Sunday, November 20, 2011

When Freedom is a Myth

It looked a beautiful temple - perched high above the hill, eluding human dominance. There was something raw about it, as there was something inviting and mysterious. Perhaps it was the fact that it looked down in pride, boastful and relieved that it was not in easy reach and will always be caressed more by the grey misty clouds than passing mortal touch. It didn't belong to the earth - the world of filth, greed and vice. It belonged to the heavens and looked every inch indicative of that statement - it stood, pure, innocent and charming - perched high above the hill.

Poetry apart, I have been having my eyes on it for a long time. It seemed to be calling out to me, or so, I would like to think. Probably it was because of the fact that it was so proximate to where I stayed that I never found the time in all these months to go there. That happens, all the time. 

After months of wishful fantasizing every time I passed that way, which was a lot of times, I finally mustered the will to plan a day and set the agenda for visiting it. I was glad to be out of the gates. I usually always am. There ought to be a reason why hardly anyone would complain about travelling and visiting new places - it carries with it a notion of freedom, apart from catering to our needs of sensation.

We almost always create bonds with the physical space around us - our room, the books in it, the people in the neighborhood, the bus we catch to work - almost everything becomes a part of the daily life absorbing with it the memories, the frustrations, the anxiety and ambition. Everything becomes a part of the package called routine.

However, a new road, a new land - it is devoid of the imprints of our everyday residues. We feel freed from the shackles of confinement and are gifted a few hours to feel re-invented, re-born.

As I caught the bus to the area, I truly felt free; free from commitment, work, responsibilities, judgments, pressure and falseness. 

As I, along with the friend (male) who had accompanied me, walked towards the hill, I realized that this place was going to be more beautiful than previously thought. The area was not very developed and looked a moderately populated village, to say the least. The people around were not bothered by the surprise intrusion of two souls who didn't seem like them. 

We reached the foothills, taking pictures along the way and reveling in the joys of travelling less traveled roads. As we walked further towards it, we suddenly heard two men calling out. They were sitting at the edge of a huge public hall. 

"Sorry, you can't go in there"
"Oh. Why.. is it closed?"

"No! but you can't go in there"
"And... that is because?"

"Colleges around have issued us instructions forbidding us from allowing boys and girls to go up together.... umm, unless they are married"

"Go. Bring your parents."
"Err... "

Frankly, it felt silly when you looked all of 23 and some men actually order you to bring your parents to get into a place; *cringe* nor was I planning to marry anybody to see a temple. I wasn't disappointed either. The long walk prior to that moment had ensured me a huge want of rest and 400 meters of climbing was actually threatening. 

Yet, I was amused and well, a bit pained. Why would the idiots think that to experiment romantic trysts with a guy, I would actually bother climbing 400 meters of uneven terrain? But, well, there must have been some incident that must have triggered such nonsensical assertion of authority. Perhaps some couple wanted to have some 'divine' fun. 

Even then, why were they bothered? Do they know if 'God' is bothered? If he is, then I think he must be  one hell of a jerk. I mean, why would he create us in such a way that gives rise to these inappropriate tendencies? Wouldn't it have been much simpler if he had merely designed men and women of the world in such a way that the sex organs would mature only after the male hand paints a 'sindhoor' or  when 'thali'  or ring went up the girl? Too bad eh.. I am getting smarter than God these days. 

There, of course is another theory cited - that certain tendencies emit the 'bad' vibrations and that these vibrations would dampen the altar's innate 'good' vibrations. Good enough. I mean, energy, meta-physics, all these hi-funda stuff, well, I do empathize with all that. - but along the same reasoning, the fact is, vibrations are emitted by any negativity, be it greed, anger, depression or lust. Can they design a sensor to screen every man walking into the shrine to be devoid of all this?  

Then of course, was the concern of safety and sanctity and dignity of a place as this. Devoid of restriction, what if couples came up with the brilliant idea of having this place as a make out spot?  Serious enough concern, I agree. And to that, I have no answer.  

In fact, my point here was not to criticize or admonish those men or the regulations of the world but merely record what such incidents can do to dent some thick layers of misconceptions we hold.

