Rahul Gupta Choudhary

Growing up in an industrial city near to a metropolis in the 1960’s and 1970’s of Bengal was quite a bit fascinating. Like all other childhoods, this was also a life of pure joy – a bit mechanistic and predictable, but one full of freedom and liberty – except going to school, perhaps. The partition was not so distant in our parent’s minds, the sense of loss overbearing and casting its shadow in everything they did. A new beginning all together, a new hope in the newly formed infant India. Somewhere in their minds and from some unknown source the parents were imbibed with the motivation to slog on with resolute determination at jobs much below what their pedigree would suggest. This determination and struggle was not for their own survival, but to ensure that their offspring do not go through the same nightmares once again. This was not a question of whether this new arrangement will survive to see the light of the day – somehow there never was even an iota of doubt that anybody expressed. The environment of hope and nation building pulled everybody together with the added satisfaction of being in the forefront of the industrial revolution in India – the Ruhr of India, as it was then called. As is the rule in God’s kingdom, the child grew up – biologically – with the sophistication and vanity of a good education and this gave him the right to become an intellectual. It did not take much effort for him to realize that the days of pure joy is fading – slowly but surely. The dreams were not souring immediately, but the hopes of the millions were slowly receding where thinking about the country was a luxury that most could not afford. Everybody to himself was the motto and it soon ended up in the ends justifying the means. At a certain level of mental maturity, the age old question came back to haunt us – what price freedom? Overall, the society at large started deteriorating further – from many perspectives – and the question then in many minds was if this is what all of us had in mind when we envisaged freedom. Every citizen of the country has the right to question whether we are moving in the right direction. To a certain section of the society, freedom stands for availability of opportunities to pursue their goals and engage themselves profitably in a profession of their choice. Off course, this particular form of freedom is squarely linked to the economic development and prosperity of a country. It will not fall on our laps as a God’s gift to us. There is no doubt that there is full liberty of thoughts and actions in our country – but, we are still quite a distant away from providing full freedom to all sections of the society in our country. This little boy in the 1960’ and 1970’s India - with a very joyous childhood and growing up with a lot of hope and conviction about his country – is now on the verge of crossing the middle ages. Surprisingly, he still has many more questions than concrete answers – is he confused? As he stares through his window at the lush green trees outside he knows that nothing has changed. He tries to believe that all changes will be for the better. Still, he is somehow not very sure anymore – the natural world changes very slowly and the human world changes very fast. The grown up boy somehow does not have the conviction to say forcefully – tomorrow is another day and tomorrow will be a much better day. Human civilization will not stop – it will continue its relentless journey for progress more and more. Somewhere it has forgotten to bring in the dimensions of human behavior and the human thought processes in to the equation. This relentless pursuing of progress has somehow not factored in the effect it is having on the quality of people – a better gadget in no way ensures a better human being. As the artificial toys of technology and science mesmerizes the entire human civilization, the performance of human societies and communities are neither measured nor understood. Somewhere, in some domain, we need them to meet up and work together in a synchronous fashion. The human dimension to all forms of progress is a must as without that we will be risking humanity and its application. One does not know whether we will conquer the outer space or aliens will overpower us some day, but for the present we need to take a long hard look at ourselves and concentrate on ‘building’ or ‘making’ better human beings. The idea is not to concentrate on each and every individual but to focus on our collective approach and the way we go about things including our mindset, behavior and attitude. This is more in the purview of culture and the way our social norms are set-up and organized – and very obviously, this differs from country to country. A scale can easily be drawn up to measure the comparative rankings of countries on this dimension. It may be entirely possible that countries which are happier will score much better than countries where all or some significant percentage of citizens are unhappy – dissatisfied and disgruntled.
Albert Einstein once said that ‘freedom, in any case, is only possible by constantly struggling for it’. This struggle of the human existence also is dichotomous. The more one struggles, the more he gives away his chances of gaining freedom. So, the first thing to be done is to set the mind free and on its way to a very high degree of freedom. Total freedom can be achieved only when mankind attains ‘nirvana’. In this materialistic world of egos and alter egos, the physicality of freedom is extremely difficult and almost unachievable. The more one concentrates on ‘getting away from it all’, the more he gets ensnared in the physical dimension of human existence – as it stands now. Struggle is a way of life and has a commonality across humanity, individually or collectively. It is in the nature of the human consciousness that everybody wants to break free, but very people understand what life would be without the attendant struggle of doing and achieving something better. It needs to be understood very clearly that struggle and suffering is not one and the same thing. Nobody wants anybody to suffer unnecessarily and most of the humanity would do anything to eradicate human suffering completely. Struggle however is a constant part of our endeavor to get better. To quote Albert Einstein again: Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom. So, it is not only that human beings continuously strive for freedom, but freedom has so far given all the great and inspiring works of and to the human civilization. It is only the free spirit which brings out the greatest achievements of our lives and it will continue to be so throughout the history of human civilization. This indomitable spirit of the human being is best brought out by the following two anonymous quotes: First - I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will. And second - Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, and no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.  
The nature of struggle that the individual goes through is also a part of the life choices that he has made, knowingly or unknowingly. The struggle in individual lives are a function of any things – some inherited, some his or her own doing. Commonly, when individuals want to break free, it is his search for complete liberty that he imagines – often mixed up with his quest for ending his sufferings. No system in the world can end human suffering individually. All it can do is to ensure that the individual has the right opportunities to struggle for his own freedom. Epictetus says: Is freedom anything else than the right to live as we wish? Nothing else. In God’s eyes, every individual is equal and born free. Every individual, thus, has the right to act according to his will and follow his mind only – because no man is created superior than the others. Echoing this thought process is the following famous quote of Theodore Roosevelt: I am an American; free born and free bred, where I acknowledge no man as my superior, except for his own worth, or as my inferior, except for his own demerit. Nelson Mandela could not agree more. He says: Leave it better than you found it - For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. This needs to be understood by mankind especially at an age when all individuals are in the process of isolating themselves with their gadgets as company. Freedom in the truest sense of the term is inclusive. It is not possible for an individual to be free when there is no such freedom in his immediate environment including people. Now in this interconnected world freedom has to be shared and even distributed such that the fruits of the achievements from this freedom are shared by all individuals in the system. Herbert Hoover observes: Freedom is the open window through which pours the sunlight of the human spirit and human dignity. The human spirit is truly free when there is an opportunity to live and work with dignity – and not only that, it must be incumbent on the individual to give as much dignity to individuals around him. You reap as you sow. Dignity bestowed will be dignity returned. The important thing here is the implementation of the tenets of freedom. Merely claiming freedom is not the same as practicing freedom. In order for the environment of freedom inspire and guide us, freedom must be implemented on the ground. No empty claims of freedom will take any community or country anywhere. In the words of William Faulkner: We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it. Many individuals think of freedom as the right to do anything he wants. This is far from the truth. Peter Marshall has this to say: May we think of freedom not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right. So, freedom as practiced, must be righteous and must also result in the common good of all – maybe, starting with the individual.

