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FREEDOM HAS THE BEST VOICE IF IT'S YOUR OWN

Manisha Singh

15th August, 1992, the day when I learnt the word ‘independence’ for the first time in my life. I was a four year old capricious and inquisitive child. Donning a green ghagra bordered with pink and gold laces and pink chiming bangles, I was frolicking from the kitchen to the backyard. My younger brother was sitting by my side and observing us. My father was sitting in a wooden chair smiling at my giggles, his eyes were bright and his cheeks were red as if he was the happiest father on this planet. My mother was preparing poori and potato curry in the kitchen. The aroma was gripping. It was a humble home in Patna with a living area, two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen and a backyard or an ‘aangan’ as we say in Patna. Adjusting my hairs behind my ears, I was trying to ‘plant’ the Indian flag, yes plant! The flag was my ‘freedom tree’. If Chacha Nehru could share the fruits of freedom with the whole nation by ‘planting a flag’, why couldn’t I? There was the National Anthem being played on the television and the Prime Minister wished us Happy Independence Day. Little did I know the price of freedom, little did I know the meaning of freedom.


15th August, 2003, the day when I hoisted the flag at a school event commemorating the Independence Day. I was fifteen years old, bright in studies
and equally athletic. I was sitting in a giant velvet maroon sofa in a huge living area where my father was discussing my aspirations rather his ambitions with his friends. I was in a cream colored cotton suit with grey chiffon dupatta. There were no golden laces in that attire. My straight blunt hair was too neatly set to play with. My silver spectacles and leather wristwatch spoke of my diligence with my schedule. There weren’t any chiming bangles anymore. My younger brother was sitting by my side and observing us. My mother was preparing chicken curry and biryani in the kitchen. The aroma was gripping. This was my new home, much bigger with giant hallways, 5 bedrooms, exquisite washrooms and big balconies but my favorite aangan was missing. Instead we had a huge car parking area and a cemented verandah with well-crafted flower pots. With that aangan gone, gone was my ‘freedom tree’. But I was too busy to notice that or shall I say too naïve? That gigantic maroon sofa was the seat of the narratives of my father’s achievements, his fulfilled commitments and his will power, which were his qualities undeniably. Also, it was the seat to assure him of his pride which he derived from my achievements as his daughter. He told his friends that I was an ideal daughter who doesn’t make guy friends and that, I wanted to be a software engineer. Those words echoed not only in the living room but in my head. I could imagine a beautiful shimmering crystal ball of dreams being shattered into pieces and the broken pieces of glass stabbed my
heart with excruciating pain. But I couldn’t utter a word because my father’s
ambitious words had choked my throat. I held back a tear in my eyes, gulped one in my throat and an ocean in my heart, for I had painted a doctor in the ‘dream’s section’ and a boyfriend in the ‘desire’s section’ of my slam book. My father smiled at his friends without looking at me, his eyes were bright, and his cheeks were red as if he was the happiest father on this planet. There was the National Anthem being played on the television and the Prime Minister wished us Happy Independence Day. Little did I know the price of freedom, little did I know the meaning of freedom. 15th August, 2013, the day when I returned home for a short leave from work. My father’s extreme will power had helped him fulfill his ambitions. I was a software engineer now working for an elite multinational company. Dressed in an exotic satin grey shirt and royal blue pants I entered my home with the huge maroon sofa facing me. There weren’t any of my father’s friends nor the narratives. My mother sipped through her cup of tea and told me of few marriage prospects that her acquaintances got for me as I was twenty-five now. I started feeling a twitching discomfort in my chest, the kind which doesn’t let you feel fresh air anymore. I held back a tear in my eyes and was about to clear my throat, that’s when she held my hand in her soft palms and asked if I had chosen someone. A surge of emotions hit my head. My palms got sweaty and cold and my heart wrenched in pain. Tears kept rolling down my cheeks, warm and fresh, burdened with years of suppressed emotions. I wanted to scream and ask my mother, ‘where were you all these years Maa’? Just then a stack of files with her name printed on them caught my attention.


She was holding a pen and an A4 size sheet with o􀉢cial stamps on it. She wasn’t in the kitchen anymore. She was a working woman now and she looked so liberated, like a ‘free soul’. All those images from the past were swirling in my head and I felt emotionally numb or was I emotionally numb earlier? My mother shrugged my arm and repeated her question, this time more playfully, giggling like my teenage friend. I replied hesitantly that I had a boyfriend and I wish to marry him. To my utter surprise she kissed my forehead and joyously started calling our relatives informing them of the same. She asked me how I met my boyfriend and how did he propose to me. The huge maroon sofa was no more a seat of narratives of wishful pride and commanding ideals. This was a couch in a family room which had stories to hear and stories to tell. Just then a gripping aroma of something delicious caught our attention. My younger brother was in the kitchen preparing pasta and scrumptious bread for lunch! He came by my side, observed us and shared a laugh with us. My mother asked me to take my father’s blessings. I agitated a little but I didn’t want to upset my mother. I went to the other room where a small temple is placed where we worship Gods. The room smelled of fresh flowers, perfumed incense sticks and
sandalwood. I joined my hands in front of my father’s photo set in a glass frame
bordered with crafted silver and beautifully decorated with a pearl garland. I said, ‘thank you for everything Papa, forgive our mistakes and may all your mistakes be forgiven and you rest in peace.’ His eyes were bright in the photo and his cheeks were red as if he was the happiest father and the proudest husband on this planet. I could see my reflection in his photo and I could see my bright eyes and red cheeks as if I was the happiest daughter on this planet! I cried a lot standing there but I could feel my ‘free world’ where emotions weren’t commanded or judged. There was the National Anthem being played on the television and the Prime Minister wished us Happy Independence Day. My ‘freedom tree’ did bear fruits and now I know, there is so much to the meaning of freedom and the price of freedom!


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