Freedom is every other word

Freedom is every other word

As we gear up for another Independence day, Reethika Azariah Kuruvilla finds out that women have done quite well with their freedom. It might mean different things to different people, but ultimately, freedom is the ability to live as you want while letting others do so too.

If freedom was really ‘just another word for nothing left to lose,’ Ms Joplin would certainly not have ever had a number one single in her career, even if it was posthumously. Freedom, in a sense, feels like freefalling without a parachute with your eyes shut tight and the guarantee that you will never fall flat on your face.

Freedom is not so much the liberty to choose but also the joy and fulfilment that comes with that choice.  It’s the beauty that comes with the flight of butterflies, the smiles that appear with the sounds of little children singing.

 It’s that moment every day when you get to take a deep breath and not think about anything other than how good that coffee tastes, even if it lasts just a minute before somebody calls you back to your office desk.  Freedom means so much, but too often gets taken for meaning too little.

While my toddlers’ idea of freedom is nothing short of being allowed to play in mucky rainwater puddles all day, my better half would consider himself really ‘free’ if he had a day without the responsibility of having to answer his cellphone.  

My best friend, however, tells me that freedom for her is much like a combination of what it means for my children and spouse put together with numerous cups of coffee and hours of good gossip coupled with a good book sale with no credit card or time limit.

Changing idea

More often than not, the idea of freedom changes as we get older.  Current responsibilities and past memories tend to take their toll on the idea of what it means to be free. However, all it takes is a little time and a fair amount of faith in your identity, and in that moment when you listen carefully, you can probably hear the ‘chimes of freedom’ peacefully echoing in the distance.

Six and a half decades and counting, India has a lot to cheer about as we head on to another year of democracy. Women, especially, are in a much better place today than we were back in those black-and-white television days, shopping at Louis Vuitton and ruling countries and multinational companies with élan.

 Here are some women who, in my opinion, corroborate that it takes a lot more than a driving license and the ability to vote to prove you can be who you want to be and rock at it.

*Mary Kom, at the Olympics, being able to leave twin boys with her husband and family without having to worry if there’s enough milk in the fridge in case they have guests. ‘Sting like a bee’ she might, but she’s still a daughter, wife and mother, and a responsible one at that.

*Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, the first female president of the United Nations General Assembly, twice elected to parliament and holder of eight honorary degrees (achievements made after she lost her husband and was left penniless because of the rule leaving Hindu widows with no inheritance rights).

 Her funeral at Sangam, at her request, was a celebration of her life instead of a wake.  Vijaya Lakshmi did have a brother, also famous in his own right; some called him ‘Chacha Nehru’.

*Sonia Gandhi who chose to stay and carry on the work her husband started when she didn’t really need to.  Who could have taken the easy way out and left a country that didn’t necessarily take to her at first, worked hard at her diction and stood her ground.  Neither her offspring nor political successor could ever hope to match up to half of what she has managed to achieve so far.

*Medha Patkar, known for her role in the Narmada Bachao Andolan, who chooses to be known by her ex-husband’s surname and still speaks her mind, whether it is about her decision not to support protests in her hometown or that she believes Anna Hazare’s team should have waited a while before joining politics (even though she is a part of this team).

*Veena Singh who takes time off every day, driving through the sweltering temperatures of New Delhi’s Lodhi Gardens in a car sans air conditioning, to feed stray dogs — not because she has to, but because she wants to.  Ms Singh does have an ardent dog lover for an uncle, more renowned for his literary skill, Khushwant Singh. 

*Lakshmi Menon, who’s covered runways from Bangalore to New York and has made dusky the new ‘fair and lovely’.  The face for Hermes and Givenchy, she claims her success is a ‘lot about luck’ but good genes and hard work help too.  She is happily based out of Goa when she could have chosen to live in Paris instead.

*Vidya Balan for her guts to take on a role no other actress dared attempt, and tempting box office fate with a waistline that probably made more news than her paycheck did. For making that movie work, still not worrying about whether the waistline matters, and getting offers with stronger female roles — probably changing the meaning of the word ‘heroine’ in Bollywood forever.

A few great women aren’t a patch on the numerous individuals who are our living heroes. Take my sister-in-law for example, an admirable single mother who shifted to a city (with no knowledge of the new language) with a three-month old daughter, completed a Master’s degree and then successfully obtained a phD in engineering; who ultimately gave her own daughter that freedom to work towards becoming an architect, and still took a break to go on holiday abroad because that’s just precisely what she wanted to do. Or the local house help who carries her cellphone with her at work, supporting three children and a mother-in-law in spite of an absentee husband.

Freedom gives you the ability to live and let live — the liberty to speak your mind and the intelligence to stay silent, letting go of your peers’ approval while following your heart instead, having faith in who you are and celebrating who you’re going to be. After all, freedom doesn’t necessarily start at midnight, even if Rushdie thought so, and lasts much longer than the Jason Mraz song — it lasts a lifetime.  Because in the end ‘nothing ain’t worth nothing, but it’s free’. 

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