I went there with noble and spirited thoughts (READ high positive vibrations). I love temples and I love visiting new ones. It did not really occur to me that I was there with a member of the opposite sex nor did I care about it. Yet, it was these 'guardians' of sanctity or virginity or whatever you call them, who brought to my attention, consciousness of gender, plausible ill-acts, worldly sexual tensions and so on.

They stripped me of the dreamy joy-filled wanderer who was merely out to unite with a destination that seemed to belong more to the hill-top and its self-sufficient innocuous ecology and instead, made me feel mortal again. 

For a second, I thought, what rights did these men have to control something that did not and never will belong to them? Perhaps these sentiments are what are shared by champions who hold rallies against privatization of water or entrenchment of forest land. Well, I don't know. But I sure felt like holding a rally against these fools.

Walking back, I realized how much of a myth the concept of freedom really was. We think that the most apparent systems of rigidity - like a strict workplace or a stringent college - are all there is to curb liberties  but fact is, life is full of it. I saw codes all around me - from the way I was modestly dressed, to the way I prevented myself from staring too deeply inside any home, the way I went and directly sat in the women's row in the bus, everything .

What if I had not wanted to learn from a school but wanted to spend my entire day of education in the library ? What if I did not want to sit in the class but lie down and close my eyes and sincerely take in the concepts? What if I did not want to sit the whole time and wanted to walk away for some fresh air in the middle?

Life was indeed never about freedom. It is not about whether we need it or not. It is just that it is extremely difficult to attain it in the true sense of the word when we are perennially permeated by codes, codes and more codes - personal, societal, political. I agreed and became habituated and hence never did realize it and frankly, I have docilely played by the codes very well so far. 

But codes are good. Letting myself do everything I want to might result in my self-liberation but imagine if psychopaths and rapists were 'liberated' - free spree of everything viced. Not a happy sight right? 

P.S: Suppose since ancient times, we had been having a code wherein every person can be married to three people, and all the movies, books, ads propagated just that and every where around since you were born you saw only such a system being followed and authorized and approved, then definitely, you would have loved three people, looked out for three people, made space in life for three people and guilt-lessly and rightfully fantasized about three people. A few might have wanted five - you would have labeled them prone to infidelity, immorality and wrong character. 

P.S 2: Just read some traveler accounts and saw a few pictures of the temple. Now, I am positively angry with those dumb-witted, bigoted, prejudiced,small-minded, dogmatic, sitting-in-public-halls-and-gossiping-oor kadhai-and-asserting-authority-on-curious-students- assholes . Wife chased them out of the house and they perched themselves like some big lords here. How dare they not allow me to go up there! #%$^%$## Bastards! May they never be allowed inside any temple in their next  birth and every other after that. *stomach-burning curse*


harishsram said...

i think is the best one you have written in terms of language. the flow is very infectious and all absorbing. :)

As far as the topic is concerned - freedom is to be packed inside a box and be free to roam everywhere inside it, as it is protecting us from the unknown that lies outside of it.

Anonymous said...

Hmm... codes.

LOL @ PS2. May your wish come true.


Arumugam said...

Speechless! Which temple is this?
What right did those people have to act as the cultural and moral police!!

I have heard tales from my cousins studying in a supposedly reputed engineering college in TN about gender segregation and not being allowed to be seen around with the opposite sex! Having never lived in TN,i brushed them off as just joking!

Late sexual maturity?? Maybe God should have made us all androgynous like amoeba,would solve half the worlds problems.....hmm...on second thoughts..the world would be so DULL. No palpitating hearts No candle lit dinners,No harlequin romances. I am glad god created Adam and Eve :D

PS: On the concept of freedom,I recently saw a movie called Pleasantville,on how society straitjackets people into rigid roles following 'codes' of acceptable behavior,and how one small external change unravels everything.

Sinduja Ragunathan said...

@Harish: The language is good? Yeay!! Thank you! :D Good metaphor for freedom. Bad world for those who think 'out-of-the-box'

@V: :)

You thought they were joking? Trust me, there are far worse things these colleges here are capable of. And I am watching Pleasantville soon. As for the temple:

Natarajan Sundaram said...

I am so impressed to learn that you are becoming "smarter" than God.

And the last curse was so good..!

