Skip to content

Shibani Belwalkar Posts

Black and White, or Color?

They walk alongside each other, prodded by the desire to beat the odds – Withering hearts, weary feet, empty stomachs, but worse of all, dying hope. It all began as a journey to a better place, a safe place where we could “ rest and be peaceful”, for this is no longer a place we could call home; to tide away the impending loom, away from the jaws of death. Gathering their frugal possessions, precious children perched in their arms, they began the long arduous trudge. The heat beating down upon the brow, endless miles of tar scorching the sole, thoughts of why this was happening, and the lost cry to a hidden God. But they marched on. Some sang lullabies as they cradled their young ones, and still others hummed their folk songs. They stopped as they felt the hunger bite, looking around for a savior or an angel who would want to fill their plate, at least the children’s. All was not lost as the occasional good Samaritan broke all norms and came close, lending a helping hand, and feeding the Dejected.

They all waited for their turn, huddled in the twilight. “I know it is a long walk, but can we not rest a while?” a fatigued child asked her disheartened Father. Another dark night and no sign of reprieve. But we shall survive, thought the little girl’s Mother. 

“Since there’s no transport available, we decided to walk all the way.”

Freedom From – Freedom To

The thought of twenty-one days in quarantine with minimal worldly contact sent me into overdrive. I tried to navigate the labyrinth of my worry, unsuccessfully. The mental notes were falling into patterns – Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, and by the time I believe I reached Plan E, I had worked up a frenzy.

As the verse from W.E. Henley’s poem Invictus, came to my mind, I thought of the prophetic paradox he had poetically penned so early on. As a child growing up in Africa, our lessons were interspersed with stories of living legends, particularly of those who personified Freedom. Nelson Mandela has remained an inspiration for me. Mandela spent 27 years imprisoned, but walked out a stronger “mature man”, in his own words. He had the choice of mourning and succumbing to his imprisonment as the end of his life, or the Freedom To look at his solitary confinement, as a Pause, a Reflection and a series of contemplative moments, fortifying his vision and mission for a better tomorrow. He chose the latter.

What better moment than now to acknowledge the high premium we place on Freedom!  These 21 days, I contemplated, could be a choice for me too. The Freedom to have all of the 24 hours to craft my dream day; The Freedom to begin converting my purpose and aspiration into reality; The Freedom to embrace a new found lease of life and reset the clock on so many gauges; The Freedom to reinvent myself and enjoy the moments of solitude and silence. This was the Freedom To, I realized, as I made the mental shift.

Pondering over the stories of Madiba, (as he was fondly referred to), I thought of his interpretation of Freedom.  It was extracted from a virtually non-existent source, yet it went on to redefine history. Relying on Isaiah Berlin’s analytical chronicles of Freedom, one can visualize, often enough, the source of Freedom driving us – Freedom From (Negative) or Freedom To (Positive). Conquering obstacles and making way through the external interferences which prevent us from doing what we want, illustrates Freedom From. It focuses on the struggle, the strife, the need to want to overcome a barrier. It drives our energies and attention to ensuring that “we are slave to none”, thus dutifully engaging in problem solving, like I did in the beginning. On the other hand, to be positively free, or Freedom To, is to be one’s own master, acting rationally and choosing responsibly in line with one’s purpose and beliefs. Freedom To reframes reality – with limitless possibilities, alternate liberties, with the abilities we do possess and the options we do have, scaling them incessantly. Positive freedom is the Freedom To embrace control, and vividly and hungrily make choices – Like the one Nelson Mandela made.

Today, we have a plethora of suggestions and solutions for maximizing productivity during our time in quarantine, for amplifying our output as we work from home and exploiting the meaningful interactions with family. However, we run the risk of focusing on the transient utility of this time at our disposal as we continue the count down to 21 days. Harnessing our forces into tiding over a current obstacle, with a hope for an improved tomorrow, may earn perceptual wins.  Instead, by embracing our new Freedom To, we can reset the SELF, receiving the opportunity to craft a Version 2.  We can pick to enjoy a range of experiences and engage in pursuits like there is no other tomorrow, to build the blocks translating our purpose into reality on a daily basis with less fear, and to have an abundance of time on hand to maximize our sense of being. It is embracing the Know that this is the best and only way forward. With every consequent choice of Freedom To, we create our own purpose, shape our own destiny, make our own lives, and most importantly, Act, instead of being Acted upon. For, in Henley’s words:

 It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.