Every time my uncle staying in London used to visit us in Delhi, I’d hear him discuss with other men of the family, “Asli freedom to yahaan hai. Kidhar bhi gaadi rok do, kisi bhi lane me chalao, koi nhi tokega. Bahar agar ek tyre bhi dusri lane me chala gaya to fine lag jaata hai (This is where you find true freedom. You can stop your car anywhere, drive on any lane you like, and no one will stop you. If you go abroad, you’ll be fined even if only one tyre goes across the lane).”
He’d also talk about the time when my grandparents stayed with them for a month. “Ek baar humaare ghar me police aa gyi thi, kyunki saamne wale ghar ne complaint kar di ki humaare yahaan se koi unke ghar me dekh rha hai (This one time, a policeman came to our doorstep. Our neighbours had complained about someone from our house peering into their house),” he’d say, this time with a hint of concern.
They’d then complain about traffic snarls in their office commute, recall a road accident they encountered a few days ago, maybe chat about car models and…
I would want to challenge them for taking unruliness for freedom, and debate with them over the definition of freedom being subjective and relative. But I couldn’t, because I didn’t have the right tools or vocabulary to get them to take a young girl seriously, and because I didn’t feel that I was allowed to speak my mind with family.
‘Freedom’ is not just words hemmed to the pages of the constitution; freedom is freedom from constant vigilance by lathi-carrying policemen and sunny-coloured barricades; it’s freedom from boards on train stations that say “You’re under constant surveillance”; it’s freedom from studying from coursebooks in white-walled classrooms; it’s freedom from opening a bank account; it’s freedom from being a ‘woman’ or a ‘man’; it’s freedom from being surrounded by rings of state and national borders; and it’s freedom from voting for leaders who decide the driving lane you’re allowed in.
Because freedom is not democracy; freedom is self-ownership and self-consciousness.
And that is what my idea of India is. Freedom from the democracy that never was democracy. Freedom from the democracy that should never be democracy, because democracy is the rule of the majority.
My idea of India is opening its borders and letting it ebb, because human consciousness and emotions are oblivious to lines on political maps. A person sitting in the United States who has never been to India can be an Indian; and so can a person who fled from another part of the world to save their life; and so can a person with a British passport who was born in a village in Maharashtra; and so can anyone who wants to be called an Indian, because that is what India stands for. And that is the idea of India that I want to work towards.