Monday, August 15, 2011

Freedom and the Common Man

Independence Day this year comes at the end of a long, festival-filled weekend. A day to think, even if briefly, about the meaning of freedom - and tolerance- which is a necessary accompaniment.

Ironically the last week has been demonstrative of some of the worst kinds of intolerance and insecurity-driven violence in word or deed, in our country and others. Yet, at a personal level, we remain free to make our choices: to watch or add to or defuse angry or fearful situations.

We all face such dilemmas from time to time and spend much energy and thought on what is the right way to deal with impossible situations and difficult people. I relate very much to the Common Man, as depicted by R.K. Laxman, one of our best loved cartoonists. A thin, ordinary person who is busy looking upon or dealing with small crises not of his own making and is trying to do so without giving up his sense of humour or intrinsic optimism. Freedom and what we do with it depends on our state of mind (and spirit).

On this day too, I remember the words we had to memorize in school, which meant so little then and mean so very much now - a poem by Tagore -

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up
into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason
has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action-
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

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