The old man was slowly walking down the fields of gold. The day was approaching its end. It was getting dark and the light was struggling against time to survive. The shadows were getting longer and elongated, widening their angles. The mountains were looking like big dark heaps of scattered wool. The sun was setting behind them and was giving the mountain tops a glow of gold. It was a cloudy day and the clouds had gathered up. It seemed as if it was going to be a stormy night and in anticipation of that, the village-folk had started to close down their shops early, as everyone wanted to be home before the weather took effect. But the old man was walking peacefully and slowly as if he did not have a home to go to. As he walked in the fields, the massive plantation, golden in colour; he would let his right hand brush the dancing crops. The cool breeze was making his clothes dance in whichever way they preferred. From a distance it looked as if the old man in the middle of the fields was floating in air, half of his body, the upper body was visible and the rest half was sunk in the plantation. There was something peculiar about his movements. It looked either as if he was at peace with himself or else absolutely dismayed about something very dear to him. For that is how he walked, or floated, slowly and carelessly.
He was wearing a black shalwar-qamees suit, which had turned grey because it had been worn many times and had suffered the toll of the weathers. There was permanent large spots of dust on his shirt. He wore an untidy beard with its hair tangled like a stubborn child who would keep trying to deform his body until his demand is heard. He had thin, tightly closed lips and a strong long nose. His eyes were stiff but sparkling, covered on all sides by the wrinkles of age and time. He was constantly pinching his lower lip. He had a rather large forehead with dense dark frown lines that were wide and covered the most of his forehead. His hair was grey and white. He kept moving slowly towards the other end of the plantation enjoying the breeze in his own heart, without showing any emotion, any feeling.
He reached the end of the fields and crossed over to the small grassy path and started walking towards the east. Then he saw a bright but very small dot of a dancing yellow light at the left corner of the grassy path that he was now taking. He briefly smiled, slightly opening his tightly closed lips and started moving towards the light. It had gone dark now and the moonlight had taken over the sunlight. Everything that was golden a moment ago had now been turned in to silver. The cool breeze was still blowing. As the old man moved closer to the dancing yellow light, his faint smile started growing smoother on his face. He was now keeping the smile on his face consistently. It was completely dark now however everything was lit in silver due to the moonlight that showed him his way. He crossed a small bridge towards his left and now the yellow dancing light was right in front of him. as he grew closer to the light, it became visible- it was wild flame of a wood fire that had been lit in an open front of a yard that was there in front of a mud house. As he walked closer to the fire, he could now see some young people sitting down on the ground in a semi-circle around the fire. They seemed tired from the day’s work and were resting and easing their stresses off by chatting amongst themselves. The old man kept on leaping forwards in his slow stride. The young men around the fire could not notice him as he came close by because it was dark and the old man walked slowly and silently. As he came near to them he observed that they were busy talking and were discussing something as there was the heat of the argument in the air. He paid attention to them.
‘We are free. We live in this land and we got our independence from the oppressors years ago. We have been free men and women ever since.’ The boy with blue eyes had said.
‘Yes, we are free but what to do of a freedom that cannot feed us. Look at the situation of the country, we cannot live on easy lives’ replied the young man to his left. he was wearing a dark blue jeans with an off-white denim shirt on top. He was a neatly bearded young fellow. The old man looked on silently with attention.
‘Yes I agree’ the blue eyed man said, ‘however, that does not mean we are not free. We belong to a free nation and it is the wrong-doings of the bad politicians of this country who have made the economy unstable, yes there is inflation, unemployment, low wages, devaluation of the currency, poverty, corruption and what not. But that is because of the corrupt system and the ever so corrupt politicians and other people. Why to blame our land in this regard. The country has nothing to do with this. I love my country and I am a free man of a free country, that is what I believe in.’ He was talking with force and conviction. Some other men in the circle nodded positively in agreement to what he said. The breeze came in and the flame started to dance ferociously.
This was not something to which the man in the denim shirt found himself in agreement with for he smiled at the blue-eyed man and said, ‘Well well now. Just consider what you have said yourself. The problems you have named are, I think, all that are there is an economics textbook. What to do with such a freedom if this is the situation.’ He sure was not in the mood to give in.
Upon hearing this remark the blue-eyed man took a deep breath as if he was trying to suck in all of the air in his lungs in order to blow the fire out that was playing with its own flames before him. He scratched his head with his right hand and said, ‘I do not understand why you put it this way. What has freedom got to do with economic or political problems? Are we not discussing two completely different things?’ he inquired. The old man standing in the dark smiled silently at this moment.
‘I do not think so.’ Said another man in the circle correcting his white cap. ‘I think if you are free and you have freedom, then that means that you are free of problems too. How can then you be free if you still have problems. Something is missing, something is wrong.’ The other men in the circle nodded and whispered amongst themselves in agreement to this man.
‘If having problems means there is no freedom, then no one in the world is to be considered free. Everyone has problems.’ The blue-eyed man said with some authority. There was again nodding in the circle and whispers and a bit of chaos within the men in the circle. They now seemed to agree to the blue-eyed man as well. The old man was listening with attention and patience. He did not move.
‘So what is freedom then’ said the man in the denim shirt. ‘Is it the absence of aggression?’ There was a complete silence in the circle of men. Some of them pinched their lips and some raised their brows.
