Anupama Das

Every individual has a unique way of defining freedom. Some people think that freedom is a myth because they could never feel how freedom tastes like. But some people think freedom is a gender-biased concept. Growing up in a society whose patriarchal norms didn’t allow women to utilize the rights they were born with, I used to wonder whether I will ever be able to come out of my overburdened cave. During high school years, every teenager tends to become rebellious as they try to break free from the snarled knots of the socially acceptable standards imposed on them. For some people, it takes a lifetime to taste freedom and live in their terms instead of just surviving. In the hindsight, early exposure to freedom can act as blasphemy when it is not treated with respect and gratitude. Some teenagers, when given excessive freedom without monitoring can abuse it as well, making the idea of freedom as bitter as coffee.

As an adolescent, I didn’t know what it meant to be free; to express my real thoughts and opinions and not the fake ones I pretended to have to fit into the popular peer gang. Since my early childhood, I was told how to talk and walk, I was instructed how to dress and sit like a ‘good’ girl. I was always perplexed by how there was a manual for ‘well-behaved’ girls but my opposite gender was free to explore their thoughts with their ever-changing personality growth. My conflict with the concept of freedom hit me hard for the first time when I was in high school. I realized everyone else was free to express how they feel about certain things, they never hesitated to show their emotions; but here I was, a detached clueless adolescent. I started questioning my entire childhood and the purpose of my existence. I could feel my parents feeling uncomfortable because I started developing a voice of my own. I was born on Independence Day, yet I had to beg for my independence. Satirical, isn’t it?

I have come across a lot of parents complaining about their rebellious teenagers. They rant about the defiant actions but never introspects about what drove them to act in that way. I don’t think teenagers will ever be rebellious if they are given the freedom to grow their minds along with their age. Often, we try to define independence for others projecting our definition and get disappointed when we fail to see the reflection of our thoughts in our next generation. But these parents are the ones who expect their kids to sort their life out within a limited timeline; failure of which causes severe condemnation. During my high school days, my home started to seem like a toxic workplace to me as debating on my idea of the way of living became a daily routine. I think my parents were afraid that I started to identify myself with my choices, priorities, and thoughts. It almost felt like they were losing control over me; after all, it’s never easy to let go of the things you own. But I wasn’t ready to be owned by anyone anymore. I was ready to free!

After two years of continual arguments over the same petty things, my parents understood I’m not someone who can be kept in a cage anymore. They let me be free, at least they tried to. But every time they saw me be free, making my own decisions, not being dependent on them- morally or financially; they became a little upset. I felt like a criminal to have made my parents morose by being myself. But I was over that phase of looking back at things that made me unhappy. I went to college and realized I’m free now but I don’t know who I am. I mean, what are the things that excite me, who do I want to be, what do I want to be like? All these thoughts kept haunting me for nights. Even if I tried to get past it, those bewildering thoughts kept coming back to me in form of nightmares. It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that I have very different preferences on almost everything compared to my friends; whether it’s music, food, or clothes. But I was tired of the notion of fitting into groups. I wanted to stand out with my choices and thoughts with pride. I didn’t feel like explaining others the why’s of my every action.

According to theory, adulthood kicks in an individual around the age of 20. I think what adulthood stands for is an individual being aware of their purpose and finding where they belong to even if he/she is 30 years old. I was grateful that in my case the theory of adulthood coincided with my practicality. The meaning of freedom had changed for me. It wasn’t just doing whatever I wanted to do, going out with my friends, not being answerable to anyone for my actions and reactions. It was choosing what was mentally healthy for me, what suited my personality, and whatever allowed me to celebrate my existence. For the first time, it didn’t hurt to leave behind the people who were toxic for me. Often when you are termed as a rebellious and independent girl, it attracts people who consider these traits to be classy instead of showing you how such situations can be dealt with more maturity and sensibility. Mostly such relationships offer you attachment but not connection. Though at the age of 20 such attachments in relationships gives you an illusion of connection. While connection makes you feel peaceful from within, attachment sucks the life out of you, and to me, it felt like I was allowing my toxic relationship to consider my mental health to be a joke. Here’s the thing, once you know that taking care of your mental health is as important as taking care of your life, it automatically makes you refuse to tolerate whatever crap destiny throws at you.

When you consciously choose to invest your time and energy to uplift and enrich your mind and way of living, you tend to become stronger mentally. That’s exactly what happened to me. When I figured out the way to take care of my mind and soul, I became free from my toxic notion of freedom. I started practicing yoga and meditation and as I mentioned earlier, letting go of the people who made me belittle my abilities was an added boon to my new found definition of freedom.
So, what do I think freedom stands for? I think any standstill definition of freedom is a lie. Because people, in general, have the power and ability to define freedom in their terms. Whatever seems to be freedom for me can be a choking to death idea, an extravagant lifestyle, or just a pipe dream to someone else. I say this specifically as women, we tend to have the idea of our previous generation’s freedom projected on us all the time in the name of integrity and respect. When we grow up and realize how we want to be in the future and that future version of us doesn’t match with the virtues forcefully imbibed in us, we need to take a step ahead and unlearn things. Freedom tastes like biriyani after a fasting day. It is the tint of thin ray coming through the window of your room that you feel on your face in the morning. It is to feel proud and content with your choices and mistakes instead of being apologetic. It is to find serenity and perseverance in your own company and not having the need to be co-dependent to feel alive. Freedom is an ever-changing process that helps us to evolve as a person with our constantly changing situation, people, and perspective surrounding us.

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