The Pioneer (New Delhi), 17 July 1997

Glad to be be Free

Freedom is in, free is out.

By ASHOK R CHANDRAN

Research shows that the most commonly used word in English language is "the." A casual glance at the daily newspaper or a passing glimpse of any TV Channel will convince you that the dominance of "the" has been broken. For, Indian English is admittedly different.

What then is the most commonly used word in India today? It's "freedom." History tells us that we won freedom in 1947. After a gap of 50 years, freedom is once again in the air. Chants of freedom, cries of freedom. Songs, talks of freedom. Long walks of freedom. Runs of freedom by sons of freedom. In a way, this is history repeating itself.

In school, I learnt that leaders like the Mahatma and Nehru brought freedom down to the people of India. A decade later, I learn from advertisements that freedom is up for sale.

You have freedom caps and freedom cars. Freeedom toothpastes and freedom footwear. From safety-pins to satellites, nothing comes without the tag of freedom. Tons of freedom are lying around. Did Fukuyama foresee this while exulting the triumph of liberalism? Did Manmohan Singh envision this while embarking on liberalisation? The freedom to choose has now reversed itself to choosing the freedom.

What worries me is the falling value of freedom. When politics follows economics, when the US follows China, I guess freedom must follow the rupee. In 1947, India had to pay a heavy price for freedom. Today, freedom comes in all sizes at all prices.

Qualitatively too, freedom has been devalued by interpreting everything in terms of freedom. The introduction of an air-route is projected as the "freedom to fly from X to Y." As freedom reigns, brace yourself to face the freedom monsoon (freedom rains), freedom harvest (freedom grains), freedom GDP (freedom gains)... To regulate this spurt in spirit should we not have a Ministry for Freedom?

DD [Doordarshan] is presenting us with serials on freedom when what we really need is freedom from serials.

Will the flood of freedom wash us away into fathoms of folly? DD [Doordarshan] is presenting us with serials on freedom when what we really need is freedom from serials. The Government has planned seminars on what freedom means, when we all know that it means the freedom to organise seminars, discuss and disperse.

The icing on the freedom cake, a special session of Parliament to recollect the struggle, comes at a time when we are struggling to recollect the last time our leaders behave in a parliamentary manner. Perhaps, the midnight meeting is their way of showing the world that they themselves are in the dark, as much as we are.

Now, if you were to ask me, I would say without hesitation that all this mass "dumping" of freedom is not in the interest of ordinary people like you and me.

For the past few months, our favourite word in advertisements -- "Free" -- is nowhere to be seen. I remember, when we were kids, my brother and I stuffed ourselves with two dozen packs of noodles, just to possess the T-shirts offered "free" in exchange for noodle-pack covers. To meet the deadline, we had to chomp the wriggly stuff in 20 days. Today, companies no longer offer free T-shirts. They promise us freedom T-shirts. Free is out, freedom is in.

May I appeal to all like-minded Indians, hapless victims of freedom, to unite against the unprovoked aggression of 1997. So that we may be free again. Further, I appeal to Bill Clinton to take immediate steps to save the free world which is under threat.

Friends reassure me that a year from now, it will be freedom from Freedom. As the cycle of history turns and returns, we will be back to the good ol' days. And then, when I buy a helmet, I shall get a scooter free.


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