Seeking the significance of ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’

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When I was a kid, independence day used to be an occasion to (forcefully) wake up early and get ready to attend a ‘compulsory’ ceremony at school. Little did we children, born in a post-colonial era, understand the significance of ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’, two similar yet distinct ideas. The more I read and became aware of the different shades of Indian history, the further I ventured from the safety of my home and ‘the crowd’ to have conviction-driven thoughts of my own, the more I traveled and experienced different cultures, the more I worked and realised that my actions can and will have influences, that notion of ‘freedom’ seemed to become more and more clear. Rather than accept the version of ‘independence’ often preached to us at various levels, it would help immensely if we all ourselves were to seek its true meaning and significance.

This picture was taken at Ladakh, one of the highest battlegrounds that India’s defense forces have fought at time and again, to defend the sovereignty of this country.

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Road to confidence: The ‘route’ of no return

Road to confidence: The ‘route’ of no return

Think of your worst nightmare. Okay, now read on.

I did not grow up in a ‘car culture’, and life on two wheels, i.e. my bike, seemed good. Last November though, my wife and me planned for a road trip to the colourful state of Rajasthan (India). It was daunting to begin with because it was going to be the first time I would be driving 3000+ km, but being always on the lookout for a vacation with a difference, this trip fit the bill perfectly.

Things went well until we reached the walled city of Udaipur during the first Sunday evening of the tour. The main road to our hotel was closed for traffic (something which Google Maps didn’t update us about), and we were asked to navigate ourselves through the extremely tight and twisty lanes of the market area, only one-car-width wide and carrying two-way traffic. To make matters worse the terrain had a series of slopes and steep inclines, not to mention the 90 degree turns with house walls on each side and people walking in the tiny spaces between the car and those walls. I’m talking about manual transmission here, not automatic. Just add a few impatiently honking bike and scooter riders to the mix, and you have the complete recipe for a nightmare.

About a kilometer inside this mess, I realised that my car driving skills were being really tested and the most coveted attribute at such times – ‘patience’ – was running thin. This is what I had always dreaded, and now I was engulfed in the situation. There was no way I could turn around and go back, because there was just no space to make a u-turn and the bikers behind me would never let me reverse a single inch.

A narrow lane in the heart of Udaipur (India)

A narrow lane in the heart of the city

And then suddenly things became peaceful. No, the chaos around me hadn’t died, but the very fact that there was no way back and the only way to navigate this proverbial ‘hell‘ was to go through it, made me feel calm. It was sort of liberating to know that there was indeed only one way for me to go – ‘forward’.

The entire ordeal lasted for about 4 km, or about 1.5 hours. There were some moments of anxiety and frustration, but the confidence gained through a clear mind helped me to not make any mistakes under pressure and reach the hotel without banging my car against an electricity pole or a parked vehicle on the side, constantly taking care that the car doesn’t roll on the people behind when I lift my foot off the brake.

Thinking back, I am still amazed at what I drove through that evening. It was no super-hero stuff, but actually was a testament to how much a mere mortal can achieve if that person puts his mind to it without having the demon of failure clogging the thinking process. That ‘route of no return’, as I call it since, taught me a lot about navigating through life.

Hiding doesn’t work. Overcoming your nightmares can only happen when you place yourself on the spot and learn to survive those moments.

“The lights go out, and its just the three of us. You, me, and all that stuff we’re so scared of.”

Bruce Springsteen