Did This Man Cry “Freedom”?

Cry Freedom..
Cry Freedom..

While walking to a little dhaba near Allahabad station (we were staying in a really seedy hotel), I noticed this man lying with his head in the gutter.


That could have been me during my teenage years. I was in engineering college, and we yearned to be free of the constraints that held us back. Our souls blended with the starry nights as the grassy fumes made their way to the heavens, and gave us the feeling that we were larger than life itself.

Many of my classmates outgrew this as their bodies and minds raced from the teens to the twenties, and the realities of the job hunt hit them. Some did not, and became prisoners of the heavenly weeds that grew around them.

A few of us got jobs in India, and started working here. The rest left for the USA, the “Land Of The Free”, to pursue their masters, and to be free of the shackles that our home country imposed upon them. They yearned for the freedom that the USA would bring to them, and the feeling that they were now part of “The First World”. Many would return to India for short visits, with newly acquired American accents, and talk of being ‘back home in Texas’, conveniently forgetting that it was an Indian education that helped them move from a Third World Country to a First World Country.

Those of us who stayed back in India worked. Some of us did our MBA and some did not. We worked hard, put our nose to the grind to earn more money, to have the freedom to do what we chose.

Our Professor of Macro-Economics told us that almost none of us bright MBA students would become independent entrepreneurs. We would work hard in corporations to make others rich. We were a poor country those days, and chose safety and comfort over the desire to change our dreams. Most of us did not know what our dreams were. But, we were convinced that a good position in a company, with a nice salary would set us free. From what?

We all became slaves to the grind.

I once wrote about an Aussie fellow who I met in Beijing. He told me that he had reduced his possessions, because he found that they were becoming his master, and not he, theirs.

There was a chap in my engineering college who came from a conservative family. The freedom at college allowed him to sink into alcoholism, drug addiction and prostitution, and at the end of his second year (he was 18) was almost kicked out. We pleaded, and he was asked to repeat his second year. Did he reform? No? One morning, he was lying on the floor of the canteen, pretty much like the gent in the picture, when his father arrived out of the blue. No one knows what transpired between them, but the young chap changed. He distanced himself from all of us, became a recluse, and became prone to bursts of spiritualism. I was one of the few he spoke to, and he spoke to me of the self. What he said, was this,”

“For the sake of the family, give up the self; For the sake of the community, give up the family; For the sake of the Nation, give up the community; For the sake of the World, give up the Nation; For the sake of the Self, give up the World”.

Pretty deep stuff actually.

Nirvana, as we believe is, is freedom from all want and desire. It frees us from the bonds that tie us down.

You don’t need to be a Priest to be Holy. When I was photographing something in Allahabad, a Priest waved his feathers under my nose, and yelled, “Chal Hat, Haraami”. This loosely translates as “Get your sorry ass out of here, you scoundrel and son-of-a-bitch.” Not the sign of a chap who has found freedom.

So, my question is: “What is Freedom?”

To me, it is an elusive concept. Our understanding of the word changes as we grow. When my finger presses down on the shutter switch on my camera, I feel free. Or, do I? When I am mindful when I am photographing, or writing, then I feel something. Or, when I am lost in the dance of the light on a leaf as it gently sways in the breeze. There can be just that micro second when you hold ‘eternity in an hour’, and see ‘Heaven in a wild flower’.

Earlier, I though freedom was found in the aisle seat of a business class jet to Europe, or the USA. Or, in the welcoming smile of the staff at a five-star hotel. They make you feel good, don’t they? Then, one day that life vanishes, and so do the smiles.

What remains is yourself.

Something that we chase all the time. But, maybe if we stop chasing it, it will find us?

Maybe freedom is, as Janis Joplin sang, ‘just another word, for nothing left to lose’.

Maybe, that gent in the picture did indeed ‘cry freedom’…

What is Freedom to you?


  1. Wow, another thought-provoking and powerful post. Likewise, I hope the poor guy in the photo was not dead. I’ll be thinking of this post (and what is freedom…) as I head off to sleep…

      1. Oh yes, you can see lots of these guys in Tokyo…
        You’re right, Tokyo has some very nice restaurants, and Ginza is a very ‘posh’ area indeed ๐Ÿ™‚

      2. Yeah… I lived in China for 5 years, and love their food. Then I decided that Japanese food is much nicer. Ginza is nice when the office, or someone else, pays!

  2. most real life is sad…we learn more from sadness I think…some say it makes us grow, it is our choice which direction we grow in… your post strikes the chords of that growing…
    freedom…my freedom is I can wake each morning with a dream, whether a new one or one I have carried with me, and I have the choice on what to do with that dream…. life sometimes gets in the way of fulfilling it, though I take that as a pause to step back and see if I missed something, I always go back to it and continue towards it, that freedom is my spirit I think, it doesn’t matter if anyone agrees or not, as long as I don’t hurt someone intentionally and I walk within honor and respect of life’s spirits, I am free to dream and just be me as I act within that dream

    I am not sure why I thought of freedom this way this moment, but it is how I am in my everyday life ..

    Interesting thoughts you have shared today, Thank You, I will no doubt think on it more as I go through the motions of life…

    Take Care,,,You Matter..

    1. Thanks, Yes, you are absolutely right. We carry, or drop our freedom everyday. I think we each have a different concept of what freedom means to us as well

  3. This picture reminds me of my home town more than any other picture. I left it to find freedom but freedom is still at bay. This guy found it there in Allahabad… very interesting…. great writing and superb expressions.

  4. Rich and beautiful, R, the opening as compelling as the way it develops. I totally get it, as a product of the immigrants’ quest for the American Dream. Exquisite description of the artist’s joy in the moment. To think, your path to freedom was as close as the camera on your desk.

    Except you did need an education to be able to afford the camera.

    Interesting parallels between your posts on the homeless & the rat race for the golden carrot of success, and my series on money.

    Thanks for the depth.

  5. This guy is a slave, unfortunately.
    I believe you friends do feel at home in Texas. When you decide to emigrate for some reasons, you should be grateful to the country that took you. And you should assimilate, and don’t be an asshole who never belongs. If you made a commitment to stay, stay a good citizen, not a “forever guest ” ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. This is so beautiful, Rajiv. Heavy, sad, but beautiful and hopeful all the same.

    What is freedom? Perhaps it’s the ability (luxury?) to lead a contemplative life, the ability to draw conclusions from such contemplations, and the ability to act upon or to not act upon those conclusions. Or, perhaps not…

  7. Ah…the journey of life. Freedom thru faith and love. All else is a consequnce of what you do with what you think you have. Or is it? Did you help the man by the side of the road?

  8. I thought it was a dead person on the street. I don’t think we will ever be free, us human do not have contentment, we always seek for more but somehow I feel free from all the chaos in my life when I’m taking pictures, it takes my mind off of everything and focus on my subject and at the same time I get time to pause and just enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. Nice post Rajiv, thank you for sharing.

  9. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, as always! Self-preservation, I believe, is one of the most basic instincts of all living beings. The priest in Allahabad may have felt threatened by what you were doing when he waded into you with his outburst. Don’t we know the ilk? Shri Rampal being the latest addition to the species. Sadhus of the past, though lauded for the path they chose, may have done so because they may have been unable to compete in other occupations. “They did it for your good” is the argument of the weak. There is no such thing. They did it for themselves. They made their choice. All about choices. Sorry I am rambling on a bit…I hope some of this stuff is coherent ๐Ÿ™‚

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