Two great past American Presidents has made some observations on freedom which is the bedrock of freedom and administration as understood today. Franklin D. Roosevelt says: In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved. This is very close to the conceptualization done by Albert Einstein. Achievement, which is synonymous with struggle, will lead one to the much coveted idea of freedom. No matter whatever level a person attains, he is never quite 100% free. This is because he has an independent will and an active mind which is in continuous Brownian motion, just like the atoms in the material world. The mind inspires the individual to keep looking forward, and our consciousness and our soul will always keep us restless and in a curious frame of the mind. Everybody is always looking for answers, but there are very few people, if at all any, who ultimately cracks the code and gets all the answers to all the questions he has had in his mind. Sometimes this grown up man is absolutely puzzled with the kaleidoscope of this colorful life and realizes that there is no way he will get answers to his questions in this material world. The meaning of life has so far been understood by very few people and it is unlikely that many more will ever get there. All that humanity can aspire for – and that too is quite a fair distance away - is to make ensure freedom of thought and action for every member of the human civilization. The struggle to get better and better and to achieve something meaningful will always remain at the core of all human thoughts and actions. However, let the entire humanity get together to alleviate the sufferings of everybody around the world. This then will surely be meaningful freedom.

Surprisingly, the trajectories of every well-meaning country in this world is akin to the individual journeys and their search for real freedom. In the words of Lyndon B. Johnson: This, then, is the State of the Union: free and restless, growing and full of hope. So it was in the beginning. So it shall always be, while God is willing, and we are strong enough to keep the faith. Our country India was exactly ‘free and restless, growing and full of hope’ as it started its journey after independence. 75 years later, we are still free and restless and growing. However, do we see a decline in the magnitude of hope for our own country and its citizens? Part of it is understandable as we are maturing now and henceforth, the competition is going to be steeper. The subcontinent has become a hotbed for terrorists and we are surrounded by failed states. China has become another nuisance with its play in all the failed states of the region. However, a major reason for the discomfiture of our citizens is the presence of a large majority of population who are not able to participate fully in the growth story of India. They do not have the freedom to choose their lives and hence, they do not have the reason to hope for a better and brighter future. So, our growth story henceforth may slow down in the near future if we are not able to find a way out of more equitable distribution of wealth and income – at least opportunities to earn a decent income. For a large part of the urbanized India, the hope will be back post COVID-19, but the lesson learnt should be that of inclusiveness. My freedom is important but so is that of all others in the country and the world. This is not a story of universal brotherhood, but that of a phenomenon very crucial and important for the living, breathing citizens of the world. Technology has to be controlled before it starts controlling all of us and should be used for ensuring freedom to each and every individual in this planet.
At the individual level, the struggle continues till we achieve our goals and hopefully, our generation will leave behind a legacy of freedom and liberty for each and every individual of this world. A lot of work needs to be done in order to achieve this, but as Robert Frost says: Freedom lies in being bold. One of the Icons of Freedom and Liberty in today’s world, Aung San Suu Kyi, has this advice to give: The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear. Till such time we reach there, one may decide to remember the following:
Ayn Rand: - Freedom (n.):   To ask nothing. To expect nothing. To depend on nothing.