I hate doing something just for the heck of it. Well, mostly. But when it’s Independence Day — and also your birthday — and the sheer frenzy of “freedom” catches your eyes and ears everywhere, you DO think about freedom. Or let’s say you find yourself thinking about freedom, willy-nilly. FREEdom. FreeDOM. I like the inherent music of the word. It’s like a song unto itself. An idea, a state that’s superior and exalted and uplifting and sublime. To be free, in many ways, is the ideal state of being. Enslavement is a curse. Freedom is a bliss, a boon. Freedom is the need of the soul. Freedom is the greatest glory. It lies at the root of a human being’s inner quests to find his self.
As you would have guessed by now, on August 15, when the colours of freedom floated around, I thought about freedom. Just for the heck of it. I scribbled a few lines here and there. And then dumped them. They didn’t make any sense. They still don’t. But, heck, I am writing them down just for the heck of it. I wouldn’t have posted anything on this, I must admit though, if I hadn’t read Time’s interview with Jonathan Franzen. But more of this later.
If you have been observant, you would have noticed how August 15, every year, arrives enmeshed in terribly trite talks, empty speeches, twisted resolves. (And yes, it’s one of the DRY days). Heck! I don’t want this piece to sound like a rant. So leave it.
I have been grappling with freedom for a while now. What it takes to be free? Surely, freedom is not there for the heck of it. As a student, when we were taught Rousseau’s Social Contract theory in the political science class in Aligarh Muslim University, I hated it, but had taken immense liking to his theory: “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains.” Rousseau couldn’t be more true.
Incidentally, Jonathan Franzen, whom Times has declared the “Great American Novelist” in its latest issue, has come out with a new novel, Freedom, which is an American novel, and yet a far cry from anything by Updike, Bellow and Mailer. Time‘s book critic, Lev Grossman, who interviews him, writes: “The word freedom echoes down the corridors of Freedom. It stalks the characters, cropping up in chance remarks, in song lyrics, engraved in buildings.”
At some point, Grossman quotes Franzen as saying: “… If we were going to be elevating freedom to the defining principle of what we’re about as a culture and a nation, we ought to take a careful look at what freedom in practice brings.” I agree.
Towards the end of the piece, he says that his purpose on this earth seems to be to write novels. “I’m actually freer when I’m chained to a project: freer from guilt, anxiety, boredom, anger, purposelessness,” says Franzen. There, you have it. The secret to be free even when you’re chained to something or the other. If that something or the other is what you really want to do with all your heart and mind and muscle, whoa! you can feel free.
To me, Franzen, at this stage, makes a lot of sense. And I’m not saying it just for the heck of it.