‘Yes, I think that is true.’ the blue-eyed man said. He was smiling. ‘You see we are all but free men in a free country. We can do what we please, go where we like, work however we want and leisure as we may. No one stops us, there is no restriction of any sort upon us. This is freedom, is it not?’ The men in the circle thought about the statement for a brief moment and nodded again in agreement. The man in the denim shirt was the only one in the group who shook his head in disagreement and said;
‘I beg to differ. You see, we are caught up with poverty and economic problems and hence we do not really do what pleases us, but we have to do what secures food for us, we cannot decide our paths on the basis of what inspires us, we normally tend to adopt whatever profession promises us security and stability. We have to work hard to earn our living and hence we cannot be free men who can take their decisions based on their free thinking. We are caught up in economic problems and in order to raise our standard we have to take up wealth-intensive assignments. Professions that enable us to earn more in little time. I wanted to be an artist but now I work in the mill nearby. I have children to feed. I cannot choose my life, I have to drag myself with what is presented to me in the shape of my circumstance. Freedom is for those who do not have the fear of want. The worry of haves and have nots. We are caught in the clutches of our economic devices, how can we be free?’ The men in the circle nodded again.
‘There can be no end to this argument’ the man with the white cap said. All other men agreed.
The old man had been listening to this interesting discussion patiently and with complete interest and attention throughout the time. He had not intervened in the discussion but had only listened to them all patiently. The breeze had stopped and the flame in the fire place had gone stable. There was a complete brief silence after the remark of the man with the white cap as if everyone was convinced that there can be no answer to this puzzling argumentation. The only sound was that of the burning of the brittle dry wood , which was like the sound of distant slow rain falling on dry autumn leaves, as if the brittle dry wood wept on being burned. The old man decided to intervene finally;
‘Freedom is not what either of you might be thinking it to be.’ They all looked at him as he walked slowly closer to them and came in the view of the flame. He was now visible. His face, red and glowing in the light of the fire seemed fresh even with its wrinkles. He was smiling and came closer to them and stood there. Allow me to tell you what freedom is, if you may please.’ The men in the circle looked at him in amazement. The men in the circle smiled at him and one of them ran off quickly and brought him a chair. He placed it in the middle front of the semi-circle of men. The old man sat on the chair, sat on his hip half way on the chair and leaned back on it. He felt comfortable and relaxed. He had been standing for quite some time now. He looked at the men. Their faces were gleaming golden in the light of the fire and everything beyond was dark. They were looking at him silently with interest and focus, some of them, not even blinking. They wanted to know the answer, they wanted to listen to him in an air of silence and patience.
‘Freedom’ cried the old man ‘the only freedom is the freedom of the mind. Rest is all but an illusion. You are free men only if you have free thinking minds. I have been listening to you however none of you mentioned the importance of education in relation to freedom. None of you seem to encapsulate the fact that freedom and ignorance cannot move together in unison. How can an ignorant mind be free? Only an educated mind can be free, or be thought to be free. You cannot see beyond your personal lives and your personal problems unless you have a free thinking mind. You are all ignorant and hence cannot embrace true freedom. You do not know what real happiness is. Or do you?’
The words of the old man sent a shiver down the spines of the men in the circle. There was complete silence and suddenly a strong wave of breeze blew in, the flame started struggling for its life, it was about to die at one moment, its sound was like the sound of a cloth clasped against a ruthless wind. The shadows of the men in the circle showed their souls dancing vigorously in the wind- it was the dance of the agony of ignorance that had embraced awareness. The wave was over now and the flame that had held on to its life miserably slipping away was alight again now and had started dancing slowly and with some stability. They could not answer, they had no answer. The old man continued;
‘Education liberates the mind. It gives you reasoning and logic and rationale. It may not make you happy in a direct manner but it provides you with ample food and fuel to understand what happiness really is. What are the things that make a man happy and how to follow that happiness. It may however only be dictated by a free mind, and if the mind does not embrace freedom, all else is but a mere illusion of freedom- not freedom itself.’ The old man’s frown lines on his forehead had gone away, were not visible anymore, as if he had met perpetual serenity. He smiled and said ‘You see now my children. If your minds are not free, how can you think and decide rationally about your lives. If you cannot do that, why and how shall I call you free men. Look at you, discussing freedom through the eyes of economic burdens. These burdens are the challenges of the soul, these are there to cripple your thought processes. If you cannot think beyond them, you will never be able to decide fairly. You are all corrupted by the miserable hunger that poverty enshrines in her embrace. Education liberates, frees our minds, lets us think freely- that my children is the true freedom; the freedom of the mind.’
The men in the circle were smiling and they seemed soothed by the arguments of the wise old man. The wise old man carried on by saying;
‘I have observed all of you during your argumentation. All of you were convinced by both the sides of the argument. You nodded in agreement to the statements of the blue-eyed man, you nodded in agreement to the remarks of the man with the white cap and you nodded on the explanations of the man in the denim shirt. You nodded to all of their remarks and arguments, did you not?’ They all nodded in agreement.
‘So you see, this indicates and in fact proves that you do not have a thought of your own. You do not have a free mind of your own. You agree with everything that anyone says to you. Your minds are not free, you do not have the freedom of the mind. If one man says something to you, you agree to it and if another man says something against what you have agreed to, you agree to it too. then what are you, what is your opinion? Nothing. You are merely puppets. You are the best people for politicians. They need people like you, goofs and ignorant, who are easily prone to agree. You agree not because your minds are convinced of the truth, but you agree because you do not the capability to analyse ideas with your thoughts. This is what the politicians love in their populations and hence they keep them ignorant for this very reason. They know that ignorance and freedom cannot go along side by side. They hence keep you uneducated and therefore you never know what the freedom of the mind means. You will only get your freedom once your minds are liberated. Otherwise, you shall continue to agree to whatever is fed to you without using your minds because they are not free. Hence to me, the only freedom is the freedom of the mind.’
All the men in the circle nodded in agreement.