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Some of India’s most brilliant voices write about what freedom means to them. Inspiring, searching and full of ideas – Our Freedoms is the book of our times.
I don’t exactly remember when I must have first become aware of the word ‘freedom’. I also do not remember when and how I first learned of its meaning. But in recent times, I have begun questioning what it really means in the context of the current social and political conditions we live in.
It was with this sense of questioning that I first picked up this book — Our Freedoms. Answers, that’s what I wanted. Little did I know that I’d end up with more questions. Questions that cut through the fabric of hypocrisy and fake assurance that the people in power give us.
Interestingly, I had my eyes on this book even before it was published. Not because I had read the blurb or because I knew what the book was about. (In fact, it was neither – the book had no blurb on its back, and I had no idea what the contents of the book could be.) But because of the names associated with this book – a list longer and more informative than what the blurb itself could have been.
With writers like Priyanka Dubey, Yashica Dutt, Gautam Bhatia, Aanchal Malhotra, Perumal Murugan, Vivek Shanbhag, Aatish Taseer, Annie Zaidi, Raghu Karnad, Akhil Katyal, Karthika Nair, Roshan Ali, Amit Chaudhari, Salil Tripathi, Suketu Mehta, Rana Ayyub, Snigdha Poonam, T.M.Krishna, Gyan Prakash, Menaka Guruswamy, Pratap Bhanu Prasad, Romila Thapar, Amitabha Bagchi, – some of whom I’ve read earlier, others on my wishlist, I knew this was a book I just had to read.
When I got the book in my hands, the first thing I did was to rip open the packaging and examine the book.
I was wrong about there not being any blurb. It was there on the inside jacket, but that wasn’t the first thing I read. Right below the blurb, was the line that warmed my heart – it was that line I read first.
‘Proceeds from this book will go to Karwaan e Mohabbat.’
I instantly knew my first instinct to read this book was right. I knew that the book had its heart in the right place. When someone writes or earns an income and doesn’t use it for their monetary gains alone, but instead uses that to uplift the society, that’s when you know the people backing the project have the right intentions. That’s when you know what side of humanity are they on.
It was then that I saw the blurb.
“As India faces some of its greatest challenges, the country’s most brilliant voices write about what freedom means to them. Inspiring, searching and full of ideas – this is the book of our times.”
I couldn’t wait to dig in. I needed to instantly read the Prologue but no further than that because I was in the middle of something else and had more pressing things to attend to. I’d quickly skim through the Foreword by Nilanjana S. Roy (who is also the editor and the one responsible for putting this book together) and come back to it later, I thought.
It was as I was reading the first few pages that I realized, there was no way I was doing anything else except read this book for the next few days. I immediately got my pencil out and began underlining and making notes – an activity that continued as I kept reading.
Somewhere half-way through the book I realized there is no way I could review the book. In fact, there is no way, I could see anyone reviewing the book.
How does one review truth? How does one review voices and arguments that support humanity?
What can you say, other than that this is a great book, and so you should read it!
Nilanjana begins with narrating an anecdote of a women’s protest in my city. Not the Shaheen Bagh one, ‘but in another part of the city’. And from there begins the sometimes heart-breaking, sometimes infuriating, sometimes hope-inducing read that this book is. Many of the lines from this book were a reflection of my thoughts and ideals. Many lines were a reflection of the questions I had been asking but had no one to answer them. Many lines from the different essays by, what the book claims and I strongly agree with, India’s best writers had me nodding in agreement.
But it was Nilanjana’s words that remained with me even after I had closed the book. This was not because the words resonated with me or because they had such power in them. They did, they do. But the reason why they stayed with me is because those lines were the first question I asked in my head. Isn’t that what a good book is supposed to do?
‘Liberty, equality, fraternity were supposed to be gifts. I took those words for granted through most of my adult life, assuming that the country would always have the first, would continue to strive for the second and would never completely abandon the third.’
As I read those lines, I thought to myself ‘Me, too!’
‘And here we are, with all three of these extraordinary, moving promises made by the country’s founders to their people in jeopardy at this juncture in the nation’s history.’
‘Freedom is not simple. To claim it, you must know what came before. Every so often the powerful forget this.’
And I thought to myself, ‘Who is going to remind the people of these words? Who will remind the powers in control that we owe it to ourselves to value and cherish these gifts? Uphold these values, not because they are gifts given by our founders but because we have a right to them. Who, among those silenced, marginalised, penalised, threatened, abused, trolled will dare to speak up?’
The answer stared at me – literally. There was no blurb. There was a list of names. They have spoken up. All we need to do is listen.
And so I began doing exactly that.
The questions, the answers, the glaring reminders, the harsh truths are all there for one to read. Short stories, essays, poems, that come together to attempt to answer the questions that, as per Nilanjana’s own words, are ‘basic but increasingly urgent’.
And in these answers by the fearless writers who refused to be silenced despite the threats and trolling, we end up finding our own.
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Image source: Twitter, Instagram, and By Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0, Link, By Payasam (Mukul Dube) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link and book cover Amazon
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Piyusha is a sometime sane reader, part-time crazy writer and full-time wacky alien.
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