ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogging Competition Shortlisted Entry
The Freedom to Dream: India at 70
Aruja Pandey, 21 years old, Patna
Separated by miles, geographically and socially, two sons were born on the same day, albeit to different mothers. Nobody knew what destiny awaited them, but born into a free India, they had a deep freedom to dream running through their veins.
At the young age of three, the world had begun to take some semblance in their eyes and young cognitions. If one would have lifted the blanket of sleep and peered deeper into their innocent minds, they would have discovered dreams of the greatest ambition, bathed deeply in the colors of imagination.
Wanting to fly like a bird, building a residential tower to the moon, owning a personal river full of lemonade: the world was full of possibilities!
By their sixth birthday, one scholarly brother had become learned enough to be able to comprehend the gravity of turning S-I-X. What’s more, he could even draw out the serpentine word, albeit a bit crookedly, in beginner’s cursive for anyone to admire.
The other had been a late enrollment to the midday meal place, where unappetizing alphabet soup was dished out.
In his very first introduction to the Solar System, our scholar realized the scheme of things intended for him by the Universe. After all, he had just turned 9 from eight, while the Solar System had gone backwards in strength. What clearer sign that he will become a scientist cum space warrior rolled into the One Fated Astronaut (with Science as an ally) who’d reclaim an undiscovered ninth planet from the darkness.
His brother had recognized his calling too — he had seen his neighbor’s elder son in a crisp white uniform, driving a car so sleek and well polished that he could see his reflection on its surface! ‘School’ was a crumbling old building, filled with children constantly creating a ruckus, with noses running just as freely as their boisterous, uncontainable spirits. Real character was to be found outside, in men like Dinesh bhaiyya, who commanded respect in their uniform and shiny vehicle!
By the time he turned 12, our Solomon had changed careers a dozen times in his head. A new profession beckoned him with every new subject introduced to his ever broadening mind – a historian, an archaeologist, novelist, an artist, doctor, a pilot, wildlife conservationist, researcher, social worker, radio jockey — there was so much to do, so much to be!
His counterpart was no less ambitious. But without anybody knowing how or exactly why, an invisible ceiling now overlaid his aspirations. If asked what he wanted to be after growing up, he would have rattled off any one of the limited options his uninitiated mind could recognize with reverence — doctor/engineer/government officer/soldier. The Hows or the Whys were irrelevant, and had never been seriously considered. Anything beyond these was either too basic, or beyond the scope of his comprehension. Books no longer held any appeal for him. He had seen Matric Pass alumni in his family struggle to get a job too. The only real thing school had taught him was wisdom in the form of a proverb: cut your dress according to your cloth. Dreams were a getaway from reality.
At fifteen, encounters with the grim realities of life were inevitable. Our young protagonist had realized that the world is besieged with hunger and poverty. Racism, ageism, sexism — so many isms that he had to counter and illuminate his fellow citizens about! The ambitions of his young idealistic mind now encompassed all of humanity. The world was big, but his plans were bigger. And why not? The Elon Musks, Zuckerbergs, everyone he had read about were after all mere individuals making their mark on the world.
Meanwhile, our forgotten sidekick had battles of his own to fight. Surviving month-to-month, year-to-year, for all its banality, was a tough struggle. Supporting his parents, saving enough to marry off his sister — who would shoulder these responsibilities if not the Son of the house? Beyond a car and a decent home for his folks, his dreams grew fuzzy around what other glorious possibilities he would dare to accomplish.
Both had the same freedom to dream. But socioeconomic independence can be an unpredictable catalyst. The hero’s chief responsibility while dreaming was to merely steer clear of becoming the odd 20% who regress despite being privileged by birth; while his brother’s only culpability was a failure to emerge as one of the 20% self-made men who break ceilings and epitomize success. There is only one Sachin Tendulkar, and a million forgotten Anil Gauravs. One PM for so many invisible chai-wallahs. Refusing to acknowledge the classist struggles of the underprivileged that don’t make the cut is to pretend that it is their own efforts, and not a system, that fail them. It is a dismissal of the need to truly emancipate and liberate them. After all, everyone is taught the rhetoric to dream big. Why, then, would men dream unequally?