What could freedom mean to the citizens of a 72-year-old country that fought off colonisers to birth itself? Is it permanent and unquestioned like the air we breathe? Or do some of us gasp sometimes for air? We asked writers, artists – and most importantly – children of the country to walk us through their idea of liberty.
For Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Bengali writer and Padma Shree, it is the magnificent sun-lit memory of August 15, 1947. Other writers responded with fiction — a café in a war-torn city, where there are many stories but only one pencil to write them; a prisoner who once released from a 14-year-old captivity cannot walk away from the jail; a woman who finds a way out of marriage through a football match; a man who wants to be free of climate.
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Mahatma Gandhi turns up on a lot of the artwork that responds to the prompt of freedom, as the touchstone of values that we have walked away from; or the man who might have welded the shrapnels in Kashmir into peace, as the person reduced to a rubber stamp.
The kids are alright. They had fascinating replies. Would they want to break some rules for freedom? Yes: not having to listen to grownsups all the time; not having to wear a uniform; not having to do anything but play. They feel patriotic about the soldiers of Pulwama, and India at the World Cup. They think Pakistan is just another country, as chaotic and blundering as theirs. But they do want the freedom to disagree and dissent. Let’s save that for them.
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Here’s to independence!
Who Deviated First? by Gigi Scaria
‘This 2010 work (digital print on archival paper) is based on the iconic Gyarah Murti sculpture in Delhi by Devi Prasad Roy Chowdhury that depicts the Dandi March led by Mahatma Gandhi in 1930. I was part of a group of artists who retraced that route in 2010, to commemorate 80 years of the march. Gandhi had conceived this as a non-violent protest against colonial salt laws. In my photograph, I have the 10 leaders walking in the opposite direction. It asks viewers: When did we decide to deviate from the path? Gandhi has been relevant in different times in history but in our quest to reach higher goals, we have forgotten his ideals. The route we take to attain and assert freedom also matters. Freedom comes with responsibility, and we need to be answerable for our actions. It is not just about the people who lead. Today, our nation is taking over us. To be willing to kill someone with the rationale that you are protecting Mother India is entirely wrong. This tragic understanding of the nation will only kill freedom, it can’t lead to it.’
Patient Welder by Veer Munshi
‘In 1947, when Gandhi was visiting Kashmir, he remarked that if there was peace anywhere, it was here. This work (acrylic on handmade paper, 2010) reflects on that statement in the context of what has happened in Kashmir over the years. It was made after I saw the bloodshed in the streets of Kashmir during the 2010 unrest and the recurring incidents of stone-pelting. That’s when I started drawing shrapnels.
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I thought we needed Gandhi to weld these fragments. I came to Delhi from Kashmir in 1990, as part of the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. More than 10 years later, when I visited the Valley, I realised that my house in Srinagar had been burnt. Since then, I have been engaged with the people of Kashmir, who are born in conflict or had to flee because of it. I work with artists and craftspeople to promote indigenous culture. Kashmiris always talk about death and trauma and I try to depict their pain in my work’.
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Freedom by Venkat Shyam
‘When India won independence, the county was in a difficult state. The progress made since then has been remarkable and few countries have been able to achieve so much in such little time. This work (acrylic on paper, 2018) shows how India has emerged as an important global power. In this success, both men and women have made equal contributions. Women are now leaders in diverse fields, from politics to science. In the field of technology, with the vision of stalwarts such as APJ Abdul Kalam, we have reached great heights. And though we are flying like a free bird, we have retained our identity and heritage. We have not forgotten our intrinsic values’.
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Wind In My Hair by Javed Raja
‘This photograph was taken in 2010, when I was in Somnath in south Gujarat for an assignment for this newspaper. Once the assignment was over, I decided to take a walk along the beach in the nearby town of Veraval, which is a fishing hub of the western coast. It was a lovely day, with clear skies and a breeze blowing in from the sea. As I walked, I passed by a fishermen’s settlement at the edge of the shore. Some of the children who lived there were making the most of the good weather. They had strung up swings from the boats moored along the beach, and were enjoying themselves. In those days, this was, perhaps, the children’s main form of entertainment. In June this year, when I visited the area to cover the impact of Cyclone Vayu, I noticed that what had once been makeshift homes in a slum had become brick-and-concrete houses. Everyone had a television set and the beaches were empty.’
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Verso-Recto-Recto-Verso by Reena Kallat
‘The idea of independence is closely linked to the idea of freedom, an essential universal value of the human spirit. The freedom to think independently not just for ourselves but equally for others… Through this work (on tied-and-dyed silk, 2017-19), I revisit the preambles to the Constitutions of India and Pakistan, Sudan and South-Sudan, Serbia and Croatia, Bangladesh and India, US and Cuba, among others, to find common aspirations, principles and values’.
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Untitled by Ravi Agarwal
‘This work (photographic print, 2018) is to remind me of what we need to nurture and protect. Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar were the founders of the nation-state. They represent the foundational spirit of the nation. I did this work to recollect where we started our journey from — the ideals, ideas, sacrifices and futures envisioned in the Constitution drafted by Dr Ambedkar. We collectively need to remind ourselves what these ideas stood for. While we have made these figures iconic, we seem to have forgotten their principles; we need to make them alive again.’
Belongs To by Manjunath Kamath
‘In this particular photo montage (digital print on archival paper, 2012), we see an elephant in the Mysore Palace. Someone used his freedom to invite in an elephant without realising the destruction that would follow. The king and queen are Raja Ravi Varma protagonists, who have been displaced, not unlike the fruit-seller, the priest and others we see. Independence comes with certain responsibilities, and mutual respect for everyone’s freedom. Constant negotiation is important. There is no individual act in independence’.