Sinduja Ragunathan said...

heheh... I can't believe I wrote such a conceited remark :D

Anonymous said...

Um.. er.. would you like to meet the dharmakartha of the temple (or someone closely associated)? He lives in Madukkarai on his farm near the level crossing (you'd have to go through ACC compound) towards MAdukkarai market.


his sister (aged abt 75 years). Go to Ettimadai village and ask for the most social old lady (who goes for every wedding/funeral) in the village. She would be an interesting person to profile / interview.


CHIBI said...

haha.. you should have opposed them and went inside the temple, who knows u might have been lucky to attend a panchayat and tell the natamai to change his theerpu..!

jokes apart, our indian society just loves moral policing..given the fodder, not only the old men in your post.. even the youth do it, i see videos and pics of women smoking and drinking, posted by young men as a warning or taboo,as if all the guys are all milk drinking babies. (dunno if i made sense)

well.. as i see it, Freedom is not a myth, it exists.. it's just biased..!

CHIBI said...

An interesting thought, I live in a place(say USA) where two men holding hands or kissing in public is not perceived as a sin or does anyone try to do policing on them..

I wonder how this kinda 'out of limits' 'hard to imagine' things would be seen in a layman view esp. in rural India. honor killings?

Sinduja Ragunathan said...

@Anon: Ohh..okaay.A very surprise comment that was. I don't know what to say but yeah, thanks a ton for the info.

@Chibi: Ahh..right! What could they have done if I had forcefully went in, right? :) I should have done that. Would have been interesting.

Hard to imagine acceptance of homosexuality by an Indian village but well, perhaps it is just a matter of time.

Anonymous said...

Human beings constantly seek acceptance / validation (of their behavior) from their peers - it seems to be a basic need. And how does any behavior be assessed as valid/correct? Against a set of standards (the codes), hence a code is always needed by society.

Then what is freedom? The right to go against these codes. A stable society cannot tolerate freedom because freedom seeks to go against the codes by which that society functions.

The first of the persons who feel uncomfortable under a set of codes and chooses to live against that code becomes an outcast / rebel. Over time, more people follow, and finally an earlier unacceptable behavior now becomes the standard - the new code.

Can an ideal society (an Utopia) defined by an ideal set of codes exist? It can exist.

Would we reach that ideal society? Probably not, because codes of society are determined by what is convenient to that society and not by what is idealistic.


PS1:I already feel like a pedagogue - please excuse.

PS2: Your posts induce my think gene, which is otherwise suppressed.

Sinduja Ragunathan said...

@V: An ideal set of codes would be the existence of no defined set of codes at all.

I agree. We would never reach that stage. I don't think so. It is an innate limitation of human kind itself. Perhaps, it is possible to have mini communities existing like that.

Codes exist for simplification and convenience. More often than not, it didn't originate as a malicious conspiracy. It just happened.

P.S 1: The world is need of thoughtful intelligent pedagogues more than anything else

P.S 2: That is one of the best things you could have said here. Thnk you so much! :)

Anonymous said...

An ideal set of codes would be the existence of no defined set of codes at all.
*shakes head* Wonderful insight.
Why didn't I think of that?


Srinidhi said...

I am very very late.

But I think freedom is strangely mythical. You discuss it profoundly and this incident shows how much we need to become mature as a society. :\

Who are passers-by to judge what I should do, wear, or be! argh!!

Sorry. Makes me angry.

Good flow. :D

Sethu said...

Good 1 !! Loved reading it !!

bomzie said...

Nice post. Hahaha... very funny...

I have 2 questions

1. What stopped you from going?
2. When those guys said "couples can't go unless they are married", does it mean that married couples don't do hanky panky in public places or is it acceptable even if they do it since they are married?

Hahaha...Their logic is so funny... Love my India...:D

Sinduja Ragunathan said...

@Srinidhi: Ah, now I do not even deserve to comment on 'late responses' :) And yes, long way to go, as a society.

@Sethu: Hey, thank you so much. Welcome here! :)

@Bomzie: Yeah yeah! Someone like you wasn't there with me na...that is why I didn't go. :P And well, at least here in India, married couples can 'control' themselves till they reach the house I guess - at least, never seen one get cozy in a temple.

Anonymous said...

luved reading it!!!