It will be painful, I know. But this is a ground rule here, when I do something which I believe to be ‘right’, the responsibility is mine. I cannot shy away from it. If you cannot justify something others impose upon you by any means, then you need to stick to your freedom. Also never impose your rules up on others too. Other than granted freedoms which comes with love and which should not go to the extend of making a person uncomfortable, we have to fight in order to be free…..  it is not lack of love or respect if you stick to your freedom. In fact when you grant the same freedom to others you are loving then and being more loveable by any yardstick……

… or at least, I will not be considering you a ‘impudent’ girl, if all you demand is your genuine freedom. I will only have more respect for you. …. Think and convince that decisions in your personal life is your freedom at first. Then be prepared to demand it. ……….”

She was staring at me, reflecting up on our conversation. She replied with a difficult smile….

“Perhaps I need to. I need to amass the courage for that first. I don’t know if I will succeed. Wish me good luck….. But then don’t just stare up on me, if after two years,you see me with a kid rushing to kitchen to prepare the breakfast for my husband while he shouts at me…….. ”

“Well, I have seen enough contradictions to not to be shocked by something like this, which is least among them….. At least, I have not made you moody by a chat, I suppose.”

“No way …. Good to have some of such grilling sessions. They are quite reflective. I thank you for being honest and brutally frank as always you are…. ”

“Nice compliments it is… Anyway, if the chat with a beautiful ‘balyakaala sakhi’ after years didnot turn into a disaster, I am relieved …. ”

Aldus Huxley made me confused after his “Brave New World” and Orwell blew the discomfort to the verge of outburst with “1984”. Later Alvin Toffler’s “Power Shift” and Eric Fromm’s “Sane Society” give some reflective inputs. But it was “The Matrix” and “I-Robot” which made some speculations into a vague yet clearer picture. Yes, our basic urge is to define our freedom.

The question of freedom is too wide to be contained by a single example. It has dimensions which spans through the structure and nature of power and humanity’s destiny itself. World have seen enough experimentation and evolutions in the social arena. Aristocracy, Democracy, Theocracy, Feudalism, Capitalism, Communism etc. The fundamental question remains unanswered as yet. Do we need to be ruled? How can we define freedom in the light of what we have seen till this day? There are ardent conservatives on one side and liberals on the other side and the battle is always on. The questions are umpty and new ones are added each passing moment. What about the freedom of sexual orientation? Freedom of mobility?Well, could nudity be described as the freedom of expression? …. Endless … But we need answers. Escaping from difficult questions cannot not take us anywhere.