Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Free Being...

I looked on as the blurred images sharpened and started to make sense. Lying beside me was a lady I couldn’t recognize but somehow could relate with. It was my mother who had just given birth to me. I don’t remember why but I was crying when I should have been smiling because one of my first perceptions was a sense of freedom. I was a free being, born in a free world of free people where one could do whatever one wanted.

As a toddler, I was even “allowed” to do whatever I wanted but I couldn’t. Nature restricted me; my physical abilities hampered me. At times, I didn’t have the power to do what I wanted and at other times, the resources. I had to cry when I wanted something. I didn’t like it but I had to. The same cry for everything I needed; at times my caretakers catered to my needs but at other times they failed to decipher my cries. I wanted to run but I couldn’t… I could only sit. I wanted to play but I didn’t know how to… I could only lie down and see people around me seemingly doing what they wanted. I wanted to grow up because I thought that my physical limitations were the only thing that came between me and my aspirations.

I grew up. I could now run. I could now play but then I realized that I was captivated within doors; doors with knobs so high I couldn’t reach them. I wanted to reach those doorknobs and see what was beyond them. Finally the day came, when I could open the doors and go outside but outside I found other, bigger doors; doors to which I never had the keys so I had to curb my desires. I could only go outside when an elder accompanied. I liked it that way too but I wanted more space. I wanted to go out whenever “I” wanted to and not when somebody else decided.

Then one fine day, my mom took my hand and confronted me with an edifice which everyone was referring to as a school. I was supposed to go alone to that place afterwards. That sounded so much fun. I liked the feeling of being let out alone but there were newer restrictions. I was bound by rules and regulations. At school too, I had to stay indoors most of the time and the little time I got to set my wings free was too short to suffice my appetite for freedom; but I conceded.

Life moved on. I could now move in and out of the big metal door – even alone. I started to feel like a free man but I couldn’t go as far as I wanted to and even when I did, I had to return on scheduled times. I had to do my homework which I hated and I had to go to school which I had started to hate because I no more needed it as an excuse to go out. Time kept flying. I was a young man now. The school wasn’t that much of a fuss anymore and the homework, in its essence, had reduced. I was a high school student. I had almost started to enjoy life but then I was told I couldn’t. I had to study. I had to fare well in the exams because that was the only way I would get admitted to a reputed college and if I were unable to get into a good college, I would never be able to make it big in this world. I succumbed. I could hang out with my friends but I had to be back home for my lessons. I loved to play in the streets but my study-room was always staring at me through its stained-glass windows. I slew my desires and devoted myself to studying because I wanted to make it big. I wanted to be a success story because I was told that it was the sole route to "freedom".

I persevered. I got into the best college in town. But before I had even breathed a sigh of relief, I was told that the high school was just a stepping stone; it is one’s academic achievements during the “all-important” years at college which determine one’s fate. I listened. I agreed. I was told I had to abstain from all the charms and allures of this ‘delicate’ phase of life that could make me go stray from the “right” path. I had a crush on that girl next door but I realized that I couldn’t do anything about it because I had more important things to deal with in life. I tolerated, because I had a belief in all those people who had assured me that I could do whatever I wanted to once I had achieved my goals, "my" goals which weren’t even set by me.

The college days went like a breeze but a breeze I could never relish. I was sent off to a far off university because if I had to have a decent career, I had to be educated from the best place in the country. Whatever happened to all my achievements at the high school and college, I never got to know. I stayed away from home but adhered to the principles I was entrusted with. I wanted to live my own life and I wanted to make my own decisions but I had to make sure that whatever I did, I had to bear in mind that I was not a single entity, I was part of a system; a system that was my family, my relatives, my society… I complied. I got the news that the girl I loved was married off to someone else because she couldn’t wait. She couldn’t wait because she herself was part of a system with rules she had to comply with. It hurt but I took it in.

I came back from the university with ambitions but ambitions which would die sitting in my mind just because they seemed too radical to people around me. I couldn’t do what I wanted to because the career I had chosen for myself had too many risks associated with it. I wanted to do something that would satisfy my appetite for creativity but I was forced to work in an environment where I felt suffocated and claustrophobic. I obeyed. I joined a 9 to 5 job which was never 9 to 5. Life wasn’t great but for once, it had started to settle down.

The work life had only just started to sink in when people around me started telling me that it was time I got married. I didn’t want to, because I still had a lot to do in life but I had to heed to my elders’ advice because they were always right. They wanted me to marry my uncle’s daughter. I gave in. I agreed. I got married.

I moved out. For once, I felt that I had broken away from the system. A system which I loved but one that never gave me the breathing space I’d always craved for. I had started enjoying my new “discrete” life. I had two kids. The kids infused a pleasant freshness into my  dull life. A freshness I hadn’t felt since I was a kid myself. I wanted to be with my kids but my job required me to work late and at times I had to stay out of town for weeks at stretch. I was too indulged in providing for my family that I failed to realize that my kids had already grown up. Life had whizzed past too quickly. My daughter got married and left us for good. My son went abroad for higher studies and decided that it was there that he wanted to stay for the rest of his life. My wife and I were alone again. I was still working but the long working hours had started to take their toll on an old man’s health. I developed a disease which left me bedridden. It kept getting worse. I was admitted to the hospital. The doctor told my wife that I wasn’t going to make it. I was dying. 

One day, the doctor came to me and asked if I’d like to get a life-ending substance injected into my body to relieve me of my pains or I’d like to suffer from these excruciating pains until I died naturally....

I could only smile as I thought to myself:

At last, I was ‘free’ to make a choice of my own.

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