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In the poem Freedom, Jayant Mahapatra questions the concept of freedom popular in India and celebrated with great pomp and show. He compares and contrasts the life of politicians and godmen with that of the poor on the street.
The poem consists of around 10 stanzas each having a different number of lines. There is no rhyme scheme in the poem and the language shows the poet’s frustration.
The poem begins with the words, At times, as I watch meaning that whenever the poet watches his country which is free now (from British), it seems to the poet as if Her (country’s) body floats down somewhere on the river.
The floating body symbolizes the Hindu Tradition in which a body is cremated and its ash is let to float in the river. Hence the lines mean that though the country is free yet her original condition is quite different. It has been burnt down by the people and its ashes are left to float in the river i.e. left to ruins.
Having seen that, the poet feels that he is left alone like a half-disembodied bamboo whose lower part has sunk into the river because of its own weight. It is the English version of the famous Hindustani Proverb Jis Thali Mein Khana Usi Mein Ched Karna.
In this stanza, I think, the poet assumes himself to be the country himself which is dying because its own people are destroying it. The people who have made it sink into the water are no others but the rulers and the godmen.
Now the old widows and dying men pray to get freedom from life. The line resonates with the pain of Poors who are abandoned or sent to the old age houses or near a river by their children to die in their final stage. Having no hope left, they keep praying to God with a dedication to take out their souls from the body.
Having talked about the condition of the old people living in India, the poet comes to the young generation. According to him, children scream with this desire for freedom to transform the world without even laying hands on it.
The aspirations of the young are quite different from the old ones. While the olds are desiring to leave the world, the young generation is crying so that they may be able to change the world. The line depicts how slavery prevails in society even though we call ourselves independent.
The lines give an insight into the economic and social condition of India which hinders the young generation to think and act freely. They don’t have those facilities and resources that they need to transform the country. And ultimately they will also suffer the same fate as the old ones are suffering.
The poet desires to wander back to either of them i.e. youngs or olds so that he could help them and thus may not lose face or in simple words, feel embarrassed while celebrating freedom. For that, he needs to be alone i.e. free and because he is too occupied in earning his bread and butter he cannot meet them.
The line depicts the helplessness of the people who desire to help others but because of their own economic conditions, they fail to do so.
His economic conditions and slavery to the work for earning refrains him from meeting the woman and her child in that remote village in the hills who never had even a little rice for their one daily meal these fifty years.
The lines are quite symbolic as they refer to the generations that are economically poor and their condition has not improved since the independence of India. The people have not food for even one time a day. So how we can celebrate freedom?
The worst economic and social conditions have made the people ignorant of the uncaught, bloodied light of sunsets that cling to the tall white columns of Parliament House. The lines show the poet’s concern over the politics of India.
After independence, our country was supposed to be of the people, by the people and for the people. However, even after 50 years, people don’t know what is going on in parliament. The politicians are ruling the country like kings, using the resources for their own luxury.
On the other hand, the poor are still struggling for their life. They don’t have time to even look beyond their daily wages. This is what makes the rulers do whatever they want. So how it can be free? The lines seem to be quite similar to Sitakant Mahapatra’s poem “The Election”.
Having talked about the country, people and politicians, the poet then discusses the religious condition in the country. According to him, religious institutions are no better than politics. Every day new temples are built-in which God hides in the dark like an alien and the priest is the one who knows freedom.
The lines expose the reality of our religious places. The priests who are supposed to be the servants of God are the ones who enjoy the freedom and all kind of luxury. While on the other hand God who was supposed to be free remains enslaved in the dark of the temple like an alien.
The religious leaders have made temples as business hubs. The people struggle to find Him and pray to Him while the priest extracts money from them and leads a luxurious life. It is the priest who decides the availability of God rather than God Himself. Again, where is the freedom?
As there is literally no freedom, the poet keeps looking for the light shadows (oxymoron) i.e. little hope of freedom which is the freedom of body from all the social and economic hurdles. This hope is an excuse to satisfy his own heart.
If we go deep into the words, the poet means that the freedom that he knows about is the death. Death is something that gives the ultimate freedom to people.
And particularly seeing the condition of people, the poet considers death to be better than the life they live. This again questions the celebration of freedom.
After dying, the ashes float in the water (the funeral practice in Hinduism). These ashes and remains of the humans are the only ones that enjoy the freedom, the freedom of silent rocks, the freedom coal which is deep inside the earth and the freedom of beds of rivers and streams on which river (sleeping God) flows.
I don’t understand the last line. I think the poet does not want to take away the freedom of any of the people whose ashes are roaming freely. Hence he does not even touches wear them on his forehead or else they will also become the slave again like the poet.