Competition Entry #21 | Freedom to Dream: India at 70


ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogging Competition Shortlisted Entry


Discovering India through Indians
Aleena Khan, 20 years old, Uttar Pradesh

Buzz… buzz…buzz…splat!!

Ah, I finally caught that annoying fly invading my personal space for the past ten torturous minutes. Napping in the railway station restroom is a Herculean task. I stretch and yawn; steal a glance at the clock lazily hung on the opposite wall. My train is late by three hours. But like every accomplished Indian citizen, I am well practiced in the art of waiting.

Still, snacks and sleep can only keep a person entertained for so long. With nothing else to do and my mobile battery dead after its final battle cry, I turn to the person sitting next to me. We start with the basics – name, place of birth, family, destination. The words keep flowing, the time keeps ticking, and the wheels of my brain slowly start to gather pace. The veiled woman beside me is the Sarpanch of a village in east Orissa, here in Delhi to visit her daughter.

As our conversation progresses, she lets go of her inhibitions and passionately reveals the story of her little girl, who had chased her dream all the way to becoming a pilot. The expression of bliss and pride that shines from this mother’s face is priceless, and in that moment I realize: dreams do come true if you have the courage to chase them. A pilot daughter of a politically active mother? When did a woman obtain this freedom to ‘be’ in a patriarchal society like India? Words have immense power and hers hit me full force. She showed me that dreaming is not restricted by gender.

The arrival of her train left my hungry mind hanging. It has been rightly observed that once the human soul has tasted the best of what this life has to offer, it cannot help but ask for more. Having discovered the joy of real-time socializing, I turned to the waddling grandpa who had placed himself comfortably on the seat to my right. There is something in the countenance of plump old people that makes you warm to them almost instantly. Add to that our shared interest in the written word, and our spirits just clicked. His twinkling eyes and occasional lisps held my rapt attention, as he recounted how, at the age of 81, he was just returning from a publication house, which had accepted the abstract of his first book. His account left me gobsmacked. He showed me that dreaming is not restricted by age.

Deeply moved, in those hours waiting for my train, I struck off gender and age from my list of social stereotypes that keep people unhappy and unsuccessful. Every person I met and every life that brushed past me on that railway station left an impression on me. I was astounded by the sheer power of human aspiration and will. When my train finally arrived and I left to go home, a silent thought hung in my subconscious: each of us may take different trains, but all of us are really taking another step in search of our own private utopia.

Since then, I have learned to recognize India not as the second most populous country of the world, but as a foster land of 1.3 billion humans, who have the freedom to dream.

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