Five kids in a garden were huddled together under the shade of the tree, whispering. Nobody else was around. But they talked hesitantly, as if they were forbidden to discuss it. Hence, their voices were hushed; voices that were urgent, amused, and thoughtful. Voices that could not be heard, seen or come to be known. It was two o’clock in the afternoon and the sun was not very gracious, but these voices kept mingling together under the shade of the tree, whispering.
Andy spoke first in her usual careless tone. Arjit, on the contrary, sounded quite grave and intense. Daniel was intrigued and confused, and Deepa sounded very frustrated. Ayan rarely spoke but everyone knew he was thinking.
ANDY [popping gum in her mouth]: Frankly, I do not know what this means.
DEEPA [scowling at her]: What’s there to know? Freedom is to be able to do anything you want.
DANIEL [Looking up at the sky, groaning]: Hey! I’m not allowed to do anything I want!
DEEPA [in a matter of fact tone]: That is because you are young.
AYAN [tying his shoelace]: Does freedom depend upon your state of being old or young?
Deepa frowned. Andy shrugged her shoulders. There was dust in the air and some of it had gone in Arjit’s eyes. He was rubbing them ferociously.
DEEPA [standing up]: There are different kinds of freedom, I suppose. Anyhow, we live in a free country, isn’t it? We should be glad about that.
ARJIT [still rubbing his eyes]: But I only heard yesterday that a journalist was burned for exposing some high status politician’s scandal. Looks like the politician implemented his freedom to do anything a little too much! [He added after a few seconds, laughing at Deepa]
Deepa started to speak but Arjit interrupted her. His voice had suddenly acquired a high tone. He liked it because it made him sound important.
ARJIT [with urgency and excitement]: And that’s not it. I sometimes hear my parents talk about certain sections of the society being mistreated, you know, for being impure and all. And there is more such news, much, much more. I don’t understand most of them but…but…it sounds terrible. We know how our elders are, right? Constantly droning on about freedom. Freedom this, Freedom that. Freedom, freedom, freedom. But freedom of what? Freedom from what? Freedom by what? I don’t think most people even know that they are in bondage, let alone know what bondage is.
[Pauses to catch his breath and then continues slowly]
I tried asking her, my teacher I mean, but she shunned me away, telling me to learn “Fundamental Rights.” Fundamental rights, she said! Huh! Those rights didn’t answer a single question of mine, let me tell you that.
DANIEL [mumbling]: I bet they didn’t! They never answer any of the questions in my exam either.
The watch on Andy’s wrist struck half past two. The sun was still not gracious enough, but nothing would budge these five voices from sitting huddled under the shade of the tree. A certain restlessness hung in the air.
DANIEL: I am sure that politician was hanged though.
AYAN [calmly]: He ran away.
DANIEL: What about hunting of animals? Are they not allowed to be free? I sometimes play with my neighbours pet. I have never really thought about it but now I wonder if it ever feels free.
DEEPA [sighs]: Some of the stories, they don’t make it to the news but they exist all around us. My sister is in love with someone from a different background. She is doing computer engineering from the city and is so smart. She does everything on her own but she is not allowed to marry the person of her own choice. She decided to end the relationship only a month back. I asked her yesterday if she still loves that person. She said “no” but her voice broke down.
ANDY [aggressively]: My grandfather forces me to study our religious scriptures and it all seems very questionable to me. He exercises his authority a lot. I don’t like it. My parents say he loves me, that is why he does that.
AYAN [thoughtfully, singing almost]: There is no love without freedom.
DEEPA [frustrated]: Freedom…It seems to harbour so many restrictions.
AYAN: Fight for it.
AYAN: Don’t you know? You always have to fight for freedom. History tells us that.
ARJIT: Haven’t you heard that they are now condemning the man on our rupee notes? History reveres him as a great freedom fighter but now he is being condemned.
ANDY: I think everyone lives in some kind of bondage. We all are living in a system. I mean how can you be free? Won’t that impact the system?
DEEPA [angrily]: We are not wrecking the system. Marrying someone of your choice is not wrecking the system.
Silence followed. Was the restlessness in the air because of the heat? They asked themselves. But the sun was not ungracious anymore.
DANIEL [hesitantly]: Sometimes…I feel terribly afraid. I…I don’t feel free from myself very often.
The heat was subsiding now but the restlessness? It was still present. They heard other voices from the opposite direction. More kids had started coming to the garden.
DANIEL [suddenly]: Ayan, haven’t you ever felt caged?
AYAN [gazing up in the sky and speaking in an almost dazed tone]: I want to be free…free like this bird.
Everyone looked up and looked at a brown-coloured bird soaring in the sky, and murmured in agreement, whispering “me too.”
And then within a moment, out of the blue almost, the bird was hit by a rock thrown by someone from the opposite end of the garden, and it fell right in the front of the restless five voices in the garden who were huddled together under the shade of the tree, dead.
Written by Shanna Jain
Edited by Sukriti Vats
Photograph by Najma Shamim