On this, our nation’s Independence Day, I would like to ponder over a less weighty topic: my own independence. Not for me the crests and troughs of parenting and pet-tending. Been there, done that. The victories and vicissitudes of job and home too, have lost their sheen. So I, like our nation did 62 years ago, want independence—from home, hearth, family, friends, and most important, schedules. I want to hang upside down on a rainbow, balance on a butterfly, surf a dolphin’s crest, and attempt better imagery; perhaps even poetry.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
The thing with freedom is that you have got to know what to do with it. Idiotic allusions to butterflies and rainbows aren’t enough. Like Lounge pointed out in an excellent cover story two years ago, all of us dream of leaving the urban grind for a rural idyll. Not everyone who retires to the farm, however, gets what they bargained for. Some are bored with the slow pace; some struggle with friendships and children’s extra-curricular activities. Dreams, however alluring, are not enough. You need a plan.
My plan was simple. I wanted a day off in which I was not accountable to anyone. With the diligence of an accountant before tax day, I went down my list. I told the sabzi wallah who calls me daily on my cellphone to discuss the day’s vegetables that on 15 August, I would be incommunicado. He could deliver any vegetable he wanted to my house. This bit of freedom gave the man heartburn. Cauliflower, he asked. Even if it is Rs24 per piece? Send four, I said expansively. What about hari mirch (green chillies)? Send a kilo for all I care, I replied. Where is madam going, he wanted to know. Ah, but my dear fellow, I smiled. I cannot tell you. Like Alice’s Cheshire cat, I am going to partially disappear.
So it went with the people who interact with me daily—the ironing man, baker, coconut-breaker. I tackled the family last. I happen to live in what might be called an extended joint family. Although we don’t live under one roof, my parents, brother, niece and nephew, my own family and a few good friends know where I am—geographically and emotionally.
One day, not so long ago, I rounded everyone up and said that I wanted liberation. My eight-year-old didn’t know what the word meant. So we went through a long and tedious explanation in which I tried to slip in some education. Just like Gandhiji marched in Dandi, I too am going to march for my own personal freedom, I said. My husband understood the words but not the concept and this, I think, is a man thing. Most men I know don’t want freedom. They want to watch cricket for hours, read The Economist, play pool, shoot hoops, watch Borat or Baywatch, all within the constraints of home and hearth. Unlike women, they are unfazed by leaking taps and rain pelting on newly washed clothes. These minor matters don’t interrupt their focus on the remote. A famous Tamil verse says that the ideal way to live is like dew on a lotus leaf. Men do that. The collective chaos that surrounds them only adds to their sense of relaxation.
Also Read Shoba’s previous Lounge columns
Men, in other words, don’t crave independence. Nor do many women. My sister-in-law, for instance, is a paediatrician. Patients call and page her at all hours with questions about vomiting, and emergencies ranging from swallowed nails to side effects of surgery. Being needed in this way doesn’t seem to bother her at all; in fact, she revels in being reliable and depended upon. The desire to escape then must be a personality thing. Some men have it and never commit to relationships. Other women commit and then demand independence.
Independence means different things at different ages—crossing the street without holding an adult’s hand; going to a movie with a group of friends without adult supervision; the first school excursion without parents; going out with a forbidden male; leaving home for college; getting your own bank account and income; and onward till death. Every life stage confers with it some more independence—and dependence. Just ask a new parent, tied by umbilical cord to a diaper bag, what freedom is and they will answer—a potty-trained baby. Ask me what freedom is, and I will give you that most clichéd of answers. A road trip without a destination.
Samuel Coleridge has said that the inviting ‘V’ of the horizon while gunning down the highway gave him his first glimpse of an unfettered existence. Actually, it was my friend Sahasranamam Panchapakesan from Chennai who said that. His vagina monologues and dirty allusions to a V-shaped thing offering a glimpse of eternity cannot be printed in this respectable paper. But the point is that a road without destination seems to be a common enough fantasy for freedom, be it for Garrison Keillor or yours truly. Toss some bubbly in the trunk, grab a cold beer, put down the top of your Mustang, turn on the stereo, and let it rip. One day, one road trip, no destination. That was my dream. And here comes the tragic ending.
The plan was to do it today. The use of past tense will not have escaped you. What can I tell you? Reality intervened in the form of bridge lessons, brunch invitations, soccer games and spa appointments that somehow cannot come undone. Too many people to please and too little time to plan.
As we celebrate India’s independence from British oppression, I am just launching my “I Quit” movement. Even God took a day off and every religion has its version of sabbath. I ask for little. I don’t seek sanyas, merely salvation from minutiae. The soaring octaves of the Jaya He in our national anthem create little flutters of longing in my heart. Perhaps the next Independence Day will be mine too.
Shoba Narayan is studying Indian maps to create her one-day road trip sans destination. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org