At the edge of a cliff: What does independence mean?

For many of us, independence is being able to earn bagfuls of money, living on our own, going on exotic vacations, buying our own house and perhaps our own car – all of it to build the world, exactly the way we want it.

Independence can seem like a bubble, something to block out things you don’t need; something that allows you to float in the filth of the system without ever truly being part of it. So as long as the bubble exists – the rest of the world doesn’t really matter.

I visited Pakistan in 2005 to cover India’s cricket tour and the Pakistani journalists gave me a tour of Karachi and Islamabad – two very normal cities. But then they would hastily add that this wasn’t the only Pakistan. Another Pakistan existed as one – one that dominated by the rich – where radical thought, accented English, parties, booze and drugs were commonplace. That, I was told, was the independent Pakistan.

 At the edge of a cliff: What does independence mean?


I am not sure whether ‘that’ Pakistan exists anymore but is that all independence is? Then, perhaps we are asking the wrong questions.

Is independence something we can touch, feel or hear? Does independence mean having to listen to the national anthem before every movie screening in Mumbai? Is independence, for a journalist, being able to write what he/she wants to without any outside interference? Or does independence simply mean that anything goes?

At the end of the day, independence is all in your point of view. It isn’t a bad thing but the truth is that it's a romantic idealism.

True independence exists only in very set parameters. For example, you go trekking and at the end of a very, long and arduous climb – you are but a few meters away from summit. At that point, your thoughts are truly independent because all you are thinking about is the next step – not about your job or how much you earn or social obligations or anything else – just the next step. It’s an intoxicating freedom of being alone and it's truthful.

If you’ve ever tried bungee jumping or sky diving, you might know the kind of independence a bird enjoys. The moment before you jump for the first time is when you feel fear and exhilaration in equal measure.
You also feel free because for the next three seconds or so, you feel nothing but the rush of adrenalin. It takes guts to take that last step; it takes guts to step into the unknown, knowing that things could go wrong. No one pushes you into it… you do it on your own.

It is then that you feel truly independent because that is the clarity of thought that independence should bring about. The Greek philosopher Socrates once said: “To find yourself, think for yourself.”

And one can’t help but think that the path to true independence is all about freeing your mind. India may be celebrating it’s 66th Independence Day but what are we really celebrating?

A PM who isn’t exactly ‘independent’, a country where communal riots ‘independently’ happen, where sports federations are ‘independent’ of government control but ruled by politicians or where different communities want their own ‘independent’ states.

Bit by bit, with every passing year – the very idea of independence and independent India is changing and for most part – we, in our bubble, just don’t care or have ceased to care before it doesn’t directly concern us.

Our idea of independence is still pretty much based on Mahatma Gandhi’s ideologies. But is this the India the he or any of other freedom fighters fought for? If it is then India and we, its inhabitants, are in a sad state indeed.

At this moment, India is, for most part, a nation of followers. We do what we are asked to; we vote because we have to; we become morally crude because someone prods us into being that way; we get worked up against corruption because someone, somewhere may have found a way to stop it.

But true independence could perhaps be as simple as sitting down and pondering over what independence means to you and to India. It may not be much but it will be a start – certainly a better start than waking up in the morning to patriotic songs that fail to break into your ‘bubble’ or listening to politicians giving speeches that hold no meaning to you.

Updated Date: Aug 16, 2012 15:02:57 IST