Monday, May 27, 2013

Price for Free

This is unusual. I do not wake up on a day suddenly feeling the need to acknowledge the price of whatever we mean when we think of freedom. If I do feel this need, it awakens around August 15, India's Independence Day, an inevitable programming for someone who grew up in the often hysterical jingoistic patriotism that super-scripted the Emergency years of Indira Gandhi. Furthermore, I come from a family of doctors, not freedom fighters, so it is challenging to excavate genuine sympathy at the many ways in which the human body is deliberately harmed by others of its own species. I must also confess that I am spoiled. I have always thought of myself as a product of all that the brave sought to preserve, and like all such products, I take many kinds of freedoms for granted; I mean, doesn't everybody?

I do not need to count the ways in which we are free for my patient reader; it might smack of unimaginable boasting at worst, and will be unimaginably boring at best. I will also not tell bravery tales of battle heroes; that belongs in a classroom somewhere. What I do want to acknowledge is home courage, the kind seen at home, not on battle lines.

A discussion I invest a part of course time to every quarter I teach Greek Mythology, revolves around what happens to women in a war, not women soldiers, but other leftovers, like Hecuba and Cassandra. I tell of their plight, my material derived from a tragedy (Women of Troy) millenia old. I know this resonates with all of us because we know that nothing has changed. Often, the heaviest price for freedom is paid by those who did not choose the war, did not fight in it, and were not free enough or fast enough or resourceful enough to run away from it.

I do not mean to say, of course, that wars are bad and that we should not indulge in them. I know that wars have many benefits, like a rich cultural exchange, a forced open-mindedness, expanded gene pools, and profitable trade and travel opportunities. After all, my grandmother was lucky and resourceful enough to run away from Hitler's Dresden, all the way to the shores of Gujarat, an event I think of a great deal every time I think of my daughter away at college. We are also, it would seem, a family of globe trotters and think of all the countries we call our own as Our Country, rather than choosing one. I remember when I was in college, I made sure to Read what I loved, pursue my passions, live as fully as I could manage, because SO MUCH had gone into the making of me! All the angst of history, all the terror of immigrating to a place where no one speaks one's language, the horrors of wars, all culminating into one moment that was my life: it was an awareness I carried on my shoulders at all times.

When I think of freedom, I think of my maternal great grandfather in World War I, who chose to step out of his trench after being confined there for over three days, insisting on his need for air and a smoke, even at the cost of possibly being gunned down. When he returned from his smoke, he found himself the sole survivor of his unit, the trench bombed in his short absence.

When I think of freedom, I think of my grandmother telling us of the importance of answering door knocks in Mumbai during the Partition, with chili powder in hand, of instructing children to hide behind gas cylinders (we cook with those) and not emerge, no matter what they see or hear.

When I think of freedom, I think of my paternal grandfather, choosing to travel six villages away (by boat), because his village did not have a school offering studies higher than 6th Standard. I think of my father studying beneath street lights (his house did not have enough light after sunset).

And this is only my family. All our families have willingly paid, continue to pay the price for all flavors and sizes of freedoms, even bartering some other freedoms in exchange. None of us is an accident, I like to think, but a deliberate movement of history, that sentient river which hold in its depths the uneasy, sludgy, slippery, stinky muds, some of the richest fertilizers that can foster life.

Today is my day off. I have the freedom to chart it as I will. As I navigate it, I will try to remember what an expensive moment of history I am.



  1. When I think of freedom, I think of my mom leaving The Dominican Republic so we can be raised in Puerto Rico and I think if my mother's father leaving his bachelor life behind to take care of 8 kids and two brats grandchildren so his daughter can set herself up forever away from him.

  2. What a great and moving meditation!


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