Time to break free

Introspect about how free you are to be your own person and make your own choices

“It’s been sheer panic and chaos at my home today,” says Latika, a media professional and educationist from Mumbai. “I should add, even drama. My mother thinks I have gone mad or it is ‘someone’s’ influence. My father thinks I am unnecessarily harassing my family,” she says, shrugging her shoulders.

Mumbai girl Latika is 42. She is single. She lives with her parents. And all she has done is — gone vegan.

She smiles resignedly in response to my astonishment. “Yes, that’s all. I love animals and something about how we treat them has been bothering me way too much to shove it under the carpet. I started researching about alternatives for dairy and I think it is pretty much doable. Moreover, I am just putting on weight and I need to make some dietary changes. We can afford it and we have a maid who comes over to cook, yet me going vegan is seen as some sort of a selfish thing to do.”

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Seventy-one years of freedom in this country, and this is what we have on show in one of India’s metropolitan cities. Do you know (or, on second thoughts, probably you do) the freedom struggle is a real thing right there under your nose? Think of the spouse trying to get a night out with friends, or a child asking to play instead of completing her homework, maybe the teenager asking to go on a date or the employee suggesting a change in work culture. Ahem. Can we hear that throat getting cleared?

So what do you make of a thing that implicitly involves, depending on how you look at it, stepping on other people’s toes? American author and probable Republican candidate Brad Thor, who recently announced that he would challenge Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, would know about stepping on people’s toes. Read his novels to find out why, but here is a simple thing he has to say about his writing: “Freedom of speech includes the freedom to offend people.”

Ragini Vani probably stumbled upon a how-not-to-offend-yet-speak-your-mind solution a few years ago. “I am not completely in that zone yet, but yes, getting there,” she clarifies. In her 40s and single, Ragini realised to her discomfort that she still had to seek permission to do as she liked. She was constantly looking for approval for her dressing, her work hours, her friends, her night outs — every single little thing. “This somehow worked well when I was growing up and in my 20s, why, even the 30s! But in the last few years I realised that not speaking up for myself and for the things I wish to do was harming not just me but everyone around as well,” she says. Staying single was the biggest ever decision that happened in her life but that was followed by living this single life the way she wanted.

Ragini loves to travel and finding travelling companions, make that parent-approved travelling companions, is quite difficult. “My girlfriends are married and have babies and related issues, and some of them are not travel inclined, so it is not possible for us to travel together. Meanwhile, I met a travel enthusiast colleague who was happy to go backpacking. So we decided that we must. And we did,” she says. Only problem? We are talking about a male colleague here. After the initial shock at home and anxious interrogation about how rooms would be shared and for how long they would be away, and most importantly, is something serious on, Ragini’s family settled down. “No, there was nothing serious except our shared enthusiasm for travel. That’s that,” laughs Ragini. That trip, two years ago, defined freedom for her in a way that changed the course of things to follow. “We should all have the freedom to make our choice. What we do with that freedom is defined by responsibility,” she adds.

Right, not rebellion

And that’s where the problem starts, right? Most people who exercise their right to freedom are seen as some sort of rebels who do not wish to shoulder responsibility. Take Rajan Desai for example. Well into his 60s, he wants his spouse to be a stay-at-home grandparent. But his wife, Dharti, has other ideas. “Well, I have spent all my years looking after my family. I started my career as a yoga instructor only 15 years ago, and now I am well entrenched in it. I would love to continue it this way because, after years of staying literally within the four walls of this house, I have made a space for myself. That’s my freedom and I won’t give it up for anything,” she says.

So not only is it an uphill task but also one lined with arguments to convince her husband that she is going out to work. “It’s a struggle on a daily basis. He sulks. I continue. He sulks some more. I have realised I cannot make everyone happy all the time,” she says. So does she feel free now that she can step out of the house? “Well, that’s a yes and a no. What would really make me feel free is no socialising at all. I am basically an introvert. So my ideal time would be spent with me alone. Freedom to me would be taking a holiday by myself without any home-related stress, and sitting in some corner of this Earth with tons of books to read and lovely music to listen to,” she says, smiling. “Maybe just add food to that list; served to me instead of me having to make it!”

Ragini adds that living freely does not imply living sans responsibility. “When my grandmother was alive, I had taken on the responsibility on bathing her every morning since she was ailing. There was a time when I just wanted to go out for a holiday. I knew my responsibility jolly well, so all I had to do was to ensure either someone else could take over my job for this period or someone would get hired for it. Freedom gave me the choice to think, not play the victim that I can’t do anything thanks to my various responsibilities.”

Pune-based entrepreneur Manav Bhave feels that freedom doesn’t mean working in isolation. At least, it doesn’t mean only that. “I had a boss once who understood what we put forth. He was a dream boss and it was challenging and interesting to work with him as the situation offered so much to learn. Most bosses, I am sure, do not fit this picture. In any situation, freedom really depends on who the people around you are.”

Think about it. Your immediate circle really defines your freedom. Your family, friends, colleagues, bosses — influence your choices and either encourage or hamper them. “I can’t work under just about anyone. To me, freedom means the opportunity to think freely and to express freely. If not, I feel severely clamped. I think the organisation also gets mundane and creativity is shown the door. In a way it is good because it gives rise to entrepreneurship — as it did in my case,” he laughs.

Latika, who is currently battling the anti-veganism drive back home, has the final word. “At 42, I’ve given myself the freedom to go vegan despite the naysayers. I didn’t check whether my family and friends would be inconvenienced by this decision. I am currently turning a deaf ear to the dissent and doing what convinces me. This might have been the case all along. After all, I quit my full-time work without really consulting anyone. But earlier, the dissent would bother me. Now it pushes me harder to do as I please. And, I am giving myself the freedom to try and fail.”

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